How Southwest Airlines created a multimedia comms department

Make videos of your employees. Photograph the junk in your organization’s closet. Use Hollywood and the NFL as reference points in internal comms. Learn from Southwest Airlines.

More, more, more content!

Does your job ever feel like that?

Before you spend another late night at the office, cranking out dull infographics or dreary corporate photos to be tweeted and forgotten, spend a lunch break with Sonia Avila of Southwest Airlines.

In the Ragan Training session, “Creating a multimedia organization,” Avila, ‎senior manager of creative services, offers dozens of tips on how to create smart images and videos that match your communications goals.

For those overworked communicators making the case for additional staff, Avila offers tips on where to find talent and how visual content can convey what’s special about your organization.

“Now we’re in the space of social media content,” she says. “We have to be there; we have to be engaged.”

Here are a few of her takeaways:

Ask your employees

Are you finding that people don’t read or share you content? How about asking employees what they want? Southwest holds face-to-face conversations, undertakes a communications audit and conducts employee surveys.

Turns out the content churned out during all those late nights might not be what they’re looking for, at least if your associates are like Southwest. Half of the airline’s employees said their favorite elements were travel features and employee spotlights, yet they felt there was too much coming their way.

Southwest’s magazine cut back, publishing 14 percent fewer stories, “because they were getting that feedback of, ‘Oh, my gosh, you guys are inundating me with content. Please stop,'” Avila says.

[Sign up for Ragan Training for this and other video education on cutting-edge strategies and tactics.]

Connect your business message with pop culture

Last year Southwest’s team was assigned to communicate “2015 profit-sharing fun facts,” and…

Hey, wake up! You nodded off.

Faced with a dry topic, the team animated a graphic comparing the top 10 movie stars’ salary totals with profit-sharing funds for the year. If you add up the salaries of Bradley Cooper ($41.5 million a year) Vin Diesel ($47 million), Jackie Chan ($50 million), Jennifer Aniston ($16 million), Jennifer Lawrence ($35.5 million) and others, they earned $407 million combined. Guess what: Profit sharing doled out $620 million.

Apples and oranges, you say? So what? Your beloved staffers will remember it better than a dry chart. Southwest has also used the salaries of NFL stars to make its point during the lead-up to the Super Bowl.

Seek talent outside the corporate world

Did you get that approval to hire extra help? Way to go. Now you just have to sneak around in the shrubbery outside your competitors’ headquarters, slipping fliers in the windows advertising your opening.

Either that, or do what all the smart folks are doing these days: Raid a news organization. Southwest’s manager of multimedia, for one, formerly worked for the Associated Press.

“It makes a lot of sense for us,” Avila says, “because if you think about the skills that news brings to you, it’s people who are quick on their feet, people who are often engaging in those interviews on site … and it’s people who can edit like nobody’s business. They’re rapid-quick. And in the world of social [media], that’s key.”

Other places to snag talent are your interns and your own workforce. If you work for a large organization, you might be surprised what talent is lurking in your cubicles.

Produce bite-size profiles of employees and customers

You don’t always need a 1,500-word essay or a feature-length video. Just shoot photos of staffers with warm smiles, whether to tweet or use internally. Southwest recorded a video on a skycap who calls himself “Herb from the Curb,” and it photographed a cheerful guy driving a baggage tractor.

Find people who make you think, “I want to know that guy,” Avila says.

Use employee as models

Dying to get a T-shirt with a Southwest logo? The airline just so happens to have a store for fans and employees, and it uses staffers and their children as models. That saves on the budget, and the employees love it.

Raid your corporate closet for artifacts

“Everyone’s got some really interesting stuff in their closet,” Avila says.

Check out Southwest’s display of random artifacts. Captain’s hats. Orange safety vests. Headphones. Red hand-held lights that direct the airplanes. An inflatable life vest. Cups of coffee on a tray.

Arrange them artistically, snap a photo, and you’ve got an easy tweet. Fans eat this stuff up.

Recharge your team

If your team is exhausted, what about doing something crazy, such as going to that wacky old amusement park out on County Line Road? Or at least do something different. At Southwest Airlines, they call such excursions “mandatory fun.”

“There’s something about ramming a bumper car into your co-workers at high speed that translates to love,” she says.


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