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When Hurricane Sandy struck New York last year, Manhattan went dark from 39th Street south.
In contrast to previous blackouts—which had never affected more than 200,000 customers at a time—Con Edison of New York had 1 million outages.
“We were anticipating a very, very bad storm,” says Ann Cameron, Con Edison’s director of creative services, “but no one was anticipating the storm that arrived.”
There was major flooding. The storm piled up cars and blew down trees, taking power lines with them.
The public and politicians wanted power restored—now. But how could Con Ed communicate that its people were working hard to achieve that? The company used videos of its workers to tell the story—part of its broader effort to create employee-based communications internally and externally.
Here are some lessons Con Edison learned:
Real people on video tell your story powerfully.
Con Edison produced 25 videos between one and two minutes long after the hurricane, showing a series of employees doing things like placing sandbags, restoring power lines, and mapping out crisis response at computer stations.
Anyone wondering what Con Edison was doing after the crisis could see footage of, say, the guy in a hardhat who points to the water streaming along a Lower Manhattan street.
“When we walked out about 45 minutes ago, it wasn’t even close to the pole right there,” he says. “Now it’s going all the way out.”
When the workers talk, viewers can see they are serious about dealing with the crisis.
Faces bring your internal campaigns to life
Sure, you could hire actors or use infographics, but who knows (and represents) the organization better than your employees?
They can communicate important messages in a genuine way and engage others, Cameron says. Besides, messages are better received when you reflect the community you serve. With employees in videos, other staffers (and customers) identify with your diverse workforce—and recognize the hard work they’re doing, she says.
“Everybody could see the emotion, feel the care and the attention and the concern in those faces,” Cameron says.
Make it routine
Don’t wait for a disaster. Use employees to communicate everyday messages—such as energy efficiency. Con Edison uses its “Green Team” to communicate ways to save money and energy, with rebates for homes and businesses.
Although Con Edison has an agency that does external communications, the faces on the signs, the posters, and the sides of trucks are those of its staff. Using employees help others to know what the organization is doing externally and what its positions are, Cameron says.
Reads one message: “Want to save money on bills? Set your air conditioner at 78 degrees. Setting it lower can increase your costs by up to 40 percent.”
When shooting an external ad campaign, Cameron took it a step further.
She said: “Let’s go out and shoot the shoot. We’ll have some fun with it. We’ll play it inside [the company], and then people will know what’s going on. ”
They got fun (and sympathetic) footage of employees making candid comments such as, “I’m really nervous.” Others on staff were eager to watch the films. Bonus: They absorbed the message.
“This is the kind of thing people connect with,” Cameron says. “They know people in the video.”
Employees enhance peer-to-peer communications
Safety is essential at a utility, where risks run from injuring one’s back all the way up to electrocution. Con Edison uses employees for posters and messaging that encourages safely backing up vehicles, wearing seatbelts, and lifting objects in ways that won’t hurt your back.
That’s all well and good—but how do you make the message stick?
Con Edison featured Spenser, a 6-foot-9 employee with a Mohawk, in a poster. When a guy named Adam landed the job of safety specialist in a transformer shop, he agreed to get a Mohawk as well.
Big Spenser accompanied Adam to the barber, where a cameraman filmed the buzz job.
“How would you like [it]?” asked the barber.
“I want it like that,” Adam said.
“The things people will do for safety,” Spenser said.
The footage became part of a memorable campaign. “You can’t ask for better than that,” Cameron says.