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Why so serious?

As comedians from across the UK travel to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, we take a closer look at what internal communicators can learn from the masters of comedy. 

Have you heard the one about the security guy, the IT pro and the safety woman…? No, neither have we. 

There’s no getting away from the fact there are some topics within organisations that are synonymous with serious messaging – security and safety being prime candidates. But just because the message is serious, doesn’t mean the way you communicate it has to be.  

Pretty much anything can be funny

The world is a serious, if not surreal, place at the minute. It could be very easy to get down and gloomy about the state of the world. Yet comics like Melissa McCarthy have taken typically serious topics such as politics and made them hilarious. I’m not sure many people could name Obama or Bush’s press secretary, yet we all know Sean Spicer’s name. And what may seem a bit of satirical fun has made politics far more accessible to people, who previously wouldn’t have been interested. 

And it’s that lack of interest that is the bane of our security and safety colleague’s lives. Their messaging is so often serious because the consequences are serious. However, over the last few years, there’s been some fantastic examples of companies adding humour to their safety and security comms. 

Metro Trains in Australia released a video a few years ago called ‘Dumb ways to die’ about safety on railway tracks. It features an earworm of a song and is very funny, memorable, shareable, plus the message is crystal clear. 

A more recent one about using your phone when you shouldn’t has been doing the rounds on social media and for good reason – it’s a very powerful use of humour in getting an important message across.  (hint: watch to the end). 

And we spotted another great example of a poster that can’t help but make you smile, shared by Rachel Miller of All Things IC on Twitter, all about pants.

Humour is relatable 

Michael McIntyre does some great skits on what it’s like trying to get out of the house when you have kids. It’s funny because it’s true and many people can relate. 

Encouraging people, including leadership, to share funny experiences and stories from their own lives can help to bring information to life, grab people’s attention and make you seem more human. 

A great source of real life humour is when things don’t go quite to plan. Most of us will have experienced a toe-curling moment of failure at some point in our career. But what may seem career-ending at the time, can often be pretty funny in hindsight. From missing the ‘l’ out of the word ‘public’ to messing up a presentation to the board, our failures can be great sources of amusement and excellent ways to get across important messages such as always proof read your work and practise presentations in advance. 

Lost in translation

Many people will avoid using humour because it can be fraught with pitfalls. What’s funny to one person can be extremely unfunny to another. Always check with people outside of the brainstorming group/project team to make sure you won’t be causing offence. 

It’s also worth considering how different cultures have different senses of humour and points of reference. An Australian news anchor in 2011 had the honour of meeting the Dalai Lama and decided to use that moment to share a joke. Watch the video to see for yourself the Dalai Lama’s blank expression. 

It’s unlikely a global, one size fits all, funny campaign will work everywhere. Instead work with people in those locations to tailor it to be suitable. And don’t forget, organisations have micro cultures – people out on site may have a very different humour base than those sitting in head office (shared in-jokes, comraderie, etc).

Another consideration is the external context and what’s going on in the wider world – a joke that was funny yesterday could be wildly inappropriate today. For example, launching a humorous campaign the day after redundancies are announced could be deemed insensitive. 

And of course, there are some topics that will just never be funny as comedian Kathy Griffin found out earlier this year when she posted a photo of herself on social media holding a dummy of Donald Trump’s severed head. Joking about killing presidents, however much you dislike them, will never be funny.

Can funny be taken seriously?

Very few comedy films or comedic actors and actresses win Oscars. Yet to be funny takes real skill and talent, which often goes unappreciated. 

As IC professionals we can be just as guilty. A lot of effort can be put into proving our strategic value to leadership, in order for them to take us, and our industry, seriously. And rightly so. But it doesn’t have to be at the expense of humour and creativity. 

It’s perfectly ok to be strategic and to create some of the funniest campaigns your business has ever seen. Creating a funny campaign still needs strategic thought, planning, measurement etc – just remember to share the impact with your leadership team – once they’ve stopped laughing of course. 

Having a good belly laugh, can make people feel happier, boost morale and increase productivity. Some studies even suggest it can reduce pain. 

And the fact that festivals such as The Fringe exist and comedians such as John Bishop, Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle are household names is testament to how much laughter has become an integral part of our culture – so maybe it’s time to make it an integral part of our corporate culture too.  

By Helen Deverell for Alive!

Friday, August 04, 2017

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