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It’s a Wonderful Comms Life

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It’s a Wonderful Comms Life

Unwrap the unexpected comms advice of Christmas movies

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Yes, it’s time for mistletoe, fairy lights, stockings, mince pies and… Christmas movies!  

After all, you can’t beat a Christmas movie for getting in the holiday mood. What’s more, many festive favourites conceal unexpected advice for communicators, waiting to be unwrapped like presents under the tree on Christmas morning.

And unlike some Christmas presents, these lessons won’t run out of battery power on Boxing Day. They’re the gift that keeps giving, helping you reinvigorate your communications strategies into the dark days of January and beyond.

So light the fire, simmer the mulled wine and discover the sage advice of these five Christmas classics.


It’s a Wonderful Life

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey is the striving everyman who puts his own dreams on hold to look after his family and friends. When disaster strikes, he feels his life has been meaningless.

Enter guardian angel Clarence, who shows him what life would have been like had he never been born. Only then does George recognise the impact he’s had.

Our workplaces are full of George Baileys. Colleagues doing a steady job every day, who sometimes lose sight of how their work makes a difference. 

Yet internal communicators have the potential to be guardian angels, just like Clarence. We don’t need celestial intervention to show the results of our colleagues’ labours – we can do it through our channels and events.

We can highlight the impact our employees have on customers or other stakeholders. We can recognise people for significant daily efforts, not just the major achievements. And in doing so, we can help create a powerful sense of purpose, contribution and achievement. 


Miracle on 34th Street

Department store Santa Kris Kringle is the world’s most engaged Father Christmas. His immaculate outfit and encyclopaedic knowledge of toys set the highest standards. He treats every customer with equal attention – finding out their needs, and going the extra mile to deliver them.

Kris is also a role model for inclusion. No child gets left out, least of all the deaf girl with whom Kris sings Jingle Bellsin sign language.

He has just one tiny flaw, at least to his employers at Cole’s Department Store: he believes he is Santa Claus.

When a rival store conspires to incarcerate their star employee in a mental institution, Cole’s find themselves in a PR crisis. Do they disown him, or act in line with their values?

And here Kris’s colleagues show the importance of speaking truth to power. They persuade their senior leaders to decide what they truly believe in – and to act accordingly. By publicly supporting Kris, they change public opinion and enlist the whole city’s support in his defence.

Sometimes we need the courage to do the same. We can use our position to highlight how our leaders’ actions may be perceived – and avert our own crises as a result.


The Snowman

Consider this. Raymond Briggs’ book The Snowman has sold over five million copies. The beautiful film of the book has been a beloved Christmas Day staple for over 35 years. And yet – it has no words. No dialogue.

It’s a timely reminder of the power of pictures, and the old storytelling adage to show, rather than tell. A story told through pictures means we actively uncover its meaning for ourselves, rather than having it passively narrated to us. 

The Snowman also packs a strong emotional punch. Many of us have rich childhood memories of magical snowfalls, daring adventures and long lost friends. Here we’re vividly transported back to those times. We care about what happens to young James because we can easily identify with his emotions. 

These are principles we can all use in our communications. Find pictures and video to tell your stories. Use as few words as possible. And bring out universal emotions that everyone can identify with.


White Christmas

Great leadership can make a huge impact on people’s lives. And nowhere is that message more apparent than in White Christmas, where entertainment duo Bob Wallace and Phil Davis plan a lavish recognition event to restore the pride of their former commanding officer, General Waverly.

Wallace and Davis ‘go big’ on recognition, enlisting hundreds of former colleagues to give a Christmas Eve surprise party at Waverly’s struggling ski lodge. In doing so, they create an unforgettable moment neither he nor his colleagues will ever forget.

White Christmas is an annual festive reminder of two truths about giving impactful recognition. First, the unexpected almost always trumps the expected. And second – don’t be afraid to go big. If someone really deserves a massive thank you, be creative and create an event that will linger long in everyone’s memory.


Die Hard

Each year, the question of whether Die Hard qualifies as a Christmas movie ignites fierce debate on Twitter. But regardless of where you stand, it has some pertinent lessons for communicators.

New York cop John McClane faces Hans Gruber’s criminal gang in his bare feet, with no support or weapons. Obstacles come thick and fast. But he marshals his few resources to turn the odds in his favour.

Like any great communicator, McClane quickly establishes eyes and ears on the ground, building trust with beat cop Al Powell so he can find out what’s happening outside the building.

He’s also creative in his use of office resources. Whether it’s using office swivel chairs, gaffer tape and lift shafts to create makeshift explosives, or stealing the terrorists’ radios to listen in on their conversations, McClane thinks creatively to find ways to achieve his goals.

Whatever our budget, we can all harness the John McClane spirit. It just takes a willingness to try new approaches and take a few risks along the way.


Whether it’s speaking truth to power like the managers at Cole’s, creating powerful recognition events like Wallace and Davis, or highlighting the impact of your employees, like Clarence, you have the tools to make a difference in 2020. Have a wonderful comms Christmas!

 Dave Wraith for Alive!

“I feel like they own and care for the project as much as we do! I would not use anyone else for my creative work and think Alive is ahead of the game.”

Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

“Thanks for all your help. We are delighted with the campaign, both in terms of the creativity and messaging but also the thought taken over the rollout of the materials. All looks absolutely fabulous!”

Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

“Our mission was to update our brand visuals to better reflect our innovative and forward-thinking organisation. After receiving numerous pitches from different branding agencies, Alive stood out with their clear passion and understanding of our identity and goals. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Alive Team to create an engaging new brand that we are immensely proud of.”

Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
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