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Be less Rick, be more Madonna 

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Be less Rick, be more Madonna 

Like 80s pop star Rick Astley, internal comms campaigns can often be one hit wonders.

They launch with a big bang, everyone loves it, and they reminisce about it for years to come. Which is great. But wouldn’t it be better if they were less Rick and more Madonna? Able to evolve, stay relevant and continue to have a serious impact long after the initial big bang.

We think so. And here’s how you can do just that…

To understand what gives a campaign a ‘long wow’, and because there’s only so many rick-rolling references we can make, we’re going to take you on a whirlwind tour of some of Madonna’s greatest hits and apply them to some campaign best practice…

Material girl

People often associate campaigns with creativity, bold visuals, provocative slogans and messages. Which are all important elements, but not the only elements.

If you put substance, rather than style, front and centre, you can create a campaign that changes hearts, minds and behaviour in the long term. Create a strategy behind your campaign that supports the business strategy, with clear objectives, content that explains what’s expected of people and why, and examples of what the key behaviours look like.

That way, when you apply some awesome visuals to grab attention, what people find beneath is useful guidance they can apply day after day.
Use campaigns to unleash your creative genius, but don’t get so engrossed, you lose sight of what the campaign is aiming to achieve.


Put employees at the heart of the campaign.

Because campaigns are strongly associated with standing out, creating a buzz, offering something that’s ‘in vogue’, it can be tempting to focus on new solutions rather than what your employees actually need.

We worked with B&Q on a campaign called Think Big to help their colleagues think beyond their store and create a winning mindset of we not me. We created comms that were suitable for everyone – from colleagues working on the shop floor through to board directors. This meant line manager toolkits, regional manager guides, hard copy pocket guides, and posters and vinyls for back office areas.

We also utilised their existing technology including their online product resources, their intranet and Yammer. What we didn’t do was introduce fancy new tools or channels that wouldn’t have added any extra value.

So, before introducing whizzy, shiny new tools to ‘create excitement’, consider if they will help to solve the challenge.

Papa don’t preach

To ensure employees don’t feel as though they’re being preached to, involve them early on. Listen to their ideas to positively influence your campaign.

Make sure you involve line managers/team leaders from the very beginning as they will contribute useful insight and will be key in communicating campaign messages. Employees who can see their managers are fully on board and are translating a head office strategy into something practical, local and relevant for them, are more likely to buy in.

Don’t tell me…

Once or twice, but three times.

We recently blogged about the magic number three and how it makes information more memorable and repeatable. Think about some famous campaigns you’ve seen over the years such as road safety awareness: Stop, Look, Listen.

Campaigns often have ambitions to convey lots of information to people in a short space of time. Consider how you can condense it into three words, objectives, priorities, sentences, etc. Much more than that and people will switch off.

Keep your messages easy to understand, easy to remember and easy to repeat.


Campaigns that can’t evolve run the risk of becoming ‘frozen’ in time. Key messages need to evolve as the organisation does if they are to have life beyond the initial buzz.

Always consider what else is going on in the organisation. Could the campaign or elements of it be used in other ways? If it supports the business strategy, it should align with most other projects and programmes within the business.

With B&Q, we’ve evolved Think Big and incorporated into other business objectives that aim to drive sales through their peak period. It’s an opportunity to reinforce the key messages and apply them to a practical, measurable challenge they face every year.

And by linking various campaigns, you’re joining the dots for employees, helping them to feel informed and engaged rather than overwhelmed by information overload.

Get into the groove

Longevity requires regularity and rhythm – ultimately helping people get into a groove. A great way to do this is to stagger your campaign so that you can wow people multiple times and maintain momentum.

This might mean taking your three key messages and communicating one a month. Or gradually rolling out a campaign to tie in with various other initiatives – for example, if you were doing a diversity and inclusion campaign, the first stage might be defining what that means for your organisation. The second stage might be doing a campaign around LGBT to time with LGBT History Month, and so on.

Gradual roll-outs may have smaller individual impacts, but they could give your campaign more life and more meaning.

Express yourself

Design is an important part of any campaign and can be an opportunity to express your creative side.

Create an identity that can evolve along with content, and can be used in multiple ways across multiple channels. That way whenever you use the brand assets in future communications, people will associate it with the original campaign and its key messages.

As internal communicators strive to deliver value and distance themselves from the lighter, more tactical tasks, it makes sense to evolve the understanding of a campaign from one of big bang to one of long wow. But that doesn’t have to be at the expense of creativity, just in addition to it.

So, in the words of Rick and Madonna, campaigns – we’re never gonna give you up, in fact, we’re crazy for you.

By Helen Deverell for Alive!

“The guys at Alive understand the complexities of our business which means we don’t need to explain the detail of every project or design piece – they’re already on it, which keeps things moving and delivers the results we need.”

Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

“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

“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 —

“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

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“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

“This looks amazing - brought a smile to my face scrolling through it :-)”

Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

“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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