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Making the uninteresting interesting 

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Making the uninteresting interesting 

Trying to engage people with a notoriously dry but incredibly important topic? Look no further…

Data compliance, security awareness, money laundering – there are certain topics that strike fear into the heart of even the most optimistic internal communicator. Here, Helen Deverell looks at how we can bring seemingly dull topics to life.

Explain why

It sounds obvious but the ‘why’ is so often forgotten when communicating mandatory actions.  Yes, people need to complete their money laundering e-learning module, but you might have to chase them less if they understand why it’s so important and how it might affect them personally.

For example, in a previous role I did anti-bribery training. I had reluctantly done it because I was told I had to and didn’t think it affected me at all. A few months later an agency that was pitching for some work with us started sending me gifts and offering me tickets to Wimbledon. Suddenly my training seemed very relevant.

If I’d had a relevant scenario like that shared with me before I would have approached the training completely differently.

What’s in it for me?

Relating dry topics to something more personal can encourage positive behaviours. For example, you’re communicating about how to keep confidential information secure. Why not also provide advice or guidance for employees to share with vulnerable elderly relatives who are often targeted by fraudsters wanting their personal information?

Or if you’re communicating how to keep premises secure through things like avoiding tailgating, always wearing your ID badge etc, you could organise a lunch ‘n learn for people to hear about how to use the latest technologies to help protect their own homes.

Make it fun

I used to have the unenviable job of engaging employees with information security, but we found plenty of ways to add some fun to our campaigns.

One of the things we did was to run messy desk roadshows where we’d set up a desk full of the usual things you’d see on a busy employee’s desk. We then asked people to spot how many security breaches there were (i.e. post-it note with password on it, confidential papers left out in plain view, screen left unlocked). If they spotted them all they were entered into a competition to win an iPad. The purpose was to increase awareness on what constituted a security breach and we measured the success by tracking if the number of reported security breaches increased.

For another client we created a shooting stars style Halloween-themed quiz to communicate some coding principles to a specific team. It was an exceptionally dry topic, but it was imperative that the team not only knew what they were but understood why they were important. The quiz included multiple choice questions about the principles and of course there were Halloween costumes, games (including turning your colleagues into mummies using toilet roll) and a crow from below (as opposed to the dove from above).

It was elaborate, very silly and certainly wouldn’t work in every organisation, but it brought to life something important and helped employees to engage with it in a different way. When asked six months later those employees said they could still remember the coding principles and understood why they were important.

Use storytelling

As we all know, storytelling can be a powerful way of bringing information to life. There’s often a temptation with dry topics to share the consequences of taking the wrong action. However, you’re more likely to have an impact if you share stories of people doing the right thing. For example, how a potentially negative scenario was prevented through someone demonstrating the right behaviours.

In the past, I’ve also used animations to tell stories. We created a character who kept finding themselves in security scrapes with unfortunate consequences. It was always humorous and a bit tongue in cheek but got across an important message.

Stories help people understand the range of scenarios that might occur – things they might not have even considered as being problematic. And remember there are a range of ways to tell stories from blogs, articles, videos, face to face, animation, etc so spend time considering the best channel to bring it to life.

Choose your language carefully

So often the language around dull topics can be off-putting. For example, the word whistleblowing has connotations of being a snitch.

We need to eliminate the jargon and make it human. I recently heard about Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest metals and mining corporations, and how they’d changed the name of their whistleblowing hotline to ‘’Talk to Peggy’. Peggy is a real person who heads up Ethics and Integrity. As a result, they saw calls to their hotline increase substantially. Just a simple name change, but it made it seem far more human and accessible.

Also review the wording in some of your policies – do they help people to do the right thing or do they just tell people what they must not do under any circumstances? When we write policies, we forget we’re writing them for human beings; our tone becomes formal, our sentences long and passive, the word ‘must’ creeps in everywhere and the final result is a five-page document that no one is ever going to read.

While the creation of policies is often out of our remit, there’s nothing stopping you working with other departments to help them shape them into something more palatable. After all, there’s little point in doing a fantastic, engaging campaign if the policies you’re directing people to completely jar with your tone and message.

Hopefully you’re now convinced that dull topics can be interesting, you just need to think a bit differently about them. We’d love to hear how you’ve brought dry topics to life in your organisations – share your experienced with us on Twitter!

By Helen Deverell 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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