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Why so serious? 

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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!

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Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

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

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Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

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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

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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

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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

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Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

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Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

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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

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Gavin Buckle — B&Q
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