Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Reaching out to the TV Generation

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Reaching out to the TV Generation

Article excerpt

Reaching Out to the TV Generation

Recognizing TV's power to command attention, companies are increasing their use of video to disseminate a wide array of public relations messages. From employee communications to crisis management to promoting products and services, corporate video is now veiwed as an invaluable management tool.

It's Monday night and "Bobbi," a Boeing employee with a substance abuse problem, is shown on a city street corner shoving a handful of money into a dealer's hand in exchange for drugs. Next, we see her sitting alone at a bar, guzzling beer after beer. As these images flash across the TV screen, "Bobbi" recounts her personal battle with drugs and alcohol: "I couldn't believe I was using drugs on a Monday night. I was terrified. Shaking. I never used chemicals during the week. Only on weekends. This wasn't the weekend. Deep down I knew I was out of control."

"Bobbi" is not on the evening news. Nor is she an actor. "Bobbi" is an employee at The Boeing Company, based in Seattle. She is telling her story to fellow Boeing employees in a 16-minute video created to communicate the company's new policy on drugs and alcohol. The $40,000 video, narrated by another Boeing employee who describes himself as a "recovering alcoholic," outlines the aeronautic giant's new Employee Assistance Program. In the video, Boeing's message to its employees comes across loud and clear: "If you have a drug problem, we want to help you."

Boeing is just one of the growing legion of companies whose top management has embraced video as a vital business and public relations tool. Once thought of as little more than a training tool, video is increasingly being employed by corporate practitioners to communicate virtually every kind of public relations message. Applications go well beyond the now-familiar news magazine format.

Companies are capitalizing on video's powerful emotional qualities, mass appeal and ability to target niche audiences. Today, using electronic images to communicate a company's corporate culture and tell its story to employees, customers, the public and other vital audiences is not the exception, it's the rule.

Indeed, many organizations are using video as a tool to boost the bottom line. Companies are redefining the boundaries of what constitutes an appropriate video. Risky formats borrowed from broadcast television, such as MTV-style videos and spoofs on game shows, no longer fall outside the rules. The emphasis on video has also fueled the demand for "visually literate" public relations practitioners.

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"Video is playing a much more important role in corporate communications," asserts Lee Lathrop, Boeing's corporate manager for internal communications. "Why? We're a TV generation. The majority of the work force grew up with TV and are very comfortable with the medium."

That video now appears to be entrenched in U.S. corporate culture is not surprising, given the public's love affair with TV. Television is ubiquitous, and has replaced print as the medium of choice for most Americans. "It's amazing how many of our employees don't read," notes Lane Talburt, APR, district manager-TV communications, Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., St. Louis.

Studies show that about nine out of 10 Americans get their news from TV. A large percentage also get their entertainment from TV. VCRs are found in 65 percent of U.S. homes. Now, people are getting information about corporate America from TV as well. "The audience is there," says one video producer. "You just have to tap it."

Why video? "It's the drama," notes Dan Droege, manager of internal communications at Phillips Petroleum Company, Bartlesville, Oklahoma. "It's the seeing is believing; the personalization of a message backed up by pictures. From a management standpoint, it puts a face on the person."

A $6 billion industry

The amount of corporate money spent on video for communications purposes has risen dramatically in recent years. …

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