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Change how you present your message and up your recruitment game by using corporate video

By Jess Campbell

Imagine it’s the early 1990s. You’re an HR professional at a shiny new dot-com who’s been tasked with the enormous challenge of hiring several people, like, yesterday. But they can’t be chair-fillers; every person you bring on must be The Right Person.

Being the innovator that you are, you present the idea of creating a corporate video for recruitment. Being a shiny new dot-com, the C-level loves it and throws lots of money at you to get the video produced.

You decide that the best people to tell your company’s story are the people who founded it: the C-suite. They jump in with their I-can-do-anything perspective and tell the camera exactly what they think good candidates want to hear: an embellishment here, a downplay there, and not particularly accurate. At all.

The video does what it was intended to do. You get a mountain of applications and, in a few weeks, candidates have turned into employees.

Except a few months later, some of those good hires start trickling away, leaving for your competitors. That trickle becomes a steady stream, then a raging river called mass exodus. Your employees are leaving their positions and all you can do is wonder what happened.

The C-suite – the folks who smiled and talked at the camera and got their teeth whitened for their moment in the spotlight – are looking at you and trying to figure out where you went wrong.

Well, take heart in knowing that it’s truly not your fault. It’s theirs.

The key to doing video right

The key to doing video and doing it well is telling the truth and being authentic – the key the example from above sorely lacked. Film and video have been in existence for approximately 100 years, with about 50 of those years garnering credits for video specific to corporations. Despite its popularity and proven effectiveness, companies large and small continue to either shy away from it entirely or utilize it incorrectly with disastrous results.

Vern Oakley is the award-winning CEO and creative director at Tribe Pictures in New York, a production firm dedicated to creating corporate video for the likes of NASA, Princeton University, KPMG, Pfizer, Nintendo, Tyco and countless others since 1986. Oakley names corporate video as the secret weapon in communications.

“[Video is] the thing that connects us most to our human experience, when it is well-told and in the hands of a master storyteller,” said Oakley. “Whether it’s an internal branding campaign or taking the CEO’s vision and making sure employees understand it, film is a way that we can learn information and connect to the people delivering those messages in a very short and efficient amount of time. It’s repeatable; it gives you the same message every time.”

Video used externally is an equally powerful tool, according to Oakley.

“It’s sort of like sports: there are a few superstars, there are a lot of great people and then there are a lot of talent that never made the professionals,” he said. “What companies are really looking for is to assemble that all-star team. To do that, you have to talk about what your vision is, what the passion is for your company, your ‘why.’ When you put that out there, you start to attract the right people to come and work at your company.”

But if it were that easy to attract and retain great talent, wouldn’t everybody be doing it? Well, many are; they’re just not getting noticed.

“What really stands out is something that’s authentic, that’s real, that’s truthful – and that takes a little bit of courage,” said Oakley. “You’re not always telling people why you’re great. One of the reasons why video has become sort of cliché is because if someone is telling you their company is perfect, they’re not giving you any truth or insight into it. [But] if someone is courageous enough to make the kind of video that connects and tells people the truth, you’re going to stand out from the crowd because that’s a rare commodity.”

Say who you are – and own it

Oakley says that failing to take your messaging seriously is a mistake, that you cannot simply sell a narrative, whether your video is for internal or external use.

“The most effective videos that we’ve done in this space make you feel like you’ve got a friend on the inside who’s telling you the truth: the good, the bad and maybe not the ugly but the not-so-good – and actually acknowledging that,” he said.

While highlighting the less-than-perfect parts of your company may seem counterproductive, it isn’t. Potential and current employees alike want to feel like they know the company they work for – its values, what it stands for and its limitations. Remember: video has incredible longevity. So, being honest about the things you do well and the things you’re working to do better will help cultivate longer, stronger relationships with the people who work for you, now and years from now.

“Put yourself in their seat,” said Oakley. “If you’re always talking about what makes you great, if it were a person, you’d say they’re a narcissist. What I like to say is that if you can address individual audiences or segments of audiences, then the message will resonate more fully with those people.”

Using video to spread your company’s message creates an impression – good or not – for people who may not ever meet you otherwise (especially if you’re a large, multinational company). The idea is that those appearing on camera are able to be relaxed, focused and genuine. For many people, being in front of a camera causes them to clam up and stress out; they think too much about the persona they “should” portray instead of being who they are.

“What people want to perceive is a real human being. Being real and authentic on camera sometimes has to do with bringing a bit of vulnerability and empathy to the situation,” said Oakley. “You have to understand that it’s a unique situation: it’s a bit awkward and it’s going to take some getting used to. Don’t be hard on yourself the first couple of times you’re doing it.”

When you decide to go the video route, it is critical that everyone involved prepares beforehand. Just like it’s a good idea to take a few skiing lessons before heading up a mountain for the first time, it’s important to practice things like tone of voice, pacing and facial and body expression before sitting down in front of the camera.

“I like to say that communication happens on film in three ways: it’s the actual words that you say, it’s the actual vocal intonation that you have and it’s your body language. If those three things are not congruent, you’re not communicating,” said Oakley.

Oakley recommends going over key messaging and wording before shoot day but not to focus too much on how those messages are brought forth.

“So much effort is spent on the words – and that’s important – but not as much effort is spent on the other two aspects,” he said. “We know through research that those other two aspects, intonation and body language, cumulatively, are more important than the words.”

From creating a long-standing message for potential employees to helping current staff get to know the company better, the benefits of using corporate video are many. Focus less on creating a persona and more on telling your company’s true story with authenticity, honesty and openness. Do that and the right people will come running – and stick around. 

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