Creative Storytelling in Internal Comms with Alan Oram

Summary

Creative genius Alan Oram, Creative Director of Alive with Ideas joined us in this episode (with his sweet little doggo Winston) to talk to us about creativitystorytelling, and how workplace iconography will have to change because of COVID-19. 

Resources

A communications Narrative Framework
Zoom Goats to spice up your remote meetings
The Alive with Ideas blog 

Transcript

Kyla:

Be right back. I’m Kyla Sims, and you’re watching The Bananatag Morning Show. If you’re watching by accident, please don’t leave. But depending on where you’re tuning in from this might not be your morning. It might be your lunch. It might be your happy hour, but regardless you will find us here every Wednesday and Friday at 9:00 AM Pacific, 12:00 PM Eastern, and 5:00 PM UK time, getting practical tips from internal communicators around the world about communicating during COVID-19 connecting with people in the chat and having some laughs, as well. And meanwhile, while we wait for Adam, buckle your seat belts because we’re headed to Britain today with the one and only Alan Oram.

Alan:

Hello, how you doing?

Kyla:

I’m doing great. So not only was Alan a top rated speaker at Bananatag Comms Lab event in last September, which just seems like it was only yesterday. Alan is creative director at alive with ideas and agency working with organizations of all shapes and sizes, helping them to reach and connect with their clients, customers, prospects, and employees through digital print events, environments, campaigns, and much more. Alan has worked with in communications for over 20 years creatively harnessing unique ideas and turning them into powerful campaigns, communicating stories inside and out for organizations, large and small. Today he joins us from his home in Overton, Hampshire, UK. Please welcome Alan Oram. Welcome, Alan.

Alan:

It’s great to be here. Thanks for asking me on.

Kyla:

Oh, it’s a pleasure to have you. I love your wallpaper.

Alan:

Thanks. Yeah, the cactus cupboard.

Kyla:

You’re another Brit. We’ve had lots of Brits on the show. Why is there so much internal comms talent in the UK?

Alan:

Well, you’ve touched on it already. It’s 5:00 PM here and you’re in the past, right?

Kyla:

Oh, right. So it’s just a matter of catching up.

Alan:

Yeah. But you’ve got no time sheet. It was Bill and Ted day at the weekend. So that was your opportunity to obviously time travel and catch us up. But you didn’t quite get there. I think a lot of it comes from, we’ve got some great professional bodies in the UK. Things like the IOIC and CRPR really sort of champion the profession. But I think also we’ve got really kind of active and passionate community of comms people. And I know wherever you are in the world, I think when comms people get together, they are a passionate bunch about what we do. We’re really fortunate to have a lot of those in the UK.

Kyla:

Absolutely. And it looks like Adam might be on his way back. There he is here.

Alan:

Ta-da.

Adam:

Hey guys.

Alan:

The best people always arrive late to the party.

Kyla:

Perfect.

Adam:

Well, that’s never happened before. Isn’t that [inaudible 00:03:01]?

Kyla:

It’s new, it’s exciting.

Adam:

The magic of live broadcast.

Kyla:

Yeah. Alan, before we get started, we have to know what’s in your cup? what do you got going on?

Adam:

In my cup today, because it’s Friday afternoon, I’ve got spiced rum and Coke.

Kyla:

Oh, nice. Nice. I’m just like seeing myself in the future. In an hour being you because-

Alan:

Well, this is the thing, right? When you’re in the future-

Kyla:

That’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Adam:

This is how we [inaudible 00:03:32] in the future.

Kyla:

I love it. I love it.

Adam:

I’m on vacation after this today. So I might be two, three hours away from that max.

Alan:

No need to delay. No need to delay.

Kyla:

That’s great. So today we’re going to be chatting about skills that are central to communicators toolkit, creativity, and storytelling, two my favorite topics, as well as how we can capture the best from what’s changed in internal communications during COVID-19. But first we’re going to get to know Alan, just a little bit better.

Adam:

That’s right. The excitement didn’t stop with technical mishaps today. We’ve got everyone’s favorite segment “Getting to Know You”, and how it works is we get to ask you as many questions as we can within 30 seconds. And all you have to do is sit back, relax and say the first thing that comes to your mind.

Alan:

This sounds quite dangerous, dangerous.

Adam:

All right, here we go. Name an incredibly British meal.

Alan:

Fish and chips.

Kyla:

What is your biggest fear?

Alan:

I’m going to go for an animal. Snakes.

Adam:

Oh, good one. What is the last TV show you binged?

Alan:

Peaky Blinders.

Kyla:

That’s a good one.

Alan:

Yeah.

Kyla:

What’s your full name?

Alan:

This means revealing my middle name. Allen Dennis Oram.

Kyla:

That’s not too bad.

Adam:

I thought it was going to be something embarrassing.

Alan:

Well, that depends on who you are.

Adam:

I guess. All right. Next question. Do you like wine?

Alan:

Yes.

Kyla:

And what’s the best thing about working in comms?

Alan:

Community is pretty cool. I think everyone’s so supportive and great bunch of people, really. I think that’s pretty cool.

Adam:

Absolutely. I love it. All right. Well, that’s it. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Alan:

No, I was expecting far worse, actually. Not that I’m disappointed.

Adam:

We’re just getting warmed up, then we might throw a curve ball in there somewhere. And I don’t know if we’ve addressed it yet, given that I was away for a moment there, but there’s a very real possibility that we might have our first canine appearance on the morning show this morning. Is that right?

Alan:

I brought a friend with me. He’s just to hold the anxiety

[crosstalk 00:00:05:53]

.This is Winston, he’s about 18 months old and sometimes he smells. [crosstalk 00:06:03] He’s with me here today keeping me company.

Adam:

Well, he’s very well behaved.

Alan:

Yeah, so far.

Kyla:

So far. Yeah. And if you’re in the chat, go ahead and say, hi, tell us where you’re from.If you have any questions for Alan, also, put them in the chat. Let’s let’s put him on the spot because he clearly loves it.

[crosstalk 00:06:31]

Alan:

I should have done that worse in that case.

Kyla:

Meanwhile. So we cannot wait to ask you a bit about your work and the lessons that have come out of it in the last few months. So you’re the Creative Director at Alive With Ideas as we heard just a moment ago. What kind of work has people being turning to you for since COVID-19 hit?

Alan:

Yeah. And so it’s interesting cause we have a slight sort of twist at the start of just before locked down, really. And when the, when the virus was sort of really kicking off in the UK. We offered up some support to NHS comms teams for free because we knew that they were under pressure and we wanted to help. We wanted to find a way that we could have an impact on what was going on and to address the big challenges of the day, really. We’ve heard of other companies doing stuff like making ventilators and that kind of thing. We can’t do that, but we can support comms teams with some creative input. So the initial projects that came off the back of that were sort of guidance around PPE and how doctors and nurses should put on and take off PPE. So infographics and that kind of thing and working out some clear instructions. As there was a lot of issues right at the start. Some ways to show appreciation for colleagues. So in saying thank you for all of the hard work that they were doing.

                And also we designed a resilience workbook for frontline medical staff, obviously going through a really tough time at this point. And we worked with a NHS trust and that is actually something that can be repurposed. So if we’ve got any NHS comms people on today, we can rebrand that and do whatever for free, as long as the change aren’t too heavy duty, we referenced where it came from in the first place. So that’s something that we sort of jumped on straight away. But on from that there was a lot of requests for remote working guides, wellbeing guides, and support for managers that were suddenly going through his change and needed to sort of work out how they collaborate work with their teams. So that was certainly something that we saw, but the refreshing thing or unexpected things that continue to happen with some of the projects that we were already working on, things like transformation projects that were large scale changes to organizations sort of had a flip for a week or two, but then just jumped back in and they sort of built on what was going on and used it as a vehicle to help them with some of the changes that they want to make.

                In a positive way, in an opportunistic way, which is great to see. We didn’t know that that was really going to happen with all the breaks might go and everything, but I think people try to carry on as best they can.

Kyla:

I think that’s a great demonstration of just how essential communicators have been in this full process. Like having things, it may not be building ventilators, but having those resources available and all of that for doctors and that resiliency stuff is so important. That’s fantastic. Good for you. That’s really great. It’s pretty heavy, all that stuff, but I’m curious if you’ve seen during COVID-19, if it in any way had a positive impact on the way organizations are treating internal comms?

Alan:

Yeah. So, so we carried out a little survey around sort of three questions about what’s going on at this point in time and more important to ask, but it’s not what’s going to stick or what’s going to stick with us in the future as we move through this. And over half of communicators that responded said that they felt that comms is going to be more valued in the future. That’s the hard facts, but anecdotally we’ve heard stories. One in particular stands out. Chief Exec that tended to hide behind sort of other means of communication has been more visible than what he’s ever been in this time and has been out with his teams doing what needs to be done. Let’s hope some of that behavior sticks. Let’s see those good qualities come out from now and that they live on because there’s good things that we can learn from this time.

Adam:

Now our next question is about creativity, but just on that note, I have to say, you might have the, the coolest background wallpaper slash t-shirt combo of any guests that we’ve had. So congratulations that really stands out.

Kyla:

Yeah, it’s great.

Alan:

Yeah, the cactus stuff does seem to get a few mentions. Actually, I was on a call with our day with a client and I had to hide down and duck because she wanted to take a picture of the wallpaper and share it with someone. People would just come in for the wallpaper really. And I just happened to be a little bit in the way.

Adam:

I sometimes do it on Zoom calls, but just to scare people.

[inaudible 00:11:56]

It’s harder to just scare people when you’re not in person. Go figure.

Kyla:

Yeah.

Adam:

So, okay. You manage a remote team… Back to the business story. You manage a remote team. How do you manage to stay creative and manage creative team when everybody is remote? Is that harder?

Alan:

That’s an interesting thing going into everyone working remotely. We already have people working remotely anyway as part of a team, but I suppose they weren’t a design team. They were either copywriters or account managers those types of people. But going into this period, we weren’t a hundred percent sure how that was going to play out. But actually I think there’s some stuff that’s going on now that is better than what it was before. So just moments before jumping on this call, we were bouncing around some strap lines for a client in Slack and just playing off one another and sort of riff in in that way. And there’s been more constructed moments where people getting together and thinking creatively and sharing thoughts and ideas. And ideas seem to be shared quicker now than perhaps we would have been if we were comfortably sat in the office, not moving around quite so much, but they seem to just be floating through and through certainly.

                Well, we use Slack, so it’s through our channel really that people are doing it, but also then jumping on the team’s call and just having a quick chat and catching up with how you’re getting on with this, or why don’t we try X, Y and Z, and those ideas forming really quickly. So yeah, it was a leap into the unknown really on that front. Actually, whilst I’m talking about it from our perspective, I think any comms team can take hope from that because I always look at us and the way in which we work and think, well, there’s no reason why any comms team can’t apply the same thinking principles that we were using to how they go about their work. So I would hope that comms teams are seeing the same thing that they’re just working slightly differently, but those ideas are flooding.

Adam:

And there’s some really amazing tools, as well. I know that here at Bananatag, one of the things that I always appreciated… Kyla led us through this whole process of a vision and mission. And we used a tool even before any of COVID called Bureau to kind of visualize [inaudible 00:14:23] with our other office because we have Kelowna, Vancouver, British Columbia offices. Things like that are bigger than ever right now because we still have this need to visualize and work together in real time. But I hear you, it could be just as powerful if not more, if done right.

Alan:

I don’t know this for certain, but through some of the channels you use relieves the pressures of you, because you’re not needing to explain it or you can just put it out there and if it works, it works and if it doesn’t, whereas if you’re there in front of the people, there’s that kind of pressure of being right. And it being the right idea rather than just throwing out there and see seeing what works.

Kyla:

As a creative, who’s now working remotely, it’s funny some days it definitely feels off, but there’s something about the pressure of like, “Okay, like this thing has got to get done and it’s got to happen”, that just… I hate to say this because I don’t want more pressure, but that’s where for me as a creative, I really am able to take the form where I’m like, “Nope, this is the only focus. This is what’s happening. I don’t have Adam next to me trying to pull pranks or whatever, distracting me. I don’t have the office dogs looking for my attention”, which I love all that stuff, but I’m just really able to focus in a way that I don’t usually get in the office, which is a double edged sword because I definitely miss going to the office. That focus has been really intense and kind of nice actually.

Alan:

Our thing is trying to balance all of those things off, isn’t it? Because the time that you get in the office to build those relationships and bounce off each other is brilliant, but you do need time to think in quiet space, particularly if you’re writing copy as well, because that’s hard to do with so much going on around you. So I think it’s really important to carve out those different parts of your… You work in schedule, whether we can go in the office or not. So yeah. It’s all about that really. About that balance.

Kyla:

Totally. As much as I like the focus of home, I am so ready to be back in the office with all of my friends. All of my cool friends that I work with.

Adam:

You say that now. [crosstalk 00:16:56].

Alan:

With the world watching, you can say that.

Kyla:

Yeah. But one of the things that we’ve noticed are like, we used to do this thing where we’d all be sitting there on like 2:30 on a Friday. And then all of a sudden someone swings around their chair and they’re like, “Hey, I got a great idea.” Then we just have this moment of just hilarious like we’re coming up with all these wild ideas and everything. And that is what I miss. Truly, that is what I miss. It’s just like the random like, “Hey”, someone’s really excited and you can see their enthusiasm. It’s like, “Oh, I just have amazing ideas.” So, can’t wait for that.

Alan:

I think it’s trying to balance that time off, isn’t it? When we go back to work as normal as it hopefully will be, you want to remember what you’ve had today and not to forget that when you go back to sort of normal work, whatever that might be. But I think it’s creating that balance, right?

Kyla:

Obviously you’re a Communications and Creative Agency, and there’s something really interesting that you’ve spoken about that I think is really interesting. As a lot of workplaces are starting to return to in-person work in the office, there’s this idea of iconography in the workplace and how that might change as a result of COVID. Can you speak a little bit about that?

Alan:

The thought came from a project that we’ve been working on clients looking to put in place or launch their purpose to the organization and along with refreshing their values, as well. And I think values would become an important thing going back, because has your organization truly got values? Well, we’re seeing whether they have or not at this point in time really clearly by those that are doing the right thing and those that are maybe not. But on the back of that work, particularly around the value side of things, there was talk about trust in the previous values that they had. And it just struck me that often you get a set of values let’s say trust is one of them, the obvious and not particularly exciting response to that is to put handshake there as a icon of what trust means. That handshake, this moment, that we’re sealing that bond and all of those sorts of things, but we’ve not meant to be shaking hands with anyone right now.

                And how long is that going to be the case and how much will it impact the type of visuals that we associate with different parts of what we do. And the other part was about sort of communications that we might be sharing and putting together. Often we’re looking at photography and showing people hanging out in the workplace, collaborating on a white board, all of those sorts of things and sort of cliched images that we might expect, how right do they feel when you can’t get that close to people? And how do we need rethink those visuals and those images that we associate with the workplace and how does that affect how we weave all of that together into our communications? Because the visual aspect can captivate as much as the word. So we need to really sort of reevaluate some of that stuff to make sense out of it and to reinvent what that is to a degree.

Adam:

It’s interesting, we had a guest Jenny Field you’ll know over there from the UK, amazing communicator, and she works with the photographer to capture as one does when one is speaking those things-

Alan:

[crosstalk 00:20:34] images, as well.

Adam:

Yeah. So she worked with the photographer who’d set up a laptop and recorded her on the Bananatag Morning Show and took photos. It sounds silly. It sounds kind of flat. They were great photos.

Kyla:

They were really good.

Adam:

They’re really dynamic. So it’s constraints and creativity… that marriage is pretty interesting.

Alan:

I’ve got a book over there that is called “Limit Yourself: And Unleash Your Creativity”. So it’s all about that. One of the bits in there, it talks about kids in play area in the playground. And if you put a kid in a playground, that’s got a fence around it, it will naturally go to the extremities of that and look through the fence and wonder what’s beyond it. If there are no restraints in there, they will stay on those swings and that area that you put them on. So those restraints get you to look beyond and get you to think about something different. Yeah. Sorry. [inaudible 00:21:36].

Kyla:

It’s something that we’ve seen during COVID-19 in almost every industry and with people with art and with friendships and all of these things, when we’re like, “Okay, we can’t see each other in person. We know we can’t touch each other, all of it. We can’t go see live music or we can’t be a part of these things that are so integral to our wellbeing. So how do we adapt?” And the creative stuff that’s come out of that has been so interesting and so cool. At Bananatag on Fridays, when we were back in the office, it was always a big deal, so four o’clock like whether you were done work or not, that music got cranked up, everybody’s like, “Stop what you’re doing, grabbing a beer, grabbing a drink, go and play some ping pong or some pool or some card games or whatever.”

                And when we obviously were working from home, it was like, “Oh, it’s four o’clock. Well, there’s nobody here.” So we’ve been hosting these Friday social hours. And at first I was like, I’m going to be honest. I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to sit on Zoom even longer. I’ve already been on Zoom all day.” But the stuff that people have come up with, we do Cribs edition, where we have colleagues that go around their house and like show us other stuff. We play games. We have-

Alan:

[crosstalk 00:22:51] is it, the whole Cribs thing? Because I’ve got some tidying up to be done, if that’s the case.

Kyla:

[crosstalk 00:22:59] I am very curious about what the rest of your house looks like after seeing this wallpaper. I want to know what other wallpaper you have.

Adam:

Meanwhile, before we get into that, we’re down to our last five minutes, which is always sad, but it does mean we get to talk about more creative stuff. Why don’t you walk us through your Tool Tip of the Day?

Alan:

Oh okay, cool. I wondered where we’re going just for a moment. A couple of things to share, first up is a narrative framework taken from great book by Lynn Fitzpatrick and Sue… I’ve forgotten her name now. That’s embarrassing. It’s down there at the bottom of the slide, but it’s a narrative framework that we use all the time. We use it really into two instances. One is when we’ve got too much information and we need to distill it down. So outlining what the challenge is, what journey that we need to go on, the destination that we’re trying to get to and what the prize is. But we also use it when we haven’t got enough. So we will put this together and we’ll share it with a client. And we’ll say, “How does this feel? Can you share it with your stakeholders? Can you get feedback on what this is?

                And can we flesh out what that narrative to the project is that we’re trying to put together?” Sometimes it becomes something that we share with employees as part of the communications. And sometimes it just becomes something that we constant… Thank you, Sue [inaudible 00:24:43] Hearst. Thanks [inaudible 00:24:44]. Apologies to Sue really for not being able to remember. But sometimes we use it as just something to refer back to and constantly check back as we worked through a program or a campaign or a project to say, “Are we on track with our message? Does this, what we’re putting together right now, resonate with the narrative that we put together on the outset?” Yeah. So I find it a great tool. Caroline, who I’ve worked with, uses it all the time and just does a great job of constructing the narrative around the project.

Kyla:

That’s fantastic. Very cool. Very cool.

Alan:

Good book, as well. So worth looking at.

Kyla:

And you have another a Tool Tip, as well.

Alan:

Well, this is the important one, because we’re spending a lot of time on Zoom, on calls, talking to people online. And I think what you need, if you haven’t got a dog, you need to goat, right? So I joined the meeting the other morning, I was with a client with their comms team and we had another research agency involved and they were talking through their findings. But before we got to that, Terrence the goat, joined us for five minutes. And actually they respond as well in the chat on Zoom to join in with meetings. So if you take a look, obviously there’s a link there, I guess we can share it, but get them involved. I mean, what a great idea to keep people in-

Kyla:

So funny.

Alan:

It just lightens the mood. What can you… He’s not one of them. I would certainly recommend Terrence.

Kyla:

Wow that’s fantastic.

Adam:

You know what? Sometimes a goat might be more useful than me on The Morning Show, depending on the morning.

Alan:

You’re pretty good with technology and I’m not saying anything about what happened at the start of the show. He was there, replied in the chat.

Adam:

I love it. Oh dear.

Kyla:

Oh Adam.

Adam:

A few quick, very special announcements before we come back. Next week on the show, I won’t be here, but Kyla will be co-hosting a special IVC World Conference Edition of The Morning Show, 8:00 AM, Monday and Tuesday with some amazing co-hosts and guests. Monday it’s Pinaki Kathiari co-hosting with Kyla and interviewing Caroline Dunnet from Edelman, talking about their Dove Men+Care campaigns. So exciting. Again, 8:00 AM on Monday and Tuesday before the world conference, Kyla will be co-hosting with the one and only Jason Anthoine. I wonder if he will have a spiked ice tea during that Morning Show and they’ll be interviewing the one and only the inimitable Priya Bates, ABC, MC, SCMP, IVC, fellow X, Y, Z, one two, three [crosstalk 00:27:53] shows. So make sure you tune in on Monday and Tuesday.

                I am so jealous to miss this. Kyla, please don’t have any fun at all without me and beyond that make sure you don’t miss those shows, sign up for reminders. We’re going to share link right now. So if you haven’t, you can sign up for reminders of what shows are coming up, what guests, and then resources after the show, all the Tool Tips and top insights from our guests will be brought to your inbox, so sign up today.

Kyla:

Yes. And of course, if you are collaborating with the creative team remotely right now, and you would love to get those communications out faster and you want to stop the endless approval email chains for your employee newsletter. Why not try with Bananatag? We now have real time editing, which means that all of your team members can be in the email, adding their stuff, getting edits done. And so you can get those communications better and out faster. This is a new release from Bananatag and all of the great stuff that we’re launching just keeps coming. So jump on a demo. There’ll be a link in the chat and you can check out all of the cool stuff that Bananatag can do. This is just one awesome feature. So Alan, you have been absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for being here. This was a great show. Do you have any final words for our audience?

Alan:

Well, it looks like the goat’s gone down well, if nothing else. I just saw some messages, pop it up and thinking, “Well, that’s good.” I’m pleased for the fun. The final thoughts, I guess it’s been a tough time for everyone, isn’t it? So particularly for comms people. Well, not particularly for them, but for everyone. But comms people have had a tough job just recently. So look after yourself, I think and make sure you’re taking the time at the weekend to recharge your batteries and to take some time out.

Kyla:

Absolutely. That seems to be the common theme. The common theme is take care of yourself. I don’t know how many times we’ve got to say it, but you better do it. So you’ve heard it here, everybody. Thank you so much for tuning in. We will see you Monday at 8:00 AM. Don’t miss it. It’s going to be super fun. We’re going to make Adam’s so jealous. So do not miss it. Thank you all for tuning in live. For all your comments in the chat. It’s always a pleasure. We’ll see you next week. All right. Have a great weekend, everybody. Bye.

Alan:

Take care.

Adam:

Bye. Okay. So quote of the day, “If you can’t have a dog, you need a goat”.

Alan:

Did I say that?

Adam:

You said it with such authority, as well. I love it. I believe it’s now a mantra.

Alan:

Well, it seems reasonable to me, I think.