As summer draws to a close, I’m gearing up for open enrollment season. Communications consultants and HR staff face the brunt of challenges during the season.
As a designer, I manage much of the production, print fulfillment and mailings. Designers don’t develop tactics, answer employee questions, or oversee a large campaign. We have our own challenges to face. Let’s take a look at what goes into creating client campaigns throughout the season.
Our communications team talks to our consultants to discuss which clients are returning. We review how those clients received last years’ tactics. We ask what we can do to improve those tactics or propose fresh ideas to install for their new campaign.
Have any of our clients had any major changes to their business? Mergers, growth, down-sizing? Do any of the clients’ materials need a refresh? We could discuss with them the possibility it’s time to consider a major campaign update. As clients update brand guidelines and add new benefits, does their content look like a hodge-podge of updates? Also, we take stock of what new clients have knocked at our door. Out of all the proposals we made over the winter and spring, which client looks promising? What is the possibility of new clients that we never even took into account?
As we get deeper into August, we begin to get a better view. We fill in spreadsheets with more detail and assign staff to clients. Clients start to confirm their open enrollment dates. We talk to our printers and ask for revised quote, trying to get better prices and securing press space. By now, all last year’s files have been cleaned up and are ready to go. We hold weekly meetings to bring new team members up-to-speed and discuss the tactics and concerns of our clients.
We begin to research new clients to interpret their brand guidelines and capture their aesthetic . Working with clients’ design, marketing, branding and HR staff , we create templates for their new content.
For current clients requesting a re-design, we put the finishing touches on their revised look. The team is familiar with clients’ previous challenges, letting us to prepare the changes that will come to their plans.
Most importantly, we rest and take time off, while things are still calm.
Once Labor Day passes, the pace has begun to change, rapidly. More and more emails go between consultant and client. Things are begging to go into layout. Drafts pass back and forth. Printers and quantities are confirmed. Postage estimates start to come through. Finally, by the middle of the month, you realize open enrollment is here.
The first few campaigns make their way to press and mailing invoices need to be paid ASAP. Small, inevitable delays in production cause jobs to be sent to press a day late. But, our always savvy printers have already taken delays into account and fulfill requests by the mail date!
When I first came onboard, open enrollment was described to me as a wave. Just before it comes to shore, there is a drawback, then a small surge, then before you know it you are riding the crest of the wave. Before you know it, the wave has dissipated and you are back in the calm again. It’s really the best analogy I’ve ever heard for the period.
By now we are riding the crest of the wave. If you have done your homework and worked your best to prepare, it’s a blast. While everything is down to the wire, the rush of rapid turnaround does not leave any time for indecisiveness. We make decisions quickly and hammer out projects with speed and efficiency. It’s not unheard of to have daily deadline. Hundreds of emails that need your attention and response flood your inbox. The headset of your phone is permanently attached to our ears as we call printers with last minute changes and updates on any delays.
As October closes, things begin to wind down. We still ride the wave, but it’s lost much of its energy. Final jobs make their way out the door. We see print samples and mailing seeds. Our focus moves from communications to the implementation of employee benefits by the end of the year. Campaigns draw to a close and by Thanksgiving, things are ‘normal.’
Of course, with all our prep, our open enrollment season will be text book perfect! I’m prepared, are you?
Way back, when I was new to benefits communication, I hardly had any idea what I was getting involved with. Old timers tried to warn me that this niche tested the ability, skills and will of the best in the communications field. Properly communicating to employees the differences between an HSA and an FSA is an art, and not every consultant has the chops to make it.
“Poppycock.” That was my response. I had been in the publishing field for years. How much worse can this be?
Having had enough of my flip attitude, one wizened, battle-scarred consultant pointed a crooked finger in my direction. “You laugh now, you mock our experience and the wars we fought,” the consultant growled.
“But you, YOU,” shaking her finger directly at me for added emphasis, “have never seen how poorly executed benefits communications can devour an employee population from the inside. The CHAOS from carpet bombing employee populations with unintelligible letters and memos. ENTIRE employee populations zombified and beating down the doors of human resource managers. Managers with their own questions and few answers…”
“Whoa,” I rolled my eyes. “Kill the theatrics.”
The consultant pointed to the log in her cubicle, beckoning me to sit.
“Listen to my tale of woe before you dismiss me,” the veteran said as she began to build a fire.
“A campfire… in the office?” I thought to myself. But, sit down I did. What else would you do when someone is about to be escorted out by security for trying to burn down the building? Something had pushed her too far. I needed to hear her story.
“I was there the day the communications died. When it all went wrong. When a thousand benefit plans were ripped asunder and shattered the hopes and dreams of many.”
As the consultant spun her tale, more co-workers gathered by the campfire and took a seat on the log. All of them, might I add, a bit in shock by the scene they were witnessing. The veteran paced back and forth with a wicked grin on her face.
“Come on, you must be exaggerating. No one has ever died because they did not receive their benefit communications!” one of the gathered team members asserted.
“Don’t be so smug,” the veteran answered with a snarl. “Without the necessary communications, anything can happen.
“Why, if they aren’t properly informed on where to go for care, employees may flounder on whether to go to the urgent care or the emergency room,” the veteran continued. “A severe infection may not get treated in a timely matter. A small splinter could cause a serious infection, gangrene could set in…”Tthe veteran paused. “Then… AMPUTATION!” the veteran bellowed.
The assembled audience, their tension relieved, burst out in laughter and eye rolls. They assumed this had all been the gag of a stressed out co-worker.
With a loud “Boom!” the veteran’s fist slammed down on her desk.
“You think this is all a joke!?!?” The veteran screamed in a creepy, high-pitched voice. With malice, the consultant hoisted her hand in the air above the gathering.
Where there had once been a hand, there was now the glistening steel of a sharp, hooked claw at the end of the veterans forearm. Since this was a detail no one had ever noticed before, there was much confusion amongst the team.
Finally, I asked, “Wait… are you able to use FSA or HSA funds for your prosthetic appliance?”
“Good question!” the veteran answered. “Now, THIS is why employee benefit communications are so important.”
It’s time you give your employees a show. Dim the lights, make some popcorn, let them sit back and get ready to be dazzled by your next big blockbuster. That’s right, your blockbuster video. Presenting your internal communications as short, narrated videos is a great way to reach your employee population.
Why choose video for your next benefit communication campaign? Not only are employees expecting it, but video aids comprehension, ensures compliance and it allows for a speedy consistent delivery of your message.
65% of the population prefers a visual approach to learning and 30% prefer an auditory approach. With video communications, theoretically, you can reach 95% of your audience! That’s great, right?
Video content delivery platforms make compliance easier too! Many content delivery platforms allow administrators to track and see just who is watching — and how long they watch — the video presentations. Now you can ensure compliance and be certain EVERYONE has seen your message.
But, just because you can force employees to watch the video, doesn’t mean you can skimp on creating an entertaining production. A best practice is to create a video that entertains and informs the audience. Keep things light and impersonal. Professional, but with some personality!
The length of the video is also an important consideration. For optimal engagement, try to stay between 3-6 minutes. If your video is too long, you may need to consider an alternate form of communication.
Of course, cost is an important consideration! But, due to improving technology, the cost to produce video communication has become extremely reasonable. With costs coming down, it’s fast becoming an important facet of employee benefits communication.
At Trion we specialize in creating video solutions. We have created dozens of successful video campaigns for many of our clients that generate excellent response rates with their employee population. Check out some of our sample videos at: http://www.trioncommunications.com/video-presentations/. If you need more information, reach out and contact us. We would love to help you kick off a new video-driven campaign!
More! More! More! We just need to squeeze in one more thing about how employees can use their FSA to purchase organic, locally-sourced, non-allergen bandages.
As a designer, I deal with that scenario every day. Sometimes too much information gets in the way of what is the important information. Cramming in more content leads to dense copy, lack of white space, and small, condensed fonts – all of which does not encourage the audience to read.
While I always want to create a visually appealing, award-winning guide, the goal is to create a guide that’s usable and encourages the employee to read and understand vital information. Not only does this help the employee learn about the great benefits you offer, but it also helps you by cutting down on calls and emails from employees who don’t understand their benefits package. In short, a well-designed guide can help a busy HR team and alleviate employee frustration.
In the design world, we are always trying to simplify. Our goal is to keep visual clutter to a minimum, while creating a stylish aesthetic. One of my college professors pointed to the Nutrition label on a box of cereal as a great benchmark of good design. It’s simple, clear, intuitive, yet full of information.
While nutrition labels may not be the style you are going for in your enrollment campaign, a lot can be learned from the philosophy behind that design. A few key things to remember are:
- Don’t be afraid of white space! Don’t feel the need to fill the entire page with text, color, and imagery. Use an easy-to-read font, set somewhere between 9.5-12 point, with generous leading (the amount of space between each line).
- Don’t get stuck on extraneous details! Is all the important information being crushed into illegibility just so you can fit in a few small details that don’t affect the majority of your employees? Give the important bits some space. It will give emphasis and encourage the audience to read your communications.
- Simplify! Keep content simple and to the point. Use as few words as possible to get the point across. Charts and tables can help to disseminate information concisely and in an easy-to-reference format.
Just remember, if you wouldn’t want to read your communications, why would your employee population?