In January of 2018, a lot of people were asking me (and Rethink) the same question: “What now?”
Let me get more specific. Just months earlier, over the course of fall 2017, the #MeToo movement had unfolded in a series of stunning developments.
As the New York Times put it at the time, in the story #MeToo Brought Down 201 Powerful Men:
“They had often gotten away with it for years, and for those they harassed, it seemed as if the perpetrators would never pay any consequences. Then came the report that detailed Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults and harassment, and his fall from Hollywood’s heights."
…A New York Times analysis has found that, since the publishing of the exposé (followed days later by a New Yorker investigation), at least 200 prominent men have lost their jobs after public allegations of sexual harassment. A few, including Mr. Weinstein, face criminal charges. … And nearly half of the men who have been replaced were succeeded by women.
The movement came for chefs, actors, movie producers, directors, screenwriters, major league franchise owners, senators and state senators, journalists and TV hosts, and heads of major arts institutions and nonprofits.
It was astonishing. It was an earthquake. And our clients rightly perceived that something in the culture had permanently shifted.
Overnight, our old messaging about harassment and workplace conduct had grown dated. We needed to go beyond compliance with laws or even “culture building” to grapple with complex concepts like consent and unequal power dynamics.
“You’re a woman-owned compliance business,” more than one person said to me. “Help us figure out: What’s the message now?”
It was in this environment that Patti Caswell and I teamed up with viral video creator, Gary Turk. Patti had found his “Look Up” video, seen by more than 60 million people worldwide, and reached out on impulse.
The result: “Don’t Stand By,” which pioneered the use of spoken word poetry in compliance.
Just three minutes long, the video sent a message to perpetrators, targets, and (most importantly) potential bystanders of harassment, bullying, and similar misconduct.
Over the past five years, Don’t Stand By has been used to powerful effect by a number of our clients, and the message remains just as relevant today as it was then.
Three lessons from that collaboration:
1. To send a message that resonates, start with your audience — not your talking points.
When we kicked off the project, Gary didn’t ask us about the details of our message.
Instead, he wanted to hear about our audience.
Why should employees care if harassment happens at their companies? Who is in a position to take a stand against bad behavior? Who gets hurt if they remain silent?
His goal was to find the right emotional angle and the key pieces of information that would make people “think, feel, and follow along” — in other words, not just think or feel something about the topic but turn those insights into meaningful action.
And that’s a critical missing piece. When we simply push out information – no matter how good or relevant, and no matter how plainly stated – we lose a chance to position the topic in a context that our audience might care about or relate to.
By taking the time to understand what our audience cared about, Gary was able to create content our audience actually wanted to engage with.
2. Even mandatory training doesn’t have to be boring.
Imagine compliance messaging that pulls people in.
Imagine something that people watch voluntarily, with no LMS reminders, no mandatory completion rates, no stern warnings from their manager.
Sound unlikely? After the video was finished, Gary posted it on his YouTube page, and so far more than 47,000 people have viewed it. That’s as many people as Goldman Sachs employs!
Making great content is never simple or easy. You need talented creatives and a rigorous, iterative process to get the details just right.
But compliance topics are all about human behavior. And making this video proved to me that anything that involves humans can be interesting and relevant if you find the right way in.
3. Sometimes, employees don’t need more information — they need to think differently about the topic.
Reading behavioral science books has convinced me that information alone doesn’t change behavior. (Otherwise, every modern human would floss daily, exercise three times a week, and have fully-funded retirement accounts.)
Here, advertising knows something that compliance is only starting to arrive at: Facts and logic have their place. But we’re human, and so is the audience we’re talking to.
We often get better results if we take a break from trying to download all the facts and logic in our brains and just connect with people. Emotions lock in learning, especially when human behavior is on the line.
Five years later, I’m proud of the video we created back in 2018 as well as the impact it has had on a number of workplaces. The lessons it taught us have informed many of the projects we’ve worked on since then and a number of the titles in our library.
Want to see more great courses and videos designed with the audience in mind? Reach out to us at email@example.com — we’d be happy to show them to you!