Interview with Paul Degenstein, Partner at NOW Communications

February 18, 2011

Over at Creative Unions is an interview I conducted with Paul Degenstein, the Chief Creative Officer of Canadian creative agency NOW Communications.

NOW put together this fantastic video for the Manitoba’s Government Employees Union, entitled “Woke”.

It does a fantastic job of creating a strong emotional connection with health professionals whose jobs rarely have a high public profile – they aren’t nurses or doctors. It’s told from the perspective of a patient who interacts with the many skilled health workers after an accident, and it really does tug the heart-strings.

[box type=”info”]Below is an excerpt from the interview. Visit Creative Unions to read it all.[/box]

Paul Degenstein, NOW Group

Paul Degenstein, from NOW Group

Q – Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the NOW group?

NOW was started nearly 20 years ago to fill the need in Vancouver, Canada for a progressive ad agency that understood the challenges and aspirations of the union movement as well as the values of the newly elected social democratic provincial government in British Columbia.  Since then, NOW has grown into a national agency, with clients across Canada.  Our whole reason for being is to work for causes we believe in.  And we’ve been very lucky to have a great list of union, social change, progressive party and government clients.  In fact, these are the only people we work for.

Q – Can you tell us about your latest project for MGEU?  What was the purpose and strategy behind it?  Why was it made?  What was the reception, from the general public, union members, union officials?  Why was it important to create an “emotional connection”?

Wow, there are a lot of questions there.  I’ll try to be brief!  The MGEU represents a wide range of government and public sector workers in the province of Manitoba.  Some of the workers they represent are better known than others.  The union feels a responsibility to raise awareness of the important work its members perform and to build support for the public services those workers provide.  This ad is just one example of their work in this regard.  When people think of hospitals and health care, they think primarily of doctors and nurses.  There is a whole variety of health technical professionals that people don’t think of that are crucial to the care you receive.  This ad shines a light on those professionals.  It has just begun airing, but the anecdotal reception has been really wonderful.  Almost all of the feedback is centred around the power of the story the ad tells.  It’s based on real experiences and that shows.  People really responded to the line, “I didn’t even know all these professions existed…but these people, amazing people, gave me my life back.”  There’s the lump in throat feeling people describe when they talk about their reaction to the spot – it’s exactly the feeling one hopes for.  Health care is a personal and emotional subject.  If your spot can provide new information while touching people’s hearts, you’ve hit the mark.

Q – What is your strategy in general for union communications?  What are your tips for union communications officers out there?  What’s the best thing a union can do to be a more effective communicator?

I’m not sure we have anything to tell you that you don’t already know.  But three top-of-mind thoughts.  First, too often, campaigns are designed by and for union activists.  At NOW, we think the membership rank and file should be the key audience.  Listen to them.  Get their input and feedback.  It can be very different from what the most “militant” of us are looking for.  You want your members to understand and buy into the campaign, and to be proud of it. This is particularly important if it’s controversial.  Second, if you want the public to support and appreciate you, show your love and support for them.  In other words, talk to the public about the things they care about – link the aspirations of your members with the aspirations of the public at large.  If you’re teachers, for example, don’t talk about yourselves.  Talk about kids.  Talk about parents.  And how the changes you’re advocating will make life better for them.  Third, unions should always consider a range of creative options and variances in tone to get your message across.  But remember your audience.  Glib and hip ads might speak to many of us as communicators and ad execs, but we’re not the audience.  Know your audience and speak to them in a way that reaches them as opposed to entertaining you.

[box type=”info”]Read the entire interview at Creative Unions.[/box]


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