Branding Employees

An exhibit industry client had grown significantly in recent years, diversifying from its tradeshow business into museums, environments (lobbies, etc), and point-of-purchase displays, as well as technology-driven interactives. Its marketing had not kept pace, however, and the little marketing communication that had been initiated lacked consistency and cohesiveness.

I was brought on to strategize and implement a program that would raise the company’s visibility and appeal in the marketplace. I bet everything on employees as messages and models.


  • Using employees as models has proven to be risky for marketers and advertisers.
  • My conservative client was expecting an approach that would match its competitors’ style.

I knew that employee attitudes influenced not only productivity and service quality but also customers’ perception of the company. As I studied the exhibit company, mostly by watching and talking with employees, I sensed strong positive attitudes about wanting to work cooperatively, creatively, and long hours if necessary to benefit the customer.

I wanted to channel that attitude into a marketing program that connected emotionally with the target audience. Equally important, featuring employees in marketing would be good internal marketing.

Rather than creating a marketing program and specifying certain media, I decided that, first, I would capture employees’ attitudes visually and let the images define the message, shape the program, and define the media. That meant photographing and videotaping employees.

jackcardI walked around and observed employees as they worked. Then I selected and invited about a dozen employees, telling them that the photos and videos might or might not be used for ads and other communication, and that they could decline to have their images used.

Amazingly, I had to do very little prompting during the shoots to engage employees and encourage responses that reflected attitude. I ultimately used every employee that we filmed. Six employees’ images proved especially powerful, and around those images, I built an ad campaign for placement in the industry’s leading publication.

One ad featured the burly, tattooed, and likeable face of the shipping manager, with the tagline, “The Whatever-It-Takes Attitude.” Another ad showed a bald, techie, interactives specialist hovering over an innovative Interactive-Wall, with a tagline that read, “The Anything’s Possible Attitude.”

This unusual approach to building a marketing campaign created a stir.

    • The attention-grabbing ads clearly separated the company from its competitors.
    • Everyone internally was enthused about the results and began contributing ideas. For example, the design group had a clever idea for an ad about their out-of-the-box attitude and creative capabilities, which I let them develop, and then we shot and produced it.Even the CEO was inspired to come up with an ad.

Satisfied that we had a theme, a look, and a message, we branched out into other media, including:

      • flyers that promoted the Museums & Environments and Point-of-Purchase segments of the business;
      • short “attitude” videos (See below) for tradeshows and the website; and
      • an exhibit for industry tradeshows featuring employees on four, 20-foot high walls.


Video produced with Cam Uhlig of Camagine.


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