Best Practice

Creating Engaging Content: How lessons from Top Gear helped launch Pearson TV

As part of our series on creating great content, we invited Richard Thomson,  Managing Director of Kaptcha to be our guest contributor to the blog this month. Richard has written about how internal communicators can create engaging video content and set up an internal TV channel to engage readers. For more on adding rich media to your communications, download this How to Guide.

Launching a new TV series or TV channel is really exciting – what will it look like, how will it feel, how many people will watch it, will ANYBODY watch and what will they think?

At the BBC, I was one of the early directors to work on what was then the new-look Top Gear with Jeremy, Richard and James. It was exciting – there was a buzz about working on the series.

 Trailer for the first episode of Pearson’s Roundup TV

Four years later, I’d left the BBC and was launching HSBC Live TV – an internal TV channel for their 25,000 retail staff. There was a buzz about launching this new industry-leading channel too.

Top Gear of course became BBC’s most successful export ever (although I’m afraid I can’t claim sole responsibility for that) and HSBC TV became, as Clarkson might say, ‘possibly the best internal TV station in the world’

But how did they both become so successful?

In short they both did the following.

  • Defined their purpose
  • Developed and stuck to a consistent tone of voice
  • Built a regular following through compelling content that the audience wanted to watch
  • Developed a time and cost efficient production process
  • Effective distribution and promotion to boost audience
  • Metrics and focus groups to measure results and refine to keep improving

There are many similarities between launching a new (or revamped) BBC TV series and launching a new Corporate Internal TV channel and a lot of lessons that I took from my experience at the BBC to HSBC.

Since then, as MD of video comms agency, Kaptcha, I’ve helped launch internal TV stations for 3 other corporate clients – the most recent being for the global education company, Pearson.

When we first met the Corporate Affairs team at Pearson, the publishing giant was just emerging from a large-scale global restructure. Internally, the challenge was to keep the UK workforce engaged around business critical themes; to give clarity and continuity of the Pearson values, and boost the sense of shared beliefs and community within the company.

We used the 2015 BETT global education technology conference as our test programme before we launched the main channel.  We trained some of the in-house team to present and film better user generated content which firmly aligned to the goals of the team.

Before we even thought about filming we did what I consider THE most important step when setting up a new video channel (and to be honest even when looking at video in general for your comms) – we ran a Video Strategy Workshop with the Pearson team.

The principle was the same as for HSBC – design a channel that the audience would find useful at work and want to watch – and that would contribute to the company achieving its strategic goals.

What follows are, in brief, the 6 key areas we went through in the workshop to make sure the channel was editorially robust and valuable to the business.

STEP 1 – Purpose

  • What do you want the channel to achieve?
  • How will it contribute to the businesses strategic objectives?
  • How will it integrate with other comms channels?

STEP 2 – Measurement and KPI’s

  • How are you going to know if the channel is working?
  • Viewing figures are one thing but are there more specific and measurable objectives you’d like it to help achieve? – e.g.
    • improvements in employee engagement scores
    • raised customer satisfaction levels
    • savings in information security mistakes
    • increases in sales in a particular area

STEP 3 – Audience and Tone of Voice

  • Who are the audience and why would they watch?
  • Think about what THEY would want to watch and find useful (and don’t be afraid to ask them)
  • Design a tone of voice for the channel that is suitable for them and that clearly aligns to your company’s corporate values

STEP 4 – Editorial Framework

  • Set up a list of criteria upon which to benchmark the suitability of stories for inclusion
  • What are the key storylines you’re telling over the year. How do these tie clearly to your company objectives
  • Any suggestions for content can then be assessed by the editorial team to assess whether to proceed or not

STEP 5 – Roadmap of content

  • Planning ahead can pay big dividends
  • It can enable better use of filming opportunities and content creation and save money as well as internal and external resource
  • What are the big events that may require video over the coming 6 to 12 months?
  • Map this across comms/ marketing/ HR and training
  • Develop a content schedule to make best use of resource while still giving flexibility

STEP 6 – Distribution and Promotion

  • Top Gear (and HSBC Live TV) used all the tricks of the trade to promote – do the same with your channel
  • Use teaser trailers to generate interest before the program goes out
  • Cross promote through other channels – print/ intranet/ texts, etc
  • Use online discussion forums to keep the discussion going

HSBC Live TV took a while to gain momentum but over the 4 years I ran the unit we increased viewing figures massively, added 3 new channels for HSBC’s different internal audiences  (Commercial TV, Call Centre TV and Premier TV) and won many industry awards. More importantly the channels had a real impact on employee engagement and HSBC’s strategic business objectives.

It’s early days for Pearson TV and we’re just a few months in but already the viewing figures and anecdotal feedback has been very positive.

Success however, will be measured by how the channel contributes to Pearson’s strategic objectives – and if it can do that then we really will have created TV gold.


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