All posts by Rick Cole

About Rick Cole

Rick is a Social Media Strategist and Senior Consultant at Smith. Contact the author directly

Scary Movie

Memories that last a lifetime.

When I asked my colleagues about their “scary movie” memories, I learned two things. None of us really cares for scary movies. And the films we saw when we were young really stick with us. This is likely true for most people.

To quote B.B. King, “The Thrill is Gone.” Horror movies, like roller coasters, lose their appeal as we grow older. Experts give many reasons, including emotional stabilization as you age and a more sophisticated understanding of the mechanism of fear-based story telling.

Also, real life can be a lot scarier than Freddy Kruegar. Ever face an IRS audit or wait for your daughter to come home from prom?

In learning about the psychology of fear and movies, I came across a great interview with three pioneers of modern horror (John Landis, David Cronenberg and John Carpenter). I was surprised by some of their views. Especially that children should be barred from watching their horror movies. Considering the lasting impact scary films had on our tender young memories, I think they were on to something.

Here are some of the movies that we remember.

Rick Cole

I grew up minutes from the beach, where I played, swam and surfed from the time I could stand up.

I was 9 years old when Jaws came out. It was rated PG. Because parental guidance was just a suggestion, I went to see it. Huge mistake! I had seen sharks for years, even caught some fishing. Yet somehow, I was more concerned with jelly fish stings and crab pinches than being down downgraded on the food chain. Jaws changed all of that. Still today, thanks to my scariest movie, I must suppress a palpable sense of fear whenever I go in the water.

For example, last year, I had an amazing and unexpected experience paddle boarding with a curious and very large wild dolphin. He swam beside and around me for over 20 minutes. I could have reached out and touched him. The sad thing is that he was so large (close to 10 ft. long) that I was reminded that there also were big sharks in the water. It totally cast a cloud over a wonderful experience. Jaws is the gift that keeps on giving.

Trey Wood

Scary comes in many forms. Joe Pesci provides a lot of tension in the movies Casino and Goodfellas. The rawness of slasher movies such as the original Halloween or the more sophisticated presentation of fear in The Exorcist is very memorable. But I’m going to say the most lasting scary for me in the movies has to be in the form of a large and unrelenting shark. Even today, the movie Jaws causes me to change my swimming habits at any beach I might visit.

Karen Sherman

Okay Rick—I’m not a scary movie person for this exact reason: my 1st scary movie….Cujo. It’s a movie based on a little-known fiction story written by Stephen King.

It was a movie I saw at a sleepover in 1983 (without telling my parents). One well-known jump scare sent me into a brick fireplace where I cracked my head and that injury landed me in the ER, where my parents were waiting.

Interesting facts: some say that Stephen King acknowledges that he was so drunk/high in the 1980s that he doesn’t remember writing Cujo…and the book was banned in 2020 in many states. Maybe I should have started with something a little more tame!

Scott Walters

Trilogy of Terror (with Karen Black, 1978). More of a scary movie for my 7 year-old self but that little voodoo doll …).

Don Sanford

For me there are two films that I find frightening — The Exorcist (original film in 1973) and Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis (1978). When The Exorcist came out, there had never been anything like that in the theater. It felt so real and horrible. It ushered in a whole new area of horror that we are still experiencing today. And, you can’t get much creepier than the movie Halloween. I think the scene where Michael Myers is tearing into the closet where Jamie Lee Curtis is hiding might be the most terrifying clip ever in the history of movies. Both these films leave you unsettled, wide-eyed at night and looking over your shoulder expecting something evil to suddenly appear.

And then there’s Jaws.

Michael Garcia

I’m going to go with The Silence of the Lambs. Clarice Starling inching her way through the pitch-black basement looking for Buffalo Bill? No thank you. That’s when I learned I really don’t like scary movies.

Glen Gonzalez

I don’t know if I’d call it a “favorite” because I can’t bring myself to watch it again, but The Exorcist certainly made an impression on me. I was a teenager when I first saw it and, having been raised Catholic, the subject matter was particularly disturbing. Aside from the horrible acts and imagery in that movie, perhaps what stuck with me is the fear of losing your volition and being forced to act according to someone (or something) else’s wishes. Autonomy is a fundamental human thing. Having it swiped away and, on top of that, doing horrible things to your loved ones is a terrifying notion.

Norine Cannon

I’m not a scary movie fan (at all), but I do appreciate Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas from a creative/visual perspective. Sorry, probably not what you’re looking for!

Gina Jackson

I used to love watching thriller and scary movies but it’s been a long time since having a little one. So my selection goes way back.

The Sixth Sense is suspenseful without all the blood and gore. There was a lot of anticipation and symbolism using the color red throughout. It signaled something scary was around the corner like a red balloon, roses, door knob, woman in a red dress, just to name a few. The twist at the end made this movie memorable for me.

What can I say, little girls are creepy. I saw The Exorcist at a young age and the image of the girl’s possessed face and her body floating up over her bed stuck in my head. Great production for its day. It didn’t help to know that some people believe that this could happen to someone, making it even scarier.

Happy Halloween!

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Fear Sells

If fear appeals are so effective, why not use them to promote employee benefits and wellness programs?

Marketers and advertisers use a psychological technique called a fear appeal to elicit consumer actions. Such appeals can be overt, like the fear of death. Or subtle, like the fear of body odors.

You’ll be rejected.
You’ll kill your baby.
You’ll die.

The cognitive dissonance created by fear might seem like a counterintuitive tactic, yet years of consumer research show that fear appeals:

  1. Grab attention to generate action quickly. For example, fear appeals are commonly used in health campaigns to discourage harmful behaviors like smoking or unhealthy eating habits.
  2. Induce vulnerability to create memorability. Fear appeals can make people feel vulnerable to. The impact of feeling vulnerable to specific risks or dangers can lead to making a change or a purchase that relieves those uncomfortable feelings.
  3. Highlight negative consequences to encourage behavior change. For instance, fear-based advertising in the automobile industry often highlights the dangers of not using seat belts to promote safe driving behavior.

So, if fear appeals are so effective, why not use them to promote employee benefits and wellness programs?

It is generally considered unethical and unproductive to use fear-based persuasion on employees. And for good reason. 

  1. Employees are a captive audience and must interact with your messages. This is a vulnerable position that employers should treat with respect. 
  2. While fear has been proven effective in leading to action, it has also been proven to have a detrimental effect on morale, productivity, and overall well-being. 
  3. Organizations that resort to fear-based tactics as a means of motivation run the risk of creating a toxic work environment and ultimately undermining employee satisfaction and performance. 

While it might be fun to think about creative (even scary) ways to get employees to participate in benefits and wellness programs, education and a focus on positive messaging is still the best approach to creating a positive work environment that fosters mutual respect and employee engagement. 

If you need help strategizing and creating great communication (except frightening employees) contact Smith. Employee communication is what we do. 

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A Cupful of Good Sense

Behavioral science validates an appeal to retirement savings.

We all know (or have used) this useful little bit of wisdom to motivate employees to save more:

This commonsense comparison shows how very small sacrifices can be leveraged into future financial well-being. It uses a popular purchase, straight-forward math and solid financial advice to educate and motivate. But do we know if this argument actually persuades people to save more?

Probably not. Communicators are often not able to be data driven. There are many historic and practical reasons why this is so. Internal budgetary constraints, imprecise measurement tools and the difficulty in pinpointing attribution within any individual’s psyche are substantial challenges to proving the effectiveness of an appeal.

Instead, we know our audiences, their needs and wants, and how to gather and present our facts with reason and wit. We’ve done it this way since ancient Greeks. The usefulness of the coffee-a-day analogy was obvious and brilliant. So it caught on. It turns out, it’s also scientifically provable. 

Bite-size is easier

On a recent episode of Choiceology (a Charles Schwab podcast focused on personal economic choices), Katy Milkman looked at the merits of breaking sometimes overwhelming challenges into smaller more manageable tasks. Whether it be learning a new skill, rehabilitating from an athletic injury, building your business, or saving for retirement, dividing any large task into smaller segments is a winning strategy for creating initiative and staying on task.  

Hal Hershfield, a professor of marketing and behavioral decision-making at UCLA, was a guest on that episode. Hershfield created a study around how reframing the same goal might change a person’s willingness to engage with change. Using a personal finance app (linked to users’ bank accounts), Hershfield presented an automated savings program framed as three distinct offers.

Users were offered one of the following savings plans and responded accordingly:

  1. Contribute $150 a month. (7% signed up for this offering.)
  2. Contribute $35 dollars a week. (11% signed up for this offering.)
  3. Contribute $5 a day. (28% signed up for this offering.)

Four times as many people signed up for the $5-a-day plan, even though the amount of money taken out each month was the same across all three plans. Why?

Hershfield concluded that people likely think about money in distinct “buckets.” The monthly offering competed with the most expensive items in most budgets, like rent and car payments. Whereas the $5-a-day bucket competed with any number of small insignificant purchases, like a cup of coffee. How significant the sacrifice “feels” to the saver is the most important driver. 

This is a useful insight for employee communicators. We offer employees pathways to wellness, health, continuing education, savings and more. Accomplishing these big, life-changing goals usually requires personal sacrifice on the front end and a payoff later. Breaking those goals into bite-sized actions can help employees find the motivation necessary to get started. 

Good to know

It’s good to know that our methods have merit. We understand that carefully framing an organization’s programs in ways that appeal to employees works. And works well.

It’s also good to know more. Employee communicators can benefit from work being done in fields like positive psychology, behavioral economics, and organizational psychology. The more we know, the better we will be at presenting wellness programs, benefits, retirement options, etc. with all the complexities of available choices in ways that both inform and motivate employees.   

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Elements of an emergency plan for employees.

Cut off from my Jacksonville, Florida home/office by Hurricane Idalia, I’m extending a business a trip to Smith’s Atlanta office. In the face of Idalia’s fast-moving storm track, I’m following a plan I made with my wife before leaving Florida and keeping her informed of changes in that plan as events unfold.

My personal situation reminded me of the crucial role a pre-determined communication plan plays within organizations when events with the potential to threaten employee health and safety occur.  

Following is a step-by-step guide to what every organization needs to do to ensure effective communication during a hurricane (this approach works for other types of emergency situations, such as fires, floods, etc.).

Plan preparation should cover

  • Pre-emergency communications:
    • Preferably before the hurricane season starts, provide employees with information about the company’s hurricane preparedness and communication plans.
    • Include details on the roles and responsibilities of different employees during a hurricane and the various types of communications they can expect and communication channels you’ll use. 
    • Provide evacuation routes, shelter locations, and communication channels.
  • Emergency contacts:
    • Create a list of emergency contact numbers for employees, including local emergency services, your organization’s emergency response team, and relevant local agencies.
  • Emergency communication team instructions:
    • Designate a team responsible for managing and disseminating information during emergencies. This team should be trained to communicate clearly and effectively under high-stress situations.
  • Feedback channels and Q&A:
    • Establish a channel for employees to ask questions and provide feedback during the emergency. This could help alleviate concerns and correct misinformation.
  • Language and accessibility:
  • Remote work/flexibility:
    • If feasible, allow employees to work remotely during the hurricane. Ensure they have the necessary tools and resources to continue their work from a safe location.

Plan execution should include

  • Multiple communication channels:
    • Utilize multiple communication channels to ensure that information reaches employees even if one channel fails. This could include email, text messages, phone calls, internal communication platforms, and social media.
  • Regular updates:
    • Keep employees informed about the hurricane’s progress, potential impact on the workplace, and any changes to the emergency plan. Provide updates as frequently as necessary based on the hurricane’s trajectory and severity.
  • Clear employee instructions:
    • Provide clear instructions on what employees should do before, during, and after the emergency. Include information about evacuation orders, shelter-in-place procedures, and how to stay safe.
  • Localized Information:
    • Provide employees with information relevant to their specific location. Different areas might have varying levels of risk and different evacuation plans.

Complete plan, post-emergency (don’t miss this important step)

  • After the hurricane has passed, provide:
    • Updates on the status of the workplace, any damages, and when employees can safely return.
    • Lessons learned. When things have returned to normal, conduct a review of your communication and emergency response efforts. Identify what worked well and areas that could be improved for future emergencies.

Advanced planning and having clearly defined communication strategies and tactics in place will help ensure that your organization responds effectively to the challenges posed by severe weather events. Smith can help. Employee communication is what we do.

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