CovidComms Awards

How Balfour Beatty used employee-generated content to inspire pride

You Stepped Up!
Shortlisted: Best use of employee-generated content
CovidComms Awards 2020


Balfour Beatty develops, constructs and maintains the infrastructure upon which our daily lives depend. Its vital role meant that, while the world went into lockdown, the vast majority of its 26,000 employees across three continents carried on working.

They were the people keeping transport networks running, building temporary patient and quarantine facilities, maintaining power networks and other essential services while continuing to work on existing construction projects that ultimately had to be completed on time.

Their efforts also supported Balfour Beatty’s massive supply chain involving around 8,000 partners whose employees might not have the company’s name on their payslips but are nonetheless dependent on its success.

However, not everybody appreciated the import of their work, and Balfour Beatty faced some criticism for keeping the nation’s lights on even though its 35-strong communications function was working hard to keep an ‘on site’ workforce, without ready access to computers, safe by sharing the latest guidance and best practice methods developed by their colleagues on other sites.

With its people going the ‘extra mile’ Balfour Beatty was keen to publicly thank them, address any negative public perceptions and communicate how it would bounce back from the pandemic. Its answer was to create the animation You Stepped Up, integrating employee images and videos, that could be cascaded across internal and external channels.

‘It wasn’t employee communications,’ explains head of marketing communications Patrick Gallagher. ‘It was a celebration of Balfour Beatty… that was our thinking. We wanted our people to feel proud to be part of Balfour Beatty when they watched this. We had a lot of rubbish going around, when they were challenged by members of the public for going to work, so I think maybe this film gave them a bit more esteem to hold their shoulders high.’

The project started with the global communications team sourcing employee-generated content. ‘As you develop these things, you spot gaps and you reach out to fill those which means you end up with even more content. And that leads to a recut,’ adds Gallagher. ‘It was a really good exercise because it brought together the teams from across the world.’

We wanted our people to feel proud to be part of Balfour Beatty when they watched this

His colleague Chris Day explains that Balfour Beatty hosts ‘traditional videos on our YouTube channel, which are standard corporate films’ that tend to focus on widescreen shots which highlight the company’s work. But this time the company’s ‘talented video officers’ were receiving mobile phone footage and stills from colleagues. ‘We had to figure out how we could display  this content in a way that really sells [our vision] but also gets across the gravitas of what our people were achieving,’ he explains. ‘That dictated the collage, fast-paced style as that allowed us to show photographs and footage.’

He concedes that ‘everything might not be framed perfectly, but if [the film] can tell our story with a series of images’ then it met its brief. ‘Because the footage started from the things that were sent into us, it wasn’t necessarily dictated by a storyline. It was about what people were recording, what they were proud of… we could then build on and figure out. It worked almost in reverse order to how we often work with videos.’

Around 400 pieces of content of ‘varying quality’ were submitted, comprising texts, stills, illustrations, films and music. These were stitched together with impactful typography to convey key messages and high-paced music in a two-minute film.

‘Covid was obviously something that everybody was having to deal with. You’ve got footage from Hong Kong where they’re getting temperature checks. No matter what project they were working on, or what environment they were working in, everybody was having to problem solve, at the same time, a problem that is obviously brand new to everyone,’ adds Day. ‘I think [the film] brings that element of people feeling closer together. There is that element of recognition that Oh yeah, we are all solving this problem.’

Story telling is the bar now, rather than video quality

Gallagher adds: ‘But you get to know a bit more of everybody’s personality, what their interests are and things like that [through this film]. We’ve got some of our guys who work in gas contracts doing keep fit aerobics, which they did every Tuesday afternoon during the first lockdown period. It’s a side to those guys that I’ve never seen in ten years.’

The final cut, which premiered at an online event, proved so successful that Leo Quinn, Balfour Beatty’s chief executive, used You Stepped Up to open the company’s half-year results presentation. ‘We’re a service-based company. Our biggest asset is essentially our people,’ says Gallagher. ‘That’s what we charge our clients for, rather than materials, and I think the film was a really good way of selling the ingenuity of our people and their problem solving.’

The enthusiastic response to the film also shaped Balfour Beatty’s content strategy during the second half of 2020. ‘We’re including a lot more people focus, not just in video. We’ve started to do more employee blogs on our website. So, when we want to talk about corporate things, it’s not the same faces. We’re not just rolling out the CEO or the managing director,’ adds Gallagher.

Indeed, an open letter in which Balfour Beatty committed to reporting on the sustainable and long-term actions it was taking to address Black inclusion in the workplace, was signed by its head of sustainability Aaron Reid. ‘He is also co-chair of one of our affinity networks. [Aaron] was the face of Balfour Beatty externally rather than the chief executive [on the issue],’ explains Gallagher. Reid also produced a video and blog on the subject.

Similarly, when the company embarked on an internal conversation around health and safety, it abandoned its usual strategy of asking each geography to do their own thing. Instead, staff downloaded an app called CrewStudio, which facilitated the creation of ten second videos from their iPhones. ‘You get a nice show of a diverse range of people across the business, which we stitched together. You hear our American colleagues and those based in Hong Kong, which gives you a real sense of the scale of Balfour Beatty,’ adds Gallagher. ‘I think 2020 has changed the video medium completely.’ Day agrees: ‘Story telling is the bar now, rather than video quality.’