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Charlotte Russe, a clothing retailer, was faced with a situation which every U.S. company knows only too well - the dreaded annual benefits open enrollment communication. How do you turn complex benefits and choices into something your employees will understand and action properly? 

To add to the challenge, the retailer’s young workforce spread across more than 500 locations aren’t  sitting in front of computers. According to Don Frisbie, Director of People,

It’s our one time a year to get everyone’s attention and give them information so they can make better-educated choices about their health and wellness. We wanted to create knowledgeable consumers, ones who know the choices they have, understand the math, and can make informed decisions. We knew we needed to move away from insurance speak to real people speak, and create a genuine conversation with our employees. We also wanted to do it in a way that was creative and matched our Brand.

The result is an open enrollment communication looking and reading like a fashion style magazine, and at first glance is often confused as such. It’s been so popular that some employees have even put it on their coffee tables to display proudly along with other magazines.

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The Play

Charlotte Russe’s benefits magazine uses a combination of clever and effective content and design in each and every issue. The wording is simplified, removing confusing and complex benefits jargon, turning it into approachable and engaging speak which mirrors the marketing and voice of the Brand.

It begins with the cover, complete with a fashion photo and brilliant cover lines that sound more like a style magazine than a benefits magazine. Examples from the latest magazine are: “your style your choice,” used for medical plan options, “two ways to be fabulous,” used for dental and vision choices, “soak in the savings,”  for the flexible spending account, "girl you’re gonna need a bigger closet,” used for voluntary benefit choices, and “your bright future,” used for information on the retirement plan.

It continues by including a quiz, a checklist, and a section titled “Ten things not to miss,” all intended to “sprinkle information into two or three places so that it isn’t missed,” said Frisbie. These, in addition to the use of playful headers, illustrative examples, and interesting and stylish photography, have helped Frisbie and his team achieve their objective of bringing their messages to life.

By doing so, employees are acting as educated consumers, understanding how their choices can save (or cost) them money and making better than industry standard choices. And finally, Charlotte Russe has won awards for employee communications and publication design year after year for bringing style to a rather unfashionable topic: benefits.  


In Practice

  • Find ways to bring your brand into your benefits communication. It not only helps connect your employees with your brand, but adds a bit of fun and creativity into an often serious subject.
  • Don’t forget the power of print material as part of your communications strategy. It can be a valuable and effective tool.
Find more plays like this one in "The Rebel Playbook" 

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