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Altria had a deep history of battling antitrust lawsuits, stemming from industry- wide accusations of sales manager misconduct in retail stores. These lawsuits not only cost the company millions of dollars, but also took an extreme emotional toll on the personal lives of everyone involved, impacting job performance and straining home life.

Due to industry mergers, the climate was ripe for more litigation, according to DOJ Commissioner Julie Brill. Yet the company was filled with new employees lacking any sense of urgency concerning potential lawsuits. They had no personal experience dealing with the corrosive business atmosphere a lawsuit creates.

“If I had my way, we would plug our salesforce into a matrix machine and download our past litigation history into them so they could internalize it as if they had experienced it themselves.”

- Assistant General Counsel, Gaye Montgomery

Altria’s highly accomplished compliance team had tried all the standard and trendy training tools: power points, games, animated hands drawing stick figures on white boards, infographics, just-in-time methods, funny commercials.

But they needed the information to feel relevant and personal.

They needed a tool that would evoke emotion.

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“Because a well-told story wraps its telling around emotionally charged values, it’s meaning becomes marked in our memory. These become matrices for future actions.”


Robert McKee, Storynomics

Our research involved reading through past cases and listening to the compliance team’s needs and insights into the learning objectives and hurdles. But in order to take the script beyond the “facts,” we held focus groups with employees, helping us see what the world looked like through their eyes. These interviews were crucial in establishing a realistic emotional current in the film that our audience would connect with.







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"Once personal relevance is apparent, generalized information can be used to promote a more thorough understanding of the issues."


Mitch Ricketts, Ph.D., Northeastern State University

This scene establishes the conflict that the company is entering into litigation, while foreshadowing an even deeper involvement for our hero, Cameron. Note how the scene ends with some mystery, planting a question in the mind of the audience and causing them to want to want to keep watching.

When a lot of information must be conveyed to the audience, it's called expostion. This is usually the point in the film when the story comes to a halt (and you risk losing the audience).


In Trainingvideoland, videos are ALL exposition and no story. 


Effective exposition is driven by character evolution and realistic dialogue. In this scene, we're feeling what Cameron is feeling as she receives each new piece of information. The tension rises throughout the scene, culminating in a final moment where the stakes have been raised once again.

By now we’ve established how this conflict disrupts Cameron’s work life, but acknowledging the pressure it causes at home makes Cameron more three dimensional. Not every employee has a father with early onset Alzheimers, but everyone can relate to stresses at work that show up in crummy ways at home.

Understanding character motivation is crucial to putting your audience in the shoes of the protagonist. When these details are intertwined into an unfolding plot, it keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. Every step, every scene, builds on the last, driving the rising tension.


Here’s another scene heavy on exposition, but this time it's weaved into a coaching session. Cameron has the freedom to speak her mind and respond off-the-cuff in ways that, we, as the audience, might be thinking too. In the climax of the scene, the full stakes of the impact of the litigation hit us and Cameron at the same moment.

Every great hero eventually hits a point where it seems all is lost. Cameron descends into her darkest moment in this scene, swallowed by every imaginable force fighting against her. Even her dad turns against her in a moment of anger.


Her father’s words could not have been more cutting. This sentiment came out of the focus groups we held. Many employees we interviewed have experienced directly or indirectly this same sentiment from loved ones.  So in our discussions on what her father could say or do to convincingly hurt her, these stabbing words felt most true.

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“Memories are encoded most strongly when we are paying attention. When we’re deeply engaged and when information is meaningful to us.”


Catharine Young - TED Talk

“This is so real. This is so accurate. The events being portrayed really really connect with me. It had an impact on my behavior. And how I did my job as it pertained to how we dealt with the antitrust policy.”


The result was a cinematic experience the company shows employees in a theater, in the evening, as an event. Then they reconvene to debrief and host a conversation about the material, to which employees, without fail, respond with resounding interest and interaction.

“We always schedule 90 minutes for the conversation. People are so impassioned and excited and want to talk about their own experiences. They want to make sure they’re doing the right thing.”

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Best of all, the film helped Atria instill an understanding of compliance as a competitive strategy.

“You want people to step up to the line of competition. We want to compete vigorously. Nobody wants to stand 10 feet behind the line of permissible behavior, because then you’re doing a disservice to the company.”

The film's been utilized 8 years and running, still as relevant today as it was when it was first shown in 2012. Resulting in a low cost-to-employee ratio and information that remains embedded in the minds of employees years later.

“Everybody has seen it. If you talk to anybody  maybe it’s been six years since they’ve seen it — they remember it. They remember how they felt. How it changed their behavior.”


Money well spent, if you ask us. Or if you ask Altria…

“If your folks understand that you’re making a serious commitment to compliance in the resources and what you deliver to them, it helps build that culture. It helps build the climate that we’re all trying to build in our organizations.”


The savings on lawsuits avoided is difficult to predict without a working magic ball. But prior to 2012 the the company battled 6 lawsuits of this nature. Since adopting the film, they've experienced none. An amount certainly worth millions, if not billions. The true value of the film, however, is in how it changed Altria's culture, which can usually only be done with a matrix machine.


“…we were able to really move and transform the culture of compliance and responsibility at Altria”  


Some of you won't be able to talk your VP's into investing in a film that will save your company money AND change your culture. If you'd like us to give it a shot, give us a call or email (contact info below). We'd be happy to talk them through the power of story. 


An alternative to powerful training videos is using the power of story in your emails and presentations. In fact, we're starting a blog series that will teach you to structure your messages into story form. This is a crucial part of getting employees to change their behavior because people don't act by reason alone.


Follow us on LinkedIn for this practical series on story.


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"Stories fulfill a profound human need to grasp the patterns of living—not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience."

-Robert McKee

Resonate Pictures is developing a library of GRC films that brings the same cinematic, story-driven approach we’ve been applying to custom films for the past decade. We’re enlisting partner companies to steer topics for two videos each. It’s an opportunity to get two, semi-custom videos for well below production costs. Partners get access to all six videos produced. Contact [email protected] or call (323) 450-7535 to learn more.