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APRIL 15, 2021 //     

We the People… Provide Support to Organizations Doing the Work to Make a Difference

By: Scott Pansky

This week, Nijha Diggs, senior director of public relations at Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft charity, and I presented to PRSSA students at the annual PRSSA Leadership Assembly. We put together an interactive hands-on exercise that provides students with real-world experiences. While thinking about getting prepared for this, I’ve reflected on the impact the last year has had on the nonprofit community.

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It seems once every millennium our society has to deal with the drastic impact of a major pandemic. Plus the impact of numerous issues related to health equity, racial justice, food insecurity and climate change. Government and corporate entities constantly investigate different ways to address these issues.

Their efforts are not good enough. Progress is too slow, and the following generations and their children will have to deal with what baby boomers and Gen Xers leave behind – and they are not happy. And, I don’t blame them!

Today’s generation expects all of us, including businesses and government, to live with more purpose. They want us to help and support each other, not point fingers,  lay blame or make excuses. They want us to work to make a difference and find solutions, so they can leave the world a better place for their children.

We have all learned about the power of our voice and the power of voting. Every vote counts. But what do you do when voting is not enough? What about when government cannot respond fast enough, or when people suffer here and around the world?

One of my favorite Captain America quotes is: “Most of us are going somewhere we know, that doesn’t mean we should know what to expect. Be careful. Look out for each other. This is the fight of our lives. And we’re going to win. Whatever it takes.”

Well, it is going to take a long time, and those who will lead us will come from nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, businesses and government learning how to work together. And it’s going to take us, the people, to support organizations we care about to make a difference.

A recent survey implemented by Smile Train, examined how Americans prioritized donating their time and money to charitable organizations in 2020. The “Caring Amid Crisis: How COVID-19 Influenced American Donations” report analyzed findings from a survey on consumer donation habits prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic and sought to understand how the pandemic changed Americans’ perspectives on donating.

Most Americans (91%) stated it was more important to support charities and fundraising events now versus prior to the pandemic. In fact, 41% of Americans said their donation patterns increased, with 31% saying their giving amounts also increased.

What this showed me was HOPE! Hope that people will do the right thing and hope in helping others get through some of the darkest times our country has had to deal with for so long.

Other additional key findings from the survey included:

  • Most Americans made a monetary donation to charitable causes during the pandemic: 56% made donations, 15% participated in virtual fundraisers and 15% volunteered in-person at local charity/community events. Among those who made a monetary donation, almost a third (32%) said they donated more than $500 since March 2020.
  • Older Americans focused on monetary donations, while younger Americans donated their time.
  • Most Americans wanted to donate to organizations helping children or providing food for individuals who were homeless.

As we saw spikes in donations to racial justice and health equity organizations, I feel hopeful our families, friends, communities and associates want to make a difference. But they will do it in the way they are most comfortable. They will stand up for the biggest issues we deal with today and pivot during a crisis to help those most in need.

Let’s use this information to work even closer together. Do not be afraid to ask for help for your cause or mission. Help those that truly need it! And let’s make sure we do our best to help the next generation who can help the following generation.

Scott Pansky is a co-founder of the agency and leads Allison+Partners’ Social Impact group. He supports the agency’s education, culture, volunteer and mentorship initiatives. 

APRIL 13, 2021 //     

The Risks of Doing the Right Thing: MLB, Delta and Coke’s Gamble with Purpose and Politics

By: Paul Sears

Americans live in a highly politicized environment, where truth can be utterly relative. The impact on brand reputation can’t be understated. MLB, Delta Air Lines Inc. and The Coca-Cola Co. recently spoke out against new election laws in Georgia, which some view as acts of discriminatory voter suppression. Yet, in standing up for what they believe is right, these brands have faced tremendous backlash.

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"Georgia Republican  Gov. Brian Kemp and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio accused [Delta and Coca-Cola] of cowering to the demands of 'woke' liberals,” Benjamin Fearnow reported in Newsweek. “Rubio used a ‘#WokeCorporateHypocrites’ hashtag last week to ridicule the company executives who are criticizing the recently passed GOP voter law in Georgia."

"Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, told United Airlines to ‘just shut up' after the airline followed the same, controversial route taken by their competitor Delta Air Lines in attacking Georgia's new election law,” Fox News said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky told The Hill it was “stupid for corporations to wade into politically divisive battles” because “Republicans drink Coca-Cola too, and we fly and we like baseball.” 

When we think about brands taking a stand, the word “purpose” often comes into the conversation. As Accenture puts it, moving “from me to we” has led many brands to establish purpose as a key differentiator. And it has paid dividends.

“The data that supports the thesis that ‘Purpose’ (the catch-all term for ‘business as a force for good’) is good for business is overwhelmingly clear,” Afdhel Aziz said in Forbes. “By pretty much every measure of brand health, consumers are more likely to try, stay loyal, pay more and advocate for brands that genuinely do good.” 

Yet, purpose and responsibility are too frequently confused and conflated -- often with disastrous consequences. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines purpose as “the reason for which something is done or created.” Responsibility is “a moral obligation to behave correctly toward or in respect of” something.  

In other words, purpose is the singular raison d’être that should drive everything an organization does. Responsibility is the organization’s motivation to engage in social issues. Both of these are critically important. Both require a company to take a stand. But when done right, the stand should never come as a surprise to anyone. The brand is simply standing for what it clearly, loudly and telegraphically always stood for in the first place.

Allison+Partners Managing Director of Global Reputation Risk & Public Affairs Barbara Laidlaw said brands should exercise caution when reacting to the hot-button issue of the day. 

“We always counsel our clients to not only consider what they will say, but to also develop a plan of action to back up their message as well,” Laidlaw said. “Over the past year, countless businesses have exposed their brands to reputational risk because of public-facing statements that conflict with past action or lack thereof. In short, the brands that succeed in this space do not approach these issues with a one size fits all mindset, rather they consider how they fit into the overall equation and what they can do from that position to have a positive impact."

Hewlett-Packard co-founder David Packard famously said, “Purpose (which should last at least 100 years) should not be confused with specific goals or business strategies (which should change many times in 100 years).” 

It certainly should not be confused with opportunistic PR moves. From purpose springs a focused vision, mission and shared values. Shared values lead to corporate responsibility. The connections here have to be explicitly clear, and must be consistently demonstrated in words and actions in order to be widely seen and understood.

Sadly, searching “Major League Baseball purpose statement” does not yield the information in question. Chasing this thread leads to the MLB Players Alumni Association website, with language that could loosely be interpreted to provide a “why” for the All-Star move. 

Likewise, searching “mission statement” on the Delta website yields “sorry, no results.” “The world’s most trusted airline” has been harshly criticized for its mixed messages in Georgia; perhaps it’s no surprise to find the brand has buried the lede on what it stands for.

Coca-Cola boasts a dedicated webpage stating in large type: “Our Purpose: Refresh the world. Make a difference.” It’s much easier to draw a line to Chairman and CEO James Quincy’s April 1 statement, “We want to be crystal clear and state unambiguously that we are disappointed in the outcome of the Georgia voting legislation.” 

At the end of the day, no brand is above reproach. Reputational risk is everywhere and must be managed carefully. MLB, Delta and Coca-Cola did the socially responsible thing in my view, and many Americans agree. But without clear foundations for these moves, they suffered backlash that will likely leave financial scars. 

The takeaway -- brands must emphatically state their purpose, and build a coherent culture around it. Then create clarity and buy-in so that, en masse, the entire organization can consistently put that purpose into action again and again. 

This is why our team is so passionate about helping brands define a purpose that can truly last a hundred years -- and helping them use it as a springboard for a purposeful expression of responsibility.

Paul Sears is Executive Vice President, Brand & Engagement Strategy.  With nearly 20 years of experience in strategic planning, Paul’s team has helped more than 75 B2B and consumer clients with purpose-driven brand strategy, product marketing, customer experience planning, go to market strategy, and ‘big idea” creative strategy. Prior to joining Allison+Partners, Paul worked at leading advertising agencies such as DDB, Saatchi & Saatchi and TBWA\Chiat\Day.  Paul holds a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising from the University of Colorado, Boulder as well as marketing strategy certifications from Cornell University’s SC Johnson School of Business and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.  Paul also holds two certifications in Agile Scrum, and is a certified professional dog trainer.  

AGENCY NEWS // APRIL 12, 2021 //     

Cannes Lions Announces 2021 Jury Members

Cannes Lions
Highest ever representation from global brands, platforms, entertainment and technology companies brings breadth of expertise to the Lions awards. For the first time, the number of female jurors reaches 51% 

12 April 2021 – Cannes Lions has today announced its jury line-up of global experts selected to award the world’s very best creative work and benchmark excellence this June. 

The Lion-winning work will be announced and awarded during Cannes Lions Live, a fully digital experience, running from 21-25 June 2021, that’s included for free as part of the new LIONS Membership, launching in May.  

Jury members hail from across the world and represent the global industry’s leading talent from the broadest spectrum of disciplines. The juries also comprise 51% of female jurors, up from 48% in 2019. 

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APRIL 8, 2021 //     

The Art of Self Defense

By: Yasmine Gonzalez 

COVID-19 arrived at my doorstep during a dark period of my life, when a hard breakup left me and my two dogs alone in an apartment in downtown Phoenix. I felt numb at firstBut then that feeling faded and left me with the fear of being trapped between four walls, heartbroken and in isolation. I look back at that moment in time with gratitude now because it propelled me to where I am today.  

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Had it not been for the breakup, I wouldn’t have dived into my last three months of college with extreme vigor to graduate Magna Cum Laude. I wouldn’t have met the beautiful, kind women in my Bible study that filled me with hope and strength. And above all else, I wouldn’t have discovered my love for the gentle art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. During that time of loneliness, I became armed with the tools that helped build up my character and confidence and led me to Allison+Partners. 

I
n summer 2020, I made the difficult decision to move home to get back on my feet. While the free meals are nicemoving back home after college can be a blow to the ego. Determined not to let this setback hurt me, I enrolled in a Jiu Jitsu academy that would become far more than a gym. It was where I started to learn patience, strength and strategy – skills I’ve since been able to apply in every area of my life, including with clients.  

Embarking on a new hobby doesn’t sound like much. But at that stage of my life, it felt like I was coming up for air after months of fogginess. Soon afterthings began falling into place. In August, I had my first interview with Allison+Partners. And in Septemberofficially began my career in a field I love.  

These milestones further encouraged me to push myself and learn new skills and submissions in Jiu Jitsu class three to four times per week. Originally, practice was just a way to stay active. But it evolved over time to serve both my physical and mental health. The time I spend on the mat allows me to step away from the reality of difficult adult decisions and simply flow.” IJiu Jitsu, that means moving continuously in a current or stream – and that’s truly what it feels like.  

As I onboarded onto five client accounts, I understood quickly why our agency puts such an emphasis on self-care. Depending on the client, the required extensive deliverables can demand a lot of energy and focus throughout the day. When you add the layer of working from home, it can be even more difficult to separate and log off at an appropriate time, especially when emails sit unopened across from your dining room table.  

That’s why having a routine has helped me so muchview the opportunity to work from home as a blessing, because it allows us to find what routines work best and make us the happiest. No matter what, I make it a point to attend my 6 p.m. Jiu Jitsu classes. Because if I don’t, I’m not acting consistently with my goal to become a black belt. Although as a two-stripe white belt, I’m just hungry for the blue stripe right now. And If I go to class in the evening, I can log on the next morning feeling fired up with ideas and a fresh perspective for my clients  

Jiu Jitsu also helped me understand the importance of having a foundation. As an account coordinatoroften do the foundational work, such as creating client agendas, building media lists and drafting pitches. Rather than looking at this as busywork, I see it as an integral part of the account work. If I create a strong media list, for example, our team has a better chance of reaching the right reporter to share our client’s story. So, I take pride in every task I’m given. 

In a way, martial arts taught me everything in life is connected. The only way to learn a new submission in Jiu Jitsu is by practicing the same thing over and over again. And this holds true in the world of PR. Every pitch, brainstorm or campaign idea is better from the last.  

I’m grateful to have realized this during a season that was dark for so many. I’m grateful for a sport that continues to stretch me. And I’m grateful for a company that believes I have something unique to offer to the world. Today, I’m back on my feet, living with my two dogs in a beautiful condo – alone and happy.  

Yasmine Gonzalez is an account coordinator in the Phoenix office. Dedicated to making clients happy, she works on a wide range of accounts to help raise awareness of the good they do, supporting Partnership With Native Americans’ community initiatives and helping connect people with diabetes to the latest resources and technology through her work on Dexcom and Helmsley Charitable Trust. She enjoys finding the people brands are able to positively impact and telling their stories to share the heart behind the company.  

AGENCY NEWS // APRIL 6, 2021 //     

PRWeek Hall of Femme 2021: Lisa Rosenberg

The Hall of Femme Class of 2021 has been expanded to recognize the tremendous women who stepped up to the plate in the past year and decades prior. 

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Many of them cite “mom” as one of their chief mentors. 

All of them are sending the elevator back down to help younger versions of themselves succeed in competitive environments. 

They stress the need to be yourself, be constantly curious, listen actively and lead with humanity and empathy.

They accept it’s OK to not be OK sometimes. 

They prioritize self-care.

All of this was also highlighted as part of PRWeek’s Femme Forward series, which showcases a diverse group of women in PR who describe the challenges of the past 12 months dealing with COVID-19, home schooling, working from home, domestic chores and the racial reckoning of 2020.

With more leaders such as this, brands and corporations can create sustainable working environments, which is especially important in a PR industry that is populated 70% by women.

MARCH 30, 2021 //     

Marketing Software Alone Won’t Solve Your Challenge, People Will

By: Todd Sommers

A mentor gave me a great piece of advice when I got into triathlons. He said during the swim and the run all competitors are equal. The bike is the longest leg of the race and the only place where you can legally buy a mechanical advantage. A well-trained athlete on a carbon fiber frame with upgraded wheels and aerodynamic handlebars has a significant advantage over the athlete on the average road bike. But this advantage is wasted on an athlete who doesn’t have the strength or endurance to sustain high speeds. If you don’t do the hard work, the bike doesn’t make an impact. It’s a lot like software available to marketers today.

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There are countless marketing software options. Software vendors pitch us and our clients daily. In my experience, no client has ever said X software tool is perfect for my business, and whether these products merge, get acquired, or change the logo, most toolsets still don’t do exactly what the clients need. These tools tend to automate routine tasks and offer clues to investigate and inspire. Making your data actionable requires putting in the work just like training for a triathlon. 

If you invest in technology, you have to invest the same energy into getting the most out of it to gain a competitive advantage. Here are examples of how we’ve partnered with clients to get the most out of their data.

Demand Generation

Marketing working with sales and machines can drive phenomenal growth for many B2B companies, but more often than not we’re tasked with breaking down the silos between the two teams who often are measured by different goals. We also work in the marketing automation/CRM platform backend to set up the tracking, scoring, and workflows. This is another area where an expensive tool like Pardot, or Marketo, or HubSpot can be wasted if the campaign infrastructure is incorrect. In that case, the marketing automation platform becomes an expensive e-mail engine.

  • Each platform has its nuances, and teams need to continue to learn more about all of the available features. Triple checking workflows before launching a campaign ensures resources and leads are maximized.
  • When a prospect becomes “closed/won” that prospect’s journey deserves scrutiny. Understanding key touchpoints from a successful example can lead to adjustments in scoring that optimize programs. 
  • Ensure you have a fully integrated plan, including remarketing, CRM, SEM, and sales coordination. A whitepaper can also be versioned into an infographic or an email. Whatever form the campaign takes, colleagues on the sales team need to be aligned with the core messages. The beautiful design may pique interest but won’t close the sale for cloud computing services. The chasm between sales and marketing - and the software they use - persists at many organizations, and an agency can be a neutral party in helping both get more of what they need.
  • Planning for messages should also be aligned with data capture. The title and function of an individual should be augmented with company size, industry, potentially even growth. As more and more B2B firms focus on ABM, capturing prospect data will help ensure you are targeting the proper accounts.

Social Listening

We tend to see clients in two camps. First, those that leverage insights and metrics about their brand content performance either through the social platforms directly or in combination with tools like Sprinklr, Khoros, or Sprout Social. Second, those leveraging broader trends and online conversations to expand their insights and audiences with tools like Brandwatch, Falcon.io, or Pulsar. Because of the social platform APIs, there is no single tool or report that leads to breakthroughs. 

  • The deeper, and more frequent, your social listening, the better your campaigns will perform. This holds especially when data from LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook isn't integrated into a single tool. You have to leverage insights from both camps explained above - the broader online conversation as well as what you’re seeing in the performance of your brand channels.
  • Don’t dismiss an insight when an initial piece of content underperforms. Test and learn because it might be the format, channel, time of day, or a small change required to deliver for your audience.
  • Consider reporting separate metrics for each channel using what the social platforms give you. We see clients spent a lot of time trying to compare LinkedIn’s apples to Facebook’s oranges. As long as those charts are moving up and to the right, you’re improving. Over time the automated reporting demonstrates progress, and your time is better spent searching for insights instead of reconfiguring data.

Content Marketing

Understanding data and when and how to use it with regards to your content strategy could be the difference between success and failure. "According to LinkedIn, 78 percent of marketers expect to increase their content budget this year, "* and if there’s one area I wish we focused on more in client discussions, it would be on the content distribution plan. Spend as much time creating that plan as the content itself.

  • There are so many data points accessible that often brand marketers just don't know where to start or what they should be looking at in fact only "36% of marketeer said they were satisfied with their companies ability to measure the success of content" Tools and software solutions will assist and help to make sense of what you can measure and learn from but having a clear strategic plan in the first instance is key.
  • If the insight for your content comes from search, focus the first 60-90 days of your distribution strategy on non-search distribution before those SEO benefits kick in. Budget for amplification through multiple channels even with sponsored content. Dollars spent here improve ROI because most brand content doesn’t get the consumption levels it deserves.
  • Don’t overlook the opportunity to test multiple creative options to see what performs best with your audience before you launch. Competition for eyeballs is fierce. The first few seconds of a video, for example, can bring the audience in or steer them away, and there are tools to predict performance with your audience before content launches.
  • Branded content partnerships with top-tier outlets still require a distribution plan. Borrowing equity from those outlets offers a nice plate to serve your story to new audiences, but you should also trust past performance data to leverage on other channels.

The Road Ahead

The good news, at least for now, is that software hasn’t replaced marketers. The software makes marketers even better at their jobs - driving more actionable insights and better business outcomes. But the advantage of having technological resources drives of the most benefit when you put in the work.

And please remember that those first few pedals on a bicycle take the most energy to get moving, but it becomes easier and easier to maintain your momentum over time once you start putting in the work.

Todd Sommers is a executive vice president at Allison+Partners, where he leads a team of integrated marketers and brings together multi-disciplinary campaign elements to create compelling programs for clients.

MARCH 23, 2021 //     

Q&A: Searching for Your First PR Role? A few Simple Things to Set Yourself Apart

By: Amber Albrecht

It’s nearly graduation season, and college seniors now ready their resumes and stalk LinkedIn for the shot at their dream PR jobs. I remember this feeling all too well, with the exception of LinkedIn. Instead, I stalked PRSA functions with my freshly made business cards. It is a time filled with excitement, pride and often fear of failure, which is why I am always happy to speak to budding PR rock stars to help them on their journeys.

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Recently, I had the honor of joining a number of inspirational women in PR who were asked to share our “wisdom” about setting yourself apart and building a career in PR with the next generation of PR leaders – a Zoom classroom full of San Diego State University Seniors.

After the event, I realized their questions likely apply to a lot of job seekers, so I thought I would share their questions and my responses.

Q: If you were telling your soon-to-be-graduating-from-college self about how you got HERE (as a founder, partner, president, VP), what would you say?

A: If I was giving myself advice, my tip would be to be relentless and embrace your authentic self. When I’ve stumbled, it has always been because I was following some else’s approach to a T and I didn’t take what resonated with me and make it mine. We’re not carbon copies… Take what you learn, do the research and read everything you can to be better, but make it yours. You’re going to make mistakes, but learn from them and be kinder as a result.

Q: What do you see as the strengths of Gen Z in your office?

A: I look at this as less Gen Z but more the up-and-coming workforce. I think their strength is resiliency – you’ve had your share of adversity and a broader world view. Use it! I look to folks who come to the table with different ideas and perspectives, and I think this is an area where Gen Z is really going to shine.

Q: What skills expected in new grad hire?

A: Read the media. For example, if you’re interviewing for a tech role, read Axios, Protocol and Wired and spend some time watching CNBC. If you’re in energy, do the same with energy reporters and outlets. The simple idea of reading the media will make you a better writer. It will make you a better media strategist and a stronger PR person. 

Q: What are common pitfalls you see new pros have difficulty with as they acclimate to the professional workplace?

A: Not taking the time to listen to learn. It is great to be eager. But the greatest struggle I have is when folks don’t slow down to read the room, learn the client and learn about your colleagues. This business is about relationships – coming in too hot can really slow you down in the long run.

Q: What is one interview question you always ask? Do you look at social media?

A: For me the question where you win or lose the interview is, “What questions do you have for me?” This is the question that makes candidates stand out to me. Have questions, show you were listening to the conversation we had, leave me with your elevator pitch.

Is the cover letter relevant?

The cover letter is your intro to get your resume reviewed. I think that approach has changed a lot just given how we apply for jobs. LinkedIn tends to be the new cover letter. Recruiters aren’t shy about being on LinkedIn, and I look for proactive candidates who go beyond the online application – this step also shows hiring managers that you can research, which is critical for any entry-level PR role.

 

If you’re interested in speaking more, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn. 

Amber is a corporate communications counselor known for her ability to see around corners and drive programs that advance business results. This includes communications programs to create successful outcomes, including mergers and acquisitions, financial communications, media relations and executive positioning.

AGENCY NEWS // MARCH 19, 2021 //     

Clubhouse Lessons For Brands From Demi Lovato

PRWeek

Singer Demi Lovato has been on a media blitz this month with interviews in The New York Times and Glamour to promote her YouTube Originals docuseries, “Dancing with the Devil.” 

But when it came to her forthcoming album, “Dancing With the Devil … The Art of Starting Over,” Lovato chose a relatively nascent channel to announce it: Clubhouse, the audio-only, invite-only chat app that has been growing like wildfire. 

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The pop star invited her 55 million followers on Twitter to join her on the app, where she revealed the album to a “room” of fans and industry influencers, including producer Scooter Braun, who teased that Lovato might make an album announcement on Clubhouse to his 3.7 million Twitter followers. 

Entertainment Weekly was among the media that listened in, reporting that she told Clubhouse users, which reached 7,000 during the 75-minute event, that her new album follows “the course of my life and the path it’s taken over the past few years.”   

[Note to brands: while chats aren’t recorded, consider anything anyone might say as on-the-record!] 

Since its launch almost a year ago, Clubhouse has amassed more than 20 million registered users, according to a March 16 update from independent researcher Vajresh Balaji. The app, which is still in beta, invites users to listen in on chats being held in real-time on an array of topics.  

It is also interactive: users can “raise their hand,” have their mic unmuted and add their two cents to the room.  

Jeremy Rosenberg, partner and president of marketing innovation for North America at Allison+Partners, says it’s no coincidence that Clubhouse has taken off during the pandemic.  

MARCH 18, 2021 //     

One Year Later, the Lockdown Hasn’t Been All Bad

By: Jacques Couret

I suffered a minor but well-hidden panic attack during my first COVID-19 grocery trip nearly a year ago. I can laugh about it now, even though it felt grave at the time.

I suspect most of us felt pessimistic, uncertain and dour in March 2020. The powers that be had just sent us home for what we thought would be only a few weeks of working from home and staying away from others to “flatten the curve,” then we’d all return to our “normal lives.” If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

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Everyone has their pandemic experiences and stories, and they are all deeply personal. I’m confident history won’t be kind to 2020. For a host of good reasons, it shouldn’t be. It was a miserable year. I bet the grandkids will tire of hearing about it the same way some baby boomers and Gen Xers grew bored of hearing about the Great Depression from older relatives.

While panicking last year over the lack of toilet paper and aromatic vegetables at my local Publix, I suggested gratitude and perspective would get us through the pandemic. That held true for me. And it continues to prove true now, as we approach what could be the beginning of the end of this global nightmare.

Upon reflection with that same pandemic-inspired sense of gratitude and perspective, my past year hasn’t been all bad. I’d even argue there have been some positives I’ll remember fondly:

Reprieve from commuting – I used to spend two hours a day commuting to and from the office. By “commuting,” I mean two hours of white-knuckled fighting bumper-to-bumper traffic on metro Atlanta’s interstates and arterial roads. I don’t miss that stress. I also don’t miss the $120 or more I spent monthly on gasoline, the frequent oil changes or the pollution my car coughed into the skies. And I get more sleep since I don’t have to account for the hour-long commute getting to work every morning. Best of all, when it’s time to clock in and out, I’m already home.

Expanded culinary horizons – Working from home means I can sneak into the kitchen at any point to start and make dishes that would normally take all day on a Saturday or Sunday, such as gumbo or red beans and rice. It means I can make a healthy, hot lunch every day. Having access to the kitchen all day has inspired me to experiment with new cuisines, including Japanese and Turkish, and try my hand at baking bread. I’d encourage you to bake your own bread too. The house smells amazing as it bakes, and the texture and taste will make you forever shun the store-bought, preservative-packed stuff. Try this easy recipe from French master chef Jacques Pepin and enjoy.

More time with pets – I adopted brothers Hector and Ajax as kittens four years ago right after I joined Allison+Partners. I’d often miss them while at the office all day, but now I don’t have to. They are now 14 and 17 pounds, respectively, and they enjoy making cameos on Zoom and Microsoft Teams during important meetings. I introduce them to clients as my “chief copy editors.” They also enjoy sitting and napping between me and the keyboard on my arm, which means I type one-handed at different parts of my workday. Sure, I could move them. But cat lovers know – there’s nothing more stress-busting or flattering than a cat who loves you enough to jump into your arms to purr themselves to sleep. And now that I spend all day every day with them, we’re more bonded than we would have been if I had just spent evenings and weekends with them, as I used to prior to the pandemic. 

Trips to the grocery are no longer fraught with panic for me. There’s plenty of toilet paper, onions, bell pepper and celery. Putting on and wearing a mask is as normal as putting on and wearing shoes. I miss going to concerts, sporting events and restaurants. I miss social gathering in general. I miss seeing my colleagues every day. I sometimes miss the office environment. I miss the big laser printer.

But am I in any rush to get back? I think you know my answer!

Jacques Couret is editorial manager of the Marketing Innovation Team and works out of Allison+Partners’ Atlanta office, where he boasts the company’s best collection of Star Wars desk toys.

MARCH 16, 2021 //     

The COVID-19 Pandemic: A Reflection

By: Scott Allison

Chapter One

Jan. 26, 2020, Heathrow Airport, London. It is always difficult to pinpoint a certain moment in time when a higher level of awareness kicks in. They say before an earthquake, animals in the wild will have an inkling of coming trouble. I sat at the airport waiting to catch a flight back to the U.S. and watched a BBC report on COVID-19 that said contract tracing had failed and the virus was loose in the UK. I instinctively sensed trouble approaching.  

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Allison+Partners co-founder Andy Hardie-Brown and I had just completed the European segment of our Town Hall meetings. We had been monitoring the virus since it is earliest days as we kept in close touch with our offices in China. After returning to the U.S., the next big decision was whether to complete the Asia leg of our scheduled Town Hall meetings. We decided we would, and left for South Korea in mid-February. We arrived to find a well-prepared community in the earliest stages of the pandemic. The hotels checked temperatures each time we went in, but masks were not widely worn.

On Feb. 23, we headed to the airport to fly to Singapore. And for the very first time, we donned masks. Singapore was as delightful as ever, and it was great to spend a week with our team. But storm clouds brewed. My flight home through Korea was cancelled. All flights through Korea were shut down. On Feb. 27, I flew back to San Francisco. Customs at SFO was empty.  However, no temperature scans or any reference to the virus. There was a sense of naivete in the air.

Although our team thought we were over-reacting, Andy and I decided to quarantine for 10 days prior to returning to the office. Ten days seemed like a long time. If only...

On March 10, I made it back to the San Francisco office and had a chance to speak to the team.  I brought up the virus and said we should continue to wash hands and be careful. I did not think it would be that serious. For the next three days, the news became progressively worse with hints of potential shutdowns. 

On March 12, we sent the team home early. And on Friday, March 13 – yes, Friday the 13th – we told everyone via conference call not to come into the office. By March 16, we had closed all offices in the U.S. and Europe, and everyone began working from home. Asia had gone into lockdown earlier. Thirty offices and 500 people just had their work life/home lives turned upside down. As one of my colleagues wrote in her blog post, quoting Winston Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep on going.” We were going to have to figure out how to keep going, keep our people safe and keep the client work moving.

We launched into days that began at 5:30 a.m. and often did not finish until midnight. The TV news ran day and night, and images of suffering from China, Italy, the UK and finally the catastrophic loss of life in New York and New Jersey kept pouring in. If we didn’t recognize the courage of our healthcare community in the past, we certainly did now.

MARCH 11, 2021 //     

Making an Impact at The Right Time

By: Scott Pansky

If living through the challenges of 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the importance of speaking your truth and taking action. When Scott Allison, Andy Hardie Brown and I started Allison+Partners 20 years ago, our goal was to create a positive and entrepreneurial environment where talented people could do great work, thrive and be free from the bureaucracy that often kills creativity. We hired for culture and put into place a strict “no a-hole rule,” which means we have taken our time to find professionals who can deliver, support their colleagues and like to collaborate. 

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Centering our agency around an amazing work culture has allowed us to be recognized by both PRWeek and PRovoke as one of the “Best Places to Work.” But in building this amazing agency culture, one critical component was missing – a focused effort on DE&I. 

The communications industry has a diversity issue and needs to make an intentional effort to improve its DE&I representation. 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows employees in the advertising, public relations and related services industry are 85.4% white. African Americans comprise 6.6% of the industry, while Hispanics make up 7.9%. 

To address this within our own agency, we have committed to increasing diversity and ensuring everyone in the agency feels comfortable bringing their whole self to work. As such, we have created an immediate action plan to ensure our practices make our agency a welcoming place for all, which includes our goals to: 

  • Build a more inclusive and welcoming workplace
  • Attract outstanding diverse talent at all levels
  • Retain current diverse talent
  • Make a positive impact on society

Mentoring students from different ethnicities and backgrounds about potential careers in their fields of study is one step that businesses can do to help create new leaders within the profession and build a diverse talent pipeline. For years, it’s been my pleasure to work with universities and organizations across the country through partnerships with the Public Relations Student Society of America and the LAGRANT Foundation, where we have hosted numerous workshops and programs to educate students about careers in public relations and marketing.   

This past summer, I had the opportunity to participate in student webinars with San Diego State University (SDSU), Arizona State University and Bucknell University as part of an effort to reach more diverse audiences. Yet, that was not enough. We reached out to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and I was referred to Felicia Blow, associate vice president for development and campaign director at Hampton University, an HBCU in Virginia. She also serves on PRSA’s executive leadership team. We hit it off immediately. And when I explained our educational and DE&I outreach goals, she introduced us to DàVida Plummer, dean of the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications and assistant vice president of marketing/media for the school. 

What started off as an incredible conversation has led to a long-term partnership that has launched several programs we believe will help increase African-American students’ awareness and participation in the public relations industry. Programs include introductions to professional mentors, new national clients for its student-run Brand757 public relations and brand agency that will provide real-world experiences that inspire life-long careers in our industry.

Allison+Partners’ goal is to continue to step up our efforts on representation, create a long-term pipeline of diverse talent that our clients and team members will benefit from, and maintain professional relationships that provide strong mentoring and educational opportunities for students of different ethnicities and backgrounds. Through our partnership with Hampton University, we hope to create opportunities for these students to make an impact in the world outside of their classrooms. 

I had a similar opportunity when one of my SDSU classes got to work with San Diego’s Waste Management Department. This led to an internship, and that experience led to meeting Scott Allison, a supervisor at The Gable Group. While working with Scott, the school project and experience I had with the city helped us win our first piece of new business together with the city and County of San Diego Household Hazardous Materials Program. 

I believe my experiences in the classroom led to a full-time career, and I know we can create the same types of opportunities that can inspire the next generation of professionals.  

Scott Pansky is a co-founder of the agency and leads Allison+Partners’ Social Impact group. He supports the agency’s education, culture, volunteer and mentorship initiatives. 

AGENCY NEWS // MARCH 11, 2021 //     

Grayling's Barclay Opts for Allison+Partners

Sharon Barclay, who led the enterprise technology portfolio at Grayling as a senior VP, has come on board at Allison+Partners as executive VP. READ MORE
AGENCY NEWS // MARCH 11, 2021 //     

Hampton University Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications Announces New Partnership with Allison+Partners

HAMPTON, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Hampton University Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications (SHSJC) has announced a new three-year partnership with Allison+Partners, an award-winning global marketing and communications agency. The partnership will focus on goals to establish a student mentor awards program, support to help enhance the school’s public relations curricula, and introductions for client partnerships with BRAND757, the school’s student-run, PR and branding agency. READ MORE
AGENCY NEWS // MARCH 9, 2021 //     

Regus Owner IWG Shifts PR Duties After Global Agency Review

PRovoke MediaLONDON — IWG, the world’s largest provider of flexible workspaces, with a portfolio of brands including Regus, Spaces, Signature and HQ, has conducted a comprehensive review of its communication partners as it shifts its communications focus to the future of work in a post-pandemic world.

Engine MHP + Mischief has been appointed to develop and lead the global communications strategy for IWG, as well as acting as hub office for markets and implement the strategy in the UK. The win brings together strategic communications advice from MHP’s brand and reputation team, and creative from the Mischief team to build campaigns around the future of work and hybrid working. MD Ian Kirby and director Helen Byard are heading up the agency team.

In the US, Allison+Partners was appointed as agency partner, and the team have already launched IWG’s new flexible workspace concept in retail locations. The agency team is led by Jill Feldman, partner and US corporate MD. READ MORE
MARCH 8, 2021 //     

The Ethics of Women in Power Through the Lens of U.S. Media and Politics

By: Mikaela Weiss  

Today, the absence of in-person events and activities has amplified what is most present in the world – the bombardment of politics and media and their intersection. The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has made television all the more vital to our sanityStreaming services constantly launch new feature films, documentaries and shows. Most people just stand by until the next series screams out to them: “WATCH ME!” Similarly, wherever you look, a political campaign or opinion is almost shoved down your throat, whether truthful or not.  

From this, women across the world are forced to ask themselves what they aspire to be and how they want to get there. In U.S. government, the choices seem to be morality or success. It is up to women to challenge these standards and create another path. 

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Recently, I started watching a new series, entitled The Wilds.” I assumed it was a coming of age story or romance, hoping it would give me a chance to take a step back from the whirlwind of news. I was wrong. The show centers around nine young women, all different in nature, who have supposedly crash landed on an island on a flight to an all-female retreat. Each episode slowly peels back a layer to reveal the girls did not accidentally crash land on the island, were unknowingly part of an experiment, and their traumas and troubles did not come from the island but from their lives at home.  

The experiment’s purpose isn’t wholly explained. But from what we can infer, these nine young girls were put on this island to see if a women-led society could be peaceful and successful. Only during the final few moments do we see the experiment has compared them with a control group of men.   

As a supernatural and science fiction show junkie, I can predict most plot lines in stories like this. But as the plot continued, I realized quickly this story wasn’t necessarily about its plot. It was about the underlying ideas that come from it: What is ethical? And what makes a woman powerful? We grapple daily with these questions in our politically driven society. 

In the beginning of the show, I was disturbed someone could be so sinister and sacrifice these women’s mental health for empowerment. But in reality, women in power are often forced to stoop to similar levels to achieve the power and leadership roles they strive for. 

Although troubling, these women seem stronger and almost better-off near the end of the series. The closeted pageant girl found the confidence to accept herself as gay. The strict athlete rid herself of her eating disorder and internalized pressure. The upbeat, friendly teen accepted she was abused as a child. But was the road to this endgame ethical? And will it continue to be? 

What stuck with me the most is looking at the road to empowerment from the perspective of women versus men. Is stooping to a low to match an already problematic agenda worthwhile for the greater good of equality and women’s rights? Or is it actually the antithesis of its end-goal? 

The Wilds made me realize women must make sacrifices to hold positions of power. In the context of the show, the experiment sacrificed the well-being and safety of its subjects. In the U.S. government, powerful positions require women, especially, to forgo their morality and sometimes compassion.  

Yet, at the same time, this is progress in America. We now have the first female vice president.  

As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, girls across the world now know they have the ability to hold a position in leadership, with Kamala Harris as a role model. 

Mikaela is an Assistant Account Executive.  Prior to joining Allison+Partners, Mikaela graduated from American University, where she studied Public Relations and Strategic Communications with a double Minor in Marketing and Political Science. 

MARCH 2, 2021 //     

How Striving for Wisdom Makes Us Better PR Pros

By: Heike Schubert

Wisdom is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight. And it’s a quality that would benefit everyone in the communications business. 

Communications professionals who want to excel in their roles should make wisdom the base of creative and strategic thinking and the core of our relationship to the people surrounding us. We’d be more thoughtful, inclusive and understanding, things that are also wins for us as human beings.  

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Here are five factors that contribute to wisdom and are also part of the communications business.

Curiosity 

Being curious throughout your life is an excellent sign you're on the right path to wisdom, as Judith Glück, a professor for developmental psychology, describes in her book “Weisheit” (German for wisdom). 

For communications pros, openness to new things is crucial for our profession – especially on the agency side. Serving clients from a variety of sectors requires a natural curiosity for their fields and how they fit into society’s bigger picture. Communicators must frequently ask: “Why? How? When? Who?” And many more questions. Only by asking can we understand the industry and the client in a way that enables us to guide them through all sorts of comms tasks and challenges. So, it’s crucial to be curious. But it’s also fundamental not to be judgmental or bring in your own biases. 

Ambiguity Tolerance 

When we talk about ambiguity tolerance, we mean listening without bias and taking things as they are. But it’s also about carrying on – head held high and focused – even though you might have a murky picture of the situation or, in the worst case, no clue about the right thing to do. Ambiguity tolerance is a must-have for all wise people – you accept there are things you cannot control. There will always be things that happen outside your comfort zone and outside your value base. There is constant change in life, and it is often not easy to maintain a clear view on the right path. 

Who in comms doesn’t understand this? Communicating around strategies that haven’t been thought through or navigating comms in crises demands calm and focus, taking things in stride making the best of them. It’s one thing to see the necessity of this characteristic – it’s another thing to actively live it. It’s tough, but it comes with practice. 

Regulation of Emotions 

Ambiguity tolerance doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to have emotions or feelings. It means controlling and regulating emotions in a conscious way.  

Emotions are essential indeed, but they tend to overwhelm us from time to time, making a cognitive approach in communications often tricky. It’s not about shutting off emotions. It’s about handling them in a productive way and dealing with a situation in an unbiased way.  

Taking a deep breath before reacting or sleeping a night before answering a challenging email – there are many tactics to help control emotions and keep a clear head. Finding the one that works best for you can be a complete game-changer in your career. 

Empathy 

The fourth resource is described perfectly with the German word “Einfühlungsvermögen” – “the ability to feel or empathize.” Empathy is not to be confused with sympathy. To picture yourself in someone’s situation enables us to change perspective and to feel the strains someone is caught in.  

If you can master this shift in communications, this can be the base for relatable, trustful and authentic approaches that make a difference to your target group. How is my key audience coping with the Pandemic? Where are the challenges and hardships, and what would make their life easier? If you feel it, you can create powerful connections that lead to business success. 

To me, this skill is THE must have for every communications professional. Sensitivity, the ability to read between the lines, and a positive, curious attitude toward others support this key requirement for wisdom – and communication pros. 

Reflection 

All this isn’t complete without the skill to reflect and understand complex interdependencies. Questioning yourself regularly enables you to see the bigger picture and locate angles that carry the ability to improve any situation. Transferred to the world of communications, this is the resource that catapults anyone from being caught in operations to becoming a strategist - a game-changer.   

Understanding a shut-down of whole societies has specific effects on people’s behaviors, economical processes and political decision-making can give you a head start in creating the spot-on communication approach.

A great example is Budweiser’s campaign for Super Bowl LV. For the first time in a decade, the beer brewing giant chose not to create a video spot and instead opted to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts. With this choice, it made an impact that will save lives.  

If you’re interested in more insights into wisdom science, check this out.  

Heike Schubert, General Manager at Allison+Partners is based in the Munich office, from where she’s heading the A+P activities in Germany providing a broad range of communications services for clients operating in the DACH region. 

 

FEBRUARY 26, 2021 //     

Cision Acquires Brandwatch: Potential Outcomes for the Industry in the Short and Long Term

By: Brent Diggins

Media monitoring and media contact database giant Cision will acquire social and digital media listening platform Brandwatch in a $450 million deal expected to close in the second quarter of 2021.

Cision, coming off the acquisition and integration of TrendKite, wasted little time before making this monumental move that will likely have a number of short- and long-term impacts on the industry.

Below are speculative outcomes we may see as the two organizations, each with their own strengths, unite.

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Short-Term

Any change must come with the expectation the merger of two large technology companies often takes time to demonstrate their combined power. Through the end of 2021, a few potential changes may come to fruition:

  • Improved Data—Typically one of the first outcomes of mergers such as this is an improved data pipeline. We may expect to see a more robust social data set within the Cision platform, perhaps with easy-to-move attributes from Brandwatch, such as its AI-driven text analytics capability that surfaces insights like emotion or key phrases and keywords.
  • Improved Insights Built Into Existing Features—With an increased data pipeline, we may expect to see an immediate bolster in insights already presented in the platform. For example, in Cision’s key message widget, we may see options for key messages not only in news media, but broken down by Brandwatch’s data sets, such as Twitter, Forums, and Reviews.
  • Improved UX—Cision took a big leap forward in its UX with its takeaways from the Trendkite acquisition. It moved quickly to adopt those as the new Cision Communications Cloud, which has improved ease of use for the end user. We may see Brandwatch attributes brought into this format, which would be an upgrade over the current Brandwatch UX.

Long-Term

The benefits of this merger won’t be fully realized until the future, as data scientists, engineers and product specialists from both organizations maximize the potential of both powerful data engines.

  • A True Strategic Analytics Platform: The ultimate outcome will likely be the most powerful communications and social and digital tool the industry has seen – one that combines multiple channels to provide a holistic real-time look at an organization and its audience, potential audience, competitors and industry. The infrastructure, technology and data is in place for them to achieve this, but piecing it together so it is intuitive and impactful will be the ultimate challenge.
  • AI-Driven Communications Insights: Brandwatch brings Cision an advanced AI capability that may be applied to the earned media space. Using AI to surface themes, cursory conversations, whitespace, and other insights that have largely been stronger in the digital space would be a welcome boon for communications professionals who want both data and insights. Most communications platforms today either provide a type of AI-driven insight or act as a data source. Few, if any do both well.
  • Improved Customer Service for Brandwatch: Another takeaway from the TrendKite acquisition could be an improved customer service module for Brandwatch, which is something generally behind compared with the rest of the industry.

Questions:

Over the coming months, we should expect to see many questions resolved or indications they are on the path to being resolved.

1. Will there be two stand alone platforms or will Cision and Brandwatch be combined?

  • The most common question is whether these two platforms will remain stand-alone or will and how much will they be combined. In the short term and medium term (three to 18 months), we will likely see a combined branding effort. But speculatively, the platforms will likely merge into one “ultimate” platform. However, that said, we wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see a hybrid model given the brand equity Brandwatch has in the social and digital space.
2. How will the merger impact price?
  • Pricing will be a common and key question as the merger moves forward, particularly for those who currently deploy both programs. This one should be monitored closely – there will be likely little clarity or indication in the short term. You should expect to ride out this contract, and perhaps another, as two separate entities.
3. What/who is next for Cision?
  • Brandwatch is another domino knocked down in the growing Cision empire. Emerging technologies continue to blossom, and it will be interesting to see what Cision eyes next as it continues to build its powerhouse – predictive modeling, cost/spend outcomes, paid integrations and advanced text analytics (particularly given the Netbase/Quid merger) could all be on the horizon.

While there are a lot of unknowns and questions in the early stages, Cision’s acquisition of Brandwatch is a hallmark moment in the martech landscape. It will undoubtedly benefit the entire communications, social and digital marketing functions if the platforms and capabilities merge well to be intuitive for the end user.  

Allison+Partners consults many of our partners on martech investments and structure. Please feel free to reach out to brent@allisonpr.com with questions of if you may find a benefit in this service.

Brent Diggins is the managing director of measurement + analytics at Allison+Partners. 

AGENCY NEWS // FEBRUARY 25, 2021 //     

Seven 10 Minute PR Career Hacks

Having a break and a quick coffee? Now could be the perfect time to spend a few minutes boosting your career. Here are some simple steps that can be done in a jiffy, yet could have a big impact on your future in PR. READ MORE
FEBRUARY 18, 2021 //     

Has Brand Strategy Gone to the Dogs?

By: Paul Sears 

Dog training is one of my life’s greatest joys, and I’ve been a prosumer at it for a little more than five years. I even got my Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) certification as groundwork for an eventual retirement side hustle. 

In real life, I’m a brand and engagement strategist, training companies large and small to adopt new beliefs and behaviors of their own. It starts with understanding internal and external perceptions, finding that all-important white space that makes them unique, and ultimately operationalizing the narrative and strategy throughout the organization. And while it’s in no way fair or appropriate to compare brands and companies to dogs -- the process of motivating behavior change is, in some ways, the same. 

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Today, brands have to be dynamic. The world continues to accelerate, and brands can’t hang their hats on a static position anymore. They need to have one foot planted while the other dances -- relentlessly iterating on products and services, business and operational models, storytelling and communications. It takes focus and orchestration (and to be fair, intelligent insights infrastructure) to be this agile. But when successful, Dynamic brands can out-innovate and out-maneuver just about anybody.  

With the utmost respect, it’s not too dissimilar from training the pups. When working on a behavior, changes to the training context require changes to the training process. In other words, we can’t just assume the same hand gesture that works at home will automatically work in the park with other dogs playing cheerfully nearby. The trainer must embrace a willingness to rapidly pivot their delivery of the same core training principle to suit the situation. Trainers actually have to be just as Dynamic with the puppers as brands do with their customers.  

Likewise, in a world of fragmented attention, brands work hard to stay Relevant. When brands act, they must act everywhere in an orchestrated and cohesive way. It takes “Capital-A Agile” approaches to break down traditional silos and iteratively solve “what it says” and “where it goes” in the same stroke. Again, it’s not unlike dog training. The trainer faces a constant barrage of sights, sounds and smells competing for the attention of our four-legged “consumer.”  We have to plan two steps ahead, see around the corner and rapidly iterate new ways to remain the most interesting, tastiest thing on the block.

Finally, we believe brands must embrace their humanity, and be truly V.I.T.A.L. -- Vision, Inspiration, Trust, Alignment and Leadership are the intangibles we use to measure the emotional connection brands create with their customers. Brands are just subjective concepts, heart-and-mind constructs that companies don’t and can’t actually own. That mental image can change at any moment and anytime anyone in the world tells our story for us. But when people truly believe, they are beyond happy to carry water for us.

When dealing with dogs, it’s also important to be VITAL. We should have a clear and consistent Vision for the behaviors we want, reinforced steadfastly in every interaction. We have to Inspire pups to perform -- most often with treats, but also with play and love. We simply must cultivate Trust at every turn -- the dog should see the trainer as a rock-solid partner to (quite literally) lean on. Our goals should be Aligned -- one of the most fundamental things a trainer does is to see the world through the dog’s eyes. And we must Lead -- a dog recognizes a human as a guide through a wild and scary world; we must nurture that sacred responsibility.

Funny enough, I’m just now in the process of helping “train” a global healthcare enterprise to express themselves more cohesively around the world. It’s the same exact approach -- helping them improve their ability to be dynamic, by helping them be more agile and flexible. Teaching them to be relevant by being more consistent everywhere they are. And helping them embrace the VITAL-ity of the brand, by creating a shared Vision that Inspires internal and external constituents, creating Trust by Aligning their shared purpose, and positioning them to Lead. But instead of giving treats, it’s about enhancing business performance.

I realize it’s in no way fair to compare the brilliant minds of world-class talent at global enterprises to the charming, feeble little brains of dogs. But from a process standpoint, there are some vague similarities. Many of the techniques dog trainers employ actually come from some of the same psychologists (B.F. Skinner for example) who have shaped our understanding of human behavior. So maybe there’s a little bit of connective tissue. 

All I know is, when brands are dynamic, relevant, and VITAL with their customers, it creates incredible enthusiasm and loyalty -- just like when a trainer is dynamic, relevant, and VITAL with their pups. 

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with your branding needs, get in touch at paul.sears@allisonpr.com

Paul Sears is Executive Vice President, Integrated Marketing.  With nearly 20 years in advertising, social media, content and brand strategy, Paul spends most of his time helping clients sharpen their strategic focus – at the brand level or for individual products and campaigns.    

AGENCY NEWS // FEBRUARY 17, 2021 //     

How Comms Tech Helped Savvy Marketers use Super Bowl Uncertainty to Their Advantage

PRWeek

Nearly a year into a pandemic, the show went on. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, Tom Brady proved that age is just a number and Super Bowl ads took over the airwaves — and our social media channels. 

With more than a full week to digest the Super Sunday campaigns, experts highlight the importance of purpose in brand messaging, noting that companies that chose not to air an ad may have had the strongest message of all. Others are focusing on how big brands carried out large campaigns in spite of the pressures of coordinating remotely on one of the biggest nights of the year. And others note the unpredictability of this unique Super Bowl. 

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FEBRUARY 16, 2021 //     

Find Your B2B Target Audience Even Without Third-Party Cookies

By: Terry McDermott

Sometimes, what’s old becomes new again... or at least very useful.

The growth in programmatic advertising has enabled advertisers to purchase access to third-party cookies – those placed by other organizations – and use them to display ads to their targets. Yet, Google plans to block third-party cookies in Chrome browsers in about a year, which could have a severe impact on advertisers that rely upon them (Safari and Firefox already block third-party cookies).

If that’s a key component of your B2B advertising strategy, you can still reach a large portion of your target as they browse myriad websites via a first-party cookie from your friendly trade publisher. When a publisher (or any website) places a cookie, it is first-party to them. Selling access to it makes it third-party. Therefore, publishers can target those browsers elsewhere, and they can deliver YOUR ad in front of THEIR audience.

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The cookie represents the publisher’s data, and it recognizes the direct relationship they have with visitors and subscribers. Publishers simply permit advertisers to leverage that relationship and “re-market” to their own site visitors. Sometimes called an “audience extension program,” this technique lets publishers bid programmatically on ad inventory as it becomes available but display a message on an advertiser’s behalf.

A single trade publisher will not likely offer the reach you can acquire from many who provide third-party programmatic data, but it will offer some. And, depending on how it maintains its cookie pools, it can be a more engaged audience than some current data providers. The target audience must have visited the trade publisher’s site within the last 60 days or so to have that cookie.

This won’t be a panacea for advertisers with sophisticated programmatic campaigns, but B2B advertisers will have all of 2021 to experiment and understand how impactful a publisher or publishers can be. In fact, when returning to the vehicles that a decade ago were the common choice for trade advertisers, you may find they have a wealth of solutions to help you achieve your goals.

For a PPE client that recently sought to reach K-12 education decision-makers to generate bulk orders for schools and districts, Allison+Partners tapped Education Week. The publisher was able to provide eBlasts to its subscribers, a white paper program, on-site web banners AND an audience extension program to offer reach, frequency and contextual targeting at varying levels. When combined with a content syndication effort and content amplification, the client achieved awareness via impressions, engagement via site visits and leads via form fills. Education Week uses first-party cookies, so its techniques will be available even after Chrome blocks third-party cookies.

Trade publishers already have an established, engaged audience. If a downside of advertising with them has been difficulty gaining frequency against an audience that may only visit on a weekly or monthly basis, audience-extension programs bring them back to relevance. Because it is their audience advertisers will reach, the first-party cookie they place should continue to be valid even after Google implements its new rules.

If you’ve drifted from advertising with trade publishers or never used them at all, 2021 offers an opportunity to build relationships and experiment. You may already have a list of target publishers where you seek earned media coverage. Expanding those communications into the ad sales group may uncover some opportunities that keep advertising programs cranking, even if the new rules disrupt some others.

 

Terry McDermott is a digital evangelist with expertise in turning objectives into strategic plans and developing, executing, and measuring demand generation programs. He leverages his background in direct response techniques, including CRM marketing, to develop insights that build lead gen and customer acquisition campaigns. He also creates account-based marketing programs for key prospects, selecting targets via predictive modeling and creating marketing automation campaigns to nurture and score leads. Additionally, McDermott advocates for investments in emerging digital products, technologies and channels, while building and managing teams to generate leads, boost sales and increase awareness.

 

AGENCY NEWS // FEBRUARY 15, 2021 //     

IPRCCC: ‘Influencers play a crucial role in the consumer cycle but are not the end-all’

The India Public Relations and Corporate Communications Conference (IPRCCC) 2020 was held on February 12, 2021, by the exchange4media group amid much fanfare. The gathering was graced by several industry experts who elucidated upon issues concerning the world of PR and Corporate Communication.

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FEBRUARY 11, 2021 //     

What is Clubhouse and How Can Brands Take Advantage

By: Lucy Arnold and David Imani

You may have heard people talking about the latest social media app Clubhouse (not to be confused with Clubhouse.io) and wondered…what it is and what it means for your clients. We’re here to help break down the latest breakthrough social media phenomenon.

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What It Is

Clubhouse is an audio-based social media app self-described as “a social experience that felt more human – where instead of posting, you could gather with other people and talk.”

You can pop in and out of different audio chat rooms about different subjects, like a mixture of a live podcast session and a live panel discussion. Engadget likens it to the early chat room days of the internet, except now you can hear everyone. You can start your own, simply listen or choose to participate in the conversations (depending on the rules of the chat room). There’s no private messaging or written comments – it’s all audio.

And the audio stays on the app – conversations aren’t recorded or saved. The chat disappears as soon as it’s finished. 


How It’s Used

Right now, it’s still invite-only to join. The app launched early in 2020 but has since grown significantly – there are apparently 2 million active users and the app has already been valued at $1 billion. And it’s rumored that after Elon Musk joined the app last week, the user base doubled to nearly 5 million.

Vogue said it best: “It’s easy to switch from room to room, taking part in discussions on the virtual stage once allowed by moderators (you request to speak by pressing the ‘raised hand’ emoji).” There are rooms for more ‘traditional’ virtual panels and Q&A with top speakers to more social rooms on all kinds of topic areas from dating, music, book clubs and professional networking chats. Whatever you’re interested in, chances are you can find people talking about it on Clubhouse.

How Can Brands Use It

Brands cannot yet have their own channels. It’s highly possible that in time brands will receive access to start accounts or there will be advertiser options, such as “sponsored” chats. For now, influencers, thought leaders, employees, brand advocates, loyalty club members and executives have many opportunities to have a voice on the platform.

To be sure, influencers are the currency here. Clubhouse even started a “Creator Pilot Program” as an early insider focus group of some 40 influencers who provide the app with feedback and get early looks at upgrades. And the New York Times says some influencers in the pilot program have already started discussing brand deals and cross platform promotion.

Here are a few thought starters of ways to activate:

  • Work with an influencer to lead a chat about a key topic that relates to your brand, product or announcement (this should not be self-serving – it should instead be deeply conversational)
  • Inspire your brand’s loyalists/advocates to start chat rooms as a tactic for building digital community engagement
  • Tap brand executives to participate in rooms and chats about relevant areas they’re experts in (e.g., marketing chat rooms, beauty-focused chat rooms, innovation chat rooms, etc.)

 

Lucy Arnold and David Imani are part of the Allison+Partners Marketing Innovation Team. Both specialize in influencer relations and social media strategy.

FEBRUARY 9, 2021 //     

The Lowly Meeting Invite - The Most Powerful Tool to Drive Brand Relevance

By: Paul Sears

I’m a recovering ad guy of nearly 15 years. Sure, there were highlights -- celebrities, commercials, multi-million-dollar campaigns. And some lowlights: among them, a constant game of chicken-and-egg between creative and media. I picture a stalled assembly line where no one can decide who goes first. This froze countless projects. But to be fair, I realize it’s hard to take that first leap of faith.

Upon entering advertising rehab, I took a friend’s advice and became an Agile Scrum Master.  Later I also became an Agile Scrum Product Owner. While the classes are for software creators, it was surprisingly easy to adapt the concepts to marketing. Agile helped me rethink the premise that creative and media have to happen in sequence. “What it says” and “where it goes” are one problem to solve, not two.  

Let’s take the linear assembly line and make it a figure-eight shape. Tiny boxes containing small increments of brand value fly around at high velocity, colliding to spark compelling customer experiences. On the figure eight, there’s no hierarchy, no sequence -- just one big team working in a continuous loop. “What it says” and “where it goes” always go together.

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It starts with culture change. Good ideas don’t just spontaneously come from anywhere, they must be cultivated from everywhere.  

  • No egos: The creative and planning environment has to be flattened. Instead of hierarchies and siloed workgroups, the entire team becomes equal co-owners of the business outcome and the work that drives it.   
  • No passengers: The whole team must lean into the hard work of nurturing good work.  No one is allowed to lean back and toss out lazy critiques. 
  • No boundaries: It takes practice to see the hidden potential in the kernel of an idea.   Today, this is no longer the sole purview of the creative director. All disciplines must be trained to respectfully review and elevate each other’s work. We must learn each other’s tribal language and acknowledge each others’ sensitivities. “Yes-and” becomes a core part of the vocabulary.

It also requires a big-picture view. I reminisce on the account planning convention of breaking every big problem down into tiny slices -- briefing, reviewing and approving each initiative in isolation. Perhaps one or two people on the team see the whole problem, while most others just make stuff. Agile thinking would suggest this vastly undersells the team’s capability. Good ideas come from access to information. The “smart people” need to get in the weeds, and the “doers” need to be invited up to 10,000 feet.  

The workflow looks a lot different. I lose creative friends when I talk about briefing on Monday, looking at work on Tuesday, outlining our presentation on Wednesday, polishing the deck on Thursday and presenting it to the client on Friday. It sounds like a death march, but it’s actually totally achievable, and I’d venture to say a lot more fun:

  • MVP: Thinking in minimum viable products, we focus only on the work that drives value right now. I’ll never forget as an advertising account director, sitting through 120 pages of layouts for six creative concepts, which took at least three weeks to create, yet none of which struck gold. Wouldn’t it be better to align early and let the client contribute to our thinking, rather than spending labor on a beautiful yet disappointing product? By focusing only on the minimum information needed to have a productive early discussion, we can achieve way more impact with much less effort.
  • We’re a team: There’s no pride of ownership if the media planner blurts out the perfect word of copy or if the art director recommends the perfect media placement. In baseball, when the first baseman has to stop a ground ball, the pitcher covers first base.  Everyone cheers getting the runner out -- and celebrates the dynamic change in roles.  Removing swim lanes fosters better ideation, relieves pressure and makes the whole process more enjoyable.  
  • Hack it: It’s proven -- deadlines drive results. Clear the schedule, get together and make it happen. We recently did this for a genetic testing client. With only weeks until launch, the ad agency still hadn’t landed a concept. We brought together cross-functional client teams with our strategists, creatives and channel planners.  Within a structured eight-hour session we landed four viable campaign concepts (with initial tactics and skeleton-plans) that already had client buy-in. With a little polish, we had award-winning paid, earned, shared owned activity in-market within three weeks.  

In an age of radical fragmentation, brand relevance comes from delivering the right increment of value to the right person in the right place at the right time. It’s a four-dimensional moving target easier to miss than it is to hit. It requires opening minds, breaking down barriers, rethinking processes and empowering teams with a big picture view. It means solving “whole problems” together as a team and working in real time. Brand relevance all comes down to the lowly meeting invite. Answering “what it says” and “where it goes” the right way, requires everyone at the table.


Paul Sears is Executive Vice President, Brand & Engagement Strategy.  With nearly 20 years in advertising, social media, content and brand strategy, Paul spends most of his time helping clients sharpen their strategic focus – at the brand level or for individual products and campaigns.

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 //     

Allison+Palette: Embracing A+P’s Racial, Cultural and Ethnic Differences 

By: Adina James and Pearl Xu 

As conversations about race took prominence globally in 2020, organizations examined ways to better support underrepresented communities in society and in the workplace. As an industry that’s more than 76% white in the U.S., the PR world felt particularly pressured by the demand for diversity brought forth by more recent horrific events that shook so many people to their core. While diversity, equity and inclusion have long been a priority at the highest levels of Allison+Partners, we took a moment to reflect on what we could improve.  

Years of collaboration with industry diversity organizations, such as The LAGRANT Foundation, and working with many universities and PRSSA nationally to develop mentorship and education campaigns have helped shape our company’s identity. In addition to these external relationships, many of us also wondered how we could better embrace diversity within Allison+Partners. A group of us came together and created Allison+Palette – the agency’s first employee resource group (ERG) for celebrating racial, cultural and ethnic differences within the company – and the global community. 

Allison+Palette is an employee-run entity that welcomes anyone from the agency to join. It aims to create a safe space for all to ensure their needs are met and various cultures are openly and fairly represented internally.  

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When we officially kicked off in May 2020, many of us were justifiably frustrated at the world and angered by ignorance, denial and hate. By creating an employee-led group, we showed we were not alone in our exasperation and found strength and support in each other. The ERG quickly became a safe space for employees to share the latest news, a forum for respectful and insightful conversations with colleagues, and a symbol of Allison+Partners’ commitment to empowering all voices and embracing difficult conversations.  

At the same time, the ERG is open to anyone in the agency who seeks to actively broaden their knowledge around issues of race and cultural identity. We also publish content regularly to the wider agency to reach those who are not officially part of the ERG. By creating a space that is not exclusive, we hope to bring more people into the conversation, instead of being gatekeepers of discourse.  

As well as being a platform for discussing news, we also wanted Allison+Palette to help celebrate all our diverse cultures, ethnicities and heritages. To do so, we work with our ERG members to find out what matters most to them and help find creative formats to share information with the group and the agency. For example, timed with Black Music Month and Pride Month in June, we created a deck of musician “trading cards” to spotlight Black artists who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and highlighted their cultural contributions and discography. For the holidays, we sourced beloved family recipes from ERG members of different cultural backgrounds to create a digital global holiday “cookbook.” For International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we curated a list of literature recommended by ERG members. It is this freedom for employees to share what matters most to them that has made the ERG so successful. 

We’re proud of our work so far and grateful for the support derived from the wider agency as our membership numbers began to grow. As a team of savvy communication professionals, we’re committed to driving genuine and sustained change from the bottom all the way to the top.  

As an employee-led initiative, Allison+Palette hopes to work even closer with company leadership as true partners and agents of change. We not only want to further equip all employees with resources and knowledge to help deliver meaningful client work, but also foster a workplace that supports underrepresented individuals across the agency. 

  

Adina is an Account Manager at Allison+Partners. She first started her career in the TV and entertainment industry working closely with diverse audiences across the emerging markets. She’s also a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a First Class Honors in Public Relations and Communications (B.A.) – her dissertation queried how crisis communication practices differ culturally across EMEA.    

Pearl is an Account Executive at Allison+Partners, working in the consumer, technology and environmental sectors. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley, triple majoring in Media Studies, Political Science, and Sociology. Born in Shanghai and raised in Canada, Pearl looks to bring a global perspective to all projects she works on. 

 

AGENCY NEWS // FEBRUARY 1, 2021 //     

Super Bowl LV Already has a Marketing Winner: Budweiser

Campaign US

More than a week before kickoff, many big brands have teased or fully revealed their Super Bowl ads online. But it is Budweiser, which won’t have its own game day spot for the first time since 1983, that has made the best play. 

Thanks to a purpose-focused call to action, Bud’s ad is scoring in media coverage of who’s in and who’s out for Super Bowl LV on February 7. 

What brands are running big game spots is a business story each year, but the angle has been heightened this season because of the pandemic and its economic impact. Coca-Cola, for example, benched itself after cutting 12% of its U.S. workforce in late December, likely reasoning that spending the estimated $5.1 million for a 30-second Super Bowl ad would be flagged by observers. 

This week, Budweiser said it would bow out of the broadcast, but for a different reason: it has invested in a 1:30-second film called Bigger Picture, narrated by actress and activist Rashida Jones, to drive COVID-19 vaccine awareness and education. It is sharing the PSA-like spot online via earned media, digital buys and social media. 

READ MORE
AGENCY NEWS // JANUARY 29, 2021 //     

Super Bowl LV Already has a Marketing Winner: Budwesier

PRWeek

More than a week before kickoff, many big brands have teased or fully revealed their Super Bowl ads online. But it is Budweiser, which won’t have its own game day spot for the first time since 1984, that has made the best play. 

Thanks to a purpose-focused call to action, Bud’s ad is scoring in media coverage of who’s in and who’s out for Super Bowl LV on February 7. 

What brands are running big game spots is a business story each year, but the angle has been heightened this season because of the pandemic and its economic impact. Coca-Cola, for example, benched itself after cutting 12% of its U.S. workforce in late December, likely reasoning that spending the estimated $5.1 million for a 30-second Super Bowl ad would be flagged by observers. 

This week, Budweiser said it would bow out of the broadcast, but for a different reason: it has invested in a 30-second film called Bigger Picture, narrated by actress and activist Rashida Jones, to drive COVID-19 vaccine awareness and education. It is sharing the PSA-like spot online via earned media, digital buys and social media. 

READ MORE
AGENCY NEWS // JANUARY 28, 2021 //     

6 Takeaways From the Crises of 2020

PR Daily

The usual roundup of crisis stories from the past year—something of a tradition at PR Daily—feels a bit superfluous this year. The COVID-19 crisis, the social justice movement in the wake of the George Floyd murder and the presidential election pretty much sum up the year.

Instead, let’s take a look at the lessons to be drawn from the events of 2020. After all, everything has changed and crisis communicators must adapt—or else.

Here are the lessons industry leaders say we should take from the never-ending crisis cycle we now find ourselves in, and what that means for the future of the industry.

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JANUARY 28, 2021 //     

Super Bowl LV: The more things change…

By: Jacques Couret

The 2020 football season was like a broken record, as we old-timers say. The University of Alabama Crimson Tide won the College Football Playoff National Championship (again) and Tom Brady will quarterback a team in the Super Bowl (again). Most fans outside of Alabama, New England and Florida are sick of these results (again). 

Why not just annually hand the Tide the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy and give Brady another Lombardi Trophy, and we’ll all just battle for second place? If it’s going to be a lather-rinse-repeat of Bama and Brady year after year, why even bother to play these games?

I’ll tell you why – the sense of normalcy football brings, win or lose. In 2020, we all needed something to think about other than politics, pandemic and PR. College and professional football gave us that.

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When the Southeastern Conference kicked off its season on Sept. 26, 2020, I did something I hadn’t done since the pandemic turned us all into hand-sanitizing hermits. I went to a house party. For eight hours, I drank beer and ate barbecue, wings and burgers. I cut up, talked smack and made predictions about the season. I watched college football with a dozen other people. I didn’t wear a mask. And frankly, my dear, I didn’t give a damn.

It felt glorious. I remember sitting on the back deck in the late afternoon, noticing the clear fall sky and the smell of food. Everyone sported their team colors. I thought: “This feels right – this is what life used to be like and is supposed to be! People used to get together in groups and do this!” 

But that was the last time I did anything like that. Getting together in large groups remains risky. And I suspect there will be far fewer Super Bowl parties this year. That’s a shame, because Super Bowl Sunday is a national holiday, even though the feds refuse to do the right thing and give us all a Super Bowl Monday holiday off to recover from our overindulgences. If I have to watch Brady hug his supermodel wife and perfect kids in a deluge of confetti, it’s the least Congress can do.

Regardless, this first, and hopefully last, pandemic-era Super Bowl will be different. There will be far fewer people in the stadium, the media day will be significantly smaller in scale and the commercials will have a different feel. 

Super Bowl commercial mainstays, like Allison+Partners client Budweiser, will be noticeably missing from the lineup. For the first time in 37 years, the King of Beers, its Clydesdales and its cultural zeitgeist will be absent. There are people who have kids in high school right now who don’t remember a Super Bowl without a Bud commercial. The last time Bud wasn’t part of the Super Bowl ad madness, Ronald Reagan was president and Bud Light was a brand new beverage.

The brewing giant said it will instead support COVID-19 vaccine awareness by shifting the $5.6 million it would have spent on Super Bowl ads to aid the battle against the pandemic. 

Cheers to that, Bud, but we’ll all miss you this Feb. 7 like we miss your frogs and Spuds MacKenzie.

Some people believe they get back what they put out to the universe. Perhaps our collective cries for normalcy over the past year have been answered. Maybe Bama winning it all (again) and Brady hosting a Lombardi over his head with that smug look on his face (again) are just what we need right now. This all feels normal.

Pulling against Bama and Brady certainly does.

Jacques Couret is editorial manager of the Marketing Innovation Team and works out of Allison+Partners’ Atlanta office, where he boasts the company’s best collection of Star Wars desk toys. 

JANUARY 26, 2021 //     

Building the Unity Brand: What’s it Going to Take?

By: Paul Sears

Joseph Biden is the 46th president of the United States. Some are elated about this, while others voted differently. After a grueling year of uncertainty, tragedy and unrest, many of us would like our leaders to lower the temperature and work together so we can all take a national deep breath. Biden used his inaugural address to launch what I call the “Unity Brand.” 

It begs the question… what will it take for it to be successful?

At Allison+Partners, I serve as executive vice president, Brand and Engagement Strategy.  No surprise, I believe strengthening the Unity Brand strategy and engaging Americans with it consistently will be key.  

We say successful brands must be Dynamic, Relevant and Vital. Dynamic in that they can quickly evolve while staying true to their core. Relevant in that they can deliver the right increment of value in precisely the right space and time. And V.I.T.A.L.-ity helps brands embrace the idea that a brand narrative lives entirely in humans’ hearts and minds. Vision, Inspiration, Trust, Alignment and Leadership are crucial, measurable steps to foster shared belief.READ MORE

In his address, Biden clearly outlined the Vision: he voiced the word “unity” eight times. He used it as a tool to Inspire: “With unity we can do great things. Important things.” This includes righting wrongs, putting people to work, teaching our children safely, delivering racial justice and overcoming the deadly coronavirus.  

Repairing national Trust may be the biggest challenge Biden faces. To that end, he laid out some straightforward actions he and other leaders can embrace:

  • Let history, faith and reason guide us.
  • Listen to, hear and see one another - not as adversaries, but as neighbors.
  • We gain from standing in another’s shoes for just a moment.
  • We can treat each other with more dignity and respect. 
  • Disagreement is part of our national fabric, but it must not lead to disunion.

To nurture trust over the next four years, Biden must outline clear proof points that unequivocally link to these pillars. For example, if history, faith and reason guide us, giving Dr. Anthony Fauci a stronger speaking role helps reinforce this point. But Fauci’s messaging must be simple, clear and consistent.  

When engaging across the aisle leaders must publicly and respectfully consider their colleagues’ positions. If they ultimately do not embrace them, they must provide straightforward rationale. Democrats should visit Republican districts, and vice versa, with the explicit intent of fostering bipartisan conversation. And the discourse must at all times be exceptionally civil.  The Unity Brand simply cannot survive without message discipline.

Throughout his campaign, Biden presented himself as a centrist. Continuing to show America his platform Aligns with core values on all sides could not be more critical.  He asked us to focus on “the common objects we love...opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor and, yes, the truth.” He said he will fight as hard for those who did not support him as for those who did - and he must continually prove that at every opportunity.  

The final cornerstone is Leadership, which requires courage, consistency, and perhaps most importantly, transparency. Trust in government and other public institutions has been shattered by misinformation, inconsistency and lack of clarity from officials, causing unprecedented polarization in our society. Healing our fractured culture is not something for the faint of heart. It demands steadfast commitment to the values outlined above and ongoing demonstration of them again and again. To “end this uncivil war,” Biden said leaders must “open our souls instead of harden our hearts.”  Leaders must give Americans access to their thoughts and feelings, a glimpse inside their decision-making, and an unvarnished look at their true point of view.  In our 24-7 social media world, such access is not just appreciated, it’s expected.

At A+P, we’ve helped many clients navigate challenging inflection points. Whether ensuring a vote-by-mail technology company is equipped to maintain its reputation through a volatile election cycle, or helping a commercial real estate developer engage with local skeptics - one thing is clear. We recognize the pivotal importance of a crystal clear brand strategy and an empathetic engagement plan.

Many Americans desperately hope the Unity Brand can be more than just words. It will take bravery and commitment from Biden and all of our leaders, to prove just how VITAL it can be.  

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with your branding needs, get in touch at paul.sears@allisonpr.com. 

Paul Sears is Executive Vice President, Brand & Engagement Strategy.  With nearly 20 years in advertising, social media, content and brand strategy, Paul spends most of his time helping clients sharpen their strategic focus – at the brand level or for individual products and campaigns.

JANUARY 21, 2021 //     

What Does This Inauguration Mean? Let Us Pause!

The White House

By: Brian Feldman

Twelve years ago, my wife and I attended the inauguration of Barack Obama. It was incredibly cold, and our seats were bad. But watching the elderly Black attendees sob tears of joy and happiness was a sight to behold and savor, even if we couldn’t see the president.

Twelve years later seems like a lifetime. We are now living through a global pandemic, a severe economic downturn for those least able to survive it and a far-right terrorist insurgency.

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But democracy won on Inauguration Day and our imperfect country has a chance to move forward if:

  1. We turn down the noise.
  2. We communicate with people we do not know as if they are friends we want to keep.
  3. We fix the things people tried to break (i.e., voting by mail) so next time we do not have to get lucky.
  4. We realize we can’t have unity without accountability.
  5. We listen with empathy and try to put ourselves in the shoes of others, especially those whose opinions differ from our own.

One of the biggest arguments we have around our dinner table is not really about differing policy views, it’s more about who we should listen to and how. Are the debates playing out on Twitter over people’s unhappiness over an additional $1,400 stimulus versus $2,000 more to be taken seriously? Is it intended to solve something or just cause a fight?

After fighting with my kids about how relevant Twitter or Instagram is to people’s lives, I realize everything is relevant. But politicians should pause, so they (and we) have time to reflect before we react.

More than that, it’s important to pause and reflect on how we neared the brink of the end of American democracy and what each of us – especially those of us with an amplified voice – can do to contribute to a more civil discourse. There are some opinions we can’t tolerate: racism, sexism, xenophobia and support for violence. But outside of those red lines, we in the communication business can try to guide our clients and causes to progress, not attack; to argue, but not fight; and to resolve, but not enflame.

We need more pause, more reflection and less reaction. 

Four years ago on Inauguration Day, I tried to make sense of what was happening by citing the history of the Founding Fathers and how vigorously they fought with each other and through the media of the day to win their debates. In some cases, they even dueled to the death, as I pointed out. 

After four years of fury, anger and division, I see my reference was misplaced. That was not the best way we settled debates – it was the worst. If Joe Biden’s inauguration means anything, it means we have a chance to progress. But we may not get a second chance if we fail to reform democracy this time. 

Perhaps Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman said it better than I could ever hope to.

Brian Feldman is a partner, general counsel and co-leads the agency’s healthcare practice.

 

AGENCY NEWS // JANUARY 20, 2021 //     

Telum Talks To... Jeremy Seow, Managing Director, Growth & Innovation, APAC, Allison+Partners

"Look at opportunities where you can generalise and grow, and deepened your expertise in a lot of areas before you look at specialisms slightly later on in your career."
 
We caught up with Jeremy Seow, Managing Director, Growth & Innovation, APAC at Allison + Partners as he takes us through his unexpected career path in public relations which has led him to be the forefront of integrated agencies. Jeremy tells us how he found success and meaning by embracing his inner generalist, and shares the changes he has seen in the industry since he started out. READ MORE
AGENCY NEWS // JANUARY 15, 2021 //     

Allison+Partners Buys Corporate Comms Shop Sommerfield

NEW YORK — Allison+Partners has bought Sommerfield Communications, a New York boutique shop that specializes in corporate communications.

In announcing the deal, Allison+Partners said the acquisition expands its financial communications, ESG-related communications, executive positioning, thought leadership and B2B communications capabilities.

Sommerfield president Frank Sommerfield, who launched his eponymous firm 25 years ago, will focus on growing those offerings further as as an Allison+Partners managing director. READ MORE
AGENCY NEWS // JANUARY 14, 2021 //     

How to get Media cut Through in These Covid Times

There is only one thing dominating the news right now, so it is not easy to get a journalist’s attention with stories unrelated to the pandemic. We asked senior PR communicators for their top tips for achieving cut through.

Invest time and resources
Sue Grant, managing director, B2B tech, Europe at PR firm Allison+Partners: “In 2020, it often felt like walking on eggshells when reaching out to journalists. Is now a smart or sensitive time to pitch? Is my pitch still timely with the current news cycle? 

“As PRs we need to invest in unique ways to build and maintain media relationships that will pay off. As we enter 2021, building quality relationships with regular contacts will continue to be critically important."

“This might range from investing time (allocating time for teams to read journalists’ content and share feedback separate to outreach on behalf of a client) to investing in resources (perhaps you Deliveroo the journalist’s favourite meal to chat about your news over a virtual lunch). Taking the time to be thoughtful, appreciative and supportive will continue to pay dividends.” 

READ MORE
JANUARY 14, 2021 //     

Communications Considerations During Unprecedented Moments in Time  

By: Lindsay Hyman  

I think we can all agree, it’s been a week. But the week (or weeks?) ahead appears just as daunting.  

As marketing communicators, we’ve become used to the constantly changing news landscape of the past 10 months. And just when we think we have a handle on what’s next, we’re thrown another curveball. Last week was one for the history books.   

Ahead of the U.S. election on Nov. 3, we worked with our clients to modify marketing communications plans well into Q1-2021, as we anticipated the news cycle surrounding the transition of power would continue through – and likely beyond – Inauguration Day. But the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan6 drastically shifted the urgency and dominance of the conversations. That, on top of a global pandemic, isolation and mental health concerns, a reckoning with racial injustice, and now a second presidential impeachment, to name a few.  

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How can companies cope from a marketing communications perspective when events happen so quickly and likely will evolve rapidly over the next couple of weeks?  

Below are a few considerations as you chart your company’s path forward through this turbulent time. And if you need some help, get in touch with us at info@allisonpr.com 

Should my company issue a statement?  

  • While we saw several companies, organizations and executives issue public statements condemning the violence at the U.S. Capitol and advocating for the peaceful transfer of power, that is not the appropriate course for all organizations – especially now, a week after the events.  
  • If your company plans to specifically address the events of Jan.6, we strongly suggest focusing on internal audiences and close external partners. At a very high-level, we recommend the statements focus on employees’ and partners’ well-being while addressing the company’s pro-democracy position, values and respect for others. However, you may need to consider an external statement if your company has made the decision to sever partnerships or end services with parties believed to have participated in or encouraged the events. 
  • Should similar events occur in the days leading up to and immediately following the inauguration (and yes, we realize it’s nuts we even have to say that), we recommend most companies continue to exercise caution and prioritize communications with internal audiences first. Any statement made should be supported by action, where appropriate, so we encourage companies to evaluate all aspects of the organization that may be affected – or subject to criticism – by any statement or action.  

When is it ok to resume our external marketing communications programs?  

  • If you have planned a priority announcement or launch, we suggest avoiding the week of Jan. 18 wherever possible. It will be a crowded news cycle, and your priority initiative could get completely lost in it.  

We anticipate it will be appropriate for most news announcements and launches to resume the week of Jan.25. However, we advise having a “pivot plan” at the ready in the event we see such disruptions to civil society as experienced on Jan. 6. 

What are media saying?  

  • They’re tired too. Many journalists are spread thin with their reporting duties between the social unrest, political processes and increasing COVID-19 infections and fatalities, let alone their personal lives. Of course, this is not a universal experience. But it’s important to consider this perspective as you approach any media relations program.  
  • We recommend companies prepare for scheduled interviews to be cancelled or cut short based on breaking news – especially with broadcast media. As one producer put it, newsrooms are likely to be “underwater with politics-related coverage until February.” Print and online media are in the same position. As another reporter put it, “consumers want to know what’s going on nationally,” and as a result, unrelated stories don’t get the same reporting priority.  
  • As noted above, wherever possible, we suggest limiting media relations activities that are not timely or related to the current news cycle.  

What about my social and paid influencer programs?  

  • The upcoming events, holidays and moments (Inauguration Day, MLK Day, potential protests, etc.) may not intersect with your company on a business level. However, they can potentially affect social media followers’ daily digital lives or paid influencer partners. The events also have the potential to drive increased political and social discourse that may dominate online conversations.  
  • While many brands and companies might find they can continue managing their owned channels at a fairly regular cadence, we recommend being hyper-conscious of the ever-changing national conversation during Jan. 16-20 in particular, in light of reportedly planned protests.   
  • As an easy action, we suggest cancelling all pre-scheduled posts on your shared and owned channels and those of your paid partners. We recommend only posting in real-time to avoid accidental postings that may end up appearing insensitive due to rapidly changing and breaking news. 

Lindsay Hyman is a senior vice president based in the Washington, D.C. office. She works with consumer and corporate clients across industries to build and execute Purpose programs and communicate ESG initiatives.   

AGENCY NEWS // JANUARY 6, 2021 //     

PR Pros Offer 21 Words on What They're Expecting in 2021

PRWeekFollowing a year of COVID-19 chaos, we asked PR leaders to give 21-word predictions of what they believe is in store for the profession in 2021.

It's fair to say that last year’s industry predictions round-up didn't quite go to plan. Not surprisingly, nobody PRWeek approached could predict the devastation that the coronavirus pandemic would inflict on the economy and society at large.

Although the vaccines provide hope, the UK is clearly not out of the woods just yet, and there is a great deal of uncertainty about how 2021 will pan out. In spite of this, industry leaders are cautiously optimistic about the year ahead.

PRWeek asked a broad range of agency and in-house communications professionals to gaze into their crystal balls. 

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DECEMBER 18, 2020 //     

Lessons Learned in 2020: Goal Setting, Patience and Gratitude

By: Amanda Bock 

As we near the end of 2020, this most trying year has given us plenty of time for self-reflection and growth. But in an unexpected twist, it’s also given back to us time itself. What would have been time commuting became extra time to get in that workout. What would have been time dedicated to work travel became extra time with loved ones. We can all be grateful for the extra time and what it affords us.

For someone who started a new job in a new city 3,500 miles away from my family in January, my idea of time in 2020 looks a lot different now than it did back then. We all know the phrase, “Hindsight is 2020” (pun intended). But truthfully, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Like most, I came into 2020 with some pretty specific goals:

  • Do excellent work for a company full of incredibly talented, hardworking and genuine people.
  • Grow my network as a professional and make some meaningful connections.
  • Have fun along the way!
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But then just three months into my new job in my new office, everything changed. The pandemic thrust us into a virtual landscape where everyone had to quickly adjust, adapt, and every other synonymous verb that boils down to “not really ever planning/needing to change, but you don’t have a choice so get over it.”

I decided my goals wouldn’t change because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like any go-getter, I committed to somehow make it work. I knew full-well it would take hard work, but I didn’t have the slightest idea what that work would actually look like. This is what some call the art of “winging it.” So, I decided to start with my very first connection at A+P – my manager.

At A+P, we have annual goal-setting conversations with our managers to make a roadmap for the year. I used my first meeting as a real get-to-know-you conversation. As someone who's both a manager and a direct report, it’s become incredibly important to me that my manager knows exactly what my goals are and who I am as a young professional. 

In return, I also wanted to be sure I have a clear understanding of the things she wants (and expects) me to accomplish and what it will take for me to get to the next level. Even just four weeks into my job, it was vital for me to gain a clear line of sight of what I wanted to work toward.

Like any good relationship, the manger-direct report dynamic demands trust and open lines of communication. In my first goal-setting conversation, I shared everything I wanted to accomplish. Hefty, ambitious and as big-picture as those goals may have been in January – think travel across the globe to meet other colleagues, attend networking and industry events, and the like – I can now see they set me up for personal and professional success in the most unpredicted year of my life. And no, 2021, that’s not a challenge! 

My manager enabled me to tap into my personal passions by knowing and understanding what those really were in the first place. She also committed to finding ways to help me amplify them in my work here at A+P, giving me tasks and projects that ladder up to what I’d like to accomplish.

From that point on, my quarterly check-ins were both a pulse check and almost an accountability reminder for the things I was manifesting, and where/how I was making progress (if I was at all). These conversations looked something like this:

  • How am I working towards my own personal goals but also achieving the bigger department goals, too?
  • Have things had to shift or change this quarter, and what did I learn as a result of that? Biggest theme in 2020: PATIENCE
  • Are we both working toward the same department goals, or has something caused us to pivot?

As an employee, this both kept me excited, passionate and engaged in my work at a time when that was undeniably the biggest challenge working professionals faced.

Now in December 2020, I can proudly (and humbly) share I’ve accomplished all three things I set out to. I am doing great work alongside some incredible people. I managed to have fun along the way, diving head-first into agency culture. I even made some meaningful connections despite not seeing a colleague in person (with a couple of exceptions) since March 11. 

The secret? I asked colleagues meaningful questions: Hey, how are you doing? What does life at home look like for you right now? How are you really doing? I took the time to genuinely care about people, and in return they did the same for me when I was on the other side of the phone. I also asked where and how I could be helpful, a question that never once went unanswered.

The last goal on my list in January was to write a blog for our agency content hub… thanks for helping me check that one off now!

Amanda Bock is an internal communications associate based in San Francisco. A Florida native and a seasoned communications maven, she strives to inspire, inform and engage the growing workforce of A+P across the globe. Follow Amanda on Twitter @AmandaBock or LinkedIn.

 

DECEMBER 17, 2020 //     

The Crypto Surge and The Biden Administration

By: Todd Aydelotte

If you’ve followed the rollercoaster headlines, bitcoin’s price has climbed for much of the past year. Right now, just one bitcoin will cost you more than $ 23,000 – representing a staggering ascendency for the cryptocurrency invented by “Satoshi Nakamoto” in 2008.

And while the price of bitcoin may rise and fall in the months ahead, it’s undeniable cryptocurrencies have entered a new phase of adoption. Gone are the days when bitcoin was traded by a quirky network of tech enthusiasts. The new players in crypto are increasingly institutional, hailing from the world of traditional finance. Case in point, Mass Mutual’s $100 million investment in bitcoin on Dec. 10, or JP Morgan’s launch of the much-ballyhooed JPM Coin in 2019.

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As Wall Street embraces more digital currencies, blockchain and crypto business leaders look hopefully to the Biden administration, which can free the industry from years of regulatory uncertainty and further fuel American innovation. In July 2019, a tweet from President Donald Trump perfectly captured his administration’s attitude about cryptocurrencies: “I am not a fan of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air.”

Others beg to differ.

“I think what we see with a Biden administration is an opportunity to get some fresh faces into the key regulatory agencies that might be more willing than some of the other regulators that we have today to move forward on policies that would be good for crypto,” said Kristin Smith, executive director of the Blockchain Association, in a recent interview with Fortune.

In the opening weeks of the presidential transition, the Biden administration set a promising tone when it selected ex-Goldman Sachs banker Gary Gensler to lead the transition team for financial policy and Janet Yellin as treasury secretary. Both figures have deep roots in traditional finance, yet each have made remarks suggesting they will be much warmer to cryptocurrencies and digital assets than the prior administration.

In many ways, the race toward a future of digital money is a lot like the race toward 5G. In both instances, the U.S. and Western Europe must contend with Asian counterparts that got there early and are willing to make some enormous bets. For example, the Chinese government has committed to blockchain technology as part of its Five-Year Plan and is currently testing a Digital Yuan, a digital currency (not crypto) issued and backed by the country’s central bank. China joins a number of G20 countries with similar initiatives.

As America shakes off the COVID-19 downturn and looks toward the fertile fields of cryptocurrencies and digital money, I recall the famous words typed in 2010 by Satoshi Nakamoto, the fabled anonymous creator of bitcoin: “If you don’t believe it or don’t get it, I don’t have the time to try to convince you, sorry.”

If you’d like to learn more about how our technology and healthcare teams can support, get in touch with Todd Aydelotte at todd@allisonpr.com

Todd is a managing director in the New York office of Allison+Partners who specializes in technology and healthcare communications.

DECEMBER 16, 2020 //     

Five 2021 Predictions from Marketing and PR Pros

By: Jill Coomber, Sue Grant and Kate Lynch

It’s nothing new to say that the world was turned on its head in 2020. Every person within every industry has been affected in one way or another and the PR and marketing industries are no exception. While the nature of our job is to inform, drive and capitalize upon trends and insights, the emergence of COVID-19, as well as the tumultuous political landscape, made this challenging to say the least.

How do you inform trends in an – and we’re sorry to use this word – ‘unprecedented’ situation? How do you meet client objectives, while the landscape is witnessing an upheaval, and consumer and B2B habits and entire industries are being changed forever?READ MORE

The short answer is, no one knows. We’re all navigating blind and learning as we go because this is a situation that no one has ever been in before. This makes 2021 predictions all the more challenging, given the unpredictable nature of the world we currently live in. However, as we reflect on what we have learned this year, we have shared five predictions below of what we expect to trend in the coming year for both Consumer and B2B PR and marketing. 

1. Spokespeople with a POV will be more important than ever. A spokesperson that plays it safe or sticks to a branded script will no longer make news. The competition for media presence will be even more fierce. As industries continue to evolve and shift in unprecedented ways, media crave brand representatives who stand for something and aren't afraid to say it, and can offer insightful commentary and content on what the future holds.

2. Bylines are back. While we’ve talked about bylines since the dawn of PR time, there will be a new importance to them in 2021. As media teams continue to shrink, publications are more open to receiving byline content from PR practitioners. Content will still need to be fresh, so it’s worth baking bylines into 2021 PR plans to best prepare the most compelling narratives.

3. Investing in unique ways to make and maintain media relationships will pay off. In 2020, it often felt like walking on eggshells when reaching out to journalists. Is now a smart or sensitive time to pitch? Is my pitch still timely with the current news cycle? Building relationships with the contacts you work regularly with will continue to be critically important. And to do this might range from investing time (allocating time for teams to read journalists’ content and share kind feedback separate to outreach on behalf of a client) to investing in resources (perhaps you Deliveroo the journalist’s favorite meal to chat about your news over a virtual lunch). Taking the time to be thoughtful, appreciative and supportive will continue to pay dividends.

4. Content will be the King of Overwhelming. In the face of the pandemic, the seas of content have turned into oceans, and target audiences are drowning in it. This will continue in 2021. What does this mean for marketing and PR pros? To stand out, you will need to say something different to your competitors. “Quality over quantity” has never been more meaningful. Instead of pushing out loads of content without a unique perspective, it’s critical to invest the time and resources to understand the DNA of your brand, monitoring the competitive set, and thus producing content that shares something different to breakthrough and offers your target something meaningful.

5. Companies will be held accountable for Diversity & Inclusion promises. In 2020, Diversity & Inclusion issues were catapulted to the forefront of conversation as companies and individuals were challenged to recognize biases and injustices, and put an action plan forward to do better. The importance of doing better isn’t going anywhere, and companies and industries will be held accountable. It will be critical for organizations to continue to act upon Diversity & Inclusion initiatives and keep it top of mind to make change-forward decisions and campaigns. 

Looking to 2021, one thing is for sure - marketing and PR practitioners will need to stay agile and nimble. The quickly changing landscape will continue to shift and surprise us as we face new challenges. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s our resilience. Game on, 2021. 


To find out more on how our European teams can help you take forward new PR and marketing strategies and programs for 2021, click here.

AGENCY NEWS // DECEMBER 16, 2020 //     

Podcast: Allison + Partners' Lisa Rosenberg On Innovation and Creativity During Challenging Times

PRovoke MediaAllison+Partners consumer brands leader Lisa Rosenberg joins Aarti Shah on the PRovoke podcast to reflect on how the challenges of 2020 shaped innovation this year. We also talk about the creative campaigns that broke through a tumultuous social and political backdrop. Rosenberg was also featured on the 2020 Innovator 25 in Americas.  
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DECEMBER 15, 2020 //     

Incorporating Brand Reputation Into COVID-19 Considerations

By: Barbara Laidlaw and Josiah Adams 

The holiday season is upon us and with it, a surge in COVID-19 cases. Since the beginning of November, there have been more than 3.1 million new cases – the highest number for any single month. According to a Washington University in St. Louis model, 20 million Americans could be infected with COVID-19 by January 2021 

More widespread testing has driven some of the uptickBut the reality is transmission has accelerated in virtually every region of the country with no end in sight. Contributing factors to this spike in cases include a premature reopening of restaurants, offices and other high-risk locationsa lack of alignment on preventative measures at the state level; and now, holiday travel.  

Small businesses that narrowly avoided economic ruin in spring are now on the brink of collapse due to the fallout from the resurgence of the virus. Without consistent guidance from state or federal governments, nor adequate support, businesses throughout America now face difficult decisions they will have to largely make on their own. These decisions carry significant weight, and incorrect decisions could expose brands to undue reputational risk.  

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Despite having lived through the pandemic for nearly three quarters of a year, much remains unknown about the spread of the virus or when some level of normalcy will returnTo be prepared for what comes next, we must look to the past and learn from what worked and what didn’t.  

One of the most critical lessons we learned during the first wave of COVID-19 was we must take this virus seriously. It seems obvious now. But in spring, many businesses were slow to shift to remote work or institute changes that would prevent the spread of the virus. These types of missteps exposed brands to countless reputational risks and potential crises. Regardless of industry, the appearance that your brand has not done everything in its power to curtail the spread of COVID-19 among employees, customers and the communities you operate in is a major risk to your business reputation. And it’s one that will likely be difficult to overcome in a short period of time.  

Additionally, this will cause irreparable and long-term harm to employee morale and recruitment capacity. Throughout this pandemic, businesses have focused on how they treat employees. Creating innovative remote work schedules, increasing benefits for front-line workers, and improving health and safety protocols are just a few examples of the many changes companies have made to keep their employees safe and productive. Conversely, companies that did not attempt to improve their employees’ morale and safety received a significant amount of negative attention.  

Those that established themselves as leaders and innovators in their COVID-19 response will benefit in the long-term in their ability to show the quality of their work environment and the care their leaders put into the safety and well-being of their employees. Those that struggled with this will be at a disadvantage moving forward, particularly in industries that received the most attention, such as tech, retail and food service. Making informed decisions based on the lessons learned in the early phases of this pandemic will be crucial to ensure you maintain brand reputation through the difficulties ahead.  

The FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has prompted many to feel the end of the pandemic is near. The first American immunizations began on Dec. 14, starting a process that will take months to complete. The vaccine is a light at the end of a very long tunnel, and it will take some time to return a sense of pre-pandemic normalcyEven by optimistic projections, widespread access to the vaccine will not be a reality until late spring to early summer. Because of this, brands should make mid-to-long-term plans that incorporate lockdowns and additional safety mandates that make in-person work difficult.  

For some industries, this may mean extending remote work. For others, where in-person work is required, this may mean improving safety protocols or ensuring existing protocols are strictly adhered to through more frequent training and communication from leaders. Making decisions based on caution will not only protect your brand, but it will also protect your people and the communities you work and live in.  

As we look to a post-pandemic world, actions taken today will likely resonate with current employees and customers as well as future ones. As a second wave puts our hospitals on the brink and our nation on edge, we should take this moment as an opportunity to reflect on what we have learnedapply what we know are effective strategies for navigating this period and consider how we plan for the coming weeks and months.  

How your company managed the COVID-19 crisis will be a future reputational benchmark for businesses within every industry. Because of this, ensuring your customers and employees are safe should be a top priority, as it will be a determining factor in your brand’s long-term reputation.      

If you’d like to learn more about how our global reputation risk management team can support you during this time, get in touch with Barbara Laidlaw at barbara@allisonpr.com. 

Barbara Laidlaw brings 25 years of experience developing and running programs that help companies prepare, protect and defend their brand reputation through global and national events, recalls, litigation, data breaches, regulatory issues and labor disputes. 

Josiah Adams works on Allison + Partners’ global risk + issues management team and provides federal, state and local policy insights. 

DECEMBER 10, 2020 //     

The Now Normal Expert Spotlight Series: ANS Dan Goldberg Q&A on Marketing Societies

ANS

By: Marcel Goldstein

In our content series “The Now Normal,” Allison + Partners turns to leading professionals in their fields to unpack the current state of marketing and communications and where it needs to go tomorrow. Today, we speak with Dan Goldberg, director of membership and marketing with the American Nuclear Society, about the unique Now Normal for scientific societies. 

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In your own words, what does ANS do?

The American Nuclear Society is the premier association for students and professionals in the nuclear scientific community. We want to see nuclear embraced as a technology for improving people’s lives and preserving the planet. We provide forums for sharing information and knowledge within the community. In addition, we increase awareness of the benefits of nuclear technologies through K-12 education programs as well as through our public advocacy.

How does marketing help ANS achieve its mission?

Our external marketing function grows our members’ collective voice, increasing their impact on society. In addition, internal marketing among our members and the nuclear science community strengthens bonds and connections.

What is the secret to getting internal buy-in and support for the marketing function and initiatives?

While our board of directors and membership are very supportive of marketing initiatives, we maintain that support by working closely with volunteer leadership to obtain directional inputs. By working with volunteer leadership, we also ensure messaging is consistent and avoid doing any disservice to the technology with misinformation. We also try to build support by meeting and exceeding marketing metrics, such as growth in membership and member engagement. Additionally, we track website and email analytics, touchpoints in our education program outreach, as well as meeting attendance and revenue numbers.

What marketing functions are most valued by leadership and why?

Marketing the benefits of nuclear science and technology are most valued. Members want us to promote what they do for the betterment of society beyond the ANS community.

What is uniquely difficult about doing marketing for a scientific society?

We are challenged by misperceptions of the scientific nuclear community. Sometimes, members take for granted that people outside can understand the technology, its benefits and its safety measures. We often communicate very technical content that needs to be distilled down for the public to comprehend.

What do you find the most gratifying aspect of marketing for a scientific society?

Working for a passionate and dedicated community that really cares about what they do and their impact on society. Working with volunteers who go above and beyond to further their field.

 

 

Scientific societies are well-positioned to address public perceptions. What is the key to doing that effectively?

We have a very clear strategy for communicating what ANS does and what we are trying to achieve. The complexity of nuclear technology makes it challenging to create awareness about what our members do. We focus more on the positive attributes, rather than getting defensive about the perceived negative aspects. When talking about why nuclear society is a positive for society, we focus on the impact that nuclear has on people’s health and other critical areas. As the representative of more than 10,000 nuclear scientists and engineers, we are very adamant that nuclear is a very safe technology but we do not dwell on perceived safety issues.

Policymakers can heavily influence perceptions about science and technology given their platforms and influence. What role should a scientific society play in influencing the policymaking influencers?

We believe it is important to educate policymakers on nuclear science and technology, clarify misperceptions, and open a dialogue. Conversations on the local level are as important as the national level. We engage with a proactive, ongoing communications approach and not just when specific initiatives of importance arise. We are the leader in the nuclear professional field, with a significant membership in academia conducting research, and that lends to strong credibility with policymakers.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the way scientific societies like yours does marketing, and what further impacts on marketing are you anticipating in 2021?

The pandemic presented us with an opportunity to accelerate some changes that were already in progress. We enhanced our online content to reach a broader audience, increased the number of webinars and moved our annual conference online. While we attracted about 800 people to our annual in-person meeting last year, we hosted 2,300 in this year’s virtual format.

How do you create and disseminate content that effectively builds audience for ANS?

In our experience, broader topics perform better than specific topics. The best content is both informative and entertaining. For example, webinars featuring past, current and future initiatives at U.S. national nuclear labs or developments in advanced nuclear reactors attract strong viewership. As we are seeing a lot of webinar and Zoom fatigue, topics that are easy to listen to in the background are best. For many of our members, nuclear science is their hobby as much as their profession. Like a good documentary, our audiences want a broadly appealing subject that offers a break from their day-to-day experiences. In terms of content distribution, we have found success building audiences through co-branded webinars and reciprocal marketing with like-minded organizations, for example, North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN) and U.S. Women in Nuclear (U.S. WIN).

What can an outside marketing partner bring to a scientific society and what do you do you look for in a partner?

We look for a partner that brings an outside perspective to help determine strategy. Staff at societies wear many different hats in one organization. Partners that offer a specialization and experience with many different organizations offer the ideal complement.

On a personal note, why have you chosen a career in marketing for a scientific society and why do you stay in it?

I truly enjoy working with ANS members who are passionate about what they do, especially those who do a lot to advance their field and improve our society. The scientific nuclear community will have a profound impact on our society and environment. Building a positive reciprocal working relationship with the many bright members of our staff and the larger ANS community keeps me engaged and grateful for the opportunity.

DECEMBER 8, 2020 //     

Women Make Workplaces Better and Stronger - But the Global Pandemic Threatens Progress

By: Tracey Cassidy  

The recent McKinsey and LeanIn.Org “Women in the Workplace” study presents some harrowing statistics about the negative impact the global COVID-19 pandemic has had on working mothers. The study, which included 317 companies and more than 40,000 interviews, found women have been particularly impacted negatively and the pandemic has only added to the challenges women already faced. 

As a working mother of two, I was not particularly surprised by these findings. But I was surprised to learn 25% of working mothers now consider downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely to juggle all of life’s demands during the pandemic.  

Lockdowns and school closures caused by the pandemic have presented unprecedented challenges for everyone, but especially for women. On top of handling our day-to-day jobs, household responsibilities and childcare tend to fall upon women. We often cook three meals a day, then we serve as adjunct teacherstutors and guidance counselors for our children on top of our day jobs. Not to mention the unending loads of laundry and cleaning required when all house occupants are home 24/7It seems the work shifts never end.     

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Prior to the pandemic, progress was made, evidenced by an increase of women in leadership roles across industries. The pandemic now threatens that progress, and we are at risk of a major setback. Some have even called it a “pink recession.” While I don’t love that term, I believe organizations of all shapes and sizes need to understand the possible threat and negative implications of a mass exodus of women leaving the workforce.  

While the “Women in the Workplace” study presents some challenging realitieswe female leaders need to be part of the solution to combat this threat and come up with integrated and flexible solutions to help solve it.  

After reading a CNBC op-ed by HP Chief Human Resources Officer Tracy Keogh and HP Chief Diversity Officer Lesley Slaton Brown, I feel more hopeful. The duo point out there’s not a silver bullet to retaining women during the pandemic. We must be innovative and individualized in our approaches to accommodate all working women. Flexibility is the No. 1 thing experts call out. Everyone’s situation is different, and therefore a one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t work.  

An article in Harvard Business Review offers some advice for retaining working moms right now. Empathy was the thing that stood out the most to me. We’ve all seen the “we’re all in this together” messaging. But for us to truly live that motto, we need to be empathic to individuals and their struggles. That also means avoiding microaggressions or negative comments that can prohibit empathy.  

After reading the McKinsey study, subsequent articles by leaders on possible solutions and reflecting on my own personal situation, I think there are several key things we female leaders can do to ensure we don’t reverse decades of progress.  

  • Remember Wonder Woman is a Fictional Character. You can’t do it all well all the time. There are days when I feel I could do more for my kids development, but it’s challenging to reconcile that with work deadlines. After virtual school ends, there are days when my kids are left to their own devices, most of the time playing video games. And that’s OK. I mean, some big tech companies see gaming as a strategic skill and one to tout in a job interview, right?  
  • Find a Mentor. If you don’t already have a mentor, now is the time to get one. I’ve found comfort in talking with other working mothers who have experienced similar struggles. It may not be at the same time, but they can relate. We’re all navigating this for the first time, and having a mentor who you can confide in and be brutally honest with is helpful. Mentors can offer an outside perspective and invaluable guidance. At Allison+Partners, we have several mentor programs. And our Women’s Leadership Program has female mentorships that can, and should be, tapped during this critical time.  
  • Take Breaks. Burnout is real. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. I found myself close to burnout about a month ago, and my husband was a critical help to me during that time. He essentially took over all the homework responsibilities, meals and daily home tasks so I could focus on work – and I’m grateful. Asking for help is not a weakness. It’s a strength and a tool that can help you manage it all. I also realized I need to take more breaks during the day. Even for five minutes to spray some lavender and breathe, take the dogs for a quick walk, or play a quick game of Ping-Pong with my kids   
  • Lead with Empathy. I’m a big Brené Brown fan. Her talk on empathy vs. sympathy has always resonated with me, but it inspires me even more so now. She explains, “Empathy fuels connection and sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable one.” As leaders, we need to share our own struggles and vulnerability, so others feel comfortable to do the same. Our boundaries between work and home have all but dissolved. This opens the door for vulnerability and empathy – and that’s a good thing. Check in with your teams, ask how they’re doing and what they need. If we’re all in this together, then we need to show up for each other. 

In the days and months ahead, I will try to continue to heed my own advice and work to ensure working mothers feel supported and empowered and have the full commitment of our agency behind them.      

Tracey Cassidy is the General Manager of Allison+Partners NYC office, the largest in the network. She is co-chair of Allison+Partners Women’s Leadership Program (WLP). Tracey brings more than 20 years of experience building brands and safeguarding their reputations. Follow her on Twitter @TraceyCassidy or LinkedIN. 

AGENCY NEWS // DECEMBER 4, 2020 //     

All-staff PTO, no Video Fridays, Wellness Checks: How Team Leaders are Countering Employee Burnout

PRWeek

Agency leaders are sounding the alarm on the stress and pressure their employees are under after months of being isolated at home, a race to finish client work for 2020 on a revenue high and no respite in sight from COVID-19. 

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my career. Folks who usually run through walls are hitting walls,” says Andy Pray, founder of Praytell Strategy. “Those walls are coming from fatigue, stress and build-up of having been in this mental and physical space for eight months.”

“People are feeling the pressure to give 100% when they don’t always feel 100%,” he adds. “They’re hitting walls at rates I’ve never seen before. That’s troubling because we’re not through the woods of this.”

Scott Allison, chairman and CEO of Allison+Partners, agrees.

“There is no sugar-coating it. It has taken a real toll on people,” he adds. “In the first few months of the pandemic, we could be like, ‘We’re all this together, no one was laid off at our agency and we’re all happy to have our jobs.’ But the pandemic went from a sprint to a marathon and it is hard to play that ‘grateful’ message for the long haul.” 

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DECEMBER 2, 2020 //     

What Brands Will Deliver This Holiday Season: Whimsy, a Sense of Fun and a Side of Heartfelt Connection

By: Lisa Rosenberg  

For many Americans, the Thanksgiving weekend traditionally marks the start of the holiday season – 37 days filled with family get-togethers, parties and celebrations, cooking, decorating and shopping, all of which will look and feel quite a bit different this year. While the country (and much of the world) battles both COVID-19 and pandemic fatigue, brands are focused on setting the right tone as they look to connect with consumers during the most important selling season of the year.

As has been the case over the last few years, holiday marketing starts earlier and earlier. This year, some brands leaned into Thanksgiving dinner as a way to connect with consumers prior to the holiday shopping season starting in earnest.

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Whole Foods offered amateur cooks a safety net by teaming up with Progressive Insurance for its
Thanksgiving Turkey Protection Plan.” With more Americans planning smaller Thanksgiving gatherings, the brand anticipated an increase in first-time cooks attempting to tackle the traditional turkey dinner. Turkey “fails” were rewarded with a gift card redeemable at Whole Foods.

Budweiser introduced a Bud Can Turkey Grill Stand that encouraged outdoor turkey prep and hoped to minimize people gathering inside kitchens, where social distancing is difficult. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants put a twist on the traditional Friendsgiving and launched a Solobrations menu – take-home Thanksgiving meals for one.

Building on the pre-pandemic trend of branded pop-up shops, beloved food brands have introduced quirky holiday items designed to elicit smiles from diehard fans. Pizza Hut teamed up with weighted blanket maker Gravity Blanket to make the “Original Pan Weighted Blanket,” which looks like a giant cheese or pepperoni pizza. Launched in response to a “heavy” year, the blanket has a 72-inch diameter, weighs 15 pounds and sold out in less than a day. 

Building on the popularity of branded merchandise, some brands expanded their offerings this season and marketed them as collections. Snack giant Frito-Lay introduced “holiday bundles” in its first holiday shop. There, fans can find “ugly” Doritos Christmas sweaters, adult-sized Cheetos hooded onesies and Tostitos fuzzy socks, each bundled with a bag of the corresponding snack. Taking a play from fashion retailers, Dunkin’ dropped in mid-November its full line of holiday merch, including clothing, accessories, housewares and even a branded tandem bike, on ShopDunkin.com. When last checked, most of the items were already sold out, proving brand love is a powerful purchase driver.

The retail sector has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, having lost billions in U.S. sales since store shutdowns began in March. While retailers approach this holiday season with an abundance of caution, Old Navy's holiday campaign sets out to remind people holiday festivities can still be fun, even in the midst of a pandemic. The brand kicked off its holiday marketing campaign with TV personality RuPaul starring in five new spots. The commercials each include the drag queen's song "Hey Sis," my favorite of which hypes the brand's holiday-themed pajamas and suggests people can "normalize conference calls in their pjs." A four-part content series, titled "RuPaul-iday," premiered on Old Navy's YouTube channel on Black Friday. Each video showcases the reality TV star's twists on various holiday-inspired activities, such as wreath-making, cookie decorating, gift wrapping and crafting cocktails.

While some brands have leaned into humor, others look to set an optimistic tone and reinforce the importance of connection during the pandemic. Gap’s new “Dream the Future” TV commercial features a colorful song and dance that highlights togetherness even during a time of crisis. In the spot, casually dressed people meet in the center of a white room and react to construction paper signs sporting handwritten words like "hope," "trust" and "connection."

No holiday season would be complete without a spot that tugs at the heartstrings, and Kohl’s latest from the "Give With All Your Heart" campaign does that and more. The emotional 90-second film depicts a sweet friendship between a little girl and an older neighbor in lockdown during the pandemic. The spot is a wonderful celebration of friendship and the power of connection that leaves us all with a sense of hope this holiday season.

If you're interested in learning how our consumer brands team can help your brand during this time, get in touch at lisa.rosenberg@allisonpr.com  

Lisa Rosenberg is a partner and president of Consumer Brands at Allison+Partners. She has more than 30 years of experience leading brand initiatives across the beauty + personal care, CPG, Food + Beverage, Automotive, Travel + Hospitality, Consumer Health + Wellness, Luxury Goods and Retail sectors and has been a hands-on force for many successful brand journeys. 

DECEMBER 1, 2020 //     

Giving Back on Giving Tuesday – Stories that Matter

By: Scott Pansky

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday have all become online holiday staples, but each bring a unique energy and reason to participate.

Black Friday began as a chance for people to get the big “door busters” at Walmart, Target or major department stores. People would wait in line early in the morning to be the first to get limited amounts of clothes or electronics and spend the rest of the day shopping for the holiday. Retailers started moving the store hours earlier until some just opened early on Thanksgiving Day to make a profit.

REI changed the game by recognizing family time was meant to be with family, not working retail and shopping. Cyber Monday followed and allowed people to make their purchases from home instead of waking up early the day after Thanksgiving to visit the bricks and mortars. The online specials only got better.

Then came Giving Tuesday. It was not about purchasing, gifting or getting great deals. It was about charity and doing good. This annual event has raised millions of dollars to support thousands of different nonprofits.

Yet for many, all three have become either a thing to “participate” in or just another online “event.” But Giving Tuesday should really mean something and not be just about asking for a donation. It should be about our actual feelings around a cause, something we identify with and something that helps us make a difference about something we care authentically about.

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What truly matters most are the stories about hope, a family member or friend, or an issue that has really touched you. It’s important nonprofits remember it’s their services and impact that motivate their donors, not just fundraising. Stories about successes, services and inspiration can be shared year-round, not just during the Giving Tuesday time window.

Our agency conducted a survey a few years ago titled, “Powerful Connections” and found 38% of people who followed someone online who was authentically touched by a cause would donate or volunteer. Think about this – not 1% to 3% like direct mail. So, if we are personally touched by something, we can forward a call to action to our own contacts to create momentum that could raise much more than a traditional donation.

Not every charity can create an Ice Bucket Challenge. But the art of the story carried the Ice Bucket Challenge to levels unheard of in 2014. And it all started with a simple story. Pete Frates and Pat Quinn, who recently died, met through the ALS Therapy Development Institute’s Young Face of ALS. Together, they created the Ice Bucket Challenge. Their call to action reached politicians, athletes, performers, you and me.

Scott Allison and I did the Ice Bucket Challenge five years ago and challenged our friends and family, just like so many others did. It became a real movement. What amazed me was how many people I knew who were somehow touched about ALS. Working with Scott Kauffman, George Olexa, Shannon Shryne, Rob Goldstein, Carol Hamilton, Dr. Steve Perrin and so many others, we developed marketing opportunities to help keepalive Pat and Pete’s vision to find a cure.

Being introduced to other people with ALS made it even more personal and created additional reasons to want to help find a cure: Augie Nieto, the founder of Augie’s Quest, and his wife Lynn, who have personally raised millions of dollars to help find a cure; Anthony Carbajal, diagnosed with familial ALS and has raised more than $4 million dollars to help launch a precision medicine program that allowed more than 300 people to participate; and the Reich family, our tax consultant whose son was diagnosed with ALS and developed grassroots programs to raise funds for ALS research.

Their stories inspire, and their passion is unlike anything I have ever seen. Making a donation to their cause is not because of an email. It’s not because there is no cure yet for ALS. It’s their leadership and their drive that make me want to donate to their cause.

I know I can never donate enough, but if I can share their stories, I can also help them raise more. If I can encourage causes to further share their stories to others, they too will see the long-term impact on their organizations.

Good luck with Giving Tuesday! And please share your stories year-round, not just during the holidays!

Scott Pansky is a co-founder of the agency and leads Allison+Partners’ Social Impact group. Scott has extensive experience providing communications and crisis counsel to education, corporate and nonprofit organizations.

NOVEMBER 30, 2020 //     

Delivering Happiness: The Key to a Great Company Culture

Zappos

In Memory of Tony Hsieh

By: Scott Pansky

In 2010, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh published “Delivering Happiness.” I was given the book at an MDC event in New York, and I brought it home and sat on it for a few months. One weekend afternoon, I picked it up and noticed 10 reasons why to read the book. The 10th caught my eye: “If you don’t like this book, you can use it as firewood.”

That made me smile, and I read through Tony’s tome in about three hours.

To this day, it remains one of my favorite culture books. Tony was able to clearly articulate the importance of core values and truly living and bringing them to life. I later reached out to him, as if I were the only one to read his book. Several of his team members followed up. Allison+Partners was about to celebrate its 10th anniversary, and with our fast growth came cultural challenges. We had to get back to our roots.

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One of the most important things Tony recognized was how important it was for everyone at Zappos to embrace their core values:

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and drive change
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous, creative and open-minded
  5. Pursue growth and learning
  6. Build open and honest relationships with communication
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit
  8. Do more with less
  9. Be passionate and determined
  10. Be humble

Tony had trained his team well. And, I had the opportunity to meet with one of his Delivering Happiness  team members, Robbie Richman.

After a great tour of Zappos, Robbie and I sat down and began discussing different ways to address and build culture. He asked me numerous “why” questions about our agency’s growth, client retention and acquisition, and retaining and hiring great talent. If we could positively see the agency come together and grow, I would be fulfilled. According to Robbie, if Tony saw that success, he would be “happy.”

Then, Robbie asked me what I would do next. I told him that we would regroup, revisit and focus on our core values. As agency founders, we discussed hosting a retreat – an Allison University – with our junior staff. We began re-building our culture with a bottom-up approach. We bought everyone in the agency a copy of “Delivering Happiness” and made it mandatory reading to give us a foundation to start our new journey.

We looked at and better defined our core values:

  1. Be Enthusiastic
  2. Nurture a collaborative environment
  3. Exceed expectations
  4. Be an entrepreneur
  5. Empower others

Tony’s “Delivering Happiness” became a lightning rod to reignite and focus us on our core values. Ten years later, the agency has grown more than five times its size with more than 30 offices around the globe, nearly 500 people, and some of the biggest brands and coolest startups around the globe.

Tony’s spirit lives on through people like Robbie and Jenn Lim at Deliveringhappiness.com. Tony made a big difference in thousands of people’s lives at Zappos, but he also helped many others enhance their companies.

RIP Tony.

Scott Pansky is a co-founder of the agency and leads Allison+Partners’ Social Impact group. Scott has extensive experience providing communications and crisis counsel to education, corporate and nonprofit organizations.

NOVEMBER 23, 2020 //     

With Elections Over, Corporations Must Reaffirm Commitments on Purpose

By: Scott Pansky  

I was talking with an associate the other day who suggested corporate America would ease up on supporting causes because the incoming Biden administration would be more supportive. I easily understood where this person was coming from, but I found myself responding rapidly: “No way! The trains have left the track!” 

In a recent Axios+The Harris Poll about corporate reputation rankings, 72% said they trusted companies more than the federal government to help find solutions to issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial equality movement. Another 81% thought large companies – with their resources, expensive infrastructure and advanced logistics – are even more vital now to Americas future than before the pandemic. 

As many may recall, Blackrock Chairman and CEO Larry Fink has stated numerous times, A company cannot achieve long-term profits without embracing purpose and considering the needs of a broad range of stakeholders.  

His quote remains relevant and influential, as many evaluate their purposes, consider changing the makeup and diversity of their boards and build out their environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) goals for accountability to stakeholders 

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This week, MDC Chairman and CEO Mark Penn sent Allison+Partners and other sister organizations a note, and one paragraph really caught my eye:   

Advertisers need to be mindful of some key themes as we come out of the campaign season and, hopefully soon, the pandemic: hope, sensitivity and value. People are searching for optimism and unity wherever they can find it amid both the pandemic and the country’s continued polarization,” Penn said. “Brands that can strike those tones while clearly articulating how they are additive to consumers’ life will win out.    

Having lived in the purpose space my entire career, I cannot image companies taking a step back – I only see this movement on purpose strengthening 

Today, our nonprofits suffer, small businesses suffer, equity and decency suffer, and climate issues won’t magically disappear. And Corporate America knows it. Their communities know it, and so do their consumers and employees. Their engagement to make an authentic, transparent, and responsible decisions and commitments will earn them brand loyalty, employee retention and, in the end, higher profits.  

Now is the time to act. Now is the time for companies to step it up. And brands… we are watching!  

Scott Pansky is a co-founder of the agency and leads Allison+Partners’ Social Impact group. Scott has extensive experience providing communications and crisis counsel to education, corporate and nonprofit organizations. 

NOVEMBER 20, 2020 //     

London’s Lockdown 2.0: What We’ve Learned

By: Gina Mossey

It’s been a rollercoaster few weeks here in the UK. COVID-19 rates climbed in a second wave, creeping up county by county around the nation. As we awaited Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official confirmation of the widespread lockdown we all saw coming, we watched on tenterhooks as the stress of the U.S. election affected our friends and colleagues across the pond.

As we reach the (official) halfway point of Lockdown 2.0, this time around it’s taken a lot less getting used to. It closes out a year full of ups and downs and twists and turns for us all, plus too many buzzwords to count: plenty of “pivoting”, “adapting” and “evolving”. It also brings with it some time for reflection.

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I spoke to A+Pers across the UK team to find out the biggest lessons we’ve learned this year to take forward into 2021.

Dan Whitney, Managing Director, Content Strategies

“Working from home has really brought a renewed sense of personalisation to our working relationships. Before, you only saw clients on the other side of a boardroom table: now we are inside each other’s lounges, bedrooms and studies! While perhaps not our ideal scenario, the insight into our personal lives has removed barriers and allowed for a mutual respect and understanding of what we’re collectively going through. Re-evaluating how we work and where we work is something we can all carry forward to next year.”

George Collins, Account Executive 

“I really enjoyed Partner and Co-founder Scott Pansky’s recent advice in a training session on trying our best to avoid using “but” and replacing it with “and…” Encouragement of conversation is something, particularly in 2020, we must carry forward in work and personal life.

I’m proud of how I’ve embedded myself as a member of the London team, considering I only had 1.5 days working out of the Kings Cross office before lockdown started! Despite not being physically present with my colleagues, I’ve been warmly welcomed into the team and feel mutual trust as a colleague to my co-workers.”

Andrew Rogers, Account Director

“It sounds obvious, but actually talking to people is still the best way to get things done. Yes, Zoom can be awkward and weird, but it’s always best to find a way to talk, whether that’s with clients, journalists or other team members. You get more done in a 5-minute video call than in an hour of emails going back and forth.” 

Jess Docherty, Senior Account Manager, Integrated Marketing

“I have loved watching communities come together. Where I live in Kentish Town, a local graphic designer Karishma Puri started an incredible photographic project @isolating.together, which shares stories of how my local community has come together to support and uplift each other.

This inspired me to value the small moments and invest time in connecting with neighbours and local projects, and live the project’s motto that “no matter how difficult times get, together we are capable of extraordinary things.“

Jim Selman, Partner + Managing Director, UK + Ireland

“We have made more of a priority to talk to each other about matters not necessarily directly linked to work, and I think that has been extraordinarily enlightening, as well as helping to strengthen relationships, and our culture.”

Jill Coomber, Managing Director, Integrated Marketing Europe

“We could not be prouder of the team than we have been this year. Their agility, passion, energy and commitment through these challenging times has been beyond outstanding.

Best advice? Take a moment, step back, see the bigger picture and think in threes: the now, the near [future] and the long [term].”

And finally, a word from me. I’m so proud of how all of my colleagues at A+P have tackled this year with gusto, exceeding expectations all year round. Nelson Mandela once said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” For me, this nails the ethos we’ve all shared this year.

Collaborating with colleagues and clients throughout the uncertainty has led to new projects, scopes and skills across the board. As we look forward to recharging over Christmas and New Year, we will return wiser and stronger, ready for whatever 2021 brings.

To find out more on how our European teams can help you take forward new PR and marketing strategies and programmes for 2021, click here.


Gina Mossey is an Account Director on the All Told Europe team, delivering outstanding integrated client campaigns, and she also leads our A+P Europe in-house marketing team. Her eight years at A+P span both B2B and consumer work, and her specialisms include brand storytelling, content strategy, lead generation and influencer marketing. 

NOVEMBER 19, 2020 //     

The Now Normal Expert Spotlight Series: Interview with Consumer Technology Association (CTA)® Director of Communications Riya V. Anandwala

Consumer Technology Association® Director of Communications Riya V. Anandwala

By: Jamie Rismiller 

In our content series “The Now Normal,” Allison+Partners turns to leading professionals in their fields to unpack the state of communications today and where it needs to go tomorrow. Today, we speak with Consumer Technology Association (CTA)® Director of Communications Riya V. Anandwala about the unique Now Normal for industry associations. CTA represents the $422 billion U.S. consumer technology industry and is the owner and producer of CES.

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What value does comms bring to the association and its members? Has that changed during COVID-19?

Every association has a unique overarching mission. But for the most part, associations aim to grow the industry and support their members. Communications plays a central role in this. Our work brings visibility and opportunities to our members. And our storytelling champions the many ways the technology industry has a positive impact on society – from creating jobs to improving quality of life. This has been especially true during COVID-19, as we work to underscore the role of tech in helping consumers and businesses alike bring solutions to the pandemic.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the way associations like yours do communications, and what impacts do you anticipate in 2021? 

The biggest challenge has been to pivot with the ever-changing environment.

Consumer demands have changed rapidly. We’ve seen this in our research, which has shown significant variations in consumer behavior patterns each month that our members need to keep pace with. Nearly 80% of CTA’s members are small businesses. The challenges that small businesses face are very different from those of large companies, and small businesses don’t always have the resources to navigate such a fast-changing environment. Our communications team became an essential source of information for our members around what was changing and how to best pivot in light of new developments.

For example, we have built three dedicated web pages with resources in the areas of research, digital health, and federal and state policies, which have changed quickly. Stakeholder communications came to life during this crisis in a deeply meaningful way. 

We also focused on providing the media with relevant CTA research and on ensuring what we offered to the press was timely and relevant with the changing news cycles. We had to be incredibly nimble and cognizant of the overarching news landscape. Part of this included making sure the media knew about industry efforts CTA spearheaded, such as an initiative to bring together health tech leaders to determine how to best use technology to respond to COVID-19 and how the U.S. could be better prepared for future pandemics.

This has certainly been a difficult time for all but has provided some really great learning experiences as well. We learned we need to be more flexible, nimble and fast-moving. These have always been axioms of the communications field, but the pandemic has taken them to a new level of importance that will stick as we move forward.

I also think that communications teams have had to evolve how they communicate internally, and these changes are here to stay. Within CTA specifically, we have a complex marketing and communications department. More than ever, we over-communicate. We talk all the time, do a ton of check-ins and use all our tools to collaborate in a timely way.

Do you have any examples of pivots you’ve had to make in your communications program and what worked well?

Rather than launching research according to the schedule we had planned to put forth this year, we instead prioritized research we saw our members – and the public – really needed at the time. We started paying even more attention to what the media talked about and asked, what information would be helpful right now? What can we uniquely provide?

We also doubled-down on trade publications during the pandemic. I can’t emphasize enough the value of trade outlets. I was a trade reporter in India and recognize the crucial role these outlets play in reaching the audience for which your information is the most relevant. At a time when the media landscape is crowded and focused on news of the day, trades are often the best channel for reaching a highly engaged, targeted audience.

What predictions do you have about how communications will evolve during the upcoming phases of this global crisis?

The communications function will become even more integrated with marketing and business strategy. When the pandemic hit, we put together a marketing and communications guide with recommendations on how members could reimagine their messaging, reposition their value proposition, listen to their customers and evolve their brands. These recommendations wove together business strategy with marketing and communications and are exemplary of how organizations need to integrate functions as the norm moving forward.

I also think communications teams will increasingly need to position themselves with the media as trusted sources of data and facts, which are more important than ever in a world rife with disinformation.

Finally, I feel very strongly about the need for the communications function – and media relations in particular – to become more targeted in execution. It’s an extremely competitive media market with a lot of noise. We talk to reporters frequently, and it’s apparent they have limited bandwidth. We need to be sure what we pitch to media is relevant and that their audience will genuinely care. Rather than trying to approach media with all initiatives that might have potential, pick what’s most important, define goals and focus on that effort. This way, we use our – and their – time wisely.  

Are there any key takeaways you’ve experienced thus far through the pandemic that other communicators can learn from? Is there one key thing you think other communicators should do now?

Situations like the pandemic bring you a little closer to the business operations of your organization and to how societal trends impact the bottom line of the business. Communications professionals should take these opportunities to align with the changing goals of the business more deeply. Communicators hail from a wide variety of backgrounds – journalism, technology, law, you name it – and bring a unique perspective to how developments may be perceived externally. The pandemic has underscored why we need to have a seat at the table when business decisions get made.

What is the secret to getting internal buy-in and support for the communications function with trade association leadership? 

Ultimately, communications strategies must be deeply aligned with the organization’s business objectives. It’s easier to get leadership on board if you justify your ideas with strategic rationale around why they are necessary for the goals of the business – and elevate beyond communications goals, like impressions or clips.

For example, we recently launched an initiative aimed at improving health equity through technology and brought together experts from the healthcare sector and our member companies to create a set of recommendations. From a communications perspective, the initiative helped to build CTA’s position as a thought leader at the intersection of digital health and diversity and inclusion. But publicizing the initiative also advanced CTA’s broader business goal of driving membership interest and member engagement. Our efforts generated in-bound partnership and membership inquiries.

Back when I made the switch from journalism to PR, there was a lot of conversation about how to show ROI in communications. While it’s still harder for PR to show quantifiable business results the way marketing and sales can, there’s no reason we can’t change the way we demonstrate the value of communications by mapping to business objectives.

What is uniquely difficult about doing communications for a trade association? 

With a trade association of CTA’s size, you’re dealing with many different stakeholders. So, you have to be ready to switch from one audience to another on any given day in a very short timeframe. I find myself needing to shift my brain from AR/VR to 5G in healthcare, to holiday trends and more, over the course of a single day. For me, that’s an exciting challenge. 

What do you find the most gratifying aspect of trade association communications? 

It comes down to two things: the relationships you build within and outside the association and the range of topics we work on.

CTA has a broad scope with many different departments and a very collaborative culture. There is a huge emphasis from leadership on working collaboratively toward common goals. Relationships internally and with our members are paramount to the work we do.

I also really enjoy the range of topics we work on. We advocate for the technology industry. And if you look around, it’s hard to say these days what makes a company a tech company. From healthcare to hardware, to software, to transportation – I’m never bored. The industry is fast-moving, so we are always on the cusp of something new and exciting.

Trade associations are uniquely positioned to address industry-wide perceptions. What is the key to doing that well and what are some potential pitfalls to be avoided? How do you keep members happy when the industry is under fire? 

Whenever the industry goes through anything complex or challenging, the first thing to do is stop and listen to your members to see where they stand. What do they support, and what do they oppose? Then, you need to reconcile that with your principles as a trade association. Some issues have more industry unity than others. At the end of the day, we need to square our members’ perspectives with the association’s principles.

On a personal note, why have you chosen a career in association communications and why do you stay in it?  

The variety is what makes this job so exciting. I was a reporter earlier in my career. And when you’re a journalist, variety is part of the deal – you cover something new every day. Similarly, at CTA, I never get bored. I’m always working on something different. Also, working in communications for CTA gives me the opportunity to tell stories about things that matter. That has been the theme throughout my career. I don’t want to just do what the job calls for, I want to do work that is mission-driven. Telling stories that span healthcare, 5G, diversity and inclusion and so much more gives me the opportunity to make a difference.

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