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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.

AGENCY NEWS // NOVEMBER 16, 2020 //     

PRovoke Innovators 25 2020 Americas

Creativity and storytelling are at the heart of the consumer brand work Lisa Rosenberg leads at Allison + Partners, highlighted by her success running wide-ranging campaigns, which have supported new products including Gillette razors and purple M&Ms to initiatives like introducing Mercedes Benz’s clean diesel technology and Driscoll’s rosé berries. Rosenberg is also a dedicated leader who invested in her practice’s output and, as such, she stays very much in the thick of team efforts, helping craft strategy and generate ideas. READ MORE
NOVEMBER 11, 2020 //     

On Veteran’s Day, Salute Their Service by Hiring Them

U.S. Army Ranger Nick Anderson posing in front of a sign at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

By: Demar Anderson 

In the early morning hours of Aug. 15, on the high-altitude and rugged terrain of Mount Kilimanjaro, a U.S. Army Ranger takes the final steps of his solo climb up the Machame route, a 37-mile trek through the changing landscapes of farmland, rain forest, moorland, alpine desert and arctic ice fields. Physically and mentally exhausted, yet filled with pride he completed the nine-day trek in just under five days, the soldier proudly holds up his U.S. flag and smiles for the camera. His journey was to honor his fallen comrades and celebrate his upcoming retirement from the U.S. Armed Forces. 

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This soldier is my brother, Nick Anderson. And on Feb. 1, 2021, he'll retire after 23 years of service in the United States Army. 

Over the years, our family has followed my brother's journey through the battlefields of 
Iraq and Afghanistan, multiple duty stations throughout the U.S., Germany, Japan, and to his final destination working for NATO in Brussels. We kept in touch via Facetime, WhatsApp, email and the occasional visits of leave during the holidays. The culmination of his life of service was marked with the Meritorious Service Medal, an award presented to members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves by outstanding meritorious achievement or service to the United States. Retiring at the age of 41, my brother now faces the next big milestone of his life  what's next?   

Veteran's Day honors all of those who have served the country in war or peace  dead or alive  and intended to thank living veterans for their sacrifices. Unfortunately, many face a difficult transition from military to civilian life. According to the Bureau of Labor Statisticsonly 8% of the workforce are veterans. Many leave or retire from service with work-inflicted disabilities, and some struggle to translate their skills acquired in service to the skills needed for civilian jobs.  

Despite these challenges, here are several reasons why companies should hire U.S. Veterans: 

  1. Proven Leadership and Leadership Readiness:  The military trains people to lead by example through direction, delegation, motivation and inspiration. To move up the ranks, soldiers have to show their ability to take direction and, most importantly, lead. Veterans understand the leadership skills needed to manage teams for results, even in the most trying circumstances.   

  2. Teamwork:  You're only as strong as your weakest link. And in the military, this saying holds supreme. Soldiers are trained to work in teams. In many instances, their lives depend on it. Veterans understand how teamwork grows out of a responsibility to one another, and they hold each other accountable. 

  3. Performance Under Pressure:  Outnumbered and under fire on Guadalcanal, Capt. Henry P. Crowe said to his troops, "You'll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!" Veterans understand the importance of leadership during challenging times. They have developed the ability to pivot quickly, be decisive during times of chaos and accomplish priorities on time, despite tremendous stress and with limited resources. In short, they know how to get the job done.  

  4. Strong Work Ethic:  Ethics is the heart of the armed forces and includes moral principles that guide soldiers in accomplishing their mission, performance of duties and in all aspects of their life. These tenets include caring for and developing subordinates, peers and leaders in Character, Competence, and Commitment. Prospective employers can take advantage of a track record of integrity that translates into qualities of loyalty, sincerity and trustworthiness. 

  5. Experience Working in Diverse Teams and Organizations:  Veterans have learned to work alongside people with different backgrounds, race, gender, religion and disabilities. They bring to the table a tremendous ability to work with different types of individuals and across different workstyles.  

Studies have shown veterans are more productive and have higher retention rates. Employers recognize the value veterans bring to the workplace, but they often find it challenging to connect with transitioning service members and veterans seeking employment (Department of Labor).  

If you seek a hard-working, motivated, ethical employee… try hiring a U.S. veteran. What better way to honor their life of service than by showing them that the skills they acquired are valued in the public sector as much as it is valued in United States Armed Forces.  

For the soldiers who have honorably served our country, Happy Veterans Day! Today we celebrate you.  

Demar Anderson is a proud U.S. Army brat and our vice president of Marketing. She is responsible for showcasing the agency's culture, thought leadership and award-winning work. She also spends her time doing pro-bono and volunteer work for non-profits that support human rights issues.   

NOVEMBER 10, 2020 //     

Keep Calm and Bake On

Clarissa with her succulent cupcake creations.By: Clarissa Dickinson


When New York shut down due to COVID-19 and our office closed its doors indefinitely, my first thought (outside of all of the actual pandemic related thoughts) was, oh my god who am I going to bake for now? This may seem silly or trivial in the grand scheme of things, but for me, baking is about more than measuring ingredients and satisfying a sweet tooth, it’s how I deal with stress and anxiety.

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I’ve found over the years that while many things have changed in my life —from my hair color to my major in college— getting out a mixing bowl, wooden spoon and a warm oven still grounds me in ways I can’t explain. Before the pandemic, a typical day for me includes a workout class before heading to the New York A+P office, then a stop at the grocery store on the way home. I’d spend the evening in the kitchen, baking whatever came to mind that day (or requested by a colleague), along with a true crime show playing in the background. While to many it appears as though I don’t leave much time for relaxation in my day, the motions of whisking together dry ingredients, folding them into the wet ingredients, turning on the oven, and getting out the cooling racks, is my relaxation.

One of the things I’m most grateful for working at Allison+Partners is the support I’ve gotten to merge my worlds of baking and PR. Over the past four years at the agency, I’ve baked almost once a week for my office for birthdays, baby/wedding showers, happy hours, and often, just because I wanted to bake and knew my co-workers would appreciate it. It not only helps with stress and anxiety to bake but my favorite part of baking or cooking anything is seeing people’s faces when they enjoy it. When COVID hit and the office shut down, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to bake as much. It was just my parents and me at home and while we all have big sweet tooths, there’s only so much three people can eat. But I’ve been able to find ways to fold my baking into my work, even remotely.

When pitching my new client, Budweiser, we decided to make short videos to introduce ourselves and share something we’re passionate about. I was excited because it allowed me to design a cake that I’d been dying to make, a giant beer stein cake complete with a Budweiser can. Not only did the brand love it, but they posted it on their main Instagram channel. More recently, I got to do something that I’ve never done before -- teach a cupcake decorating class via zoom for one of my beauty industry clients. Beauty has always been one of my favorite industries. I have so many great friends in the beauty media, so having the chance to have all of them along with my team, as a part of that first experience for me was so special.

Having things like cupcake decorating classes for clients and being able to make fun cakes for clients that they’re excited about has been something I’m so grateful for during this time. While I’m unable to bake for all of my colleagues, I’m still able to get people excited and make people smile with baked goods, which might be the best stress reliever during these unprecedented times. 

Clarissa has more than five years of experience specializing in home, beauty, lifestyle, and food/beverage. Through her work in the consumer lifestyle market, she has assisted in developing and executing national and global campaigns and media/influencer strategies. She regularly secures top-tier media in outlets, such as The Today Show, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Foodandwine.com and Harper’s Bazaar. 

NOVEMBER 6, 2020 //     

Dead Ant

The entrance of the U.S. Stock Exchange building.

By: Tom Smith and David Wolf 

It was supposed to be the listing that changed the global markets. 

Alibaba affiliate, world’s most highly-valued FinTech company and largest unicorn in history Ant Group was poised for a $34.5 billion initial public offering – the largest IPO ever. Even more remarkable, the offering was not going to be in New York or London, but in Shanghai and Hong Kong. The listing was to have marked the apogee in China’s effort to bring large IPOs back from overseas to lend prestige and stability to Chinese stock exchanges, and deliver a hard slap in the face to the U.S. government for building in increasingly complex legal framework around Chinese firms operating in the United States. 

Then, at the last moment, Ant founder Jack Ma was called in to see regulators in Beijing. Soon after, Ant suspended its listing without setting a new date for the offering and roiled the global financial community. The Chinese government hinted at imminent significant changes to the fintech regulatory environment. Investors, underwriters and the company itself are now in a holding pattern, their prospects uncertain.

Shocking as it is, why should anyone else care?

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It would have been easy to see the Ant listing as a reflection of a decline in New York’s importance in international financial markets. As it turns out, what transpired proves Chinese stock exchanges are a long way from threatening the dominance of their counterparts in the U.S. and Europe. 

 

In the past two years, the Trump Administration set fire to the regulatory welcome mat extended to Chinese companies more than 40 years ago. The Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, which would force companies listing in the U.S. to operate as though they operated here, was aimed directly at Chinese companies. With White House sponsorship, the measure sped through the Senate. Washington posted a sign on New York that some chose to read as: “Chinese Companies Not Welcome.” 

 

For its part, Beijing knows the country’s largest, most prosperous and most stable firms must use home markets as their primary listing venues if its local stock exchanges are to evolve beyond speculative casinos. A decades-long effort, involving draconian restrictions on what companies could list overseas, on moving funds offshore and on individual ownership of certain securities, accompanied by a constant drumbeat of direct pressure on firms to list in Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong, had already begun to bear fruit before Trump arrived on scene. And Ant understood a fact discovered late by Chinese firms listed overseas: By listing close to home, Ant could tap the capital of its own customers, people who know the Ant brand and value proposition and thus likely to pay a premium for its stock.

 

Yet despite winds blowing from both Washington and Beijing that should push Chinese companies homeward, U.S. markets remain deeply attractive for Chinese companies. Since Jan. 1, Chinese firms have placed more than $9 billion in U.S. initial public offerings on U.S. exchanges. The firms still find it easier to list on a U.S. exchange than one at home. Listing in the U.S. provides companies a critical means to circumvent China’s strict currency controls. And even though pools of underused capital sits in Chinese bank accounts, the U.S. stock exchanges still offer the deepest and most liquid pools of capital on the planet. Finally, the prestige of listing in the U.S. remains attractive to Chinese companies, which seek the validation of the world’s most sophisticated investors as a way to establish credibility among customers at home and worldwide. 

 

With Beijing’s sudden and arguably capricious move against Ant, Chinese companies have two more reasons to list in the U.S.: legal protections and regulatory transparency. While all listings come with regulatory hurdles that only begin with the IPO, U.S. requirements remain clear and transparent. Even if the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act passes the House of Representatives and ultimately becomes law, the promise of U.S. law is simple: comply with published regulations, and you will be allowed to list and operate. China makes no such promise: its laws are framed to be open to wide interpretation by regulators and government officials, and its institutions prioritize the centralization of power with the Chinese Communist Party. 

 

The Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong exchanges are perhaps most damaged by all of this. After years attempting to build credibility as global marketplaces, they have been revealed as fatally exposed to sudden storms from Beijing. Proven to be true markets no longer, they must bear the forlorn label of “policy stock exchanges.” Chinese companies – and global investors – will inevitably choose more open, more transparent pastures. 

 

That a company of such size, stature, and pedigree can fall victim to such changes portends a new era in which China’s role in business and the world will become more disruptive and less predictable. A new Administration in Washington will not alter that direction, and indeed may reenforce it. Connections are not enough: companies need to tap the  guidance of advisors who can help anticipate, prepare for, and respond to these "interesting times” without lasting damage to business and reputation. Allison Advisory is ready to help.  

 

Tom Smith is a strategic, highly skilled corporate communications professional with a proven 24-plus-year track record of leading and implementing corporate campaign programs. He has led numerous multi-million-dollar global accounts and as president of Allison+Partners' North American corporate practice, he brings deep capability in numerous industries, including financial services, hospitality, professional services, technology, education, healthcare and industrial supply. His specialties include integrated communications, corporate brand positioning, thought leadership, executive visibility, B2B marketing, influencer management, media relations and investor relations.

David Wolf is the managing director of Allison Advisory at Allison+Partners. He brings three decades of experience to his role counseling clients on managing the unique operational, communications and marketing challenges that arise when companies undertake change or address significant challenges in their operating environment. As a recognized thought leader in the industry, David specializes in navigating the unique communications and marketing challenges clients face in China. He advises multinationals expanding into the region, and guides Chinese companies on communications strategies when entering international markets.

 

 

NOVEMBER 2, 2020 //     

Dia De Los Muertos

Claudia Vargas as a young child with her dad.By: Claudia Vargas


Growing up, we moved around a lot 
 nine cities, four apartments, four elementary schools and nine houses. In each home we lived in, my dad used yard work as his destressor. One of those cities was a desert, but somehow we still had a lawn the shade of the neighbors’ green-with-envy faces. I remember losing quite a bit of sleep on Saturday mornings to that darn lawn mower or weed wacker. Yet, for each home, the grass wasn’t what drew your eye  it was whatever flower he chose to plant.  

In our Virginia home, my dad decided marigolds were his flower of choice. He planted them in yellow, red and orange. When spring rolled around, the front of our house looked like it was on fire. The colors were so vibrant, and the scent... well, it stopped you in your tracks. Call it musky, and somehow you found yourself debating if you liked it or if you should plug your nose. 

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This year, I'll pick up some marigolds, but not for planting  for my dad’s ofrenda. Ofrendas adorned with marigolds are part of the typical Mexican celebrations for the Dia De Los Muertos holiday, which focuses on remembering deceased family members. My dad passed on May 18, 2020. 

Primarily celebrated in Mexico’s central and southern regions, they believe the spirits of the deceased come back on Nov. 2 (All Souls Day) to visit the living. And to help guide them back, families create ofrendas, which are like altars decorated in bright colors, including photos, candles, water, traditional bread, food, sugar skulls, personal belongings  and marigolds. It’s intended to celebrate the life of those lost and offer a time to reflect.  

Being a third-generation Mexican-American, our family has created our own tradition around this holiday. For us it’s always been a gut buster  both from the amazing food and big belly laughs. We’re talking at least two tables covered in tamales, tacos, BBQ, pan dulce and any other of our deceased loved ones’ favorite dishes. We’d pull out framed photos or albums and any other trinkets we had kept to remember the person by. The room then filled with family sharing their favorite stories, usually comedic. And boy, it was always at such a loud decibel. 

Due to COVID-19, I had to get up in front of a socially distant funeral home and read: “Celestino ‘Tony’ Vargas IV was a decorated Vietnam Veteran earning numerous Bronze Stars as part of the famed 101st Airborne Division, a proud police officer for the San Antonio Police Department, a member of their first ever SWAT team and a highly respected Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) resident agent in charge. Beloved Brother, Tio, Dad and Gampa. He will be extremely missed by his surviving five siblings, 17 nieces and nephews, three children and four grandchildren.”  

But that’s not the story I'll tell my nieces as we sit around the table for Dia De Los Muertos 2020.  

I’ll tell them about how one time I made Gampa so sick on the teacups at Disney because I just had to keep spinning and spinning. Or how he single-handedly kept Consort hairspray in business because he could never have a hair out of place  that man’s hair laughed at wind! Or that one Christmas we broke a dining room table from taking the Spoons card game just a little too seriously. And I’ll remind them his hugs made you feel everything was handled, and you didn’t have to worry about a thing. 

Coming back to the ofrenda, there will also be a pair of black faded, scuffed and beat-up motorcycle boots that have seen some of this country’s most beautiful highways. Plus, chile con carne enchiladas with cheddar cheese and extra diced onions, along with a photo of my dad holding me at age three outside the children’s museum in Corpus Christi, Texas. A true depiction of how I’ll remember him  always lifting me up and ready to catch me if I should fall. 

This year, Dia De Los Muertos will look a little different to me and my family. But we understand death is part of life, and as the Mexican saying goes: “Don't take anything lying down -- even death!” 

AGENCY NEWS // OCTOBER 27, 2020 //     

America's Best PR Agencies

ForbesAs public relations professionals look to navigate their clients through an uncertain, volatile and noisy year, some of the top agencies are looking to further diversify offerings beyond the classic pitch. Whether it’s becoming more like consulting firms and advertising agencies or adding new offerings like research from data insights and surveys, PR agencies have increasingly sought to integrate with their clients to provide new types of information that help with both external and internal communications. Forbes partnered with market research firm Statista for our inaugural ranking of America’s Best PR Agencies 2021. To develop the list, Statista surveyed more than 12,700 experts and 20,500 customers who nominated more than 5,000 firms. Participants were asked to indicate how likely they were to nominate a particular agency on a scale of zero (very unlikely) to 10 (very likely). Statista then narrowed the list to the top 200 and gave those that received at least the median score a four-star rating and those that exceeded the median score a five-star rating. READ MORE
OCTOBER 26, 2020 //     

Allison+Partners’ Third Annual Global Day of Giving: Social Distancing Doesn’t Have to Stop Your Philanthropic Spirit!

Allison+Partners third annual 'Global Day of Giving' logo design.

By: Kay Brungs Laud

Volunteering has always been a big part of my life, from helping socialize dogs at my local humane society when I was 10 to connecting with kids my age at women’s shelters from middle school through high school, to leading my sorority’s philanthropic efforts and serving on the Board of P.A.W.S. Chicago. So when I joined Allison+Partners a little over three years ago, it was a no brainer I would be a part of our company’s Global Volunteer Committee. I was beyond honored to be asked to serve as the committee’s co-lead, which became more exciting when I got to help launch Allison+Partners’ first Global Day of Giving.

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Numerous studies indicate the value and importance of company supported and encouraged volunteer work, but Global Day of Giving was born out of our agency’s entrepreneurial spirit and proposed by Allison+Partners employees. We pitched the idea to honor of our agency’s anniversary by giving all of our offices around the world a day to step away from their desks and give back to their communities. The founders and partners approved, and we have successfully executed the event for three years. As co-lead of our agency’s volunteer committee, Allison+Purpose, I was excited to build on the successes of our first two years of Global Day of Giving and to make our third annual event all that more special.

Then in March, we were all sent home and have primarily worked virtually ever since. I was incredibly nervous about the impact COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines would have on our 2020 Global Day of Giving efforts. However, our entire agency came together to pull off an amazing virtual Global Day of Giving!

Every year, we select a focus for our volunteer efforts. For our first year, we asked teams to support organizations that make a difference in the lives of local youth. In the second year, we focused on ways we could make a positive environmental impact in our communities. This year, we decided it was important to shift our original theme to focus on our local communities most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the globe, our offices stepped up and came up with some creative and meaningful projects that would keep our Allison+Partners team safe while making real connections within local communities. Our global agency volunteered more than 300 hours in September with local nonprofits, organizations and individuals particularly impacted by COVID-19. From reading virtually to students in underserved Dallas communities, to buying groceries for homebound seniors in Portland, to painting cloth bags for hospital patients in Bangkok, to connecting with Special Olympics’ health messengers in Chicago and Seattle, to conducting clothing drives, to writing letters to senior citizens in New York and New Jersey, our team members helped impact their local communities and make some meaningful connections even while so many of us are at home.  

Allison+Partners has always encouraged volunteerism among our employees as a way to nurture the many local environments outside our day-to-day work and create opportunities for us to foster team bonding and a sense of pride for all employees. This year, it felt even more important to take time to step back and support our communities that have been particularly hit hard by COVID-19. Global Day of Giving gave our agency the opportunity to interact with individuals in a meaningful and special way. And during a global pandemic that has separated so many of us from our normal social interactions, it felt especially great to make a connection with someone we didn’t know before. As is so often the case with volunteering, I find I get more out of the experience than I expected!

Kay Brungs Laud is a Senior Vice President and works out of Allison+Partners’ Chicago office. Since the age of 10 Kay has had a hard time saying no to volunteer projects. She has been involved with numerous non-profits both personally and professionally. She graduated from American University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and served as Delta Gamma’s Vice President of Philanthropy while an undergraduate. She’s currently a board member of the P.A.W.S Chicago, where she adopted her two fur babies; Heidi and Albert

OCTOBER 22, 2020 //     

The Year of the Voter

By: Kristal Swim

With a few days to the U.S. election, 2020 has shaped up to be the year of the voter. Hear me out. A global health pandemic, protests for social justice, economic turmoil and natural disasters rightfully dominate the landscape. But with the fall election approaching, we are uniquely situated to embrace our position as the true decision makers in this representative democracy.

The late Congressman John Lewis noted, "Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet."

COVID-19 took an already simmering pot of important issues – healthcare, economy, climate change, racial inequity, education – and turned up the heat. Policy items affecting daily lives have taken on a new sense of urgency. For more than seven months, we have balanced, pivoted and re-examined most every aspect of our lives. 2020 has shifted our outlook on policy issues that will impact generations. The extra attention on a unique election season has emboldened an electorate to speak up. Those who vote will shape our short- and long-term outlooks.

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Life is busy, and it is easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed by the constant barrage of information. However, 2020 has taught us what Lewis wrote – that our voice can make a difference. Individuals, brands, teams and organizations embrace the opportunity to engage one another and shape the future.

Through issue campaigns, thought leadership platforms, civic engagement and employee opportunities, entities have helped to pave the way for safe, convenient access to the ballot. They also joined forces with organizations that impact issues in communities every day from clean water to internet access. Additionally, they have increased opportunities for voting – encouraging colleagues to cast their ballots. For example, Time to Vote, a nonpartisan effort for companies that want to contribute to the culture shift needed to increase voter participation in our country's elections, continues adding partners from national chains to local shops.

With generation-defining issues dominating our headspace, I encourage you to take a moment – and vote. We are the dynamic link to our future.  

After all, 2020 is the year of the voter.

OCTOBER 21, 2020 //     

BSA Anna Hughes Q&A on Association Comms

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 BSA | The Software Alliance Senior Director of Communications Anna Hughes about the unique now normal for industry associations. BSA | The Software Alliance represents members of the enterprise software industry. 

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How does communications help trade associations achieve their mission?

Trade associations speak as the voice of an industry, and the communications function plays a large part in bringing people together and getting the message out. While many individual member companies may be better known than an industry association, we can elevate both the industry as a whole and smaller members that lack a large platform. In addition, trade association communications can drive cross-industry collaboration on issues of mutual importance.

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

Success leads to more success, but you must back up that success with data. In the association world, most visibility is seen positively, and the communications function is valued as it helps support policy advocacy. I would definitely encourage an emphasis on the basics: build trust with colleagues and spokespeople, present good ideas, be responsive, show up when you say you will, follow through, and be open and honest. Importantly, while good leadership trusts communications, you should acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them to build trust and support. Nobody likes to be the guinea pig, so it is critical to show how an idea was successful in the past. Have the intelligence and humility to not suggest things just to suggest things!

What communications functions are most valued by trade association leadership and why?

Press coverage hands down. Visibility for the association, its leaders and our member companies is still the most valued communications function. Events are also very much valued for their ability to help us connect with new and existing stakeholders. Finally, strong relationships with communications teams at member companies are a critically important role for association communications.

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

Communications for a trade association requires balancing many different stakeholder voices as well as the visibility of the association with its members. We often take on the tough questions that members would prefer not to take on and speak for our members on issues that are easier to field as an industry-wide association. Without the brand names of our members, it is more of an uphill climb with reporters until we have invested in building those relationships.

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

Working with lots of different communications professionals at member companies and PR firms that provide understanding and support. And although travel is no longer a part of my job due to the pandemic, I enjoy working with my colleagues around the world--virtually. BSA works on issues that affect just about everyone, like privacy, emerging tech, and cybersecurity; I learn a lot just from sitting in on interviews and hearing my colleagues say smart things!

What do you think businesses can learn from trade associations about communications?

Compromise, balance and listening to all voices – skills that are honed in the association world. The board of directors brings strong accountability, and communications professionals learn the importance of reporting directly to the board in a way that shows successes and provides a look ahead.  

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?

Education of the press and policymakers is our differentiation. As we educate, we must think about what our audiences want and need. For example, does a reporter need a quick quote or an in-depth explanation of a policy matter? We work hard to be as responsive as possible and stay focused on topics that we can speak intelligently about. If we do, we will slowly and steadily build the perception that we hope to see of our industry. Not being responsive, not being aware of what is being written and said about our industry, and not understanding different perspectives pose the greatest risks for us when addressing industry-wide perceptions.

Many trade associations address policymaker audiences, and policymakers can heavily influence perceptions about an industry given their platforms and influence. If an industry comes under public criticism from policymakers, should industries keep their heads down until the storm passes or should they come out swinging to shape the narrative? How do you keep members happy when an industry is under fire?

We want to be problem solvers, so we do not trash ideas. We are never overly negative, and you will not see us come out swinging. We try to keep to the middle ground and be part of the solution. Differentiation is important for us, and our members want to see that we are trying to differentiate. As a result, we are willing to be on the front lines and take media interviews. Keeping your head down until the storm passes is not a good approach because the stories are going to happen anyway. If necessary, we will go off-the-record to maintain good reporter relationships and still have an impact.

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

The biggest thing is the shift to virtual, whether events, interviews, or editorial board meetings. Face time has gone up, not down, as video calls have replaced audio calls with reporters. We will all get better at being virtual and better at putting on events. But we will need to address “Zoom fatigue,” when to use video and when not to use it, how to build virtual events that stand out, and how to measure their value. Because our members are not able to travel during this time, they rely more on associations to provide a local presence in government capitals around the world.

What can an outside communications partner bring to a trade association and what do you do you look for in a partner?

An in-house communications team can find itself in a bit of a vacuum, and an outside communications partner should challenge us to think differently. We do not want to be in a sector bubble so bringing perspectives from other industries is valuable. I want a partner team with a range of levels and backgrounds, different personalities, and different ideas, coming from different places. We count on outside partners to bring different specializations and expertise and provide global support. If needed, the partner should be able to help me run the communications function in another geography.

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

I love that in an association, we all have the same mission and move forward together. As a communications professional, I get to work with incredibly dedicated, smart people on a range of issues that change with the times. In the end, I am selling really good ideas.

If you'd like to sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates, click here.

Marcel Goldstein is an EVP in Allison+Partners corporate practice. 

AGENCY NEWS // OCTOBER 20, 2020 //     

Allison+Partners Forms Middle East Partnership

Orient Planet Group founder and managing director Nidal Abou Zaki.DUBAI — Allison+Partners has expanded its global footprint with its first presence in the Middle East, after forming a strategic partnership with communications agency Orient Planet Group.

The partnership gives Allison+Partners – which has 30 offices across the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific – reach into the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain and Kuwait with Orient Planet’s offices, plus a wider affiliate network across the Arabian Gulf, Levant, Egypt and North Africa.

Orient Planet Group founder and managing director Nidal Abou Zaki, who founded the firm 19 years ago, will serve as the head of the agency’s operations in the region.

Andy Hardie-Brown, Allison+Partners’ co-founder and global vice chair, said: “After several years of global expansion, the Middle East is a natural next step for the continued growth of our agency. Dubai in particular is an important hub for the region, and feeder market into Europe, APAC and Africa.”
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OCTOBER 14, 2020 //     

Q&A: West Coast A+P GMs and Colleagues Find Empathy, Vulnerability During Wildfires

Wildfire smoke over San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

By: Jacques Couret

By now, most are used to working from home, virtual learning, social distancing, wearing masks in public, frequent hand washing and all the other adaptions the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust upon them. But imagine 
navigating the “now normal” while wildfires cloud the sky with unhealthy air and destroy nearby houses, businesses and lives. The kids can’t go outside and play, the sky is dark and hazy all day and air quality is a health issue for many. Perish the thought of having to evacuate or losing everything.  

This intense physical, emotional and mental drain is daily life right now for many Americans who live on the West Coast, including many of our teams. 

In that stressful environment, our San Diego office General Manager Brian Brokowski, Los Angeles office General Manager Wendi Shapiro, San Francisco office General Manager Meghan Curtis, and Portland, Ore., office General Manager Katy Spaulding continue to serve our clients and lead their colleagues, both to our high standards 

They sat down with us and offered some insight into how they’ve helped keep their charges safe, motivated and engaged, and what they’ve learned about themselves and their teams.   

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Q: How do you lead through this plus the pandemic? What are your challenges? 

Brian Brokowski: Stay connected. Talk through the challenges that people have so they realize, and we all realize, we're not alone and we're not dealing with all of these challenges and issues alone. Strength in numbers, comfort in numbers  use that resource of the team and the relationships that we have to get through it together. And just check in on people, make sure they're doing OK 

Meghan Curtis: A couple of things. One, continued flexibility. We've obviously been incredibly flexible since we left our offices in March, but this has just thrown an additional wrench into that. So if folks just need mental health space, we really overtly encourage that. And in all of our huddles, we've actually been pretty vulnerable with each other and talked about what we're nervous about, what keeps us up at night. We know the folks who live in these fire areas or whose families are, and we ask, "Hey, are your parents OK? What's the status?" Everyone's just very in tune with each other and their emotional states. 

Katy Spaulding: I love that Meghan brought up the word vulnerability, because I think that that's a really important part of thisWe have to navigate on any given day being a cheerleader and optimistic and reassure them it's going to be OK, but also read the room and know when it might be best for us to be a bit more vulnerable and to share our concerns. It's definitely a balancing act based on what we feel like the team needs most in that moment. You can't just go through and say, "Everything's going to be fine. Everything's going to be great," which I think sometimes we want to do. All of us have that understanding that sharing vulnerability and sharing some of our personal fears and concerns can sometimes be reassuring for the team that we hear themwe understand them and we're going through the same thing. 

Wendi Shapiro: And communication has also been something we've tried to focus on in Los Angelesbecause we don't have really anybody coming into the office at all. We haven't seen each other since March and everyone is so busy. And we have our weekly team huddles and I try to call people at random times throughout the week just to say, "Hi, do you have 10 minutes? I just want to check in and see how you're doing and how can I help you?" It’s extending a life raft whenever we can to say, "We know you're experiencing high work volume and stressful life right now, and we're all here to help." 

Q: How do you keep our colleagues motivated and engaged throughout all these stresses and inconveniences? 

Wendi Shapiro: It’s hard to find motivation when we're all stuck in our four walls much of the day – every day, day in, day out. So, we try to find it in ourselves to motivate each other. We celebrate the littlest to the biggest successes as often as we can. Whether it's someone's birthday or someone's work anniversary or a great coverage that was secured from one of our team members or a client – kudos! Even the smallest thing that might not feel like a big enough deal to celebrate is totally worthwhile. We find those opportunities as much as we can. 

Katy Spaulding: I think it goes back to something that Meghan said, which is just giving people the flexibility in their schedules to do what they need to do to stay connected and motivated. There is so much on people's minds outside of what we do at work that it would be impossible to expect them to be motivated and there 120% every single day. So, we  encourage them to be in tune with how they feel. And if they need a couple of hours or a couple of days off, they should take it. Now is not a time that you should be pushing through in the way that we sometimes do. You’re not going to wake up every day and be ready to kill it, and that's OK! 

Meghan Curtis: Two things. Folks are lifting each other up and being kind to each other, and not in a superficial way by any means. Going back to the vulnerability factor, people are really just looking out for each otherYou can feel that in all your interactions in a genuine way. That’s motivating when you know your team cares, has your back and wants the best for you. That's one thing. And then we do bring some levity. We have twice weekly meetings and we show videosdo games and get to know each other. We do these things where people share their life history with photos. It's called a PechaKucha. And it's funYou might be having a really tough day, but if you can just unplug from clients or your writing assignments for 30 minutes and just have some fun with each other, I think it does re-energize you. 

Q: Have you learned any lessons in leadership during the firesHas it changed you as a leader in any way? 

Brian Brokowski: I continue to be floored by the resiliency of the team and their ability to, everyone's ability, to support each other, to step up to the challenge. I get so motivated coming off of our team huddles and listening to everybody's accomplishments and what they're doing. From a leadership standpoint, I had a strong sense of what our teams and everyone as individuals were capable of. I think the notion of what we can do individually and collectively is just so much higher nowI'm just so overwhelmed with how everyone I work with has rallied and responded to the situation, despite all of the challenges. They just keep grinding with positive attitudes.  

Meghan Curtis: Dovetailing off Brian, I've always known I can hang with challenging times in the professional environment. And now I'm really learning there's a softer side of me – not only I can grind through the tough, client challenges, new business challenges, the work, but also the people side of the business.  I've really softened and become, I think, a more empathetic, better person having to navigate the team and individual challenges.  

Katy Spaulding: The wildfires and everything else have just shown me how important it is to have authentic relationships with the people who work for us and with our teams. That's always been something important to me. But it's been, to Meghan's point, even more important now when we ask people to be really honest with how they feel. Having a really strong, established relationship based on trust and listening and trying to help where we can has just created a lot of good two-way communication that enables us to do our jobs even better. 

Wendi Shapiro: What everyone has said is 100% trueespecially what Meghan referenced. I know our team is great at their jobs and professionally working at a super-high level. But it's not just about, "How are your clients, how's your work? How's your workload?" That’s only half the story right now. There's a lot happening after work hours or that isn't work-related with the pandemic, the firessocial injustice, and the election and politicsEverything has culminated over the past several months to be this perfect storm of needing to be an understanding humannot just a work-bot, and understand all of the elements that make people. The things that impact their lives. I think we have gained a more holistic look at the people we work with, not just from a work perspective, but from a human perspective. 

OCTOBER 13, 2020 //     

Let the Holiday Shopping Commence?

By: Alison Fitcher

Growing up, Black Friday was the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. My mom and aunt would sit down after Thanksgiving dinner and pull out the coupons from the newspaper, decide which mall we would go to and when we needed to leave, and make a list of everyone we needed to shop for. 

Of course, they always took (or dragged) me along for the ride. I distinctly remember my mom waking me up bright and early and loading me into the car for a long, drawn-out day of shopping. I’ll admit, I often did not want to participate in this annual event. But as I look back, I have nothing but fond memories. I am sure that annual event is what led to my affinity for doing my holiday shopping in person and after Thanksgiving and quite possibly my career in retail PR. I enjoy the hustle and bustle, getting into the Christmas spirit with friends and family, and looking for the perfect holiday gifts. 

Over the last decade, the holiday shopping season has started earlier each year, with ornaments and trees popping up alongside Halloween costumes and stores opening on Thanksgiving to accommodate those looking to find the best deals and take advantage of doorbusters. Now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems holiday shopping this year will start even earlier. And for many, it will be done all online.

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Which brings me to the present. It is Oct. 13 and the first day of Amazon Prime Day one of the biggest shopping events of the year, rivaling the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend. The event typically takes place in July and gives third-party sellers a much-needed boost during the slower summer months. However, due to the pandemic shifting their focus solely on delivering essential items, Amazon delayed the event. 

Once it announced Prime Day moved to Oct. 13-14 — just 44 days from Black Friday — deal-seekers everywhere rejoiced to get a headstart on the holiday shopping season and take advantage of the deep discounts offered to Prime subscribers. 

Not to be outdone, Target and Walmart announced their own online sales coinciding with Prime Day and touted deals of the same magnitude as Black Friday. 

While big box stores have the ability and flexibility to make these quick pivots and offer steep discounts, most retailers do not. To thrive this holiday season and appeal to all shoppers, including those who still want to visit stores in person (like me), here are a few things stores can do to maximize Q4 revenue: 

  • Continue to provide in-store experiences: Brands that offer a robust in-store experience, such as Nike, Sephora, and Allison+Partners client PGA TOUR Superstore, thrived before the pandemic and will likely recover quicker. The reality is, consumers want fun and interactive in-store experiences. Nothing can compare to swinging a club or testing out a new lipstick before purchasing. This holiday season, with a few modifications, stores can still give their consumers the experience that brought them in the doors in the first place. Whether this is informal modeling with the models wearing a face mask, increased cleaning and sanitation of high-touch items, or offering in-store digital try-on of beauty products, retailers must rethink, not remove, their offerings.
  • Elevate and amplify customer service: One of the main benefits of in-person shopping is the customer service. Today’s consumer demands personalized service and expects store employees to go above and beyond. Marketing service offerings, such as help with picking out the perfect present and complimentary gift wrap, remind shoppers they can take their items home with them same day, thus eliminating any anxiety around shipping delays and drawing people out of their homes to shop. 
  • Reinforce safety and comfort features: It is natural for people to be hesitant to go into a store during the pandemic — let alone during the holidays, when crowds typically increase. Emphasizing the safety precautions put in place (mask wearing, hand-sanitizing stations, reduced store occupancy, increased cleaning and sanitizing) will help put customer’s minds at ease. 

2020 has thrown us enough curve balls. And for the past six months, I have done virtually all my shopping online because you can’t beat the convenience in times like these. But when it comes to holiday traditions, shopping included, I plan to do the majority of mine in person as I always do — with the appropriate safety measures in place. I
would love to know, what is your holiday shopping game plan?

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

Alison is a SVP in the consumer practice working with a variety of brands in the retail, food tech, CPG and automotive industries. Her expertise lies in creative ideation, media relations strategy, and event planning and execution. Prior to joining Allison+Partners, Alison served as the in the house Midwest PR manager at Bloomingdale’s.

OCTOBER 8, 2020 //     

An Expat’s View from The Ground: How the Global Pandemic Impacts Lives of Those Living Abroad

By: Jonathan Heit 

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

During the planning stages of my relocation to Tokyo to be more readily available to support the team here in APAC, I had some of the usual concerns any foreigner headed to unfamiliar territory might experience. Will the language barrier be too difficult? How will my family adjust? How will the business and team back in The States fare?

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Then there were the more trivial concerns. These included depriving my daughter of walking her eighth grade graduation with her friends and my six-year-old missing a year of tee-ball and the start of Kindergarten. Recognizing the benefit far outweighed such matters, off we went.

The kids’ school year started and quickly got into their grooves without a hitch. We made friends within a thriving expat community, and I deepened ties with colleagues from Shanghai to Sydney, Seoul to Singapore. I got to know my new officemates in Japan in a way that would otherwise never be possible and also experienced this incredible country through their eyes. True to the reputation of the Japanese culture, their generosity of spirit and welcoming nature knows no bounds.

As the holidays neared and Tokyo’s autumn foliage gave way to a crisp winter chill, we were charmed by the many beautiful illuminations lining Tokyo’s streets and planned a trip that was sure to be one of the most memorable of our lives, including skiing in Hokkaido and ringing in the New Year in Thailand. We’d travel from the capital to the mountainside to the beach over the course of an extended break.

We would finish in Singapore, where I had been spending a good deal of time working closely with colleagues. While there, my family could see this office, one of the most stunning in the Allison+Partners network with views across Marina Bay from the 38th floor. In this way, they could relate more directly to the responsibilities that so often call me away for long stretches of time. These special moments far outweighed any bittersweet feelings brought on by missing home for the holidays.

As Chinese New Year loomed, my travel to Singapore and other markets in the region was due to pick up thanks to a combination of key hires made and our annual in-person town halls. These would be a chance to highlight the incredible strides we have made in the region. All offices were thriving and poised for growth, despite some underlying economic issues and geopolitical cross-currents.

However, everything would soon change. In January, we started to get word of a new virus impacting large numbers of people in China. And it wasn’t long before our offices there were effectively shut down with entire teams working from home indefinitely.

As the virus started to gain traction and spread decisively across the region, schools in Japan were among the first to shut down. Tokyo was a city on the brink. Numbers seemed absurdly low, skeptics thinking perhaps this had something to do with the Olympics. It wouldn’t be long until those too were put on ice, with the world officially in a pandemic.

Watching my home country from afar, while bolted at home under what would paradoxically be called a voluntary lockdown, was perhaps one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. We enjoyed Zoom trivia sessions with our newly made Brit and Aussie expat pals and did family and college reunions 13 hours ahead. Like everyone, we made do and soldiered on, working and schooling remotely in our cozy Tokyo apartment. Of course, I worried for the safety of my family here and abroad, but I had to scratch my head at some of the behaviors I was witnessing.

In Japan, the concept of Wa (和) is one of the first any foreigner or gaikokoujin (外国人, far more polite than the better known but pejorative Gaijin) doing business in Japan should become familiar with, or any visitor for that matter. It is a historical foundation for this storied people and one of the bases of the Shinto religion. It is the belief that everything should stay in balance. Your behavior must take into account others before yourself, and consensus is far preferable to individual opinion.

For Westerners, this can be one of the most complicated – and honestly frustrating – parts of doing business here, as it can lead to perceived “inefficiencies” in the system because consensus can be time-consuming. Witnessing it put to effect in containment of the novel coronavirus, I’m here to tell you there are incredible advantages to this way of thinking.

While many countries, including my own, politicized or downplayed the importance of wearing masks, Japan embraced the concept fully in the spirit of maintaining harmony and looking after each other’s well-being. Japan’s history of mask wearing dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1868). But before the pandemic, it was an oddity to most expats. My family and I were certainly surprised to learn the primary consideration for mask-wearing isn’t about keeping yourself safe, but for the wellness of others. It goes without saying this effort has led to Japan being a clear leader in containment.

The other somewhat-related business concept that took root so effectively in Japan is known as kūki o yomu (空気を読む) or “reading the air.” This is ordinarily the driving factor behind so much being unspoken in Japanese culture. Applied here, it made the determination of “return to work” dictated not so much by the government, but by a sense among the broader business community of doing right by others.

Interestingly, Japan’s Constitution, formulated after World War II under the oversight of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, does not permit the government to mandate decisions for business. This was designed to effectively eliminate the ability to provide for a war effort. But it more immediately limits its ability to force businesses, including restaurants and other entertainment venues, to shut down. 

The government declared a State of Emergency in early April. But it did not enforce it punitively or with severe fines as in other countries throughout this region. Instead it enforced it through the subtle suggestions coupled with the risk for those who didn’t comply to lose face, as they might be publicly disclosed. However, the government is rethinking this policy as cases start to rise again in an unsettling second wave. 

This harmonic effort of companies understanding their obligation and providing for their people a safe way of working has again led to significant success in the effort to contain the virus, and was a great learning for me and other expats across this nation.

The entire experience was incredible and humbling. Even with a pocket of nearly four months of quarantine slowly loosening and opening, there were some powerful moments. I’ll always have indelible memories of jogging and biking through nearly empty Tokyo streets and seeing more of the city in a way we never would have previously been able. Unimpeded pictures of cherry blossoms and shrines were saddled with the sad reality that money was being lost and businesses around the world were struggling so mightily, not to mention the human toll.

So like the rest of the world, we took on our share of the burden. Working from home, Zoom calls, VPNs. Pitches and media meetings done remotely. Technology – the cornerstone of my focus throughout my career – was put to the test as never before and stepped up most pointedly as one would hope.

Technology could only do so much though, I’m afraid. My visits to the other markets in the region all became virtual, making my reason for being in this region somewhat obsolete, driving my ultimate decision to return.

As I look back on my experience as an expat during the pandemic, it is more than a little bittersweet. Though the last few weeks allowed for greater travel around Japan, including the rare opportunity to visit Kyoto with nearly no other foreign travelers in town, it is hard to put into words what this experience has meant, and how I hope travel picks up again soon so these experiences can be shared with others. 

I have spent the past nine months learning Japanese, only to be quarantined in a house with three people who speak only English. But as we re-emerge into the world, I’m no longer intimidated by the many different characters of the Japanese written language. If I see a wall of letters that just a year ago would have been indecipherable to me, the fact that I can often make out a word or two, or at the very least can sound out what they represent, is a source of great pride.

I firmly believe the legacy you leave is the impact you have on people, and that’s been a driving force for our agency since day one. I can’t say any more unequivocally how deeply blessed I feel to have worked with the team here so closely. I have built a lifelong relationship with this team and this country, but I’ve only just scratched the surface. 

Jonathan Heit is a global president and cofounder of Allison+Partners. As part of his responsibility, he works closely with all of our offices and client in APAC. Last August, he relocated to Tokyo to be closer and more accessible to the teams in the region. COVID-19 had other plans.

 

OCTOBER 8, 2020 //     

The Road Less Traveled By Lately

By: Emily Wilson-Sawyer

When Robert Frost wrote about “the road less traveled by,” I imagine he didn’t mean the travel industry. But this year, the industry and worldwide consumers have definitely taken that road – no travel, or at least markedly less.

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For the airline industry, this has meant furloughs, empty planes for some, mandatory COVID-19 testing and a battle to put butts in seats where only the strong (aka largest) will survive.

For cruise lines that pride themselves on bragging rights determined by their days spent at sea each year, all have been docked since March and are crossing fingers and bows that they can return to open waters in November or December. Oh, and did I mention everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure of the all-you-can-eat buffet complete with soft serve ice cream till you drop may be a thing of the past? New cruising restrictions and social distancing will most likely cause buffets to also sail off into the sunset with the pandemic.

For a hotel industry that has lost more than $46 billion in revenue to date and is on pace to lose up to $400 million in room revenue per day, this has meant taking what you can get – being flexible with rates and open to new ventures including renting rooms out as offices by hour, providing assistance with home schooling, hosting virtual celebrations and everything in between.

With the second wave of COVID-19 just beginning and major metropolitan areas like NYC threatening a second shutdown, the travel industry must stand tall and proud and shout from the rafters that it is down, but not for the count. To do this, hospitality brands should consider the following:

Find Real Tensions and Lean In

Recently, we launched a Chief Virtual Learning Officer (CVLO) program for Kimpton. It was born out of a true tension – during the pandemic, parents do it all. From at-home teacher, to always-on employee, to devoted caretaker, the juggling never ends. And parents seek help wherever they can find it. From here was born an opportunity – find a real way to help parents when most complain that just getting their kid on Zoom (while they are Zooming away too) is half the battle. Our CVLO does that, and media and real-life consumers eat and book it up. Brands that aspire to break though must find true insights and create opportunities to lighten the load or solve for a problem at a time when the world seems filled with nothing but problems. Research shows if brands are there for consumers during their time of need in a way that is true to their brand ethos, consumers will remember this and pay it forward with future loyalty.

TapIN To Remain Relevant

At Allison+Partners, we believe brands must live at the intersection of culture and commerce. And now, in an era where celebrities and brands are literally cancelled every day, showing proof of cultural relevance is more important than ever. This can be done by following the news like a hawk and acting quickly where and when it makes sense for your brand. A great example of this is the #12footskelaton that you may have seen spooking your Instagram feed as of late. Turns out this 12-foot-tall skeleton from Home Depot is currently “the year’s most sought after Halloween decoration,” and has since sold out. While the spook-tastic trend had been picked up on by some mainstream media outlets and showed off by consumers, including Kourtney Kardashian, the Allison+Partners TapIN team identified that not only had brands not jumped in yet, but the trend had the potential viral ability to become the next Art Basel banana. We acted fast and convinced Budweiser to jump in. Within 24 hours, we staged a photo shoot and created our own trend, which many brands (including several A+P clients) have already jumped in on and gotten coverage for. The keys here are agility and speed – knowing that catching trends on the upswing can set you apart from the crowd, and that catching them on the downfall can make you look utterly out of touch, or worse, out of culture. 

Little Things Matter – Now More Than Ever

At a time when so much has been taken away from us, the little things matter now more than ever. Amidst chaos, consumers look for a sense of calm, normalcy and a little je ne sais quoi  when it comes to service they’ve come to know and love. Quarantine has left us longing for social connection. But in-restaurant dining remains on hold and lobbies are no longer living rooms, so brands must lean into service as a differentiator. Whether it’s delivering “ridiculously personal experiences” like Kimpton does, surprising and delighting your guests while quarantined in their room with creature comforts of home, or even going the extra mile to find news ways to keep perks alive even during a pandemic, the little things are sure to be remembered when 2020 finally ends.

We hope you found even just a little bit of sage advice in these late-night musings. If not, and when all else fails, just rent out Hell (Michigan that is) like Airbnb did this week!

If you're interested in learning how our travel and tourism team can help your brand during this time, get in touch at Emily.Wilson-Sawyer@allisonpr.com. 

Emily is a seasoned communications professional with nearly 20 years of experience developing integrated communications strategies and driving creative ideation for clients, including international hotel brands, world famous chefs, airlines, CPG products, restaurant chains and more. She is known for her creativity and breakthrough thinking and has been responsible for many large-scale award winning and results driving campaigns, including bringing the first food tech product to CES and pairing Hilton Hotels & Resorts with Onion Labs to launch its Hilton Urgent Vacation Care Center.

 

AGENCY NEWS // OCTOBER 6, 2020 //     

PRovoke Names Global Agencies Of The Decade

PRovoke MediaPRovoke has named seven firms as its Global Agencies of the Decade — Adfactors, Allison+Partners, Edelman, Hanover, M Booth, W2O Group and Weber Shandwick.

The seven will be honoured at the upcoming virtual Global SABRE Awards on 21 October, where the top three will be counted down to reveal PRovoke's overall Global Agency of the Decade. READ MORE
OCTOBER 2, 2020 //     

Reunited and It Feels So Good

Smile Train’s World Smile Day® Live

By: Scott Pansky

What few people know about me is I love comic books. It’s not about the Marvel movies, although they are really good. As times get tough, I think we all want to find ways to stay positive and seek the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Reading comics and watching related shows and movies has been a great escape. And, every once in a while, you get to see one of your “heroes” do something good.

Oct. 2 (tonight), one of my favorite team of television heroes from “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” will reunite for a cause: Smile Train’s World Smile Day® Live. Elizabeth Henstridge (agent Jemma Simmons) is an avid supporter of Smile Train’s effort to provide free, lifesaving surgeries for children with cleft. She reached out to her cast members to ask them to join in sharing what makes them smile to help raise awareness for the event.

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To be transparent here, Smile Train is one of the agency’s clients. It is the world’s largest cleft organization focused on a single, solvable problem: cleft lip and palate. It is also first cleft-focused organization with a model of true sustainability – providing training, funding and resources empowering local medical professionals in more than 90 countries to provide free cleft repair surgery and comprehensive cleft care in their own communities. To date, Smile Train has supported safe and quality cleft care for more than 1.5 million children.

On World Smile Day®, Smile Train launched its #540Today campaign to recognize the 540 babies born with clefts each day – many without proper access to treatment. I’m excited about this fundraising opportunity for so many different reasons:

Nonprofit Perseverance  

As COVID-19 has negatively impacted the nonprofit community, Smile Train, like many others has stepped up and let its stakeholders know the pandemic won’t slow them down and they will continue to develop programs that raise awareness and funds for their cause. More than 37,000 cleft surgeries have been put on hold since January, and the organization’s services are critical as surgeries are able to resume.

The Power of Talent

Along with the S.H.I.E.L.D cast reunion, Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Ciara will host the virtual fundraiser. Other celebrity guests and supporters will include Gabrielle Union-Wade, Elle King, Ginger Zee, Kevin Smith and more, all connecting with fans while raising awareness and funds for Smile Train’s lifesaving work.

Real Heroes

The Smile Train team, doctors, care workers, counselors and corporate partners make a real difference every day. They change lives, and events like World Smile Day® Live share their stories and impact.

World Smile Day® Live begins at 8 p.m. ET with special pre-show entertainment beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. Supporters can also engage right now through the virtual photobooth.


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. 

SEPTEMBER 30, 2020 //     

The Musings of a Long-Distance Hiker: How Business in the “Now Normal” Is Like The Long Trail

By: Paul Sears 

Long-distance backpacking is a major passion of mine. When I first learned the Pacific Crest Trail ran near my home in Los Angeles, I dove in. I read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” and George Spearing’s “Dances with Marmots.” I found countless thru-hiking blogs and YouTube videos. After gearing up and getting some practice, I hit the trail for my first seven-day solo.  

I’ve been hooked ever since. 

Long-distance hiking naturally leads to inspiration. It’s a unique physical and mental challenge. Confidence grows from being totally comfortable alone in the wilderness. And it yields so many metaphors for life: self-sufficiency, dedication and commitment, a sense of adventure that doesn’t look back.    

My most recent trek was 60-ish miles on the PCT in the Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe. Putting one foot in front of the other for four days granted plenty of time for reflection, and it led me to the idea that thru-hiking is a lot like the “now normal” of COVID-19. Here’s why: 

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Being Thirsty Comes with the Territory 

A lot of thru-hikers aren’t in the business of carrying water  it’s one of the heaviest items in the pack. Many prefer to get hydrated at the stream and carry very little in the pack. But it’s risky in late August, when many streams are bone-dry. Being OK with running out of water on the trail takes a little getting used to... I’ll admit there was a lot of lip-licking in one 7-mile dry stretch. 

Likewise, businesses today can’t count on typical conditions, whether that’s supply chain, ability to open or consumers’ desire to buy. Businesses need to get hydrated at the stream: shore up financials, get lean and efficient, and sow the seeds for future growth. Achieving a successful pivot is a bit like finding a waterfall after miles of hot, dry trail. Stop a moment, take off the pack, drink up and fill that metaphorical “camel’s hump” on your back  then get to work on the next innovation.   

Lighten Your Load  

Today’s businesses must be agile, quick and light. Like a hiker choosing what goes into their pack, businesses must intentionally reduce drag. We must find faster ways to ideate concepts and quickly bring forward testable iterations  in product and service, in communications, and in business and operational models. Just like a thru-hiker leaving creature comforts at home, it’s key to be judicious about what we carry into a situation, so we can be more flexible in how we respond. 

Be Resilient 

Ever rolled an ankle on the trail? Walked for miles on sharp-edged talus rocks? Faced 4,000 feet of climbing in a 20-mile day? Pressing on despite impediments is what thru-hiking is all about. Getting up that 1,000-foot pass in 85-degree heat is undeniably hard. But the vista at the top (and the downhill that follows) is undeniably rewarding. It propels the hiker forward.  

2020 has felt like that 20-mile day  revenues are down, margins are scarce, and consumer expectations and behavior change daily. But making a successful pivot can feel a lot like the top of the pass. Take a moment to celebrate  reward yourself and your team. Reflect on the effort it tookthen use it as a springboard for renewed motivation. The trail brings endless challenges as hikers traverse the ups and downs. 

And Just Keep On Walking  

One of the most powerful moments in long-distance hiking is the reckoning at the point of no return. Being alone 30 miles from the car is a one-of-a-kind feeling  intimidating, yet liberating. Everything hurts, the sun sets and you’re still 4 miles from camp. But like Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”   

The same is true for businesses  we just keep on keeping on. Pace yourself  do what you realistically can, even if it takes a little longer. Get comfortable with uncomfortable and do whatever it takes. Hiking in the dark to get to camp is a lot like pulling an all-nighter to develop a new product concept. Pushing through blisters is a lot like relentlessly pounding the pavement to win new clients.  

The only way out of 2020 is through 2020. We all have to just keep on hiking. 

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 // SEPTEMBER 28, 2020 //     

CES 2021 Confirms Need for Marketers and Brands to Reimagine, Not Replace

American Marketing Association

By Cathy Planchard, Allison+Partners, All Told Global President

Organizations that spent the first half of 2020 adjusting to meet the pandemic’s challenges learned by mid-summer their pivots would be longer and deeper than expected. This became more evident when events and tradeshows had to be cancelled, postponed or moved online, particularly CES 2021.

The world’s largest tradeshow, which brings 175,000 people to Las Vegas every year, will be fully virtual for the first time. For brands “exhibiting,” the implications of CES’ move run far and wide. How can you showcase your technologies in an environment where they can’t be touched? How can you still get media attention when you can’t physically track down reporters to bring them to your booths? What about all the in-person prospecting and deals you expected to make?

The solution is to reimagine, not replace.

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SEPTEMBER 24, 2020 //     

The COVID-19 Vaccine & Its Implications for a Return to the Office

By: Barbara Laidlaw and Josiah Adams

The COVID-19 pandemic has often created more questions than answers. From the pandemic’s onset in March, public officials, scientists and healthcare providers have searched with frustration for solutions to the virus’ spread, treatments and, above all else, a potential vaccine.

As we enter the fall and winter months, more people will stay indoors, which experts point to as a potential cause for a second surge of the virus. In metropolitan areas like New York City, this could have catastrophic and long-lasting effects on economic and public health. The potential for a second surge, combined with nationwide political pressure leading up to the November election, has led to increased demand for development and deployment of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Unfortunately, developing a vaccine is a process that can only be fast-tracked so much before becoming dangerous and irresponsible. Brands and organizations must understand the facts surrounding a potential vaccine and make the appropriate business decisions based on them. Otherwise, they run the risk of jeopardizing months of precautions and exposing themselves to significant reputational risk.

President Donald Trump’s administration has issued conflicting messages about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. On Sept. 21, Dr. Moncef Slaoui —the head of the administration’s COVID-19 vaccine program— told reporters the U.S. could immunize those “most susceptible” to coronavirus by December if there is prior vaccine approval. Yet, the FDA recently announced it would roll out higher safety standards for the vaccine approval process that would make approval unlikely before Nov. 3.

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Elsewhere, independent health experts have expressed a number of serious concerns about an expedited vaccine. Primarily, their concerns focus on the health risks associated with a potentially  faulty vaccine. Experts also worry a fast-tracked vaccine could significantly damage public confidence in the vaccine’s efficacy, which would hobble even a safe vaccine’s ability to immunize key portions of the population. According to, University of Michigan Chief Health Officer Dr. Preeti Malani, “You could have a safe, effective vaccine that no one wants to take.”

A recent KFF poll supports this notion, showing roughly 54% of Americans would not want to get vaccinated ahead of the November election. This mixed messaging and waning confidence could lead to significant issues with returning to an office-based work schedule. Additionally, should cases surge in the coming months, such a return would be even further down the road.


*KFF Health Tracking Poll (conducted August 28-September 3, 2020)

Producing an effective and safe vaccine is a complex process usually comprised of four pre-approval steps that begin with preclinical tests on animals. According to the New York Times, 92 confirmed preclinical vaccines are in active development as of Sept. 23.

Once preclinical testing concludes, Phase 1 safety trials begin with a small group of people to determine if the vaccine is safe and stimulates the human immune system against the COVID-19 virus.

Phase 2 entails expanding trials to hundreds of people from different demographics to confirm the vaccine is effective regardless of key population variants, such as age or gender. Phase 2 trials also expand on safety and efficacy testing.

Phase 3 trials, the final trials before early approval, are efficacy trials comprised of thousands of volunteers, some of whom receive placebo. The goal of Phase 3 is to determine if the vaccine immunizes people against the COVID-19 virus in everyday life. From there, vaccines move on to early approval and final approval.

Current leaders in the race for a vaccine include Johnson & Johnson, AstraZenca, University of Oxford, Pfizer and Moderna, all of which are in Phase 3. Despite this progress, the two front runners Pfizer and Moderna have not expressed confidence in a vaccine becoming readily available any time soon.

On Sept. 17, Modern released its 135-page clinical trial protocol and Pfizer followed suit Sept. 18 with its own 137-page protocol. These complex protocols indicate the first analysis of relevant data may not be conducted until late December. According to the protocol Moderna released, final analyses of the vaccine’s efficacy are projected for March 2021 at the earliest. These timetables cannot be meaningfully expedited because of the waiting periods between initial vaccinations, booster shots and subsequent data analysis.

Despite some Chinese and Russian companies’ decisions to push into early approval without completing this final phase, attempting to cut corners in a Phase 3 trial is a reckless move that carries considerable risk. According to medical experts like NYU’s Langone’s Division of Medical Ethics Director Arthur Caplan, China and Russia’s decision to do so is “[A] really insane and terrible idea… it’s staggeringly hard to comprehend.”

Given this information, weighing your options and planning is the best way to insulate your business from exposing itself to COVID-19 risks. Although many are hopeful sustained low infection rates may spur state and local officials to continue the reopening process, this is a tenuous and fluid situation that should be reviewed week-by-week or month-by-month basis.

Additionally, even if a vaccine came out in the next few months, it would be virtually impossible for a business to force its employees to take it. Notwithstanding the regulatory and legal implications, the reputational impact a brand would expose itself to would be immense.

While a vaccine may instill confidence in a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, that light is likely further away than it may seem today. These are some of the unfortunate realities we must all face as we try to return to normal business operations.     

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.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2020 //     

Building Brand Leadership in a Complex Healthcare Environment

By: Brian Brokowski 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous transformation and turmoil in the healthcare industry.

In 2020, hospitals, clinical care facilities, community-based organizations and the private sector have all shown remarkable efforts to rise to the challenge. The advancements of treatments, the acceleration of digital and telehealth technologies, public and private sector collaborations, and most of all the heroic efforts of those on the front lines have been at the foundation of the industry’s response to this unprecedented crisis. 

This all happened concurrently with a major industry expansion and shifting demographics, which drive increased needs for care. Sixty years ago, healthcare was just 5% of the total economy. Today it represents nearly 20% (Brookings).

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As the population ages, this growth will only continue. Since 2011, nearly 10,000 people a day have been enrolled in Medicare. This rate is expected to continue through 2030, when more than 80 million total enrollees are forecasted – a 20% increase over today’s total (MedPac).  And according to the National Council on Aging, about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease and 68% have at least two. 

Advancements in telehealth and other areas during the COVID-19 response will forever positively change many aspects of healthcare. This will leave us better prepared not only for the next pandemic, but for the major public health issues that existed before COVID-19 and will persist long into the future.

Yet, the sector faces a highly complex web of impacts and challenges that stretch well beyond the pandemic and current headlines. Today’s news cycles have followed a predictable pattern. First, the effort response to flattening the curve and meeting demand for critical PPE and respiratory devices dominated coverage. Now, the race for the vaccine captures the narrative. 

But beyond the headlines, the reality is the pandemic has also further strained many weaknesses already evident in our healthcare system and gave rise to new challenges. A number of very real, systemic challenges in healthcare create an undercurrent of turmoil that will impact the healthcare industry for years to come.

These issues include:

  • The response to COVID-19 has revealed significant racial and economic inequities in our healthcare system. Social determinants of care and the impacts of systemic racism on public health have emerged as key long overdue issues to be solved.
  • Lockdowns on non-essential services and subsequent slowdown in non-emergency care has created significant financial strains on the sector that are expected to linger well beyond peak COVID-19.
  • Longer-term impacts of delayed primary care on vulnerable populations – particularly seniors, the poor and racial minorities – threaten to exacerbate chronic health issues.
  • Rural access to healthcare amid increasing hospital closures and reduction of services.
  • Delays in care outside of COVID-19, leading to a predicted excess of tens of thousands of cancer deaths over the next decade as a result of missed screenings, delays in diagnosis and reductions in oncology care caused by the pandemic.
  • Continuing/increasing concerns about patient privacy and data ownership amid increased use of telemedicine/connected health.
  • Outdated regulatory and reimbursement frameworks on telemedicine and connected health standing as barriers to increased adoption.
  • The continued challenges of achieving true interoperability between healthcare providers, systems, technology and the information they need to achieve the best outcomes for patients.
  • The ability of services to scale to meet the needs of an aging population.

For healthcare organizations communicating in today’s environment, building and preserving brand reputation and relationships with patients, customers and the public will increasingly be contingent on marrying words with actions and the ability to link the organization’s efforts with real solutions to these existing and emerging challenges.   

The world seeks leadership in healthcare – not just those who conduct business as usual, or those who merely talk about meeting these challenges. The opportunity exists for healthcare organizations of all types to step up and take a leadership role and effectively build brand affinity, credibility and respect among their key audiences. This will truly make a difference in helping move healthcare forward into a new era of access, efficiency and quality of care. 

Among the strategies we see as helping healthcare organizations stand out: 

  • Stake a position and be a leader in driving change: Align your service, showcase product or technology innovations with today’s emergent challenges and be clear about how your organization helps to address and/or improve quality of or access to care. Lead through action and let the communications follow – not just during COVID-19 but beyond.
  • Engage employees: Employees and care providers are your greatest advocates and resources. Whether it’s aligned with racial justice and access-to-care issues or as the leaders innovating new technologies and innovations that transform care, engage and include employees as part of the solution.
  • Harness patient and customer stories: Now is the time to let your patients and customers tell their stories – and yours. Create a library of testimonials and a resource of advocates and use them in your internal and external communications to give your brand an authentic voice. In particular, amplify underrepresented voices – those who have been lost in the system.
  • Evaluate partnerships: Review any current community and/or business partnerships. Are they still relevant in today’s environment? Do they make an impact – help support organizational/business goals while driving meaningful change within the entire community?
  • Communicate across channels: The media environment is challenging. Healthcare media are largely focused on the vaccine and election issues, and it can be difficult to get an alternative story told. Evaluate social and content strategies and test new ways of using owned and paid channels as opportunities to communicate with your key audiences. 

There are opportunities abound for leadership in healthcare. But for organizations that want to stand out, action must support words. Building a strong brand and affinity with key audiences will come from driving real changes and showing how those changes improve access and quality of care, driving beyond the headlines to create lasting improvements that endure long beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’d like to learn more about our expertise in healthcare, visit here or get in touch

Brian is the General Manager of Allison+Partners San Diego office.  Brian has more than 25 years of experience building and protecting brands across a range of industries, with an emphasis on health care.  Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic he has counseled clients in the health care industry regarding their proactive and reactive communications in light of the rapidly evolving media, public policy and regulatory landscape.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2020 //     

Generating Leads From Podcasts

By: Terry McDermott

Omnicom’s commitment to purchase $20 million worth of podcast ads with Spotify confirms the streaming platform’s investment in Streaming Ad Insertion (SAI), a new, proprietary podcast ad technology that delivers Spotify’s full digital suite of planning, reporting and measurement capabilities. The technology offers more precise measurement of impressions and may be a key development in bringing large brands into the podcast advertising sphere. But even without the measurement technology, podcasts have worked and will continue to work for advertisers seeking leads.

For example, after Joe Rogan explains to his podcast audience the MasterClass product offering, he then tells his audience they can save 15% when they type masterclass.com/Rogan. SimpliSafe.com/chiclets is the URL the podcasters from Spittin’ Chiclets recite, so its listeners can get a discount from the home security tools provider. And HelloFresh.com/officeladies80 is the URL to which Jenna Fisher and Angela Kinsey of Office Ladies direct their listeners. Again, to receive a discount.

You can bet the advertiser tracks traffic and conversions at those URLs like nobody’s business, producing ROI reports in a flash. Their continued presence advertising with podcasters helps prove podcasts can be effective for lead generation. 

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Moving away from the direct-to-consumer advertisers, using podcasts to generate leads requires some additional work. For years, print ads promoted /XYZ after a URL with uneven impact. It turns out even the most “memorable” URLs were difficult to remember. But podcasts visitors can simply hit the rewind button or replay an episode. And podcasters themselves use free podcasts to promote premium services.

With a clear definition of a lead, advertisers can use podcasts to generate leads and do the math to connect those leads to sales. Retailers, such as Trader Joe’s, have advertised their own podcasts on NPR’s podcast network. It is easy to imagine how a retailer can track the confluence of podcast listeners and shoppers by highlighting exclusive offers on their own podcasts.

The absence of real-time conversion data is where the art of media buying and the science of media measurement collide – an advertiser that wants leads can seek the demographic data of the listeners of a specific podcast and match that with the topics typically discussed. If it seems “Blackpacking” has the right audience discussing the right things, an audio ad for travel gear makes sense. But, beyond simply making sense, the advertiser can check to see the total traffic to widgetbrand.com/blackpacking. Those are the leads easily tracked back to the ad on Blackpacking.

For B2B advertisers, where the definition of a lead may require explicit contact information added to a CRM database, similar techniques can be used. SquareSpace.com/StarTalk is the key for listeners of the Neil deGrasse Tyson podcast to unlock a discount. Garyvee.com/marketingforthenow is how Gary Vaynuerchuk advertised his content webinar series via his podcast. Register for the webinar – voila, you are a lead.

A more typical path in B2B will follow the example set out by Adobe in its Experience Essentials series. The series itself burnishes Adobe’s reputation as a thought leader in customer experience, and assists marketers in understanding how multi-channel marketing can boost performance. But Adobe also uses its podcast to drive traffic to https://www.adobe.com/experience-cloud/role/marketer.html

From there, live chat, the contact us button and the ability to register for free virtual events or download analyst reports turn podcast traffic into actionable leads. It may not be certain the lead came from a podcast – yet, if the podcast performs a different role, adding a lead gen component is an easy way to squeeze even more value out of the tactic.

Thus, whether explicitly to deliver leads or serve another purpose, our advice to marketers producing podcasts is simple: create and promote a unique URL extension to which you will direct podcast listeners. From there, promote the same offers that are available to traffic from other sources (paid search, re-marketing banners, trade eNewsletters). Existing tracking can the be used to understand which leads are attributable to the podcast, and marketers have another channel they can measure, optimize and compute ROI on their way to filling the sales pipe. Improvements in ad measurement have arrived, and more may come. But there is no reason to wait.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help your integrated marketing needs, get in touch at terrance.mcdermott@allisonpr.com 

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.

SEPTEMBER 15, 2020 //     

As the Clock Ticks Down, Why TikTok Matters

By: Jonathan Heit 

Over the past several weeks, the tumult surrounding the entertainment platform TikTok has reached a fever pitch. Global Chair of our technology practice, founding partner Jonathan Heit, weighs in…

[Full disclosure: A+P represents TikTok, parent company Bytedance and Bytedance subsidiary Lark in several markets across Asia-Pacific] 

If it seems like every day you are inundated with news about TikTok and its business prospects in the United States, well that’s because you are. Every few years there seems to be a “next new thing” the kids use, and this is certainly TikTok’s moment.

Thinking about other platforms that generated this type of attention over the years – namely YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat – it’s important to recognize how so many of these also faced major global implications on the political and business landscapes. 

However, few have been in the crosshairs quite like TikTok. Owned by Chinese parent company Bytedance, it faces incredible scrutiny. With reports on Sept. 14 that Oracle won the bid for TikTok’s technology ahead of the impending deadline for either a sale of its U.S. assets or a ban, it’s a good time to put the company under the microscope.

To show its reach and real impact, TikTok recently revealed it hosts about 100 million monthly active U.S. users . TikTok already goes far beyond “the kids” as the graphic below indicates:

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TikTok content is clearly much more than the latest dance craze for teens, though it has an extraordinary and growing impact on the music business. Its content crosses all forms of entertainment, religion, education, DIY cooking, grilling and home renovation, among many other categories. It also hosts political coverage across a broad political spectrum that actually leans right, despite the widely reported case of the pesky teen K Pop fans that torpedoed President Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa. There really is something for everyone on TikTok. 

This broad reach is one reason why TikTok still manages to dominate the headlines during a worldwide pandemic, a U.S. presidential election and a historic fight for racial justice led by the Black Lives Matter movement.   

Let’s review what’s gone on in just the past few months:

  • In early June, Disney’s Kevin Mayer became CEO of TikTok on the heels of the successful launch of streaming service Disney+.
  • June 29, India banned TikTok along with 58 other Chinese-owned apps over concerns that these apps were engaging in activities that threatened “national security and defence of India
  • Just two months later, Trump signed an executive order effectively banning the app in the U.S. beginning Sept. 15 and requiring the company sell to a U.S. company
  • A flurry of interest in the company ensued, led by potential bids by Microsoft, Oracle and Walmart in the span of just a few weeks
  • A subsequent executive order signed Aug. 14 pushed the deadline for a transaction to be completed to Nov. 12
  • On Aug. 27, Mayer stepped down as CEO after less than three months on the job
  • Two days later, China introduced a “poison pill” that makes any deal nearly impossible by making the transfer of AI from a Chinese entity illegal
  • On Sept. 7, TikTok filed suit against the U.S. government to avoid a ban 

Whether you agree with the politics behind India and the United States’ actions or China’s countermeasures, the reverberations are undeniable. The offer from Microsoft and others were originally believed to be in the $30 billion range, and the overall valuation of Bytedance was estimated at between $100 billion and $150 billion

Of course, these deals were all formulated prior to China’s attempts to extricate the AI from the package, which would bring the value down considerably. If you’ve spent any time on TikTok, and the chart that follows shows many of you have, you’ll recognize the value is in the algorithm. 

That’s true of any social platform. But the key to TikTok is an algorithm unlike any other. Despite movements toward transparency, this is the very AI that China aims to hold onto and is at the heart of U.S. concerns, along with data security and privacy. The way the app quickly learns user interests and tailors videos for them on their “For You” page is almost eerie. Within two to three days of using the app, users get served nearly tailor-made and customized videos.

Brands, consumers, parents and the market have begun to recognize this is far more than just the aforementioned collection of fun videos set to music by teenagers. As my colleagues Pranav Kumar and Natashia Jaya pointed out in their blog here, the COVID-19 pandemic kept human interaction at an all-time low and TikTok outpaced the competition by a wide margin by bringing people together in a more meaningful way.

In terms of potential suitors, Microsoft has a good track record in consumer entertainment and social media (think Xbox and LinkedIn) and already does significant business in China. As such, it seemed to be a strong potential partner with a security legacy far better than Facebook or Amazon. Despite, or perhaps because of, its grander ambitions, Microsoft learned over the weekend its bid was rejected in favor of a less all-encompassing deal by Oracle. 

Oracle is a Trump favorite. That may have played a factor in the ultimate decision, which will certainly evolve over time as the deal consummates. While Wal-Mart originally appeared to be a bit more of dark horse as a partner with Microsoft’s deal, further reporting made it clear the value this would add to the world’s largest company and the value it brings to marketers across the spectrum.

Not content to stand by idly and allow its fate to be decided, TikTok went on the marketing offensive. On Aug. 18, the company launched its boldest ad campaign featuring a mix of clips from a wide range of creators set to the song “Sing to Me” by Walter Martin featuring Karen O. The campaign focuses on TikTok’s position as more than just a personal plaything, but a platform capable of creating “a global, cultural moment that travels across countries, cultures and communities.” Furthermore, it splashed media dollars across podcasts and other channels to reach as broad an audience as possible. 

Through this prism, Walmart’s involvement in this deal begins to make a lot more sense.

In a statement talking about the deal, Walmart noted this represents “an important way for us to reach and serve omnichannel customers as well as grow our third-party marketplace and advertising businesses.”

At the same time, TikTok recognizes the value of its enormous and passionate user base and upped the ante to partner more closely with agencies. It brought in a full-time team to focus on building relationships with brands and aggressively marketed “TikTok for Business” to enhance revenue-generating opportunities for brands on the platform.

Already, users have seen a variety of ads from high-profile brands. But trust and safety issues abound, not to mention the usual tension between user experience and profit-making. The platform has taken important steps to stem bullying on the platform, but it must also account for data privacy and security. This is one of the central concerns in the ongoing U.S.-China rift, and it’s a driving force in the current administration’s push to sell the American operation to a U.S. company. For its purposes, Beijing would rather see the site shut down than sold to Oracle or any U.S. company. 

How TikTok navigates this and maintains its prodigious user base is an important evolution and will show its commitment to sticking around for the long haul. Will the gambit ultimately pay off? One thing is for sure. There will be no shortage of media coverage documenting every step of the way.

Jonathan Heit is a co-founder and partner at Allison+Partners, as well as a trusted adviser to some of today’s best-known technology brands. In his role as global president he focuses on the growth and operations of the agency’s two largest regions, Asia and the U.S. Jonathan also serves as global chair of the Technology practice, spearheading work in both the consumer and B2B categories.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2020 //     

9/11 Reminds Us We Can Overcome COVID-19 Challenges

By: Shanna Brown

As New York City begins to show some life after six stressful months, it’s hard not to wonder if the City That Never Sleeps can bounce back from COVID-19. On one hand, indoor eating, exercise classes and bar hopping are not what they once were. But on the other hand, the city is in a better place than we thought it would be back in April. Schools have adjusted and reopened, and the parks safely bustle with New Yorkers again. Even though winter looms with a new season of unknowns, it is hard not to be relieved the city has begun to resurrect. 

It’s not the first time New York City has had to rise from the ashes. 

Everyone who says COVID-19 will be the end of this city has clearly not paid attention. It has been 19 years since the world changed and the city was put through one of its toughest challenges. It took some time, but a new, New York City was born after Sept. 11, 2001. In March 2020, while offices, schools and shopping areas shut down, the frontline workers and first responders once again stepped up. 

As we look back on this day 19 years ago, we are reminded how quickly everything can change and how much we take for granted in our daily lives. There were questions and concerns then that New Yorkers faced, such has how would returning to skyscraper offices ever feel safe again after something so tragic? How could going to any public spaces, such as sporting events, Broadway shows or restaurants, ever feel safe again? Sound familiar?

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I grew up in Westchester County, New York, just 35 miles north of Manhattan. My childhood was awesome. I lived a street away from my school and enjoyed endless playgrounds. I was allowed to ride my bike everywhere. I would go to my friends’ houses, the deli down the street and my school… I owned that town. 

It was the last year of elementary school on a beautiful Tuesday morning in September. I was 10 years old and in a really good mood because my oldest sister was unexpectedly home from college. My family was all together for the first time in a month.

I was in Mr. Henderson’s math class. As we worked through the problems on the board, my homeroom teacher Mr. Frye barged in and called on my classmate Greg. He said his mom was there to pick him up. “Greg is so lucky he gets to leave early today,” I thought.

A bit later, Mr. Frye returned, and it was Ricky and Kay’s turn to go home. Someone from the back of the room shouted: “Mr. Frye, what’s going on? Why does everyone get to go home early?” 

He replied, “Didn’t you know? It’s National Go Home Early Day!” and he left.

The next thing I know, they corralled us all back to homeroom. Rumors flew, teachers held back their tears and we sensed something was wrong. I recall hearing an atomic bomb was headed our way. I wasn’t even sure what an “atomic bomb” was! But I knew a bomb was a bad thing and that my school day had turned into organized chaos. 

Eventually, they put us all on buses and I headed home still unsure about what had happened. I walked into the house and saw my middle sister in the kitchen watching the TV and crying. The World Trade Center was in flames on the screen. My heart sank and I ran to the family room to my older sister, who sat in silence watching the same thing unfold. I started to panic.

My dad came home some time later. He was in Albany that day with his boss and had driven home as soon as he could. My mom didn’t come home until much later. I was already in bed but awake. She was a healthcare worker, so she had to stay at work in case any victims came to her hospital. It was all hands-on deck. When they realized there were more dead than survivors, she made her way home to us. I’m one of the lucky ones.

I wasn’t old enough to deeply understand what was happening. But I was old enough to remember that day and for 9/11 to define me. I will always remember what I saw and felt, and I will never forget the resiliency I witnessed in New Yorkers. It is one of the main reasons I wanted to live in New York City when I grew up.

In my life, and many Americans’, there are two time periods – before 9/11 and after. It feels as if 2020 is on the same path. This year, we have our “normal” lives before March, where we lived in a carefree world. And we have our lives after March, where everything came to a halt and we wonder if our “normal” will ever return.

Though signs of normalcy now emerge in New York City, we remain far from where we would like to be. But like life after 9/11, we now need to give this city time to rebuild. Unfortunately, we can’t snap our fingers and return to the pre-March mindset. 

I look forward to the day where I will wake up, get ready and head to Allison+Partners’ new office in One World Trade. It feels as though my life has come full circle.

Shanna Brown is the marketing and business development manager in the New York City office. 

SEPTEMBER 9, 2020 //     

Mentors Might Be Surprised How Much They Get from The Experience

By: Kay Brungs Laud

It goes without saying that 2020 will be a year many will remember for decades to come. The monumental events that have shaped this year have already had an impact on our economy and job market. With 13.6 million American’s currently unemployed, I have reflected on what I can do as an individual and as a professional to help support students, recent graduates and professionals looking to make a career shift. It has made me think a lot about the people along my career path who took the time to provide guidance and advice.  

When I was an undergraduate, I was lucky enough to have several extremely valuable experiences through internships, which also gave me access to incredible mentors. Without their support and professional feedback along the way, I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today. As Allison+Partners Co-founder Scott Pansky so eloquently wrote in his blog, “Pay It Forward and Help the Next Generation,” it’s important as professionals to give back and make sure we invest in our future talent by helping them along their career paths.

Whenever I have been asked to conduct an informational interview with someone thinking about getting into public relations, review a resume or speak to a college class, I’m always thrilled to do so. For me, it’s a way I can pay it forward for all the support I’ve received over the years. However, recently I’ve looked for ways to make a bigger impact. So when I was asked to help Allison+Partners work with the LAGRANT Foundation to support the launch of its new mentorship project, I jumped at the opportunity.  

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Over the past few months, our team has worked closely with the foundation on ways our team members could participate in its new mentorship program and provide opportunities for both our mentors and their mentees to learn from each other. While the main goal of the program is to provide professional mentors to ethnic minority undergraduate and graduate students and young professionals in advertising, marketing and public relations, we also wanted to develop our agency’s side of the program to allow the mentee’s experiences to inform and share their unique perspectives with us.

The LAGRANT Foundation’s annual mentorship will run from October through April. One mentee from the foundation will pair with a mentor who is currently employed in a field that relates to the mentee’s career goals. Mentors will be a resource and provide guidance and support to their mentee’s professional goals. The time invested by the mentor and mentee will lead to new ideas, help build enthusiastic future leaders and nurture supporting professional relationships.

From my experience, I know just how rewarding it is to help someone as they start their career. It’s almost like going back in time – you get to share in their joys of discovering an area of passion and celebrate their successes! A bonus is just how much you get to learn from your mentee. I have always been amazed by the amount of creative ideas and new perspectives I got from the mentees I worked with throughout the years. 

If you seek a rewarding way to help someone starting their career or looking to change their career, seriously consider becoming a mentor! You won’t regret the decision.  

Kay Brungs Laud is a senior vice president and works out of Allison+Partners’ Chicago office. Prior to starting her career in public relations, she lived and worked in Washington, D.C., where worked on the Hill and was part of two presidential campaigns. She graduated from American University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

 

AGENCY NEWS // SEPTEMBER 7, 2020 //     

Mastering the 'Now Normal'

Bangkok Post

The career path that Jonathan Heit took to the public relations industry is unlike that of most people. With an undergraduate degree in sciences and a pre-medical background at Cornell University, Mr Heit, now 48, says he was "on the path to becoming a doctor".

"It was really challenging science-based work and as I really dug into it, I started to realise the element of medicine that I enjoyed: the interaction with patients," the co-founder and global president of Allison+Partners tells Asia Focus. It was at this point when he also realised that he wasn't as strong on the science side of things as he wanted to be.

But "I was always a very good writer, and I was always interested in writing and communications", he notes.

Fresh out of med school, and after spending time on what he wanted to do, "I thought maybe merging two things together, communication and healthcare, could play to some of what I've learned and be where my real passion is". That decision led him to healthcare public relations and marketing communication.

But working with science-based clients could be a little bit limiting, he discovered upon entering the industry. "Science is so defined, so precise that it's a very regulated industry," he observes.

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AGENCY NEWS // SEPTEMBER 3, 2020 //     

Happy 19th Anniversary Allison+Partners - Celebrating 2020's Global Day of Giving

By: Scott Pansky 

As we reflect on our 19th anniversary, the world continues to change and we continue to change with it. Similar to when we launched in 2001, just a week before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, our business continues to deal with challenges. Unlike 9/11, the entire world is dealing with the pandemic, economic disruptions and natural disasters. We have had to prioritize, making sure we can take care of our team members around the globe and adapt to new ways of working. We have had to ask ourselves hard questions, commit to change to evolve our culture and provide the best service possible for our clients. As so many have said, “We are all in this together!”

To celebrate the agency’s anniversary, Allison+Partners will again host its annual Global Day of Giving, which allows employees in every office to take time off from work to learn about the issues in their local communities and work as a team to address those needs. Our 2020 theme supports COVID-19 relief efforts, including writing cards and letters to those impacted by the virus and donating food and toiletries. This focus is captured in the commemorative logo featured above, the winning submission from an employee competition. This year’s beautiful design was created by Niphon (Dui) Appakaran in our Bangkok office.

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With so much happening around us, this year’s volunteer efforts seem more meaningful than ever. It does not take a company of more than 500 to have an impact. However, one person can make a difference. Helping your neighbor, providing someone living on the street with a warm meal, or thanking those who deliver packages, make meals, or stock the grocery store shelves really does have a positive impact.  

Please join us and make a difference in your community this month, whether it’s sharing a story that puts a smile on someone’s face or just letting them know how special they are. In these uncertain times, this is just one simple way we can all help.  

We look forward to our 20th anniversary next year, when we can finally visit those impacted in person, face to face.

SEPTEMBER 3, 2020 //     

Are Offices Gone for Good?

By: Natalie Price 

After the pandemic brought a swift and dramatic shift from a majority working in offices to a majority working remotely, it’s easy to think this trend might continue indefinitely. But anyone who believes the office market is permanently dead due to the COVID-19 pandemic should remember the only thing certain in life is change.  

Big tech companies have made major adjustments to their work policies, USA Today recently reported. For example, Facebook plans for more remote work for its 45,000 employees even when COVID-19 is no longer a threat that requires most of them to work from home. Since the coronavirus disrupted office life, even companies with fewer resources and slower-moving cultures are likely to follow, the article noted. 

"Many companies are learning that their workers are just as or even more productive working from home," Andy Challenger, senior vice president of staffing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, told the paper. 

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But while there are certainly benefits to working remotely, working from home during the pandemic is less advantageous.  

Satisfaction levels from working from home during the pandemic depend greatly on personal situation. Working parents with kids stuck at home who try to balance Wi-Fi usage and dueling conference calls find the situation far more challenging than couples whose kids are grown and out of the house. But it can also be a stressful for two working professionals living in a small apartment not to feel as if they are constantly under each other’s feet. And the sense of isolation and disconnection for single working professionals can also take its toll.  

Bottom line, there is a big difference in being forced to work from home during a pandemic and having the opportunity to work remotely – wherever that might be.  

We believe one of the biggest long-term effects on the workplace and the office market will be a greater emphasis on flexibility. Most companies will likely offer more flexibility on where and when its employees get their work done. Working remotely some days and in the office other days seems a likely scenario. 

Bringing teams together in an office can foster a shared vision, increase creativity, provide training, build culture and togetherness, and sometimes lead to smarter solutions and better results for clients. Our business, like many others, is based on building trust and personal relationships something difficult to do on a Teams or Zoom call. For all the benefits of working remotely, there are times when an office is an invaluable asset. While there will be short term pain in almost every sector of real estate, we believe there will be long-term gain. 

The New York Times recently published a story about China’s early stages of return to normalcy.  

“In Shanghai, restaurants and bars in many neighborhoods are teeming with crowds. In Beijing, thousands of students are heading back to campus for the fall semester.” it saidIn Wuhan, where the coronavirus emerged eight months ago, water parks and night markets are packed elbow to elbow, buzzing like before. 

While the United States and much of the world are still struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic, life in many parts of China has in recent weeks become strikingly normal. Cities have relaxed social distancing rules and mask mandates, and crowds are again filling tourist sites, movie theaters and gyms. 

While it might be months before the U.S. is ready to reopen completely, I find this hopeful. The best advice we can offer our clients is not to make long-term decisions based on COVID-19. 

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help your real estate needs, get in touch at NPrice@allisonpr.com 

Natalie Price is a Senior Vice President with the Real Estate team where she focuses on the entitlement, development and marketing of commercial real estate. 

SEPTEMBER 2, 2020 //     

It's all in a Gesture: Building Brand Loyalty Through Compassion

By: Jessica Peraza

Last year, the Census Bureau reported that for the first time in U.S. history, non-white and Hispanic Americans represented the majority of people under the age of 16 for the first time in U.S. historyThis generation is key for marketers, and brands would be remiss to not pay attention to tomorrow’s younger, more diverse consumer.  

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemiis significantly impacting America’s diverse populations. The CDC reports Black and Hispanic people in the U.S. contract the virus at approximately four times the rate of non-Hispanic white people 

As several recent opinion pieces have pointed out (e.g. Los Angeles TimesCNBCThe New York Times), this is hardly surprisingBlack and Brown communities in America have always faced unique challenges in America, including limited access to quality education and affordable healthcare. These obstacles are critical to understand if brands want to continue to engage with multicultural consumers authentically  

A study conducted by Alma Culture Lab earlier this year showed that Latinos are turning to social media more to share their optimism about COVID-19. So, while in-person interactions have taken a back seat this year, that sense of community is still achievable online. As such, we’re working with our clients to create digital experiences that are less about the product and more about the gesture. 

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We’ve created mailers that evoke positive reactions, executed virtual campaigns that bring people together and even sent simple emails with the question, “How can we help?” Though not product-driven, these actions go a long way – especially among some multicultural influencers who view their followers as their community and their Instagram feed as their platform for social good.  

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that compassion goes a long way. Efforts that go beyond the transactional relationship are key for fostering lifelong loyalty. And while brand marketers are ultimately working to drive sales, building brand affinity can be just as – if not more – valuable.  

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with community and media relations strategies, get in touch at jessica.peraza@allisonpr.com 

Jessica Peraza is an account director at Allison+Partners in the Phoenix office. She focuses on community and media relations strategies for consumer clients and specializes in reaching Latino audiences. 

 

 

AGENCY NEWS // SEPTEMBER 1, 2020 //     

The Reckoning is Here for China's Global Tech Giants

PRWeek UKBy: David Wolf

To win in a global marketplace that is predisposed to distrust them, China’s emerging tech brands need to rethink the PR function altogether.

As the typhoon gusts of geopolitics blow on the China-US relationship, those same winds are blowing away the assumptions on which our companies and clients have built their businesses for over a generation. Public relations professionals are being called upon to aid the firms caught in the contradictions between commercial goals, Beijing’s global ambitions, and Washington’s open discomfort with those ambitions.

Though this emerging challenge touches upon every industry, the core role that technological superiority and public information now play in global conflict has brought the brunt of the disruption down on the technology business generally and online services in particular. The greatest challenge of all falls upon Chinese companies seeking to extend their businesses beyond their home market. These brands now face a global phalanx of new stakeholders who know little about these firms, who watch their rise with surprise and even dismay, and who have the power to enable the growth of their global business or stop it dead in its tracks.

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AUGUST 27, 2020 //     

Leading a Virtual Workforce Through 2020: What Matters Most

San Francisco Team Zoom Meeting

By: Meghan Curtis

Leadership in the time of COVID-19, a monumental social justice movement, a divisive election year, an economic downturn and all while remote from my 45 team members in San Francisco and 500 colleagues around the globe?

I’m sure I’m not the first to say that these past months will give the Harvard Business Review enough new leadership content for years to come. And that executive leadership course I’d been pondering? I think 2020 has given me enough case studies, new skillsets and growth opportunities that I can hold off on that (for now).  

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In all seriousness, this moment in time does afford us an opportunity to reflect on leadership in new ways and examine what our teams need most from those who lead now and in the future. As I recently put aside the daily to-dos and pondered my leadership journey of late, I had so many thoughts. Too many thoughts, in fact, as this is a topic I think about every single day and night. How do I best support and lead the San Francisco office, my colleagues and my clients? Like many leaders before me, I decided to seek input to help crystalize my thoughts, speaking to fellow leaders in and out of Allison+Partners, along with a number of my teammates whom I manage day-to-day.

How does one lead a virtual workforce during a pandemic that has no immediate end in sight? Here are four critical characteristics I’ve landed on, with a little help from some friends:

  1. Vulnerability – This one just recently cracked open for me, as well as for many of the leaders I spoke with. When we closed our offices in mid-March and began to weather this storm while working remotely, it felt empowering to stay strong and do my part nearly around-the-clock to keep things afloat and morale up. And that we did! But some 165 days later, it serves no one, especially yourself, if you can’t acknowledge vulnerabilities and truly open up with those you lead. No longer do I start every meeting over Microsoft Teams by getting straight to work. We ask about each other’s kids, partners and pets. We talk about how we feel and really listen when someone shares what they did over the weekend. We open up about our insecurities, like sending kids back to school. I see each of my colleagues and clients for who they really are, in and out of work. They too have gotten a side of me that isn’t afraid to share if I’m trying to solve a unique client challenge or in need of creative ideation support for our twice-weekly office huddles to keep them fresh. I’m certain we’re all better professionals, and people, due to this newfound vulnerability. It’s not only strengthened our relationships, we do our best work because of it.
  2. Transparency – My colleague Courtney Newman wrote about the importance of being transparent to strengthen company culture in late April. Three months later, I’d argue this is more important now than it was then, because we don’t entirely know what next month will bring and it’s OK to acknowledge that. I have spoken with countless colleagues who say they implicitly trust our senior leadership, and ultimately the company, due to our ongoing transparency about the business today and our plans for tomorrow, next month and years to come. This is brought to life with “Ask Anything” questions during a monthly all-agency video call, numerous internal communications forums, our twice-annual Town Hall meetings, the CEO advisory council and my personal “no BS” policy during one-on-one check-ins with team members. This honesty, even when challenging, opens us up to reimagined collective problem solving and has fostered a trust like none I’ve seen in a corporate culture. Our team is deeply invested and supportive of each other – from top to bottom. Further, this transparency carries over to how we work with and treat our clients, the lifeblood to our business.
  3. Availability – A+P has always prioritized access and a direct open line of communication to leadership. Our open door policy has been far more than a talking point used in recruiting – it’s the backbone to our engaged workforce and how we’ve developed countless company initiatives. It’s also something I take incredible personal pride in. It’s more critical with a virtual team to be available to them when in need and to commit to consistent weekly check-ins, even with team members I don’t directly work with every day. Or to proactively reach out to someone in the office just to let them know I’m thinking about them and there if they want to talk. Sometimes this means we connect once my kids are in bed or while I take a walk before sitting down at my laptop for the day. Don’t worry, our colleagues also acknowledge we all have lives outside of work too and do not Teams and text me at all hours. But they know if there is a need, I’ll make the time without hesitation. And while leaders need to be available more than ever to their teams, the oxygen mask metaphor (i.e., you need to put your own oxygen mask on before you can help others) is incredibly relevant for those in leadership right now. I’m endlessly appreciative to work with a leadership team that is quickly there when I too need an ear.
  4. Flexibility – By now, you’ve likely read endless content on the importance of flexibility during the pandemic. As our home and work lives have converged, this newfound flexibility starts at the very top and is modeled by senior leadership so all team members know it’s truly OK for them to set up a work schedule that works for them, their teammates and clients. In March, I heard first-hand from teammates that shutting down the laptop for lunch, an afternoon work-out for “Work Out Wednesday” or at the end of the day was a challenge. And so, I’ve looked to constantly reinforce that every single person is dealing with something unique these days (and it’s not just us working parents) and flexibility is non-negotiable. By taking calls on the way to preschool, while making dinner for my family or joining group work-outs over Zoom during the work day, I hope to empower our team to do the same. Of course, with this flexibility comes a need to often overcommunicate schedules and sometimes “catch up” at odd hours. But I’m incredibly gratified to see my colleagues take advantage of this new flexible work environment while continuing to deliver best-in-class work for our clients and each other.

Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention the simple importance of leading with positivity. While being a transparent and vulnerable confidant, it’s equally important to be buoyant for your teams. I think a sign at my daughter’s school says it best: “When you can’t find the sunshine, be the sunshine!”

I’d love to hear – what is most important to you in leadership these days? And if you are in a leadership position, how have you changed your ways in 2020?

Meghan manages operations for Allison+Partners’ headquarters office in San Francisco. While fostering a collaborative and entrepreneurial environment for staff to thrive, she also oversees strategic public relations campaigns for several consumer brands in travel + tourism, consumer technology, food + beverage and healthcare industries.

 

 

AUGUST 26, 2020 //     

Return to Work Post-Maternity Leave in a Pandemic

By: Tara Chiarell

After a generous 20-week paid maternity leave from Allison+Partners, I am back to work! We welcomed our second daughter on March 19, right as the country was shutting down for COVID-19.   

Heading back to work looks a little different than it did when I left. While we have care for our daughters throughout the day, navigating this new WFH environment and not having the ability to see colleagues in-person is a bit of a transition.   

Last week, working parents across the company provided insights about juggling parenting with work. There were many relatable moments and I was inspired by how accommodating and understanding our company and colleagues have been.    

I’m sharing some insights that are applicable to all of us, not just working parents, during these unprecedented times:  

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  • Grace and Empathy. Regardless if you have a house full of people or live alone, these are tough times. We must give ourselves a break, figuratively and literally. We can’t do it all, this isn’t normal and we miss our old lives, our family and our friends.
  • Empower Others. We are all juggling more than ever. This is an opportunity to empower team members to handle elevated work when you are tied up.
  • Block Your Time. Do this for yourself and your team to communicate when you are and are not available. For parents, that could be to care for the family; for others. that may be a mid-day workout or trip to the grocery store when it’s safer.
  • Walk and Talk. We used to talk about these a lot to get out of the office, and it’s even more important now. You could go days without going outside if you don’t force yourself! We don’t have to do every call on video – move it to a call and walk around the block. Movement and a change of scenery will give you fresh perspective.
  • New W/L Balance. For some who need time during the day to tend to family and household needs, we may send emails before and after work hours. This should not mean others are expected to work those hours as well. We all do what we can to get work done when we can do it. Connect with your team to understand what expectations are and communicate when a reply is needed. We MUST give ourselves some separation between the workday starting and ending. The perception of “well you have nowhere to be,” because many cities are still in limited operations, does not mean employees should be expected to work non-stop.
  • Find Your Escape. We must remember we are human. We need outside experiences to fuel our work and creativity, especially in communications. Give yourself downtime – watch a show/movie, read a book, start a hobby – to help you disconnect and recharge. It will give you something to look forward to at the end of the day. 
  • Mourning. Give yourself time to mourn. Mourn the year of missed birthdays, weddings, baby showers, births, funerals, the high-fives we give each other for a client success or new business win. It’s been a tough year. Acknowledge it with yourself and others.

We are human; we are not robots. We are stressed; we now experience worry and anxiety like never before. We are separated from our support systems  – family and friends. Give yourself some grace. Be empathetic to yourself and others. This is new to all of us. 

Tara Chiarell is the General Manager of the Washington, DC office at Allison+Partners, focused on driving client and employee retention and growth. Coming up on 15 years, spanning two offices at Allison+Partners, Tara leads successful client campaigns across corporate, consumer and professional services.

 

 

AUGUST 25, 2020 //     

Pandemic Sends Us Back to The Future

By: Tracee Larson 

Everything old is new again. This phrase came to mind last week when a local dairy re-started home deliveries. Having been in business since 1916, Portland, Ore.-based Alpenrose Dairy has experienced its fair share of ups and downs in the industry, but the pandemic opened up a new door for it to build up its brand in the area and employ more people as milkmen and milkwomen.

I couldn’t wait to sign up, and my first delivery happened without a hitch. I even received a postcard identifying my milkman by name (Korbin), his hometown (Washougal, Washington), his favorite Alpenrose product (chocolate milk), and a fun fact that his left thumb is double-jointed.

After discovering from relatives that my grandparents also had their milk and dairy products delivered by Alpenrose for more than 20 years starting in the 1940s, I’ve come full circle not only with my milk and cheese, but also with many other products and services that my earlier family members experienced decades earlier – a small, silver lining courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Equipped with the latest technologies and adhering to all the social distancing and sanitation protocols, I and many others have adopted many of the same habits my grandparents held 70 years ago. With an app or a simple internet connection, I have groceries, pet supplies, furniture and personal items all delivered safely to my doorstep.

Expanding past the doorsteps and into a car, I can once again forgo the expensive concession stand at the movie theater and relish my drinks and snacks of choice at the local drive-in, whether it be a location already set up as one or a “pop-up” version that various retailers and property owners have developed during the pandemic.

While today’s drive-in audiences won’t hear the crackle of AM radio-controlled audio (most of today’s drive-ins use FM frequencies for a much-improved theater experience), there’s a true sense of private space drive-ins offer that cannot be found in a regular theater. No risk of sitting in gum or paying $15 for a tub of popcorn. Movie-goers can wear sweats, PJs or whatever feels most comfortable.

Also, slipping an arm around a date now doesn’t bump up against the legs of the person seated directly behind. And depending on the type of vehicle, watching a movie in lounge chairs from the back of a pickup truck or van delivers a new, delightful experience, with an FM transistor radio situated in between so the vehicle’s battery doesn’t drain down.

This brings back so many fond memories of my grandparents piling my cousins and me into the station wagon for a night at the local drive-in, all of us dressed in our pajamas with one favorite candy selection (I was a sucker for the Lik-m-aid/Fun Dips because they lasted longer) and plenty of popcorn. I was fortunate enough to still have a couple of drive-ins around while in high school, with a bunch of us piled into a friend’s Ford pick-up truck with sleeping bags to watch the movie “Red Dawn” when it first premiered, armed with Sony Walkmans tuned into the AM frequency and sharing headphones with our dates.

Another rediscovered experience from the past has been road trips. With airport travel dramatically reduced due to the pandemic and gas prices at affordable levels, what better way to get out of the house (now the epicenter of work, school, and regular life for many Americans) than to pile into the car and hit the open road.

I haven’t owned a car since 2004. But since the pandemic reared its ugly head in March, I’ve driven more than 1,500 miles in rental cars and rediscovered the wonderful sights in the Pacific Northwest. Long drives listening to whatever music strikes my fancy as I maneuver a low-mileage car through mountain roads and historic highways provides a sense of relaxation no airplane or train trip can deliver.

A recent article in The Economist, “Mid-century modern,” expanded on some other activities commonly done in years past (trips to state parks and breaking out those board games that can be played anywhere) that have emerged more popular than ever in a pandemic world. People still hide behind their phones as a way to socially distance themselves and feed their information addiction. But some have started setting aside their technological devices to experience many of the delights and comforts their parents and grandparents did in years past, even as we wear face masks and use plenty of hand sanitizer to stay safe.

The final silver lining to be found, particularly in urban centers, is re-establishing relationships with neighbors. With so many folks now working from home or unemployed due to the pandemic, people now see more of their neighbors, introduce themselves (how many of us in large cities can say we know all of the people living on their block or in their apartment building) and watch out for each other – much like folks did back in the 1950s. We make meals in our Instant Pots to take to neighbors who might have lost jobs, throw together parking lot parties (wearing masks of course) to celebrate the start of a new season, or commiserate outside on properly distanced porches about the possible postponement of professional sport seasons (still holding out for the NFL to start on time.)

Now more than ever, everything old has become new again, as younger generations take pleasure in “new” activities while some of us relive memories of former, less complex times. As the September approaches, it’s time to look up the local drive-in theater features, pop a bunch of corn, throw on the comfy sweats and slippers, and head out for that final taste of a summer from a truly unforgettable year.

But don’t dress too comfy – be sure to visit the concession stand to keep these drive-ins open for many more to experience. Some trends don’t necessarily need to go out-of-style again.

Tracee Larson is an account manager in the Corporate + Public Affairs Practice at Allison+Partners, working with B2B clients across multiple industries and regions. Currently working from home in Portland, Oregon, she’s starting to losing the battle with her cats taking over team calls and video chats.

AUGUST 20, 2020 //     

For Some, Football Is More Than a Game

By: Jacques Couret


Of all the slings and arrows this 
annus horribilis has delivered, the likely cancellation of NFL and NCAA football might sting me the worst. In no way do I argue losing a sport for one season is worse than the pandemic itself, the violence and protests in our cities, or the economic struggles of the day. It’s just that no matter what challenges life and history brought in the past, I could always rely on football as my brief escape from those miseries and concerns. 

Like my fellow native New Orleanians, I grew up Catholic. But the other real passion there on Sundays is Saints football. The Superdome is my cathedral, I worship at the Church of the Holy Pigskin. Starting in 1978, I learned the rituals sitting at the right hand of my father and grandfather.

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To say the Saints stunk back then is a gross understatement. I can’t recall who the Saints played in the first game I saw, but there was something about that shiny gold helmet with the black fleur de lis that just touched something in me and still does. It felt like I always knew those colors and that symbol represented me, my family and the city I love. I loved sitting high up in the terrace and looking at the enormity of the building. I relished sneaking sips of Dixie beer my grandfather offered when my dad got up to go the restroom. I enjoyed playing football with the other kids in the dome’s wide tunnels during halftime. 

The first game I saw at the dome was a loss. I was 5 years old, and I cried in my dad’s Datsun 280Z as he and my grandfather listened to the post-game show on WWL 870-AM radio. My dad occasionally pounded a fist in disgust on the steering wheel during the game recap, and my grandfather turned around, looked at me in the backseat and laughed: “Get used to this, kid!” He was right. In 1980, the team went 1-15, fans began putting paper bags on their heads in the stands and we became “The Ain’ts.” They didn’t improve for years. 

It didn’t matter to me. By then, I was hooked and obsessed like many in the city. The team is as much a part of the city’s rich culture as jazz music, gumbo and partying to legendary excess. It might be the one thing that brings us all together, regardless of race, wealth, gender or any other isms we usually divide ourselves into.  

But when my dad died in 1985, that team became so much more. I began to feel and believe that he was with me in spirit any time I watched a game. Win or lose, I still imagine him cheering or cussing along with me. For three or four hours every Sunday, dad visits and he’s delighted I love the team he loved so much. 

In 1995, I moved to Atlanta – home of the despised archrival Falcons. The sight of red and black and that bird with the cheesy can-opener claw disgusts me like few things in this life. But back then, the internet was still in its infancy and I didn’t yet have the NFL Sunday Ticket. I couldn’t see my team, and I had to call my grandfather in the evening to get a full report. The Saints became my touchstone to home and everything I missed about it. Thanks to satellite TV, I haven’t missed a game since 1998. 

After Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city, the Saints became the rallying point. When the powers that be did the impossible and reopened the dome a year later and the Saints routed the Falcons on Monday Night Football after an inspiring punt block by Steve Gleason, it signaled to us we could achieve anything and bring back our city. Everything was now possible. 

My grandfather died one week before the Saints won their first and only Super Bowl. I talked to him the day he passed. Between sharing serious and lovely things, I admonished him: “Hey, old man! Don’t you go to see Jesus yet! We’ve got a big game this weekend!” I remain convinced  his hand was the divine intervention of the crazy onside kick recovery the Saints executed to take over the game and eventually used to win that glorious championship. I cried tears of joy surrounded by friends in Atlanta. It felt like a lifetime of sticking with a losing proposition finally paid off and that all was right in my world. It felt as if New Orleans was back fully and on the international stage in a positive light.  

Early August is training camp and preseason – a time when my friends and I all truly believe our teams will win it all. Hope springs eternal as the heat of late summer fades into the crisp autumn air.  

This season is supposed to be the last for future Hall of Famer and Saints quarterback Drew Brees. The team is loaded with talent after back-to-back 13-3 seasons that ended in heartbreaking playoff losses aided by poor officiating. This is to be the year the Saints finally get back to the Super Bowl and win to send Brees into retirement with a championship that validates the Saints during his era as one of the best teams of all time. It also happens to be the season my LSU Tigers defend a National Championship after going 15-0 with arguably one of the best college teams of all time. 

I don’t want to know what Saturdays, Sundays and Monday nights in fall look like without football. I’ll miss the anticipation of the weekly matchups. I’ll miss the smack talk among friends and rivals. I’ll miss the beers while glued to the TV feeling like nothing else in the world matters for three or four hours. I will miss seeing my people in Death Valley and the Super Dome. I’ll miss the Purple and Gold and Black and Gold.  

So, I now send up prayers to my dad and grandfather to ask them to put in a good word with the powers that be and ensure we get our beloved games in 2020Just like in the “normal times” that seem like years ago, I want to be in that number when the Saintgo marching in. Who dat! 

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

 

AUGUST 18, 2020 //     

Every Crisis Creates Opportunities, COVID-19’s Impact on Higher Education is No Exception 

By: Scott Pansky + Michael Ares

The abrupt shutdown of college campuses across the country midway through the 2020 spring semester took an unprecedented toll on students, faculty and staff alike. Forced to quickly shift instruction from primarily face-to-face to exclusively online, institutions struggled to deliver an educational experience on par with pre-COVID times. With the broad spectrum of approaches set to roll out this fall – ranging from modified on-campus instruction to completely remote curriculum model – leaders face mounting pressure and high expectations to deliver on the core principles of scholarship, research and professional development. 

Yet, every crisis presents opportunities – opportunities to learn, to pivot, and in some cases to completely overhaul policies, processes and methods. For higher education, these opportunities are particularly promising, offering the potential to remedy issues and inequities that were ripe for change well before the recent impacts of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter movement demands. 

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  • Diversity and Economic Inequality 
The coronavirus pandemic impacted college students unequally along key demographic and racial lines, with those in lower income brackets suffering the most. Whether that was the lack of reliable internet service that denied millions of students access to online instruction, food insecurity issues resulting from the closing of on-campus meal programs, or stay-at-home working mandates that created housing, childcare and a host of other financial challenges, the gap continues to widen. As classes – and in some cases, students – return this fall, colleges have the opportunity to remedy these inequities in access and support, address more diverse sets of needs, and invest in more sustainable initiatives that champion those most affected.  
  • Technology Adoption 

With some exceptions, most colleges were ill-equipped from a technology perspective to easily switch to an online education modelInvestments have since been made in systems, networks, software, curriculum and training for both instructors and students to improve online instruction modelsincluding efforts by colleges still attempting in-person instruction this fall. These investments should continue – and even increase. Online instruction at some level will remain an important delivery model for the foreseeable future, and strong online curriculum can offset fluctuations in on-campus enrollment rates that are increasingly difficult to predict. Investing now will pay off, delaying the inevitable won’t. 

  • Communications 

“Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.” Words to live by in any crisis and particularly applicable to the challenges college communicators face in keeping all stakeholders abreast about circumstances and decisions that change – understandably – daily. Communicating effectively with higher education’s most important target audiences – students, families, faculty, staff, partners and donors – is critical to ensure success in today’s constantly changing landscape. In-person, event-based engagement campaigns are now largely out the window, while social media plays an increasingly important role in reaching key constituents. It is more important than ever to be authentic, responsible and transparent across all delivery and engagement platforms. Those institutions that take a strategic approach to allocating expanded strategic and tactical resources to college communicators and their teams will emerge in a much stronger position than most.  

In the end, recognizing these “lights at the end of the tunnel offers higher education leadership the opportunity to lead at exactly the moment their leadership matters most. 

If you work at a higher ed institution, please feel free to contact Scott atscottp@allisonpr.comor sign up for ourweekly COVID-19 updates. 
 
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. 

Michael Ares, Principle Owner of MDA Corporate Marketing, LLC, is a Higher Education Consultant providing strategic counsel and market positioning communications services for leading institutions, businesses and executives who lead them.

AGENCY NEWS // AUGUST 17, 2020 //     

Leadership Beyond Disruption: The Now Normal

PRWeek

Amid the crisis, stakeholders need information and inspiration, and this puts unprecedented pressure on organizations to be more flexible, agile, innovative and empathetic.

I seem to hear two expressions every day. The first is “Matthew, you’re on Mute.” And the second is “How are you doing?” I suspect I am not alone. 

The first one is easy to answer – a sheepish grin and a mouse click. How are we supposed to answer that second question? Every day seems to have a week’s worth of news, crises and emotions thrust into it. COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, recession, election, back to school, natural disasters…   

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With so much happening at once, you can be forgiven a sense of constant disorientation. We don’t live in the “old normal,” and we’re clearly not in the “new normal.” We live in what I’ve come to call the “Now Normal” – a state of constant change and unpredictability wherein leaders have no prior experience or playbook to draw from to ensure success.

In March, Allison+Partners’ consulting arm, Allison Advisory, developed a framework of strategic approaches and perspectives to guide leaders through the crisis. Our aim was to help our clients craft strategies that wove together communications, marketing and business continuity that would allow their companies to come through this global crisis healthy and more resilient. We based that framework on how experience and logic suggested the disruptive crisis would progress in phases:

  • Shock. The moment the disruption first happens.
  • Orientation. When initial responses are considered, countered and ultimately crafted.
  • Command. The point where you can start taking charge of the situation, being agile to adjust as necessary, given the unpredictability surround us.
  • Recovery. The period when much of the emergency has passed or been contained, but normal operations have not yet returned.
  • Bump. A sudden business surge often resulting from a prolonged period of pent-up demand.
  • Equilibrium. “The new normal.” The sustainable tempo of business post-crisis where organizations must ensure future success and competitive advantage.

With some variation in geography or industry, most of us remain in the Command phase. The timing and nature of recovery remain unclear, and planning beyond month-to-month is little better than guesswork.

With recovery constantly receding before us, clients around the world seek our counsel on surviving, and even thriving, in the Now Normal. And while it seems axiomatic, our first advice is to lead, to be bold, directed and clear in the face of an instinct to drop, hold, wait and watch. Amid the crisis, stakeholders need information and inspiration, and this puts unprecedented pressure on organizations to be more flexible, agile, innovative and empathetic, all while sustaining a rapid tempo of clear communications:

Flexibility – Working from home, flex work schedules, delivery of products or services – programmatic approaches to change should be a thing of the past with priorities focused on pain points inhibiting transformation and future growth opportunities.

Agility – “Agile” is about more than software development. Enterprise agility and working in sprints, frees an organization to focus resources on critical pain points and opportunities, even in the face of constant change.

Innovation – Whether in process or product, managing through the crisis demands thoughtful but constant experimentation with new approaches, digital transformation, analytics and AI, and alliances and partnerships that might have been unthinkable before.

Empathy – Stakeholders are going through emotional gyrations they have never experienced. Leaders need to institute changes to address them. Diversity is no longer just an HR issue. Purpose needs to suffuse the organization, not exist as a marketing ploy. Reskilling and upskilling strategies will deliver to the bottom line. Setting a foundation in empathy is necessary as you manage through this crisis.

Communications – Leaders must be highly visible during this crisis. Transparency, accessibility and an obsession about constant communications are essential. Remember, stakeholders will remember how you acted (communicated) during this disruption. Putting your chief of communications in the C-suite will help ensure you get it right.

When this crisis does end, that end will offer opportunity for those most ready to capture it. After all, the renaissance was born from a pandemic. The key for all of us: success after the crisis will go to those who led most strongly through it. Lead boldly now, and your organization, and more importantly, society, will reap the benefits.

Allison+Partners is closely monitoring developments worldwide. In our weekly newsletter, we share expert perspectives on the pandemic's impact on marketing and communications, best practices in how to respond and useful tools and information to help guide you. Sign up to receive our weekly updates or visit our COVID-19 support page to learn how we can help you during this time.

MATTHEW DELLA CROCE

GLOBAL PRESIDENT, EUROPE + CORPORATE
matthewdc@allisonpr.com

An award-winning PR executive with more than 25 years of experience, Matthew leads the firm’s Corporate practice and oversees the growth and development of our European offices. He has extensive global experience helping businesses and organizations across industries grow and evolve.

Matthew's expertise includes reputation management, corporate brand positioning, thought leadership and executive visibility, change management, B2B marketing, social impact, C-suite counsel, crisis and issues management, integrated communications, influencer engagement, business and financial media and transaction communications.

He is a regular speaker at the Public Relations Society of America's annual conference, in IR Magazine workshops, and has served as a guest lecturer at New York University, Manhattanville College, Salem State University and in Columbia University's Strategic Communications graduate program. Matthew graduated with honors from Manhattanville College, where he was an All-American Scholar Athlete, and attended St. Catherine’s University, Oxford. He lives in Boston and spends as much time as he can in Vermont with his wife and daughters.

AUGUST 13, 2020 //     

Want to Do More Than Vote in the 2020? Get Out and Volunteer!

By: Kay Brungs Laud

The 2020 election is less than three months away, and COVID-19 pandemic and social justice movement continue to grip most of the nation. Many questions remain: How will governments and political organizations best support voters, how will election day look and will votes be cast in person or by mail? 

It might seem like one person can’t make a big impact when faced with so much uncertainty, but there are several ways you can get involved to make a difference. However, when you start investigating ways to volunteer, it can often feel even more confusing and challenging as you try to find the right fit. Before you commit to anything, self-evaluate to assess your goals, your comfort level and what you hope to achieve through volunteering. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

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  • How much time can I commit?
  • What are the goals I hope to achieve by volunteering?
  • Do I feel comfortable volunteering in person, or would I prefer to help virtually?
  • Is there a candidate or a specific ballot issue I’m most passionate about?
  • Do I care more about local, state or federal candidates?
  • Am I comfortable talking to potential voters?
  • Am I willing to travel out of my city or state?
  • Would I prefer to support a political party or nonpartisan organizations?

Thinking through and answering these questions should help narrow down the work you’ll be most passionate about supporting. Then, consider the following ways to get involved in this year’s election.

Support Voter Access

As discussed in my last blog, “Feeling Overwhelmed by The Enormity of How to Impact Real Change?,” the ability to cast a ballot is a remarkable privilege and one we must protect to ensure others have access to voting. We need to help expand access and information for people to cast their ballots. One of the ways you can help is by making calls to your governorsecretary of state or the state Board of Elections. Ask them two critical questions:

  1. Is an absentee ballot available so I can vote safely during the public health crisis?
  2. What have they done to ensure safe and broadly accessible elections for all?

Tell these officials you are a constituent and concerned the upcoming elections won’t be conducted in a way that allows all voters to participate. On a federal level, you can call your senator to voice your opinion about the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019. The bill passed the House of Representatives and is now in the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

Work the Polls

If you are comfortable volunteering in person and communicating with voters, consider signing up to be a poll worker. Election workers are essential to ensure our elections are successful, and concerns grow about poll worker shortages this year, as TIME recently reported. Many cities and states need volunteers, especially younger people to volunteer as poll workers for in-person early voting and election day. If you are interested in becoming an election worker at the polls, you can learn more about the requirements through the U.S. Election Assistance Committee. Its website details eligibility requirements and offers tips on how to work with your local election official to get involved.

Register Voters

Is one of your objectives to help get more people vote in November? If so, look for an organization that can set you up with the tools to register family, friends, neighbors and strangers to vote. There are lots of groups to choose from, such as HeadCount, League of Women Voters, When We All Vote or Vote Latino. You can also make sure your friends or family who live abroad or serve in the military overseas are registered to vote and receive an absentee ballot. The U.S. Vote Foundation can help provide all the information they need.

Canvass for a Candidate or an Issue

Are you passionate about a certain candidate or ballot issue and social distancing has you looking for new ways of connecting with people? Then think about reaching out to a candidate’s or a ballot issue’s campaign office to find out how to get involved. Campaigns rely on volunteers and need people to help with their Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts. GOTV activities can range for helping register voters to making calls, to answering questions about the candidate or ballot issue, to making sure people know when, where and how to vote, to putting up signs, to helping with fundraising, and even making meals for the staff and team of volunteers.

There are many other ways you can get involved and support this year’s elections. However, if you don’t have the time or interest to volunteer, please make sure you are registered to vote, have researched the candidates and the issues, and cast your ballot on or before Tuesday, Nov. 3!

Kay Brungs Laud is a senior vice president and works out of Allison+Partners’ Chicago office. Prior to her career in public relations, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she spent several years working on the Hill and was part of two presidential campaigns. She graduated from American University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

AUGUST 12, 2020 //     

Employee Insight Should Inform Employee Communications: Three Things to Consider When Communicating Return-to-Work Plans

By: Brooke Fevrier and Todd Sommers

Like most of my colleagues, I frequently worked remotely – in client conference rooms, airport restaurants, hotel lobbies, the middle seat – but spent most of my time in an Allison+Partners office. As the COVID-19 pandemic transformed A+P into a remote work instant adopter, the senior leadership team saw a need to understand the newfound challenges our roughly 500 global team members faced. To capture these insights, our in-house Research team began fielding short and frequent “pulse surveys” from early March through the beginning of June. They then shared aggregated results and findings with leadership to inform the agency’s approach to remote work policies and communications.

This wasn’t a tool we had available when I worked in-house, and I wanted to see what the Research team learned about this process that could be applied to other companies’ future employee communications. The following are excerpts of a Q&A with A+P Research Analyst Brooke Fevrier, who led the pulse survey process.

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Q. To set the stage, can you share the kinds of questions the Research team asked A+P’ers in our pulse surveys?
 
A. Our main priority was to keep the pulse surveys quick and easy for team members, while digging into the potential emotional factors the pandemic played in their day-to-day workflow. We asked employees to simply tell us how they felt that day, with answer options ranging from extra stormy, a little rainy, mild, partly sunny and finally all sunshine. We asked what communication channels and frequency would be most effective, and about their pre-pandemic life to better understand the level of disruption teams faced. For instance, did they normally work from home, always work in an office or, for some APAC employees, already start returning to the office?
 
Q. And to be clear, these frequent employee check-ins weren’t something we did as a company before the March lockdown. This was a unique challenge with everyone suddenly working from home, and the Research team was tapped to help. What kinds of questions were most useful – asking how people felt, how their lives had changed or open-ended questions?
 
A. That’s right, we didn’t conduct employee pulse surveys prior to March. The A+P Research team is usually focused on developing consumer and B2B surveys to uncover strategic insights for our clients and ensure the agency remains a thought leader. But as Cathy Planchard noted in her recent post on “The Economics of Employee Engagement,” we realized quickly that capturing employee feedback could be a powerful tool to surface insights.
 
The most useful questions were really a combination of all of them, as the data allows us to understand how each question response plays into employees’ likelihood to then respond a particular way to the remaining survey questions. So, how did daily emotions correlate with the positive or negative sentiment expressed in employees’ open-ended feedback? Was the way they felt that day due to overall pandemic anxieties, or was it something our senior leadership could help address? That’s where the data’s strategic value really came through – providing actionable insights that could help improve employees’ work life and ultimately strengthen the agency’s culture.
 
Q. Can you share how the data was used to inform A+P policies? Did this have an impact on internal communications?
 
A. Feedback from these surveys informed a number of our internal initiatives and communications, including weekly CEO updates, short videos from partners, monthly company calls and other one-off communications. We created an internal communications channel to share news, WFH life updates, best practices and lists of cancelled events. By providing company leadership with a multilayered sense of how people were doing across 30 offices, they were able to make data-driven and, importantly, employee-centric decisions. The surveys also gave a clear picture of employees’ comfort levels with returning to the office, which will now be completely voluntary when offices reopen based on employee responses.
 
Q. The range of topics covered changed dramatically over time from March and April shutdowns to the partial reopening of some regions, the Black Lives Matter movement and now the realization this new reality might last for all of 2020. Not every organization has a pulse survey program in place to inform communications. For those organizations, are there any insights you can share from our program that might better inform their future employee communications? 

A. Three areas stand out to me that apply to other organizations. 
First, we noticed was the volume of internal communications increased dramatically in mid-to-late March, and it was just too much information for teams to digest. For companies that plan to adopt new safety procedures, begin bringing people back to the office or introduce new policies, it’s invaluable to understand the channel, timing and frequency needed to ensure employees at all levels understand internal messaging or changes being implemented.

The second challenge will be the lack of a shared experience. Every market is different. New York in April was very different than New York today. Working moms with toddlers at home have a completely different experience than recent college graduates living alone. Many parents did their best to balance homeschooling and conference calls, but it was a major adjustment. You really need to think about the human experience, not just the corporate need to communicate.

Third, feelings about personal safety have also shifted throughout the process, and undoubtedly will continue to do so. Flexibility is a must – companies should be prepared to modify policies at a local level as conditions and overall sentiment change, keeping both employers and employees’ needs at top of mind. 

Our biggest takeaway is that giving employees the opportunity to provide feedback and letting their voices be heard – whether in a pulse survey format or otherwise – has a tremendous ripple effect that results in more engaged employees and, in turn, better client service.

If you’re interested in learning more about how our research team can help you during this time, email us at research@allisonpr.com.

Brooke is a content analyst on the Allison+Partners Research + Insights team, specializing in turning quantitative data patterns into strategic insights and effective communication tactics for clients across all industries.

Todd Sommers is a senior 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.

AUGUST 11, 2020 //     

Creating a Successful Foundation for an Analyst Relations Program

By: Ali Donzanti

“We have an announcement coming up, and we need to make sure we pitch the analysts too.”

It wouldn’t be the first time a client has made such a request. But lumping in analyst relations (AR) with media relations is a common, and unfortunate, mistake.

While AR and PR programs both often fall under the “Communications” umbrella, they provide different strategic value to an organization. This means that each program’s development must also be approached differently. AR can make a huge impact if executed correctly – it can make or break business deals, is often the behind-the-scenes brains of many products and solutions and has the power to morph an industry’s direction.

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Kicking off an AR Program

Industry analysts (not to be confused with financial analysts) conduct market research to understand emerging business trends, company offerings, customer pain points and demands. It’s their job to understand as much as possible about their chosen market.

Analysts take on a daunting task and conduct their research in various ways. Their days are broken up between speaking with clients who ask for solution recommendations and/or discussing their pain points, speaking with vendors to understand upcoming solutions and researching content. They frequently conduct research surveys to develop research reports and sometimes test the efficacy of solutions.

You’ve probably heard of Gartner Magic Quadrants and Forrester Waves. These analysts reports compare the strengths and weaknesses of a particular solution within a specific market based upon vendor’s demonstrated vision and ability to execute. What many don’t know is these comprehensive reports take months to research and develop, and long-term relationship building between analyst and vendor is an essential element.

To build a successful AR program, we need to dive deeper into the analysts, content and timing.

Find Your Key Analysts

It’s crucial to find the right analysts who not only cover your space but also have influence in your industry. Many of the big firms, such as Gartner, Forrester and IDC, often carry weight based on reputation. But depending on the industry, a specialized smaller boutique firm might have more influence in your market and ultimately speak directly with the customers you’re trying to reach.

Present the Right Content

This is where we often find confusion between targeting analysts and reporters. The key here is to remember analysts want fact-based information on an ongoing basis, while reporters want news-driven and timely content. Analysts want the details on new solutions – what are its inner workings, how’s it implemented and what’s the adoption rate? 

Decide on Presentation Format

Depending on what you share with an analyst, you should consider different formats, including presenting the information in a briefing (information flows from vendor to analyst) or in an Analyst Flash (similar to a press release but removes “fluffy marketing” content). If you have a subscription to an analyst firm and you ask questions for analyst feedback and insights, this can be in the form of an inquiry (information flows analyst to vendor).

Select Your Spokespeople

You’ll need to have a subject matter expert (SME) who can talk about the details and orchestration behind a solution and can comfortably answer the question, “Why are you doing this?” And this might not be the same people you use for media interviews. This is the perfect opportunity for your SMEs to start building relationships with your key market influencers. One option is to have designated “pairings” of analysts and SMEs to ensure you develop relationships that can be fostered.

Timing is Everything

This is another area where we see confusion between PR and AR. But here’s the difference – reporters receive the final product, while analysts, if consulted correctly, can help shape that final product. Organizations that understand the value of analysis insights involve them in early stages of solution development, frequently produce robust solutions and are in strong positions to be included in key research that (prospective) clients consult before making buying decisions.

Building and establishing a strong AR program takes time and, as suspected, a lot of research. These are the basics to start understanding how to approach an AR program. Stay tuned for upcoming blogs that dive into how to leverage AR within other parts of your business and how to understand the true value appropriately executed AR can bring to an organization.  

If you’d like to learn more about our analyst relations capabilities, get in touch at ali.donzanti@allisonpr.com.

Ali Donzanti is an Account Director in the Corporate + Public Affairs Practice at Allison+Partners. She focuses on external communications for a number of global B2B accounts across a wide variety of industries including emerging tech, cybersecurity, healthcare and more. 

 

AGENCY NEWS // AUGUST 7, 2020 //     

How Brands Are Navigating the Uncertainty of Back-to-School This Year

The StreetAmid the pandemic, with the uncertainty of what school will look like in the fall, the once-reliable shopping season has been upended.

For decades, the back-to-school shopping season has been a dependable boon for brands -- second only to the holiday season -- as kids and parents seek out new outfits and supplies for the classroom. In 2019, back-to-school saw approximately $80 billion in sales.

But amid the pandemic, with the uncertainty of what school will look like in the fall, the once-reliable shopping season has been upended, leaving brands and retailers -- not to mention families -- in the lurch.

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AUGUST 6, 2020 //     

Rapid Iteration of Brand: Using a Fast Insights Framework to Remain Essential in a Time of Transformation

By: Paul Sears

Modern life had already transformed the idea of brand. As the pace of change continued to accelerate, consumers became more and more fragmented and storytelling moved further outside the brand’s control. The beachhead of brand loyalty washed into a sea of choice and immediacy. Gone were the days where product and service defined the brand – experience, purpose and social responsibility were the new currency. 

And then COVID-19 happened. We thought we might briefly cocoon in spring and quickly reemerge to a flat curve and a near-normal life. Yet here we are in the heat of summer, still at home, still social distancing and still unsure what back to school will look like for the upcoming school year.  We’ve taken to calling it the “now normal” since it’s clearly here to stay.   

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As the world copes with unprecedented change, brands must prove they are essential if they are to survive. That means being even more dynamic – bringing the future roadmap into the present, innovating product and service delivery, streamlining operations, and inventing new business models.  That means finding faster pathways to customer insights, to stay two steps ahead of emerging customer needs. Throughout these transformations, a brand must also remain true to its core, reaffirming why its customers view it as essential in the first place.

The need to be dynamic creates tension between truth and trajectory. A brand that honors its core truth reinforces its customers’ trust and loyalty. Yet every new product, every new acquisition and every new executive hire hurtle the brand forward along its trajectory. Unchecked, these moves have enough kinetic energy to shift the brand off its center of gravity.

To keep pace with transformation, we must speed up the process of slowing down. To guide effective innovation, brand leaders must pause and answer the fundamental questions – why will customers give us permission to enter this new market and how will we serve customers consistent with our values.  Brand leaders need a finger on the pulse of evolving customer behavior in order to rapidly respond with effective new strategies.  Yet they must also take time to vet those new trajectories through the truth of the brand.  A fast insights framework is needed to speed up the process of reconciling trajectory with truth.

A fast insights framework enables brand leaders to quickly analyze emerging customer trends using real-time data, while also providing clear criteria for brand governance around new innovations. Through AI and automation, customer interviews and ethnographic studies can be analyzed in minutes. Online discussion boards capture customer needs and preferences in near real time. Millions of digital conversations can be parsed to show motivations and barriers along the buying journey.  And a wealth of secondary sources provide macro-trends from ongoing studies.  A modern data toolkit must be at the ready, along with a smart strategy team to interpret the signals into actionable insights.  

Once empowered with insights, brand leaders must then address the fundamental questions that make an innovation effective. Having an established process to quickly align the organization around the why and the how are key.  It’s easy to chase a flashy new initiative, but it’s much more costly to walk it back. And if COVID-19 has taught us anything, what the market needs today will probably change tomorrow. Using a fast insights framework, the brand can quickly assess emerging customer needs, iterate new expressions of the brand, and align trajectory and truth to ensure long-term success.

As we all wait for a treatment or vaccine, a chorus of analysts, journalists and brand leaders chant “there’s no going back.” Many new consumer behaviors created during COVID-19 are here to stay for the long haul. The pandemic will leave its mark upon the world, making it more important than ever for brands to be dynamic – with a fast insights framework that helps them stay essential and stay alive.

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.    

 

JULY 23, 2020 //     

Confronting Racism in Our Homes and in Our Headlines

By: Jessica Peraza

I grew up in a border town that’s 95% Latino, and I’m still trying to figure out if that was a blessing or a curse. 

Ignorance is bliss, but obliviousness is reckless. Fortunately, the Black Lives Matter movement has ignited household dinner-table conversations about racism across America. Last month, I spent an hour on the phone with my grandma talking about racial injustice – a sharp contrast from our usual conversations centered around relatives and sewing projects.

These conversations are crucial, even if uncomfortable at times, to confront racism within our own communities and homes. 

While I don’t normally consume my news in Spanish (hello, biculturalism!), that’s not the case for millions of Latinos, including my grandparents. In fact, Univision Network reaches an average of 5 million Hispanic adult viewers (ages 18-49) per week, out-delivering its English-language broadcast competition by 34%. However, both Univision and its leading competitor, Telemundo, have been called out in recent weeks for perpetuating racial bias in their coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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In June, national political advocacy group Mijente launched a petition urging the two major networks to shift their news programming to allow Spanish-speaking Latinos to better understand anti-Black racism. The group said in a statement that the two networks have “contributed to the Latino community’s skewed and incomplete understanding of the current crisis.”

Unfortunately, an anti-Black narrative has long existed within the Latino community, mainly in the form of microaggressions. Colorism exists among Latinos, and those with fair skin are frequently viewed as “ideal.” And while many national outlets diligently reported the news from the protest scenes across the country, some scrutinized Telemundo and Univision for sensationalizing the relatively smaller percentage of violence and looting that occurred at the same time as the protests, rather than focusing on the majority of peaceful protests and the central message of the movement. Many people also took to Twitter to express their frustrations, urging changes toward unbiased reporting and more inclusive newsrooms. 

Spanish-language news anchor Jorge Ramos recently wrote about the lack of representation of Afro-Latinos in today’s media landscape in The New York Times. He noted that while Afro-Latinos account for 25% of the overall U.S. Latino population, they’re less likely to have a college education and more likely to have lower family incomes. Afro-Latinos often struggle with navigating racist comments from those within their own communities, based not on their culture, but on their skin color or hair texture. 

Neither Univision nor Telemundo have publicly responded to the online petition, which nearly 14,000 people have signed. However, both have continued to cover the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Whether their news coverage was purposely biased or implicitly racist, this moment has inspired many of us to reflect on the type of news we consume and how it might skew our actions. I believe in the positive power of journalism – after all, my job depends on it! And I hope younger generations of Latinos continue to hold news outlets accountable, because there’s no place for racism in our world, let alone our newsrooms.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with community and media relations strategies, get in touch at jessica.peraza@allisonpr.com

Jessica Peraza is an account director at Allison+Partners in the Phoenix office. She focuses on community and media relations strategies for consumer clients and specializes in reaching Latino audiences. 

JULY 22, 2020 //     

The Importance of Informational Interviews

By: Jules Smith

In this current uncertain climate, recruitment has become increasingly difficult for both the candidate and employer. But at Allison+Partners, we decided this would not stop our recruiting efforts.  

While we knew the COVID-19 pandemic would be challenging, we also knew it did not eliminate the ability or the need to conduct informational interviews. Therefore, we decided to continue scheduling informational interviews with candidates and move forward with active outreach.  

Some steps I have taken during this time to keep connected include posting on LinkedIn and reaching out to my network, partnering with various organizations, connecting with graduates and alumni at local universities, and speaking with employee referrals.  

I have always suggested informational interviews with candidates, because you never know what might come out of it. I have hired many candidates over the years after keeping in touch with them even when I had no specific job opportunity to offer. It can be beneficial at any stage of the job search, as you can gain new and exciting insights into an industry you never explored and simultaneously grow your professional network. 

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Informational interviews are also beneficial for the employer. At Allison+Partners, we knew we wanted to be proactive and develop our candidate pool to maximize the potential of a new position at our agency. 

Some helpful hints for candidates planning informational interviews: 

  • Identify potential prospects to reach out to and prepare ahead of time. Research the company, industry and interviewer prior to your meeting. 
  • Be sure to test your video or digital platform before your call.  
  • Feel confident and prepare a summary of who you are and questions prior to the call. Mentally organize the call so you have an introduction and closing, but also be ready to pivot at any time during the conversation. 
  • Follow up after the interview. Touch base with the person you met with by writing a follow-up note. You could also connect on LinkedIn, follow on Twitter and subscribe to the interviewer’s blog. 

The need to recruit talent and hire the best fit for our company remains critical, especially in a time of great change. It is an ideal time to explore different avenues to source diverse talent with varied backgrounds and from different industries. Now is the time to build deeper connections, prioritize diversity and inclusion, and navigate the market for top-tier talent. 

If you or someone you know would like to schedule an informational interview, please reach out to jules@allisonpr.com. I schedule calls weekly and will coordinate a time to connect.

If you'd like to sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates, click here. 

Jules Smith is the Vice President, Talent at Allison+Partners based in the New York City office. 

AGENCY NEWS // JULY 21, 2020 //     

B2B Brand Storytelling in the Age of COVID-19: Firms Lacking ‘Human Touch’

Netimperative

The majority of B2B companies have not conducted primary research focused on their customers’ needs and challenges in the last 12 months, as the sector struggles to humanise their communications in an era of brand storytelling, according to new research.

A new report by global marketing and communications agency, Allison+Partners reveals that whilst B2B marketers wish to evolve their brand strategy in favour of more human connection and conversations to engage with their audiences, they struggle to put this into practice.

As empathy, trust and care become increasingly vital brand currencies, particularly during these uncertain times, more B2B brands will look to follow suit and talk more
“human”. Businesses that are able to adapt quickly and execute against timely events are the ones that survive and thrive. The survey, which included input from 400 marketing directors in the UK and Germany, found that:

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JULY 16, 2020 //     

Physically Distant, Emotionally Together: How Technology Helps Us Maintain Relationships Through a Pandemic

By: AnnMargaret Haines 

Before COVID-19 became a pandemic and states across the U.S. began to shut down, it was incredibly rare for someone in my family group chat of 10 to simply send a text – and connecting on a group video call was unheard of. But once the reality of the pandemic set inour family decided we needed to check in on each otherespecially because my dad and sister have health conditions that put them in the “at-risk” category). So, my mom sent us a Zoom calendar invite for one Sunday afternoon.  

And it was a smash hit. 

Between the 100% attendance rate, abundance of dogs and guest appearance of my nephew in his dinosaur costumewe knew this needed to happen regularly. We immediately changed the calendar invite to a weekly occurrenceand now I feel closer to my family than I have in a long time. I’ve lived on the opposite side of the country from my family for the past five years, so it feels silly it took this long for me to understand the importance of video calls. But I know I’m not alone in this COVID-19 epiphany. 

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As professional communicators, we understand the importance of consistent, clear communication to foster and maintain strong relationships with our clients, the media and colleagues. So why doesn’t that always transfer to our personal lives?  

It feels challenging to keep in touch with friends and loved ones who aren’t in close proximity. But it isn’t. We live in the 21st century, and we have technology at our fingertips to connect with anyone anywhere in the world at any time. So why did it take a pandemic for my family to realize the value of technology to help us stay in touch? 

Besides using Zoom to connect with friends and family, people have found new and creative ways to use their talents to help people come together and stay entertained during this challenging time. My brother-in-law BJthe former head chef at a Michelin star restaurant in Washington, D.C. who now works on opening his own restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, took to Instagram to help his friends and family eat well during quarantine. He started hosting Instagram live cooking classes every Sunday so people could follow along and cook delicious food together – from biscuits with miso honey butter to the perfect fast-food burger. It was such a success, a Columbus paper wrote about his classes and invited more people to attend. Not only has he helped maintain togetherness during quarantine, he’s simultaneously bettered his career by earning free PR and keeping his chef skills sharp.  

It’s incredible to see the new and creative ways individuals and brands have taken advantage of technology and their extra free time to showcase their strengths and bring people together. From dance challenges on TikTok, to virtual events and webinars, there’s so many ways for us to connect with each other virtuallyWhile many are without jobs or traveling to work sites amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of us have technology to thank for helping us stay employed during this time.  

Before Marchmany of us took technology for grantedIt’s important to remember how lucky we are to live in time when we can stay in touch with each other no matter the distance, even during a global pandemic. Even just 3years ago, it would have been a different story.  

We need to continue to harness the power of technology to lessen the negative effects of quarantine so we can continue to stay home, stay safe and combat the spread of COVID-19. 

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

If you'd like to sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates, click here. 

AnnMargaret Haines is an assistant account executive based in the Phoenix office. She specializes in writing and media relations for a variety of clients in industries spanning healthcare, education, nonprofit and consumer technology.

JULY 16, 2020 //     

The Secrets Behind Eight Consecutive Wins

Allison+Partners (A+P) China team recently won a series of eight major pitches, a particularly impressive feat under the pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic. Managing Director & Partner of A+P in China Jerry Zhu shares the secrets behind their eight-pitch winning streak.

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Editor: Congratulations on your eight -pitch winning streak! 

Jerry: Thank you. Actually, there is no better way to start the year with so many wins, especially in the face of the pandemic. I am very grateful for the trust our clients have shown in us and the extraordinary effort our teams put in to achieving this. This also proves that A+P has won a seat at the table with the best-in-class and has gained considerable recognition in China.

The clients we won cover a wide range of industries, from B2B to high tech, from agriculture to real estate, from luxury and consumer goods to finance companies, which demonstrates the depth and scope of our service. We also have a good balance between multinational companies to local listed ones.     

The success A+P has achieved in China is a good reflection of our success worldwide. Over the past few years, A+P has grown from a medium-sized PR company to a large, multidisciplinary integrated marketing agency. We have just been named one of only seven “Best PR Companies of the Decade” by industry trade outlet PRovoke, and according to the agency’s rating score, we are also one of the only two PR companies to receive a score of 10/10 score by the same organization for 2020. This year we were also named the “Best Place to Work” among all the large agencies. All of this is thanks to the efforts of all A+Per’s globally.

Editor: In today’s ever-changing PR environment, how do you think we can best get to grips with client needs? 

Jerry: As an agency, you must put yourself in the clients’ shoes and consider their points of view.

There are four main reasons why a client turns to an agency – the need for strategic consulting, looking for fresh ideas, utilizing the agency’ expertise, and seeking unique resources.

Some client’s inhouse team are also veterans in communication, and they may also have a good sense of PR and developed great PR strategies for their companies. However, an agency’s strength lies in its rich professional experiences across several industries and disciplines, and it is an inspiring reference for client to cross check if their strategy is on the right track, or taken all factors into consideration. This is particularly true when it comes to crisis and issue management or government relations.

When there is a difference of opinion between you and your client, you need to have a certain level of flexibility, as there can be aspects that you don’t see as an outside consultant. But this does not mean blindly following the client’s direction, and you shouldn’t immediately concede for the sake of easy business cooperation. Only by having a professional opinion can you show the client the true value of your agency. 

There are also clients that are counting on an agency for fresh ideas. With many years of experience with different clients, the agency is at the forefront of newest and most compelling communication ideas. Therefore, clients can get a better marketing plan and more effective solutions than they can devise on their own.

The third type of client is seeking an agency’s expertise. Even though some clients may have their own ideas for how to meet individual communication needs, they may be unsure of how effective a certain method is or whether their desired results can be reached in this way, so they look to draw from an agency’s experience to answer these questions.       

These cases include creative consumer campaigns, social media viral marketing, design of sophisticated H5 functions or WeChat mini programs, or large-scale offline events. For example, we have met quite a few clients who want to tap our experience in the China International Import Expo (CIIE) as they may participate for the first time and want to avoid possible pitfalls in order to maximize the efficacy of their communications.     

The last kind of clients is seeking resources necessary to effectively implement a plan. To meet this kind of client demand, the agency needs foster relationships with influential organizations and industry insiders, such as associations, key opinion leaders (KOLs), and partners, a network they have often accumulated through previous client work.       

Only when your agency’s capabilities match client demands, can the collaboration be long lasting and mutually beneficial.

Editor: Since clients have a diverse set of requirements, what do you do if your agency’s ability doesn’t match their needs?

Jerry: In the current environment, there is no company that has absolute superiority and is able to take on all cases. An agency mainly aims to combine its direction, staff, and previous experience to build a team that is able to meet market demand and make itself competitive. Therefore, it is only natural that sometimes your experience does not meet some clients’ demands. When this is the case, the most important thing is to build trust. From the time when you first become acquainted with a client, they may provide you with opportunities to build a professional relationship over the period of a year or even a decade.  

When you are awarded with the contract, the client is not only giving you their trust, but also putting their name to your corporate reputation and future. It’s therefore ill-advised to go after a project and break that trust just for the sake of a service fee.    

If you find yourself in this kind of situation, you should politely explain to the client why you may not be a good fit for this project and excuse yourself from the pitch. If possible, you can even introduce the client to another agency that is better able to meet their needs. 

Editor: We, of course, don’t live in a perfect world, and we often hear about fake bids, accompanying bids, and under-the-table deals, how would you judge whether or not you can meet a client’s demands when you receive a request?

Jerry: The first step is to be honest in your own abilities when you receive an RFP. You need to judge whether your capabilities match the client’s needs, but it’s also very important to pay attention to the RFP itself to avoid losing sight of what the requirements are.   

By communicating with the client, you can quickly work out the authenticity and feasibility of the RFP. You can refuse an RFP if the client cannot provide a budget range, a written RFP or a Q&A section, or in the case that they invite six or more agencies for submit the proposal, limit the presentation time to 30 minutes, or have 10 departments that jointly evaluate the bids.

That said, once you decide to accept an RFP, you must be “all-in” to develop the proposal.

Building trust with the client starts at RFP process. At this point, you need to have full confidence in your capabilities and authentication of the RFP. If you have reservations, you won’t be able to provide a convincing, highly-quality plan. Clients will be able to sense it, and when they see a low-quality plan, they will question your agency’s capability and quickly close the door for any future cooperation. It is similar to dating. When you first start seeing someone, you need to be serious about it. You need to go into the relationship with confidence.     

Different clients have their own ways of handling the bidding process. Some clients may give you complete freedom and only want to see the final plan. Other clients may want to follow up with you at every step of the way and ask if you have any questions or issues, wanting to make sure the plan does not deviate from the direction they expect.

Whatever the case may be, as an agency, you should start building a relationship of trust from the very beginning by proactively following up and responding to the client’s queries. Some clients may even make their final decision based on how serious, engaged, and professional an agency behaves in the early stages of interaction.  

The third step is to put together your client’s dream team. 

During the bidding process, you should put together a team whose capabilities are best able to meet the client’s demands. Some agencies focus solely on their internal conditions and requirements. For instance, they may mainly consider which team needs more business or which team has the bandwidth to cover the new work. However, the company should have a flexible mechanism so that the best people for the job can be invited and teamed together to offer the best value for the client.     

This is a great advantage of A+P: we have a flexible mechanism and culture. Allison+Partners has one P&L, which allows us to put the best people on client business no matter which team they belong and which city they are based.              

Finally, you need to understand the clients’ requirements.      

PR and communications are ultimately there to serve the client’s business. You need to be aware of what challenges the clients encounter in their work, how they would like PR to help deal with these challenges, what obstacles they are facing, and what type of communications the company tends towards. You need to be empathic and be able to put yourself in their shoes, and be aware of their concerns; only then can you become the agency that best understands the client. 

To sum it up, whatever the type of client, their reasoning for choosing an agency doesn’t change. They are looking for an agency that understands their industry, provides creativity, has the experience and resources to deliver results, and has a profound passion for the work and an interest in their business. We won this series of pitches because we best met these requirements.

Editor: Thank you for sharing your insight with us. I wish you all the best for the future of Allison+Partners.

Jerry: Thank you.

Jerry Zhu is the Managing Director & Partner of A+P in China.

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