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JULY 8, 2020 //     

What Should My Brand Post on Social? Advice for Crisis Comms and Beyond

By: Cameron Davis-Bean  

First, take a moment today to thank your social media managers  

The past three months have kept them in constant crisis communications mode. They’ve fielded questions and criticisms about your brand they likely never anticipated, and the content strategies they spent hours carefully crafting have been entirely disrupted. On top of any personal stress they might feel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the horrifying deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of police, their eyes remain glued to your feeds. They immerse themselves in a nearly constant swirl of anxiety and outrage, because that’s their job. 

It’s OK to push pause while you refine your strategy 

There is no playbook for social media during a pandemic, and it may be uncomfortable for a brand to address issues like racism, inequality and injustice. In many cases, brands have smartly chosen to temporarily stop posting on social media while they determine the most helpful role they can play. 

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I recommend this approach for a few reasonsIt shows your brand understands that in times of national crisis, people don’t want to hear your marketing pitch. Ialso gives you a chance to examine any content you created before the crisis, and ensure it’s reflective of the helpful, supportive role your brand can take in times of cultural challenge and changeOnce COVID-19 sparked shelter-in-place orders across the country, any content mentioning travel, going out, gathering in large groups or any other activities outside the home became temporarily useless. Furthermore, taking a pause allows you to listen to your audience to better understand what they need from you in that moment. 

Pivoting your social strategy for the new normal 

As we move from crisis communications to a “new normal,” you might struggle with how to adjust your social content strategy to the new reality. That’s OK, and we can help. By following the framework below and revisiting it often, you can plan social content that will drive results for your business while staying sensitive to current events. 

1. Identify and understand your audience 

  • Which audience are you trying to reach? Be specific and develop audience personas if you don’t have them already. Are you targeting new prospects or current customers? What are their demographics?  
  • What does your audience care about right now? What are they posting on their own feeds or in the comment sections of your posts (or your competitors’ posts)? What problem do they have, and how can you help solve them? Social listening insights are key here. 
2. Determine why you’re talking to them 
  • What action do you want your audience to take after seeing your contentDifferent goals will require different messages and content types. Being specific here will help you understand what content you need to create. 
  • Too often brands start with content creation before thinking strategically about why the content is needed.   
3. Choose where you will reach them 
  • Social media is not a monolith, and different audiences gravitate toward different platforms. In simple terms and generally speaking, reaching Gen Z on Facebook is much more difficult than on TikTok, and LinkedIn is a more natural home for B2B content than Instagram.
  • Content requirements also differ by platform, so it’s important to identify your channels at this point in the process. 
4. Create the content 
  • With the preparation work from the previous stages done, you should now have a strong understanding of what kind of message will resonate with your audience and where you should reach them. With that in hand, you can enter the content creation phase with confidence. 
  • Remember not all content has to come from the brand. Sharing user-generated content (with the proper permissions) is an excellent way to show other potential customers what a great product you have while also building pride among your existing customers. Reward your most passionate advocates by amplifying their voices. 
5. Measure the results 
  • After sharing your content, it’s essential to measure how it performed. Examine your engagement rates, link clicks, reach and impressions. Track and measure these at least monthly to understand how your content performed over time and what types of content perform best. 
  • In addition to the quantitative data, be sure to factor the qualitative feedback you receive into this process. Look at the sentiment of the comments you receive – not simply the volume – to ensure your content resonated positively. 

Learnadapt and repeat 

Change is the only constant in social media. By repeating this cycle on a regular basis, you can continue to improve your content with the learnings you generate. Each time you sit down to create new content, do a quick check-in on steps 1-3 above and consider whether you’ve learned anything new that can better inform what you create next. Measure your efforts on a regular basis, and don’t be afraid to make a change when you see something doesn’t work. By leading with listening and consistently crafting content with your audience in mind, you’ll find success over time.  

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

Cameron Davis-Bean leads campaign development and execution for integrated marketing programs as an Account Manager at Allison+Partners. He works to find the perfect blend of earned, owned, paid and shared media to drive business results for clients. 

JUNE 29, 2020 //     

Pride is More Than a Month: Supporting the LGBTQ+ Community all Year

By Andrew Rogers

If you follow any brands on social media, it’s highly likely you’ve noticed them change their logo to one incorporating the rainbow flag. You might have also seen rainbow flags flying outside of government buildings and businesses’ head offices. All of this is to mark Pride month which takes place in June each year to advocate for rights and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community.

Although cities globally hold their Pride events at different points in the year, many fall within June so they line up with the anniversary of the start of the Stonewall Riots in New York, which lasted from June 28th until July 3rd. Stonewall is largely credited as the birth of the modern day Pride movement. What started as riots against police brutality in New York (led mainly by black trans members of the community) would evolve into marches around the world demanding acceptance, visibility and legal protections for LGBTQ+ folks.

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This year will be different due to COVID-19. Most Pride marches have been called off to prevent further spread of the disease, and while there are plenty of fantastic events taking place online, the absence of Pride as a physical presence this year is very strange indeed. It’s a big loss for the community, particularly at a time when lockdowns have hit LGBTQ+ people particularly hard.

Why Pride still matters today

The biggest misconception people outside (and inside) the LGBTQ+ community have about Pride is that it’s a big party. It’s easy to see why. These days many marches feel more like a carnival than a protest. However this ignores the true history and purpose of Pride. Pride started as a riot and has always existed to protest and push for progress and change (and yes, to celebrate the progress we’ve made).

Pride matters today because the LGBTQ+ community still faces big challenges, at home and abroad. It’s still the norm for LGBTQ+ people to be bullied, and too many people still die by suicide. The rights of the trans* and non-binary community are continuously under attack and far from secure. And there are still 70 countries around the world where homosexuality is illegal, and 12 where homosexuality carries the death penalty. There is lots of work to do, and plenty to still protest.

Pride also does not exist within a vacuum. As a community we need to recognise that some parts of our community have made progress, but left other parts behind. The Black Lives Matter movement is just as important in the LGBTQ+ community as it is within wider society, and this year many Pride marches have evolved into Black Trans Lives Matter marches, with more in common with the first Pride marches in the 1970s than with the Pride parties of the last decade.

How brands can be allies

Most members of the LGBTQ+ community want brands to support us. However what is really needed and appreciated is authentic support, rather than virtue signalling. COVID-19 will lay bare this distinction. This year, it will be clearer than ever which brands genuinely supported the LGBTQ+ community, and which were doing so for some free advertising at Pride.

Being a true ally to the community means supporting LGBTQ+ causes when times are tough. If you’re a brand that usually spends big on sponsoring floats in Pride marches, but then pulls all budget out of Pride because marches are cancelled, it becomes pretty clear that this support wasn’t genuine.

The same goes for those rainbow logos. It’s nice when a brand changes its logo to include a rainbow, but what does it actually mean? If it’s not backed up by actions, it’s an empty gesture, and you’ll be called out pretty quick.

Listen to queer voices

Brands who want to authentically support the LGBTQ+ community need to listen to queer voices. The best place to start is with your own workforce, and this is why company Pride groups are so important. Action should be led by members of the LGBTQ+ community, and brands should then leverage their resources and platform to make these voices heard.

Brands should also put queer creators front and centre. Does your brand want to do something that authentically supports the black trans community, for example? Then write the cheques and pay for black trans content creators to help you create campaigns and shape your actions. Doing the right thing usually isn’t free, but building a brand that fights for causes alongside its customers is worth its weight in gold.

Pride is more than just a month

There’s a running joke on social media that as soon as Pride month ends, brands immediately ditch the LGBTQ+ community. It’s all tied up in the idea that brands never really cared, and it was all to sell a few more rainbow T-shirts.

If your brand truly wants to support its LGBTQ+ workforce, advocates, and customers, it needs to do so all year. As someone who volunteers with an LGBTQ+ network helping with brand partnerships, I can tell you we’re always way too busy in June, and never busy enough during the rest of the year. PR and marketing folks love to link activity to specific days and months, but this is one of those cases where you don’t need to wait for June to do something positive for the queer community.

How to support the LGBTQ+ community all year long

When it comes to your brand, here are some simple ways to make sure your support for the LGBTQ+ community is authentic:

  • Make it last after Pride month ends, and explain what you do to support LGBTQ+ people all year. That might be your policies for employees, or the causes you put your weight behind.
  • Build from the ground up, starting with your LGBTQ+ employees. Your Pride group should lead on how your brand can engage with and support their community.
  • Support queer talent, whether that’s with the influencers you engage with or the media you pitch to. Again, don’t stop talking to them at the end of June.
  • Donate time and money to community groups on the ground doing great work. If your brand can’t make an impact directly, work with and empower activists who can.
  • Be ready to defend your position. There will always be trolls on the Internet and those that take issue with a pro-LGBTQ+ position. A true ally needs to stand up and keep re-affirming their support even in the face of criticism.

Pride matters deeply to most members of the LGBTQ+ community, which is why it’s so disappointing when brands see it as a sales or marketing tool. Authentic support is hard, but as consumers make it increasingly clear that they want to buy from brands that align with their values, it’s worth getting right. As Pride month draws to a close in this unusual year, brands have an opportunity to step up and show that even without the party, Pride matters all year.

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

Andrew Rogers is an Account Director at Allison+Partners.

 

JUNE 26, 2020 //     

According to Pets, Staying Home Isn’t So Bad.

By Jessica Peraza 

I’m certain about two things in this pandemic: Masks are critical, and I spend entirely too much time with my dog.  

I adopted Luci last fall exactly three weeks after getting married – for better or worse! Since then, she’s ruined an end table, two pairs of earphones and about seven of my favorite shoes. She’s also kept me company on walks, watched countless episodes of Gilmore Girls on my lap, and unintentionally taken over my Instagram feed. 

Of course, much like a new baby, a puppy or kitten require constant attentionI cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve left Luci alone for five minutes only to come back to a chewed shoe. And while it may be frustrating and stressful in the moment, I tend to forget about her mishaps as soon as she curls up next to me for a nap.   

During the pandemic, people have once again found comfort in the companionship of their furry friends. Many spend more time at home, and shelters across the U.S. have seen record numbers of cat and dog adoptions. In Arizona alone, the Arizona Humane Society reported a decrease in average length of stay for both dogs and cats by nearly 10 days, meaning pets spend less time in a shelter before finding a temporary or permanent home. Unfortunately, shelters also face the potential dilemma of having an influx of pets returned once shelter-in-place is over. 

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Our research team conducted a survey in 2019 for our client Dignity Health that highlighted the health and happiness benefits of pet companionship. The survey of more than 1,000 Americans found 88of pet parents said their pet had helped improve their mental health. Pets can provide the emotional support people may need in times of stress or uncertainty – whether you’re in the hospital recovering from an illness or stuck at home in the middle of a global pandemic. The survey also found:  

  • Pets are good for the soul – 95% of pet parents said their pet made them a happier person.   
  • Pets are good listeners 62% ofpetparents said theirpets are always there to listen to them when faced with a problem – only 38% said the same about their significant other… 
  • Pets make us better people  More than one third (38%) of pet parents said their pet taught them skills that helped them improve their personal relationships.  
  • Pets keep us healthy 81% of pet parents said they felt their petmade them a healthier person. 
  • Pets help us heal  85% of pet parents who had a major health issue said their pet helped them feel better.   

This year’s been ruff (pun absolutely intended), but I am so grateful for Luci. She forces me to go outside for some fresh air when I have a bad day. She gives me an excuse to call my sister twice a day to show her just how cute she is being while doing absolutely nothing. Most importantly, she’s there. Every minute of every day, your pet is your companion, and all they want is for you to give them love (and treats).  

Many of us will eventually return to some form of our previously hectic schedules, and some pet parents may feel like they no longer have time to care for their dog or catMy hope is that foster parents will ultimately give their temporary house guests a fur-ever home. 

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

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. 

JUNE 25, 2020 //     

How to Make an Impact as a Thought Leader Without In-Person Events

By Rachel Busch

The COVID-19 pandemic has essentially changed industry events as we know them for the remainder of 2020 and the foreseeable future. From full cancellations to conferences going virtual, there’s an opportunity to embrace alternative platforms to raise awareness for executives as thought leaders. Here are some key tactics to promote impactful thought leadership, without in-person events.

Go Digital

Social media is the ideal tool to engage with followers and the larger community. Time spent on social media has steadily increased since mid-March, when the pandemic stay-at-home orders began in the U.S., highlighting the potential influence even one post can make if it's shared with the right audience. Leverage existing thought-provoking blog content with pertinent information to create engaging social posts for your client's followers. 

The value of social media is the conversation doesn't have to end with your followers. Use hashtags to comment on trending news, and join the larger conversation on relevant topics to shape executives as industry leaders on platforms, including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Social listening tools can help determine who drives the trending topics of online conversation, allowing you to give suggestions to your client about when to partake and add value by sharing thoughts with a strong perspective.

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Transform Your Events Strategy

Many large-scale events, including Apple’s WWDC, Web Summit’s Collison Conference, and Cannes Lions, have digitally pivoted. Online events allow people to tune in from anywhere across the globe without travel expenses. According to the Web Summit CEO, digital events have been so successful that the future will consist of hybrid events featuring online and in-person elements. You have a unique opportunity to position clients as thought leaders because they can speak directly to a large audience, compared with in-person conferences. Therefore, you should tailor the client's messaging to resonate with a wider net of people who might be interested in broader trends.

Online events can also help maximize your digital strategy. You can use keynote or panel videos to create easily digestible and shareable clips on Instagram stories and TikTok and reach new audiences that may have not tuned into the event. You can apply the same strategies to company-wide events that were planned for the year and create hybrid elements that enforce social distancing but keep everyone engaged. Consider dynamic online tools to bring people together virtually, such as digital reality for immersive experiences, along with these effective strategies to elevate digital events. 

Build Relationships with New Reporters

Even though the mainstream news cycle changes rapidly and it’s important to be mindful of pitching sensitive topics, trade reporters are interested in receiving the sector-focused perspective and news updates. Take a look at media covering your client's industry and reassess if there are new reporters to introduce yourself to and offer unique commentary with a sector-focused spin.

It’s also important to consider how your client's brand or executives can add value to the business leaders and media at this point. Resist taking advantage of the global pandemic, and ensure you share helpful thoughts that can positively impact a certain industry. If you have the right expertise, now is the optimal time to distribute it to a world and media hungry for meaningful solutions.

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

Rachel Busch is a Senior Account Executive in the Corporate and Public Affairs practice at the agency. She focuses on external communications and media relations strategies for global technology accounts. 

JUNE 23, 2020 //     

How Black Lives Matter Forced Beauty Brands to Step Up... And How Your Brand Can Take Action to Make a Difference

By: Stephanie Cinque

It is no secret beauty brands have severely lacked diversity in the past. In fact, the industry blamed lack of sales as the reason why darker shades were not regularly a part of product launches in retail. However, with Black shoppers driving 86% of spending in the ethnic beauty market and accounting for $54 million of the $63 million spent, we know this is nothing but an excuse.

Funmi Fetto, Contributing Editor at British Vogue and Beauty Director at OBS Magazine said it perfectly, “... the issue is not really about foundations. It is about representation and equality.”

Beauty brands continue to publicize their solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement through social media to help magnify the voices of Black creators and brands. Giving consumers, enthusiasts, artists and employees what we have asked for – inclusivity in an industry that has consistently fallen short.

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Fixing social injustice in beauty

Sephora, which drew criticism last year for racially profiling Black shoppers, was the first major retailer to sign the 15 Percent Pledge challenge. Its chief merchandising officer explained Sephora’s participation as the “right thing to do for our clients, our industry and for our community.” In addition to stocking 15% of shelf space to Black-owned brands, Sephora Accelerate will now focus on women of color. Sephora Accelerate is a more than half-year-long program dedicated to building a community of innovative female founders in beauty through a business bootcamp, mentorship, and grants and funding. On Demo Day, founders have the opportunity to present their company to industry experts, investors and senior-level Sephora leaders. Sephora continues to follow through with action on social media by featuring the Black entrepreneurs behind the new Black-owned brands they will welcome to its shelves. 

And that’s not all. Shoppers can use their Beauty Insider rewards points to donate to the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), an organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black LGBTQ/SGL people, including people living with HIV/AIDS, with the mission to end racism, homophobia, and LGBTQ/SGL bias and stigma. Recently, Sephora announced its partnership with the National CARES Mentoring Movement and hosted an Instagram live on June 18 for followers to learn more about the organization and how to better support and empower Black children and communities. 

This year, beauty brands across the industry publicly honored Juneteenth (June 19) as a moment to take a stand against racism. Many brands offered their employees the day off, but some took an educational approach.. Glossy.co shared that The Estée Lauder Companies invited Dr. Peniel E. Joseph, a scholar of race, democracy and civil rights, to speak to it about inclusion and diversity in addition to making June 19 a permanent holiday.

Pledge action through donations

Glossier, a millennial favorite that gained rapid popularity through its mission to celebrate natural beauty, in May announced through Instagram its commitment to support the Black community.

“We will be donating $500,000 across organizations focused on combating racial injustice: Black Lives Matter, The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, The Equal Justice Initiative, The Marsha P. Johnson Institute and We The Protesters,” it said.

Glossier also pledged to allocate an additional $500,000 in grants to Black-owned beauty businesses. On June 11, the brand followed through and announced a plan of action for its $500,000 grant initiative, set up to support beauty businesses in various points in their journeys – pre-launch, early-stage and growth-stage. By supporting and amplifying new leaders, Glossier hopes to help change how the world sees beauty. Beautifully done, ladies!

Indie skin-care brand Kinship, launched its “Direct to Community” initiative, where it will support Black entrepreneurs by selecting five Black-owned businesses in beauty and wellness to each receive $1,000 worth of Instagram and Facebook advertising. Not only will the funds help these brands reach a new audience, but Kinship will also provide creative, business and marketing advice.

Several other big-name beauty brands have also shown their support to #BlackLivesMatter through generous donations. On May 31, Beauty Blender donated 100% of its profits to the Equal Justice Initiative and Honest Beauty donated $100,000 to organizations, including the  NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Anastasia Beverly Hills promised $1 million toward the fight against racism, starting with a donation of $100,000 across various organizations. However, brands that pledge donations must follow through with action.

We must understand that for these actions to be effective, they need to be long-term and permanent. Fortunately, the beauty industry has (slowly) begun its transition into an era of inclusivity. But no matter our gender, ethnicity, or race, it is vital we experience it entirely. 

Donations and raising awareness are important. But, how else can your brand stand behind this push for diversity in the beauty industry? A greater presence in stores, expanding product ranges and diversifying influencers are essential.

Here are three ideas to consider when determining an action plan for your beauty brand:

  • Partner with famed makeup artistry schools, such as Make-Up Designory (MUD) and Chic Studios, and raise awareness for Black-owned beauty brands. Aside from providing product in kits, collaborate with Black micro-influencers and offer learning opportunities for future artists to help more students have the opportunity to better learn about and understand Black skin tones and culture. This knowledge will be carried into the future of fashion, bridal and consumer brands when student makeup artists graduate and accelerate their careers.
  • TikTok beauty influencer make-up lines are coming; will your brand be a part of it? According to BrandTotal, YouTube and Instagram continue to lead the way in ad spend from cosmetic brands, such as L’Oreal, Maybelline and Estée Lauder, which have spent almost 50% of budget to try to win over younger consumers with Instagram Ads. Yes, Morphe found incredible success with YouTubers Jaclyn Hill, Jeffree Star and Manny MUA. However, Glossy.co deemed TikTok the platform to keep an eye on as it projected the addicting video app to be responsible for introducing the next wave of beauty brand influencers. In fact, it’s already happened. Shanae and Renae Nel (a.k.a. the Nel Twins) launched Gloss Twins after they gained a following of 1.2 million users through dancing and beauty videos.
  • Hire Black people. If your brand promotes diversity in its advertising and social content, it should recruit a higher percentage of Black professionals to work as creatives, decision-makers and product developers. Inspired by Sharon Chuter’s demand for brands to take action through #PullUpOrShutUp, shape diverse committees in your organization to ensure your brand is held accountable in fighting for the economic opportunities for Black people.

Let us stand up for inclusivity through beauty and in life. Together we can make a difference – a beautiful one.

Stephanie has more than five years of experience in the beauty industry as a professional makeup artist and runs a premier bridal business. Passionate about makeup and beauty, she strives to bring confidence to others through enhancing the natural beauty that already exists. Here at Allison+Partners, Stephanie is a content marketing manager who offers an abundance of knowledge in community management and engagement, influencer marketing and social media trends.

 

JUNE 17, 2020 //     

This Isn’t a Moment in Time to Address, This is a Future-Facing Strategy

By: Claudia I. Vargas 

The United States remains in collective shock over the killings of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others. We’ve seen this before – the nation witnesses an atrocity, it erupts in outrage, people and brands express support, then the issue disappears as the news cycle moves on.

But this time just feels different.  

The racial and social justice movements have intersected at this moment in time, creating a siren’s call to dismantle racism in the United States. Society demands change, and we will not back down.

Recently, hundreds of Black advertising professionals signed an open letter demanding urgent action from agency leadership to tackle racism within the industry. Brands have joined the movement, donating and pledging to change and do better.  Industry titans Nike, McDonalds and Target, have all committed to diversifying their workforce.READ MORE


However, words and promises mean nothing if companies forget their pledges after a few months pass.  

This isn’t a campaign to do this month and maybe even next month. Brands need to create long-term, future-facing strategies. Multicultural awareness and marketing must be part of a brand’s permanent strategy.

But the fact remains, brands that go in haphazardly or ham-fistedly can do more harm than good – to themselves and with their audiences. Those who do it well can reap the rewards and make a difference socially. Consumers are 50% more likely to repurchase from a brand and 2.8 times more likely to recommend a brand that uses culturally relevant ads, Marketing Dive noted

Brands must be genuine, take a clear stand and get their messaging right, because the American people easily spot pandering and already harbor a mistrust when brands get political, as The Atlantic reported recently

“…It has never been clearer than right now that brands aren’t your friend, when social media is awash in videos of riots and humans being assaulted, in the middle of a global pandemic,” it said. “American brands have rushed to show where they stand, but it’s still uncertain what they intend to offer – what they can offer – beyond greater awareness of their existence and a vague sense of virtue.”  

Clearly, brands must do more than just talk. They must take real action even though it may feel like a big leap to jump into sensitive topics, such as racism, especially for brands that haven’t addressed the issues before. Yet, many brands don’t realize they already have the know-how. 

Any campaign worth its salt starts with research and finds a golden nugget that consumers can identify with. The same way advertisers know how to differentiate how to speak to a mother versus a CEO or a B2B client versus a B2C is the same logic that should be applied to speaking to various cultures. It’s listening, doing research and learning consumer behavior so messaging and content resonate. But it’s also making sure you have a diverse workforce that brings to the table a deep understanding of the various cultures and how to connect authentically.  

If you toggle between enough brand websites, you’ll notice that in one way or another they all claim to be engrained in their community or a good community partner. But it’s time for them to – pardon the bluntness – put up or shut up. And not just right now. They need to add long-term multicultural campaigns to their strategies moving forward.  

Not only is it the morally right thing for brands to do, it’s the smart business thing to do.  

“Multicultural consumers make up nearly 40% of the U.S. population,” MarTech Advisor reported. “Yet, only 5% of the total advertising and marketing spends is directed toward them.” 

Research shows time and again, consumers want to feel represented and see people just like them. Why do you think we have so many different Barbies now? It’s time for more ads to be part of the solution – representation for all people! So why don’t more brands get on board? 

Sometimes bringing on multicultural extensions to campaigns can feel like an unreachable thing. Yes, it demands more cultural insights, which in turn also demands diverse account leads who can build strategic campaigns that break through. But like everything else going on right now, the worst thing brands can do is nothing. The best thing brands can do is add multicultural campaigns to their long-term strategies. 

At Allison+Partners, our guiding principle is “Insights into action.” It’s how we kick off every campaign. We work closely with our Research + Insights team to understand where our consumers are and their demographics and psychographics. In parallel, we work with our digital team to listen to the conversation online. From all those insights, we learn how to speak to consumers in a way that matters to them and pivot that into actionable campaign messaging and tactics. Then with our Play it Forward offering, we test concepts with a sample of the target audience to ensure our messages are received as intended. The process doesn’t change for our multicultural efforts. In fact, they get an added layer of review.

Our teammates set us apart. We have resources across the globe to represent and add a layer of cultural relevance and cultural insight. Our diversity board is made up of professionals from a variety of cultures with experience working specifically in the multicultural space. We leverage their insights across our work.  

We have colleagues who talk to the Spanish language media almost daily. We have people who work with groups within the Native American community to help push their goals forward. We have teams who put on events with influencers of the African American, Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities. We have teammates who create campaigns in Europe and in Asia, sharing insights we can easily leverage here in the U.S. The work we do for these brands has allowed them to align themselves with these groups, and they have benefited from not only awareness but have become part of those communities.

We feel it’s our responsibility to continue to remind brands of the power of tapping into the multicultural audience, not only from a business perspective but also from a social responsibility perspective. And we plan to leverage our experience to do a better job in the multicultural arena. 

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Claudia Vargas serves as a Director of Integrated Marketing, bringing a wealth of knowledge in strategy and account management. With experience in paid media, brand ambassador programs, content development, multicultural campaigns and social media community management, Claudia leads several integrated client projects for the agency, connecting the dots to drive results. 

 

JUNE 11, 2020 //     

Key Consumer Trends in a Post-COVID World

By Jill Coomber

It is too early to know every impact of ‘life after lockdown’ – no event in living memory has had such an abrupt and sudden change on the way we work, play, think, finance and consume. So it is vital to focus on the key influences we as consumer marketers must bear in mind. 

According to research by University College London (UCL) its takes 66 days for a new consumer habit to form.  Given that many of us have been in lockdown for at least as long as this, which behaviors stay and which disappear?

Kantar’s Nicki Morely recently summarised this very well.  People will adopt new behaviors when they are easier to maintain, more convenient, more satisfying and more rewarding than previous behaviors. 

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So as well as new behaviors we are also yearning to go back to past behaviors to reassure ourselves that life can indeed go back to ‘normal’.

Whilst this situation is unique, we have lived through past disasters and uncovered useful insights...  A good example of this is the BSE crisis in the UK in the 90s which saw beef sales fall by 40%.  However, within just six months the industry pivoted adding in sourcing and tracing to reassure consumers, and beef sales were back to normal levels. This highlights how entrenched habits, in this case Brits love for beef, are fundamental to our lives and our culture, and they can be difficult to break.

So what trends are we bearing in mind?

A desire to have more fun

Many trendwatchers have identified a pent-up demand for rewards and special treats after this period of forced abstention.  We have witnessed in the last decade a rise in the treat and experience culture.  Many major luxury brands, for example, have tapped into this desire with ranges or tasters at lower price points to satisfy this demand. Think Karl Lagerfield vs H&M and Kate Moss vs Top Shop that inspired many a fashion related collaboration. 

To ensure fun continues – we are seeing brands across consumer categories get a virtual makeover. Sports, virtual experiences, and creative innovations like ‘cocktails to your door’ as growing markets will continue. With a long-term impact on live events and concerts it will be interesting to see how the industry responds.  Certainly, Sony is already predicating a final coming of age for virtual reality.

Thinking forward for trends

Covid has made the consumer pause and think inward – how do I care for myself and my community and what habits do I want to change. Many are rethinking how they travel to work in cities and big towns and how they enhance the quality of life around the home. Not surprisingly perhaps, among the latest trending items are garden furniture, bikes and electric scooters. It will be critical for marketers to not only stay on the pulse, but also anticipate how their products and services can best support the consumer in the near and distant future. 

Supporting our local enterprises

We have also become ultra-aware of the fragility of our economy, businesses, and jobs.  Many local enterprises that we took for granted are now struggling to create a profitable future in a changed world.  Small businesses account for three fifths of employment – they are vital to the economy.  We’re seeing a positive, rising trend on social media to call out and support these local businesses and entrepreneurs who literally won’t survive without our support.  Britain, our small businesses need us!

A rush to comfort brands

There is a need for familiarity in a crisis – comfort food, recognizable brand advertising, brand communities and known CSR-friendly brands. Now people will be even more focused on these and will be specifically looking out for brands who are supporting key workers and the environment.

A good example of finding comfort in what’s familiar – the rise of watching out box sets. We’re seeing consumers reach back into the noughties and nineties for gold standards like The Godfather, Friends, Game of Thrones and Big Bang Theory.

The role of online

There is no doubt the Internet has ‘saved’ many in retail through this period.  There is data everywhere on the superfast growth in mobile payments, contactless delivery, online health services and ecommerce for non-traditional items like furniture. Online sales at Majestic wine, for example, has increased by over 200% year on year. Whilst it’s clear there is a need to focus on the online offer more than ever before, this will be a high-water mark for online shopping.  We will be left with a permanent increase. However, given most consumers already shop omni channel, this is unlikely to change in our new normal. 

Will the office as workplace ever recover?

For those of us who normally work from an office, the sudden and prolonged lockdown has shown what can be achieved remote.  It is an amazing and powerful argument for many companies to rethink.  Twitter, for example, has already announced a permanent shift to homeworking for those who can.  With social distancing measures dictating the short-term –many offices cannot go back to the old normal. And with these measures in place, what is the value of a physical presence?  A more permanent change is likely on the cards for many companies. 

Work-life balance is shifting

For those who can work from home there is a new challenge of creating a good work-life balance. Perhaps the gain in commute time has allowed some to take on new hobbies.  It certainly relieves some of the monotony.  We are seeing a visible growth in hobbies on social media like baking, gardening, painting, drawing, photography, dancing, home cooking, fitness, and gaming.  Where passions have been ignited, we expect these trends to stay. On the other side, people are finding it difficult to step away from their computers – many working much longer hours and starting to feel a sense of burn out.

A new respect for key workers

We see every day a new respect for key workers. Not just those in the health services, but shop workers, refuse collectors, delivery services –everyone who is supporting the household in these challenging times. We might see a shift in brands starting to tap into these groups as the face of their brand vs celebrity tack. Only time will tell.

A new level of care for the environment

Images showing environmental recovery – clearer skies in Hong Kong and Los Angeles, and sheep wandering around towns – continue to go viral. With everyone at home, the environment has benefited, and it is continuing to spark global conversations around the importance of sustainability measures. Will these images inspire a meaningful change in behavior?  The previous recession nurtured a mass acceptance for less ownership and possession, particularly amongst millennials, and out of that came the sharing culture of Uber, AirBnB, Zipcar and others.  Given the complexity of this issue, the jury is out on this one.

Final thoughts

The economy will recover and we will get back – we just do not know the timeframe. It will be dictated in large part by events outside of our control, like a vaccine or a resurgence.  So for now, uncertainly will remain the new normal.  However, based on data from the previous recession, brands that implement a longer-term view, building plans around the right future trends and implementing growth strategies in markets with potential, have the opportunity to come out much stronger than their competitors.  

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Jill Coomber is Managing Director, Integrated Marketing at Allison+Partners.

JUNE 9, 2020 //     

Feeling Overwhelmed by The Enormity of How to Impact Real Change?

Voting is one very real way for your voice to be heard

By: Kay Brungs Laud

We now collectively face a global pandemic, massive economic downturn and racial relations at a tipping point. It can feel overwhelming and make one question their impact on what feel like insurmountable issues. However, there is one very powerful way we can all make a difference –voting. Unfortunately, the right to cast a ballot is a remarkable privilege many too often take for granted.  

The right to vote is what our Founding Fathers fought for and is the cornerstone of our constitutional republic. Even today, many countries around the world do not allow their citizens to vote. In the United States, the right to vote is one that took decades and generations to achieve:

  • In 1789 only 6% of those living in the U.S. could vote; white, property-owning men.
  • In 1868, the 14th Amendment granted the right to vote to all males born or naturalized in the U.S. Two years later, the 15th Amendment prevented states from denying the right to vote on the grounds of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
  • In 1887, Native Americans were granted citizenship only if they disassociated from their tribe.
  • The 19th Amendment passed in 1920, giving women the right to vote for the first time.
  • The Indian Citizenship Act in 1924 granted all Native Americans the right to vote.
  • U.S. citizens living in the District of Columbia were not able to vote in the U.S. presidential election until the 23rd Amendment was passed in 1961.
  • Nearly 100 years after the abolishment of slavery, racial discrimination in voting was prohibited with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • And before 1971, you could only vote if you were 21 years or older.
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With hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans fighting and dying for our right to vote, we owe it to their legacies to honor their great gift by exercising our right to vote. Yet in the last presidential election in 2016, more than 44% of the U.S. voting age population did not cast ballots.

According to the Pew Research Center, voter turnout numbers in the United States are quite low compared with other developed nations; in fact, the U.S. ranked 31 out of the 35 countries in its study. The latest U.S. Census Bureau data recorded roughly 245.5 million Americans aged 18 and above, but only 157.6 million of them were registered to vote. 

Does my vote really make a difference?

We've seen in countless elections – especially over the past two decades – many races are too close to call and every vote must be recounted to determine the winner. In the 2018 midterm elections, six races from the Georgia Governor to the Mississippi Senate to the Arizona Senate were too close to call. I personally served on a presidential election campaign where the state I campaigned in won by less than 2,000 total votes. So I have seen firsthand just how important every vote is.

Why does it matter?

As former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams recently pointed out in a New York Times opinion piece, while Americans might not care about specific politicians, they do care about the impact issues have on their lives. Our local, state, and federal elected officials decide how our tax dollars are spent — how much funding goes toward our schools, what policies we put in place for our criminal justice system, how we protect our environment, who is and is not allowed to get married, among so many other issues.

It is critical to do research on each candidate and understand their policies, views, and how they have supported certain communities and issues in the past. Look at who else supports them and who and what organizations contribute to their campaigns. In addition to candidates, there are often local issues on ballots, so make sure you understand what voting for or against each one really means for your community.

What can you do to make sure your voice is heard in 2020?

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission recommends the following 10 tips to help enhance your voting experience:

  1. Register to vote: Most states require citizens to be registered in order to vote. It takes just a few minutes to register and can be done online here.
  2. Confirm your voter registration status: Once you register to vote, check your status with your state or local elections office several weeks before the last day to register to vote.
  3. Know your polling place location and hours: If you vote at a polling place on Election Day, confirm your polling place location. Know what time your polling place opens and closes. 
  4. Know your State’s voter identification (ID) requirements: Some states require voters to show ID to vote. You can find out what forms of ID your state accepts by contacting your state or local elections office or checking their websites. 
  5. Understand provisional voting: Federal law allows you to cast a provisional ballot in a federal election if your name does not appear on the voter registration record, if you do not have ID or if your eligibility to vote is in question. Your state may provide other reasons for voting by a provisional ballot. Whether a provisional ballot counts depends on if the state can verify your eligibility. Check with your state or local elections office to learn how to tell if your provisional ballot was counted. 
  6. Check the accessibility of your polling place: If you are a voter with minority language needs or with special needs or specific concerns due to a disability, your polling place may offer special assistance. Contact your local elections office for advice, materials in a specific language, information about voting equipment and details on access to the polling place, including parking. 
  7. Consider voting early: Some states allow voting in person before Election Day. Find out if your state has early voting in person or by mail and if so when, where, and how you can vote before Election Day.
  8. Understand absentee voting requirements: Most states allow voters to use an absentee ballot under certain circumstances. Check on the dates and requirements for requesting and returning an absentee ballot before Election Day. Absentee ballots often must be returned or postmarked before the polls close on Election Day. Determine your state’s requirements for returning absentee ballots. 
  9. Learn about military and overseas voting: Special voting procedures may apply if you are in the U.S. military or you are an American citizen living overseas. You may qualify for an absentee ballot by submitting a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). You can learn more through the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
  10. Get more information: For more on these tips and for answers to other questions about the election process, contact your State or local elections office.

As the country still faces great uncertainty about what COVID-19 means for social distancing a week, a month or even a year from now, many wonder how many physical polling locations will be open. And if they are, will it be safe to vote in person? One solution, if your state allows, is to vote by mail. Beginning as early as August, many states will allow voters to request a vote-by-mail ballot. With a greater number of mail in ballots expected this year, you should get your ballot in as soon as possible so there isn’t a glut of ballots needing to be counted on or around the November election date. 

As elections traditionally fall on Tuesdays, one of the main reasons people cite for not voting is being too busy with work and their personal demands. To address this barrier and increase voter participation, a diverse coalition of more than 450 companies came together in the summer 2018 to launch Time To Vote. Allison+Partners is proud to have joined this initiative and is committed to ensuring its employees have a work schedule that allows for time to vote in elections. This movement is a non-partisan effort that demonstrates the power of what the business community can achieve when it works to address some of the most significant issues of our time.

While many of the issues we face as a nation seem insurmountable, remember that you have an amazing opportunity that so many fought hard for you to have: the right to vote.
 
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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 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.

 

JUNE 4, 2020 //     

The Economics of Employee Engagement

By: Cathy Planchard 

While they may not necessarily like it, organizations and their people have adjusted to operating in a pandemic. Working from home has become routine, thanks in part to early communication between employers and employees. They have mostly worked out the kinks.

But as we hit the nearly four-month mark of working from home, the virtual happy hours and blur of video team and client calls, things could begin to crack and unravel right as organizations feel stable enough to start planning for the return of employees to physical offices. And employee engagement and company culture are among the first things that could fray.

The costs of disengagement are staggering. Gallup estimates work disengagement totals 34% of a person’s salary. PRWeek reports the 2020 median salary for a comms pro is $100,000 a year. That means a disengaged, median-salaried PR employee costs their organization $34,000 annually—or more simply, $3,400 for every $10,000 in salary. Consider your total number of employees and their salaries, then do the math!

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Employees not fully engaged as they work from home will also struggle to re-engage when they return to the offices. It will not be the return to normalcy we all crave. The offices and office lives will not be exactly as we left them in March. We can expect split shifts at reduced volumes. Some will also grapple with interruptions over how they deal with taking care of children or elderly parents, adding yet more stress and costs. For example, NBC reported working moms’ coronavirus-related struggles to engage will cost the economy $341 billion. 

As many organizations continue to fight for their economic futures, engagement, flexible workstyles and truly understanding employees’ concerns become even more crucial. You've got to do everything you can to get employees more focused, more productive and more engaged. 

As Sir Richard Branson said famously, “Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your business.” Engaged employees are critical to attracting new customers, keeping customers and providing great service.

Are your employees ready to hit the ground running when the pandemic is over? How can you know for sure? 

Pulse surveys help. They offer a snapshot in time of employee sentiment, which can then be used as a benchmark from which to gauge any changes. Allison+Partners has used pulse surveys during the pandemic to see how employee sentiment has changed within departments and across countries. We were able to track, for example, how employees felt in select markets in Asia as they returned to work in a significant way. We were also able to see how the news cycle of various policy announcements, increases in COVID-19 cases, and even the lifting of restrictions contributed to their mood. In the wake of the horrific and senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, we used surveys to listen to the thoughts and opinions of our employees to determine how to be better as an agency and hold ourselves more accountable.  

These surveys can also bring deeper insights into the things that will either help get back to a more normal state and/or the things that you've got to figure out, address and work around in the months to come. They can identify trending themes within the organization and uncover, for example, the factors required for an employee to feel more comfortable returning to the office or traveling for clients post-pandemic. It’s clearly not one-size-fits-all.

Surveys not only drive insights, but they also reinforce to employees that their opinions matter, driving higher engagement. Establish the cadence for your surveys and keep the questions clear and simple. And make sure you acknowledge the team’s perspective. When you ask someone for their opinion, you have to show you have heard and considered it — even if you don't agree and act upon it in the way that the employee might have wanted.

Our agency prides itself on its culture and the recognition of being a “Best Places to Work” for the past three years by PR Week. Creating that sort of winning culture and engagement requires being dialed into changing employee needs, desires, obstacles, fears and concerns. It’s what drives our internal best practices for engagement and culture and what leads to better retention rates of our team. That’s the real impact from employee surveys.

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

Cathy Planchard is global president of All Told, overseeing the company’s content, digital, creative, research and measurement teams. She is an avid traveler, Saints fan and spicy Cajun cook.

JUNE 3, 2020 //     

Four Steps You Can Take to Respond to the Call for Racial Equality

By: Rachel Prude and Demar Anderson  

“Racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it’s up to all of us to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out.”- Michelle Obama   

With American racial tensions at a boiling point, everyone must now take a stand to promote real and transformational change in our communities and break this predictable and counterproductive cycle. Too many times, we’ve seen this pattern emerge: a crime against a black person occurs, the video is leaked, public outrage is voiced, thoughts and prayers are shared, brands show expressions of support and then the issue fades into the background.

But this time, it hit differently.

Watching the modern-day lynching of George Floyd unleashed a torrent of anger and frustration over the decades-long failure to reform police practices and the broader U.S. criminal justice system. It was the nation’s tipping point from cries of outrage and demands for justice to a call for action – holding police departments accountable for their role in terrorizing black neighborhoods and bringing an end to the criminalization of black skin.

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While concern still lingers that these cries will continue to go unheard, the past feelings of hopelessness have now evolved into something more powerful – determination. For people and brands to remain silent means complicity in the acts of racism and the systemic oppression of the black community. The diversity of the protesters also shows it’s not just black people who want and demand this change. 

To drive this transformational change our society yearns for, we need to educate ourselves and take meaningful steps to address the problem so we can work together to identify impactful solutions. 

Here are four steps that you can take now to help work toward racial equality:   

Understand History so it Doesn’t Continue to Repeat Itself:
You can use several resources to illuminate the black experience in America. Do your research, look at the root of the problem – not the reactions to it – and think through ways we can dismantle the ideas and policies that prevent the black community from having fair and equal access.  
Don’t Generalize 
Although we frequently tend to focus on categorizations and target demographics in our line of work, remember African Americans have a wide variety of experiences, backgrounds and ways of thinking. For brands, get to know the culture, media, influencers and other partners on a deeper level to better serve clients.  
 
Don’t Just Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk  
To cut through the noise meaningfully, it’s more important than ever to not just voice support but take action to eradicate racism and make diversity a true priority. In today’s society, people can easily see through disingenuous platitudes and acts. The NFL received major blowback after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released this statement despite the league’s ownership having deliberately stifled Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests against police brutality. Robinhood announced its plans to donate $500,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Glossier will donate $500,000 to six organizations and $500,000 in the form of grants to black-owned beauty businesses. Other brands have offered solutions through purposeful social initiatives that take steps to correct problematic pasts. Some organizations have committed to facing their own shortcomings to contribute to sustainable change. This is what taking action looks like.  

Get Involved  
Do more than post on social media.  Take it a step further.  There are a variety of resources available if you are interested in  joining  the fight for equality, including:  

It’s been nearly 30 years since we saw  the  brutal images of  the LAPD severely beating Rodney King. And  since then,  not much has changed.  Conversations about race are often uncomfortable, but they don't  have to be. If we educate ourselves on the issue, we can identify solutions with the goal of  creating lasting and sustainable change to finally  become  a  country where all Americans can achieve the  American  dream.   

Rachel Prude is an account executive in our Atlanta office. She excels at developing press materials, coordinating media interviews, conducting media and influencer outreach, monitoring social media and compiling research. 

Demar Anderson is our vice president of Marketing and 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 and is actively involved in this fight to dismantle racism in our country.   

MAY 28, 2020 //     

When the Going Gets Tough, Double Down on (Industry Analyst) Relationships

By: Holly Barnett and Ali Donzanti

There’s a saying among many of us who work with industry analysts for a living – our profession is called Analyst Relations for a reason.

A strategic analyst relations (AR) program has a lot of moving parts and involves a healthy dose of research, strategy, counsel and planning. And a significant percentage of an AR program’s success and business impact is predicated on the strong relationships we build and nurture with individual analysts.

For many of us, face-to-face interactions in the form of advisory days, events and deskside tours are essential elements of an AR program. With this in mind, it’s understandable many organizations worried their AR programs would be at risk when social distancing and travel constraints went into effect. However, we’ve found just the opposite to be true.

Even as cities begin to reopen for business, they’ll likely remain restricted one way or another for the foreseeable future. Here are five simple things you can do right now to make sure you and your teams continue to create and maintain strong analysts relationships without relying on in-person meetings. (Beyond the obvious switch to video conferencing we’ve all become accustom to.)

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  1. Max out inquiry time: Few things help build relationships between subject matter experts and analysts than regular two-way discussions. Most firms call these “inquiry” or “advisory” calls, and they are typically included in firm subscriptions or retainers. If you have access to inquiry, use it to the fullest. If you don’t, be sure to spend even more time than usual researching the analysts you brief and make sure your SMEs do the same. You can still have a meaningful dialog and build strong relationships. (And if you’re an AR person, remember your personal subscriptions also include analyst access. Some of our best insights and strongest relationships have come from calls without an SME on the line.) 
  2. Request make-up 1:1s: Since the outbreak of the pandemic, many analyst firms have cancelled events or pivoted to an online format. Analyst 1:1s are typically offered to event attendees, which can be especially helpful if you want to meet with an analyst who is not part of your subscription to the firm’s services, or if you don’t have a subscription at all. If a cancelled 1:1 is critical to your program, inquire about scheduling a make-up call. We’ve found firms to be accommodating. 
  3. Get a second opinion: Chances are your marketing, sales and other business operations will continue to adjust their roadmaps and messaging to align with the changing times. Remember analyst inquiries can be used for “document reviews,” during which analysts review content and help ensure messaging alignment with market needs and sensitivities. Document reviews send a strong message to analysts that you understand, respect and appreciate their knowledge and expertise while giving them early insight into your company’s approach. Its’ a win-win.
  4. Make it easy: Few things are easy right now. Working with you and your team should be one of them. We should always deliver easily consumed information. But think about how you can do an ever better job. Something as simple as providing a sharable version of speaker notes along with a briefing deck can go a long way for an analyst compiling multiple vendor briefings into a research note. And if you provide customer references for a report, be mindful they may have work-from-home challenges. Be sure customers understand what’s asked of them and be ready to follow up if they fail to respond in a timely manner. Again, things we should always do, but now’s the time to be extra proactive and responsive.
  5. Connect as humans: Before any interaction, remind everyone on the call that analysts are humans first and analysts second. Many have been through the wringer of home schooling, worrying about loved ones, the transition to remote work, and now the added stress of deciding when and how to go back to the office. Take time to ask and really listen to how they are and adjust your approach just as you would a coworker or friend. There will still be plenty of time for the business part of the call.

Over the past few months, many of us have learned lessons and new strategies that will help us live better connected lives. Hopefully that also applies to the work we do to support the companies, clients and analysts we engage with every day. Being mindful of best practices will continue to strengthen analyst relationships and create long-term bonds that positively impact AR’s role to the success of our organizations.

Holly Barnett is a Senior Vice President and Head of Analyst Relations at Allison+Partners. She leads programs that help clients shape perception and drive advocacy with industry analysts who influence buying decisions. 

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

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MAY 27, 2020 //     

Brick & Mortar Adaptation in Post-Pandemic World

By: Hamilton McCulloh

When the COVID-19 pandemic ends and governments, businesses and individuals determine how best to move forward and reopen parts of our society, one thing is certain: our relationship with real estate, most notably interior environments, will be forever changed.

Homes, office space and retail stores will dramatically evolve over the next few years. In fact, they already have. Human beings adapt, after all, and brick and mortar structures – where we live, work, and shop – will also adapt to reflect our desire to be safe, productive and comfortable in our new shared reality.

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AT HOME

Let’s start with the home, where many of us spend far more time than normal. Given the pandemic’s impact on our daily routines, people are now more likely to work, learn and exercise from home, leading to new interior design trends in the built environment.

Lee Crowder, design gallery and model home branding manager at Taylor Morrison, the nation’s fifth largest homebuilder, said in a recent blog post, “home features driven by the pandemic, such as touchless and automated appliances, easy-to-clean surfaces and healthy home technology are driving design.”

Here are some of her insights: 

  • For those who work or school from home, a study or office may no longer meet a family’s space needs. They should consider work pods in a flexible environment to maximize everyone’s productivity.
  • Many homeowners leverage available technology platforms for collaborative workouts in their home gyms, while adhering to social distancing. Design recommendations for new or converted home-exercise space include wood or vinyl plank flooring, smart TVs for streaming workouts and single-room temperature controls for hot yoga or spin classes.
  • Intuitive kitchens already include touchless faucets. GE also now offers the kitchen hub, allowing users to search recipes, voice-activate oven controls and conveniently mount video screens to cook remotely with friends and family. And easy-to-clean quartz counters and hard flooring are more important than ever before given their low-level porousness.
  • Finally, healthy homes of the future will include air and water filtration systems, exhaust fans with LED lights that can kills germs in bathrooms, and diagnostic technology that reads the family’s body temperature and triggers a notice to a doctor, as needed.

AT WORK

Let’s turn our attention to the office and its interiors, where many of us typically spend the most amount of our time outside of the home. Each office will open slowly over time, based on pre- and post-vaccine factors and local and state health regulations. Even in the long run, some workers may continue to work from home, at least part of the time. But what will the office look like when both essential and non-essential workers do return?

“Our built environment will be under scrutiny for how it impacts our health,” said Matthias Olt, design director of architecture at B+H Architects. “Real estate investors and developers will need to consider how buildings can be designed to promote human health, safety and comfort.” 

He predicts architects and designers will focus, in part, on biophilic design, which promotes natural lighting, open windows, increased ventilation and interior landscaping to create healthier and more productive workplaces. 

For now, offices will have few colleagues at any given time and will feature reconfigured workstations. Common areas like kitchens and conference rooms – not to mention the now-common phone booths – may be closed or dramatically re-designed to ensure separation and safety.

Colliers International Executive Managing Director of Workplace Innovation and Corporate Solutions in the Americas Keith Perske said the pandemic has accelerated the evolution of the office space by five years or more.

Even if more employees plan to work from home some of the time, companies will likely use their current spaces more effectively to allow for social distancing, reversing the characteristics of the modern-day workspace. Organizations will assign shared workstations designed to create more space with higher walls or other barriers installed between cubicles.

The commercial office will evolve to be more dynamic and collaborative, while the home office likely will be more for focused, heads-down work. People have adapted to working apart, but the pandemic has helped us to better appreciate the value of working together.

SHOPPING

Retailers will also be driven to innovate in the post-Covid-19 world. We have added many new terms to our vernacular in recent months and here’s one more: Buy Online Pickup in Store, or BOPIS.  

Many retailers already offered such services as a convenience, or perhaps as a response to Amazon. That said, it will now be critical for retailers of all sizes to plan for BOPIS to remain open in the long run. Expect to see a reallocation of space with more available square footage for inventory, logistics and operations and less for the traditional front-of-the-house customer experience. This also includes considerations for drive-through lanes and dedicated parking stalls for curbside delivery. The ultimate challenge is to design an evolved retail experience that aligns with the store’s existing brand values.

Design is the intersection of art and science. As they say, form follows function. Science will dictate how we collectively and safely emerge from the pandemic with a new appreciation of our surroundings at home, at work and at the store. Designers and architects are already hard at work providing the artistic insight and expression that will lay the foundation for a strong future.

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Allison+Partners’ Real Estate Group amplifies the brands of global developers, brokers, designers, and builders in the built environment through media relations, public affairs, and reputation management.

 

MAY 26, 2020 //     

Newsroom Continuity Planning? How Local News Stations Are Navigating a Global Pandemic

By Sierra Oshrin

If you’ve worked with a local journalist, or had one come on-site for an interview, your perception of a “glamourous” industry might have been debunked. Newsrooms have long done more with less. Broadcast journalists are no longer confined to simply interviewing and writing the story. Now, they must write, shoot and edit their video, send it back to the newsroom, secure their camera on the tripod, and broadcast a live signal using a small backpack (what’s a live truck?), providing updates from the field as a “one-man-band.”

News stations have learned to be incredibly nimble. But when COVID-19 swept across the globe, local newsrooms found themselves caught in the crossfire. The global public health crisis has highlighted the importance of local news, with viewership rising for many outlets. However, businesses impacted by COVID-19 have been forced to pull their advertising dollars from some newsrooms, resulting in publishers suspending publications and furloughing and laying off employees.

“Our viewership is actually very high right now – people are watching more TV because they don't have much to do,” said Jake, a Cincinnati producer. “However, some businesses that give us money for advertising have slowed paying us, because they have bigger expenses to take care of. It's a domino effect.”

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U.S. businesses have been forced to examine their continuity plans, and the same is true for news stations. Journalists take all necessary precautions by practicing social distancing and wearing masks in public. Some stations have split anchors and producers into “A” and “B” teams and forced all reporters in the field to work remotely. In larger markets, producers have even been fitted with the proper technology to direct the show from home, while weather anchors set up graphics from their living rooms. 

“Our reporters are working from their homes,” said Ryan, a Boise news director. “We are doing most of our interviews using online video. The newsroom is very empty. No one shares cars or gear right now. At the end of the day, everyone is still focused on seeking truth and a crisis only increases the need for it. I have been impressed with our team’s relentless pursuit of truth, despite the challenges.”

As local newsrooms work tirelessly to bring forth critical information to their communities, the newsgathering process has also changed. Email inboxes have become inundated with COVID-related pitches, and there’s less time and resources to capture content in an engaging way.

“Field crews, including reporters and photographers, are not allowed back in the station whatsoever,” said Kelsey, a Las Vegas reporter. “That means it takes a lot longer to download video, it takes a lot longer to send back video, which makes our deadline a lot tighter.”

COVID-19 continues to dominate the news cycle, even as states consider lifting restrictions. And most news directors, anchors, reporters and producers across the country agree one thing matters most when choosing to cover a story: local impact.

Because of this, larger brands may face increased challenges when trying to secure local coverage during this time. Most reporters focus on providing updates from government authorities or local health officials. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives certainly help, but they must be authentic and truly impact local communities.

Brittany, an Albuquerque news anchor, echoes this sentiment.

“There has to be such a heavy focus on a local angle – like this is happening in New Mexico, or this is happening because of a person in New Mexico,” she said. “People are so anxious for everything to reopen and life to go back to normal, unless there is a legitimate cause to run a national story or promotional story, it probably won’t make it. Because what people care about is their kids, their jobs, their community and their health right now.”

But not all is lost for brands looking to gain local coverage in this climate. However, instead of focusing on what the brand does, focus instead on those impacted at the local level. For example, a donation-related announcement is likely to get swept to the side unless it’s a rather substantial amount. But if a brand can connect the journalist with someone on the receiving side of that donation, it makes the story that much more compelling and personal.

“Providing a personal angle such as, ‘studies show cases in children are rising in New Mexico, and here is a family this is happening to,’ will have a much greater chance of receiving coverage,” Brittany said. “Because if you’re just throwing studies, theories and trends at us and we don’t have anyone to talk to about that except for an expert, that’s not a very compelling story.”

Additionally, brands can increase their chance of securing coverage by sharing visuals wherever possible.

“A huge struggle for us has been a lack of video and finding appropriate video for our stories,” Kelsey notes. “So, if you have a client that has good video of whatever the topic is, we will eat that up because it’s been really difficult not being able to go on location and get the video that we need. Any visuals are really helpful.”

It’s uncertain how this work-from-home experiment will continue to impact local newsrooms after the pandemic ends. However, businesses and news stations alike have learned those who remain nimble, authentic and aligned with their purpose will continue to succeed in a post-COVID world.

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

Sierra Oshrin is a former broadcast journalist now serving as a senior account executive in Allison+Partners’ Singapore office. Sierra has reported in Arizona, Washington, D.C. and Idaho as a multimedia journalist, otherwise known as a “one-man-band.”

MAY 21, 2020 //     

Webinar Weary: Elevating Digital Events

By: Cathy Planchard

As the reality of COVID-19 pandemic set in earlier this year, organizations focused immediately on the safety of their people, activated work-from-home mode and planned for the essential shifts of the quarter ahead. They reconsidered how to accomplish their missions and adapted their business models, comforting themselves with the notion they could simply delay their events and product launches to fall when the coronavirus’ grip would surely be over.

But a few months into this new world, we can now see the pivot will need to be even deeper and more prolonged than anyone expected. Things did not go according to plan.

Events postponed to later in 2020 have now become events moved online or just canceled altogether. After considering a move to summer, VMWorld announced plans to go online for the first time. Microsoft decided all of its events will be digital until July 2021. And Cannes Lions will not hold its festival or hand out awards in 2020. With lingering uncertainty, brands understandably don’t want to subject their employees or their customers to possible coronavirus exposure at large events.

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They also know that even during a pandemic, business must continue. Organizations still have to launch their products, and their sales teams still need to demo and sell those products. Trade shows have long been ground zero for lead generation and absolutely critical to the sales funnel. So critical that a third of marketers were spending 20% or more of their budgets on event marketing pre-COVID-19. But for the foreseeable future, those large, in-person events will be off the table – creating an unprecedented opportunity to rethink the ROI of those event budgets.

The easiest solution is to move events and product launches to the digital world. In recent months, many have discovered it’s not as easy as firing up a webcam and connecting with a reliable dial-in number. Not everything translates automatically or easily into the virtual webinar environment. Even if it did, webinar fatigue has set in – no one wants to sit on another conference call staring for hours at the Brady Bunch video boxes. And replicating online the memorable human experiences and the entertainment buzz that comes from live events is difficult.

Marketers still have to get their messages out, they still have to entertain, and they still have to prospect. That means they need to redeploy and reconsider their marketing budgets with the end game in mind. The idea is to reimagine, not replace, the events.

  • Did your organization participate in trade shows to drive leads? Consider more dynamic online environments and tools to demo your products, AR and VR for immersive experiences, online “office hours,” and direct marketing activities.
  • Were you attending (or creating) an event to meet with media, influencers, or top customers? Think through multi-sensory live experiences that can include online and offline elements, digital hubs and curated entertainment in a more intimate environment.
  • Was your intent to meet with media or analysts? Virtual press conferences have become more common, but bolster that with a new strategy for your newsroom that includes more dynamic video and visuals to tell a more compelling story.

In any case, do not underestimate the need for production support. Digital experiences require different skills, tools and thinking to be impactful. Concepting, pre-event logistics, technical direction, building the audience and asset creation are some of the many elements that can make the difference between a curated, professional event worthy of your brand, or one that feels home-grown.

Want to see it in action? Allison+Partners brought an 8-hour livestream Cook-A-Thon to life with client Impossible Foods in support of No Kid Hungry, featuring celebrity chefs like Traci Des Jardins and Eric Warehiem, musicians like Sister, and top-tier talent like Justin Baldoni and Sia. Watch the full stream here.

Need assistance or want to brainstorm your next digital event? We’re here to help, digitalexperiences@allisonpr.com. If you'd like to sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates, click here.

Cathy Planchard is global president of All Told, overseeing the company’s content, digital, creative, research and measurement teams. She is an avid traveler, Saints fan and spicy Cajun cook.

 

MAY 20, 2020 //     

Examining U.S. Immigration Policy in the Age of COVID-19

By: Barbara Laidlaw and Josiah Adams

The human and economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be overstated. Over the past two months, more than 30 million Americans filed for unemployment. Nearly 100,000 Americans have lost their lives, accounting for more than the combined American losses in the Korean, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Now, many look to the future and debate the correct next steps – a somewhat politicized process, and no more so than in the field of immigration policy. 

Under President Donald Trump’s administration, immigration has been a particularly hot-button issue. Increases in deportations, border arrests and visa denials have been pillars of the Department of Homeland Security and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. The concept of protecting American jobs has been the core of the administration’s stance on immigration. The current economic climate brought on by COVID-19 has decimated American jobs and, in turn, led the Trump administration and some members of Congress to target legal immigration as a strategy to reduce competition in the U.S .job market. It is unclear how effective this strategy will be, since we continue to see millions of Americans file for unemployment each week. But support for the strategy grows among lawmakers and in the American public.

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A poll conducted by The University of Michigan and The Washington Post in late April found roughly 65% of Americans supported “temporarily blocking nearly all immigration into the United States during the coronavirus outbreak.” This came on the heels of a Trump administration executive order that placed a 60-day delay on issuing green cards to certain applicants. Although this executive order turned out to be relatively limited in its scope, the administration and members of Congress have worked diligently to extend or expand temporary restrictions on immigration.

On May 7, Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Josh Hawley of Missouri sent a letter to Trump urging his administration to expand the April 22 executive order to include the suspensions of new guest worker visas, all nonimmigrant guest worker visas and the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. Specifically, the letter states that at minimum expanded suspensions should include the H-2B visa (non-agricultural seasonal workers), H-1B visa (specialty occupation workers, and the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program which extends foreign student visas after graduation. Meanwhile, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana recently announced he would be introduce legislation that would extend the current executive order to 60 days after the COVID-19 outbreak is determined to be over with the goal of giving Americans a chance to find jobs in the aftermath of the crisis.

While any type of legislative action in the House or the Senate would take a significant amount of time, the Trump administration remains poised to issue a second proclamation that would effectively ban immigration per these senators’ recommendations. One day after the four senators issued their letter, The Wall Street Journal reported “the president’s immigration advisers are drawing up plans for a coming executive order, expected this month, that would ban the issuance of some new temporary, work-based visas.”

The report named the same visas included in the letter, indicating the administration may feel emboldened to act due to the support of allies in the Senate and among the public. While the report did not reveal the approach the order would take to ban these types of immigration, the possibilities range from an outright ban to the installation of government-backed incentives for businesses to hire American during and after the coronavirus crisis.

The timeline indicates a sweeping ban on additional forms of immigration is around the corner. On May 13, The New York Times reported the Trump administration was moving forward with a plan to extend its coronavirus border restrictions indefinitely – a stark shift from the prior policy that was meant to be an emergency measure during the height of the crisis. Under the new indefinite program, which would be reviewed every 30 days, the policy orders the border closed to immigrants until the director of the CDC says explicitly there is no longer a COVID-19 threat to the American public. Two days later, NBC News reported the Department of Homeland security circulated recommendations for additional restrictions on legal immigration during the pandemic.  

The upshot of this feverish immigration activity – businesses that rely on workers in the United States on temporary work visas or foreign students in the process of extending their visas may need to reevaluate hiring practices because many of these bans could last for more than a year. Of course, this is the objective of many of these policies. But perhaps an unintended consequence is the initial shock to the system could be too great for certain businesses to overcome. This would result in a “lose-lose” wherein these businesses shut their doors permanently and no one, not even an American worker, has an opportunity to seek employment there.

Another consequence of this style of unilateral action is large businesses that rely heavily on visas, like the H-1B visa for tech support positions at Amazon, Google and Microsoft, may view the cost of switching to a more American-centric workforce as too high and simply outsource entire divisions currently in play in the United States. In this case, we are presented with another “lose-lose.”

It’s not only the tech or educational industries that stand to lose if a sweeping and indefinite ban on legal immigration is instituted. The H-2B visa, which is dedicated to seasonal, non-agricultural workers, is critical to America’s hospitality and recreation industries. Some 40% of H-2B visa holders work in landscaping or groundskeeping . Amusement and recreation also rely heavily on the visa. Hospitality workers, like hotel staff, food processors and restaurant workers, are all significant contributors to the H-2B visa as well. Considering these are some of the industries hit hardest by COVID-19 and the summer months are upon us, further disruptions to these industries’ workforces does not appear to be in their best interest.    

Perhaps a 12- to 18-month moratorium on nearly all forms of legal immigration will succeed and force businesses that would otherwise rely on these visas to shift their hiring practices to include some of the more than 30 million Americans who have lost their jobs over the past two months. However, given the economic fallout the United States and the world currently experience and will continue to experience, this result is unlikely.

Immigration is a necessary piece of the U.S. economy. It is a complex network that has strengths and weaknesses, like most of American policy. By making broad, lasting slashes to immigration policy, we risk cutting out the good with the bad and being left with a vacancy that may not be filled in the manner some lawmakers or administration officials suggest. As the COVID-19 crisis continues, we should all be wary of any political action that seeks to capitalize on it.  

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

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. 

 

MAY 19, 2020 //     

More Than Just Fun, TikTok Finds A New Meaning

By: Pranav Kumar and Natashia Jaya

By now, you’ve heard about TikTok, the world’s most definitive short-form video platform. Some of you may have asked someone younger in your life to explain what it is or perhaps you jumped right in and tried it yourself because everyone you know is already on it. 

As every teenagers’ platform of choice for creative expression, TikTok has now become the digital companion that keeps everyone around the world  (yes, boomers, millennials and Gen Zs included) inspired, informed and connected despite social distancing. 

With schools and offices in lockdown mode and people ordered to stay home for weeks, consumers have naturally turned to digital and online streaming platforms to keep themselves entertained. But beyond the fun and entertaining videos, TikTok has found a new role during the COVID-19 pandemic – to bring people together more meaningfully. It has pivoted from a  fun app into a platform that supports users around the world in positive and beneficial ways while remaining joyful. 

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As a part of that strategy, TikTok adapted its hashtag challenges into a series of fun and educational programs to provide in a bit of levity while embracing the responsibility we all share to stop the spread of the coronavirus. For example, #StayAtHome is a hashtag challenge that encourages users to showcase how they live through this unprecedented crisis and pass time creatively.  

TikTok has also increasingly become a platform for knowledge-based content. For example, #EduTok on TikTok is particularly relevant now, when online learning is the only option for most people. Whether teaming up with local doctors for thoughtful conversations about how to stay healthy, listening to motivational speakers to share life tips or learning new recipes, #EduTok has helped connect a new generation of creators to audiences thirsty for knowledge. In markets like India, #EduTok has played an even bigger role helping connect communities by spreading digital literacy and skill development even before pandemic. #EduTok is among the most popular content categories in India.   

Joining the battle against the spread of COVID-19 misinformation, TikTok focused the majority of its efforts on providing users with access to accurate information and resources. While this is not the main reason users come to TikTok, the platform understands the important role it plays to ensure the right resources are available to the community. This effort came to life with the World Health Organization (WHO), which partnered with the platform to provide an informational page that answers common questions and busts myths about COVID-19. Equally important, TikTok also heightened its content moderation efforts to curb misinformation within the app and added additional subcategories for users to report, such as misinformation or COVID-19. 

TikTok’s commitment to play its part in the battle against the pandemic also translates into concrete relief for those most affected by the crisis. Bringing the support from online to life, TikTok provides relief funds to support front line medical workers, vulnerable communities, educators and more.  

Brands must adapt while not forgetting about what they stand for. For TikTok, its vision has always been to bring joy and inspire creativity. And while this is a difficult time for the world as a whole, TikTok has been able to shift its narrative from a platform that uplifts and inspires to one that also lends a helping hand – and all while having a ton of fun!

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

Pranav Kumar leads Allison+Partners in India and works closely with its teams to provide client support across corporate reputation, business and brand communications remits. He brings nearly two decades of communications experience predominantly on the agency side a focus on crisis counsel, issues management, c-suite communications advisory and thought leadership. 

Natashia Jaya is an account director in our Singapore office and has more than a decade of experience in PR with a career that spans across the U.S., Indonesia and Singapore. As the regional lead for clients, such as Waze and TikTok, Natashia currently drives APAC-wide communications programs from strategy development to in-markets coordination. She also works on a diverse set of corporate and technology clients.

MAY 14, 2020 //     

Communications in the Recovery Phase: Be Responsible and Honest in the Transition to a Better Tomorrow

By Heike Schubert

Slowly – some say too hastily – European countries including the UK, France and Germany are starting to ease lockdown restrictions.

The ‘Six Phases of the Disruption Life Cycle’ recently outlined by Allison+Partners communications professionals Tom Smith and David Wolf provided a useful guide on the key elements businesses must work through in of a period of crisis. We have just started coming out of the Command Phase (phase three) and are entering into the Recovery Phase (phase four). However, we are doing so tentatively – our governments are closely monitoring infection rates because we really cannot know the impact of eased lockdown measures until they are trialed. As we adjust to the ‘new normal’, minimizing the spread of the virus, protecting people from it and taking care of those unwell will continue to be of the utmost importance.

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In the near future, uncertainty will continue to characterize every aspect of our lives. In the UK, France and Germany, one thing is certain – we know society will be forever changed. COVID-19 has forced us all to slow down and reflect on what is working and what can be improved.

So, what does the ‘new normal’ look like? The discussions have already begun. We need to rethink how we live, work and travel. We need to consider how to better acknowledge the high value of people in health and social care, retail, education and more. And we need to better prioritize our personal lives, families and mental well-being. Perhaps, everything will change. Nothing is off the table right now.

From a communications perspective – we need to balance being cautious with being proactive in positive ways. Companies that are thinking innovatively and looking to solve problems that help people will succeed in generating positive brand awareness that they can carry into the future.

To be an effective communicator in the current environment, we recommend implementing three key steps:

1. Stay supportive – the threat isn’t over yet

Right now, it’s all about seeing the bigger picture and how your organization fits into that.  Ultimately, every group represents a small part of a huge and complex system. It’s all about supporting each other to stay functional as well as working towards one major goal: avoiding the spread of the virus in order to save lives.

So, how can you support this overarching objective? Whether you’re reorganizing a manufacturing site to produce life-saving ventilators or you’re pivoting to sew masks instead of making clothes – decide what it is you will do to show you’re committed to playing your part in helping people during the crisis. In doing so, you will be remembered for the responsible role you have taken in society. It is imperative that companies and organizations not only exist to be successful but also act to do good and develop trust within their community.

2. Don’t brag about success – stay humble

The majority of people, companies and state institutions are currently facing a plethora of challenges, from unemployment to salary cuts, to failing business operations. The states are struggling to stay ahead of the infection wave on one side and are trying to support individuals, companies and organizations on the other in order to minimize disruption to the economy, avoid widespread bankruptcy and mass poverty.

In many European countries, government loan schemes and the existing social security systems are supporting the people to buffer the worst effects. It’s an incredibly difficult time – many small businesses and jobs are reliant on financial assistance for their survival. Therefore, any communication where a company is highlighting how successful they have been under these circumstances is inappropriate. It’s even counterproductive as it labels the successful players as a kind of ‘war profiteer’ – someone who is capitalizing on the pandemic, rather than sharing the burden and supporting others.

No doubt there will be entities that are successful during this time – for instance, companies selling food and groceries or important medical devices. However, it is how these companies are offering and communicating their products and services that will make the difference. For instance, reducing prices, services for the elderly and vulnerable, charitable giving and clear ethical programs will help companies be remembered in a positive way. It is critical that these activities and engagements come from the heart and that companies act authentically and transparently to give people confidence in them.

3. Become part of the better tomorrow

To create a better tomorrow, organizations need to think about how their product, strategy and company culture are perceived now. They need to evaluate their role in the new normal, map out a plan and take action.  

One organization cannot solve every issue, but they can be really good at helping overcome one or two specific challenges close to home. Leaders need to review what products and services they sell and how they can do this better for people, the environment and the world.

If you have something to contribute – become a thought leader and have your say on what we can improve upon. Make sure your insights are valuable in the overall conversation and the aim of your communications is to explain how you are working towards a better tomorrow – not profiteering off the crisis.

The global pandemic is an opportunity to truly think and act globally. Together, we can all be a part of a better tomorrow.

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

 Heike Schubert is a General Manager in our German A+P office.

MAY 10, 2020 //     

Moms, This Mother’s Day Take Time to Love Yourselves The Way Your Children Love You

By Anne Colaiacovo 

This Mother’s Day will look different, just as the past few months have looked different in so many ways. This is an unimaginably difficult time for mothers and all caregivers, second to the moment when we brought our children home from the hospital with little idea of what was to follow.  

As a working mother to a 5- and 7-year-old, I constantly remind myself to keep perspective as the challenges of being mom, wife, substitute teacher, chef, cleaning crew and agency team member become overwhelming. I remind myself this time period won’t last forever! I am sharing what I’ve learned, with the hope this Mother’s Day, above anything else, mothers can take a moment to love ourselves the way our children love us – unconditionally.

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SEE IT THROUGH THEIR EYES

If you asked my kids and me what we remember from each day during this strange period, our answers would definitely not line up! I would tell you about the times we argued, or the time spent catching up on work. They would point to licking the spoon before putting the cookies in the oven or playing on the swings. Kids constantly do what we are unable to do for ourselves – they show us how to revel in the simple moments and cut ourselves a break.

"During this time, I’ve discovered a revolving door of emotions – sensory overload, impostor syndrome and mom guilt, to name a few – that shadows me between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. And while we’re surrounded by professional examples of resiliency every day, I’ve humbly learned from my 7-year old how to stare confusing adversity in the face with the eyes of gratitude. His abundant energy, joyful attitude and unending ability to find simple pleasures in the mundane remind me the greatest teachers often come in the smallest of packages." - Ashley Nasser, senior vice president of client service and operations in Atlanta

BE THERE, AND YES, THAT’S ENOUGH

My working-mom stage began at Allison+Partners. On the cusp of the birth of my first child, our CEO Scott Allison gave me advice that rings true during this challenging time: “Even though you think your kids need you when they’re super little, they will need you even more as they get older.” As much as my family has enjoyed this time together, sharing my own personal frustrations has allowed me to be even more present for my children. They’re confused about what’s going on in the world, why they can’t see their friends, and why Nanna and Poppy wear masks. I admit to them often and openly that I’m confused too. Despite shifting circumstances, my children have always known I will be there for them, inside and outside of quarantine. They come first. I have A+P to thank for creating a flexible work environment that allows me to be there.  

Molly Luby, NYC senior vice president of client services and operations and mother to 3-year-old Emma, agrees totally about rethinking flexibility and acknowledges this experience has given her perspective on how much little moments with family mean. And she continues to keep doing her best to soak up those moments – good, bad and ugly.

THIS ADJUSTMENT HASN’T BROKEN THE SYSTEM

When we return to a post-COVID world, our environments will be different. For our kids, that includes their schools and child-care systems. And for us working parents, that includes our offices. We should celebrate these shifts, as they will bring new opportunities. The restructuring that’s happened with working parents has required a new attitude with both employers and employees, but it hasn’t broken the system. 

Jamie Rismiller, Washington, D.C. senior vice president, has found unexpected changes in this new system, this remote era has forced her to break free from the chains of routine and find new, and better, ways of doing things both personally and professionally.

We still meet deadlines, remain in close contact with clients and correspond with coworkers. But now that we’re rethinking our routines, conversations and workload, I’m hopeful this is just the beginning of rethinking our environments.

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

Anne Colaiacovo is president of North America and is accountable for the financial performance, new business and management of the agency’s 13 U.S. offices. A dynamic and innovative leader, Anne was the agency’s first and youngest female partner, was named one of PRWeek’s “40 Under 40” in 2014, and has earned industry recognition from PRWeek, The Holmes Report, AdAge and the Public Relations Society of America.

 

 

 

MAY 8, 2020 //     

Persevering in a Time of Crisis

By Tracey Cassidy

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

I bought a magnet a while back for a friend with that Winston Churchill statement. It’s a powerful sentiment. And as we embark on week eight of shelter-in-place orders in New York City and the surrounding tri-state area, it’s more relevant than ever.

Prior to this week I’d not taken time to reflect on the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in NYC – a hotbed of the pandemic. Until now, I kept going, kept moving and dealt with what was in front of me, hour by hour, day by day.

We expected March to be a busy month. We had several clients with events planned, but we started to see trepidation from reporters about attending. Then Hearst, Conde Nast and Meredith ordered their staffs to work from home and refrain from attending in-person events. Many at these outlets had staff who attended Milan Fashion Week in February, and rumors spread that some editors may have contracted the coronavirus. Clients quickly canceled events or pivoted online.

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Yet, the actual threat of the coronavirus still felt at bay. Then our Canadian client Shopify shut down all its offices and provided a $1,000 stipend to outfit employees’ home offices. As the general manager of Allison+Partners’ New York office, I started talks with agency partners and senior leadership about the possibility of a work-from-home scenario. We’d already given staff the flexibility to do that or commute to the office during off-peak hours.

Still, the threat didn’t feel imminent. Maybe it was because we were also packing up our office space in Union Square, which we’ve occupied for more than a decade. Despite what was going on around us, the team stayed focused on preparing for our move. Looking back now, I realize it was a distraction and one that maybe we needed.

Once we instituted the mandatory WFH order, it seemed the walls around us began to crumble. You couldn’t escape a day without talking to someone who was directly impacted or knew a family member or friend who was sick with the virus. We all checked in on each other regularly to see if any of us had COVID-19 symptoms. 

My friend is an ER doctor who remains on the frontlines in a New Jersey hospital. When I reached out mid-March to see how he was, I was shocked to hear his hospital, in an affluent area, gravely lacked personal protective equipment (PPE). He told me a story of sending staff to STAPLES to buy sheet protectors and electrical tape to make their own face shields. STAPLES?! My first thought was that’s not a medical supply store – did I hear that right? This is not a third-world country! At that moment, I realized the threat had arrived, it was real and taking victims. And clearly, we were ill-prepared. 

The last eight weeks have been unprecedented, and I realized Churchill was right. The best thing we can do is keep going. I’ve never led during a time of crisis. The last crisis I can recall of this magnitude was 9/11, and I was just starting out in my career and not responsible for managing others. My biggest takeaway is we must find the things that push us to keep going. I’m not a crisis communications person, but this is how I’ve tried to help my team during this crisis:

  • Find the silver linings – the text to my ER doctor friend made me think of him first when a client asked if anyone had contacts at local hospitals because they had PPE they wanted to send. Our client shifted quickly from manufacturing car parts to face shields almost overnight. I connected the client with my friend, and shortly thereafter 1,000 face shields arrived for him and his medical staff. My friend is doing well and continues to show nothing but gratitude.

  • Keep kindness going – sending a client or colleague a compliment via text, chat or email is powerful. It might be the one thing that person needs during a rough day. Shift to compassion instead of criticism, and somehow the outlook magically changes to be a little bit brighter.

  • Acknowledge you’re going to have bad days – I met with my senior team this week and shared that mid-week seems to be when I hit a wall. It’s evitable when you’re juggling so many balls in the air, but being aware of this helps me manage it. Maybe you’ll start to see more virtual happy hours on Tuesday or Wednesday in the New York office.

  • Find comfort in the discomfort – We know this isn’t a typical or comfortable situation for employees or clients, but we’ve collectively found comfort in the uncomfortable and will emerge from this stronger because of what we endured together.

I don’t know what will unfold in the coming months. What I do know is I’m grateful for my position at Allison+Partners and the talented group of people I get to work with every day. Despite being remote, this team is tighter than ever and doing amazing work. And we will keep going no matter what comes our way.

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

Tracey Cassidy is the General Manager of Allison+Partners NYC office, the largest in the network. Tracey brings more than 20 years of experience building brands and safeguarding their reputations.

Follow her on Twitter @TraceyCassidy or LinkedIN.

 

MAY 6, 2020 //     

It’s Now Time to Help Those Who Help Others

By: Scott Pansky

As many respond to the national pandemic by helping food banks, donating PPE supplies, or making financial donations to international and national relief charities, we can’t forget those who make a difference locally.

For the past eight weeks, Allison+Partners has donated services to numerous local nonprofits, including providing senior counsel, helping compose board and donor communications, developing online fundraising strategies, and responding to crisis situations. It’s important to us to offer our expertise and experience.

But we must remember smaller and local nonprofit organizations suffer too. Many have had to furlough staff, cancel events or learn how to change formats. Many do not have funds in the bank to survive the remainder of the year.

Now is the time for us to roll up our sleeves and see what else we can do. For example, I sit on the board of a local YMCA. When Los Angeles closed gyms and fitness centers, the Y had to close its doors to the public. They had been servicing families and seniors, many who were at risk. As a board, we began developing strategies to respond. All of us committed to making additional financial donations; all reached out to a minimum of five contacts to ask for support.

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Yet, we still had to furlough much of the staff. The executive director, one of the most creative men I know, said we could do more. He wanted to be more of first responder. He hosted food drives, blood drives and emergency childcare programs at hospitals for care-giver responders.

The Y has an unused facility. He outreached to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office and volunteered to let the city use it. It is now a facility for regional homeless to shower and have a place to relax. This brought new funds to the Y and allowed us to bring back several team members.

We also discovered those using the showers would put back on their old dirty clothes afterward. To make their experience more valuable, the YMCA hosted a clothing drive in which our donors and volunteers could make a positive difference too. I am so proud to be a part of this local nonprofit.

Here are ways you can help local nonprofit organizations:

  • Offer your skills and services
  • Make in-kind donations of supplies and products
  • Donate cash or gift cards
  • Volunteer from a safe space
  • Call or email friends and family
  • Use social media to post blogs, calls to actions. You have followers, let them know what you care about and what they can do to help

If you’re a nonprofit in need of advice, get in touch at scottp@allisonpr.com or sign up for our weekly 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 nonprofit organizations and developing board + ambassador training programs.

MAY 4, 2020 //     

May the 4th (or Force) Be with You…As We Navigate to Our New Normal

By Jacques Couret

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… we used to shake hands, gather in large groups and have meals together without worry. We went out without masks and latex gloves. It was a more civilized age before the dark times – before the coronavirus.

It’s May the 4th during our long COVID-19 shutdown and lock-in. For the uninitiated, May the 4th – a corny play on the famous “May the Force be with you” heard so many times in the beloved Star Wars movie franchise – is the international day geeks like me celebrate all things Jedi and Sith.

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But on May 4, 2020, we might as well be in a galaxy far, far away. The pandemic has made things feel as if we landed on some alien world where all inhabitants live in fear of an invisible enemy, a “Phantom Menace” of sorts, and have grown leery of physical contact with others. We’ve also grown frustrated and angry as we seem powerless to eradicate the virus or save our economies. To quote the eternally anxious protocol droid C-3PO: “We’re doomed!”

There’s been a great disturbance in the Force, and we are scared. But as Jedi Master Yoda reminds us: "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

During difficult times in my life, I have often turned to Star Wars for entertainment and escape. It never lets me down, particularly “The Empire Strikes Back.” For billions around the world, the saga just has a special way of gripping the imagination, pulling you into a world where anything seems possible and the stresses of real life just melt away. And for Gen Xers like me, Star Wars provides a powerful way to transport back to our childhoods, our simpler and more civilized times. Watching Star Wars movies for the millionth time as an adult is like visiting dear old friends. It’s comforting for the mind and soul.

Star Wars has been a near-constant companion and calling card. And as I have aged, its meaning and importance has evolved along with me. As a youngster, it was about lightsabers and blasters, good and evil, and cool spaceships and aliens. As an adolescent, it became a bit more about the individual characters, a father and a son on opposing sides of the same coin, and the nature of the Force. As an adult, it has also become about spiritual dogma, the arrogance of power, the fragility of democracy, the ugliness of politics and the tragic mistakes well-intentioned people can make. And, of course, the lightsabers!

But always, Star Wars is the hero’s tale. It’s a story of regular, often downtrodden people inspired by hope to overcome the odds, accomplish amazing things, fulfill their destinies and create order and civility out of chaos and war. 

Hope is the constant thread that weaves together the 11 (and counting) Star Wars films and cartoon series. At the end of “Rogue One,” Princess Leia reminds us the captured Death Star plans offer the galaxy “hope.” The first Star Wars movie is called “A New Hope.” In “The Empire Strikes Back,” Luke loses part of his arm, Han Solo is frozen in carbonite and Leia is left holding her battered rebellion barely together by only a thread of hope.

I’ll watch Star Wars tonight to mark May the 4th. Which movie, I haven’t yet decided. But I do know it will take my mind off the things here in my galaxy that stress me. It will mostly make me forget about the hardships COVID-19 has placed upon us all and remind me there is always hope. There will be casualties, there will be tough times, there will be a temptation to believe all is lost — but the good guys always win in the end because they never give into anger, hate and fear. They have hope. And lightsabers! 

As you continue to work from home, homeschool your kids and hope for the best, may the Force be with you!

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

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.

MAY 1, 2020 //     

Pay It Forward and Help the Next Generation

By: Scott Pansky

Now is the time to make a difference in young professionals’ lives, guide them in their careers and help them navigate the great recession we are about to enter. The U.S. recession in 1991 caused by the collapse of the real estate industry seems like yesterday. The job market was down and getting a well-paid job was difficult. I had just graduated from San Diego State University (SDSU), and I remember asking for an informational interview with Dave Nuffer, the CEO of Nuffer, Smith, Tucker and a San Diego PR icon who has since passed.

Dave was a charismatic magnet. He made you laugh, he told great stories and he was the kind of guy you wanted to work for. I was heartbroken as he tore apart my resume and said, “I want to know where you interned, who your clients are and what results you got for them… and, by the way, we aren’t hiring.”

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I made the edits he suggested, and I submitted my new resume to another well-respected agency in town, The Gable Group.  Scott Allison, a newly promoted supervisor there and a fellow SDSU alum, interviewed me. Nearly 30 years later, we are still together.

The mentoring I got from industry leaders, like Dave, Scott, Dr. Glen Broom, Elizabeth Pecsi and Henri Bollinger, helped shape the work I do today. They listened to me when I discussed the areas of work that I enjoyed and to the ones I feared. Their tutelage, patience, guidance and support gave me the confidence to never give up and keep pursuing the things I was passionate about.

For more than 10 years, I have paid it forward and taken the lessons Scott and Dave taught me to help students in their career paths. I cannot count the number of resumes I have edited, or the tips provided, and guest lectures and presentations I have given to students at UCLA, USC, ASU, SDSU, Bucknell University, the Lagrant Foundation, PRSSA and PRSA. 

COVID-19’s economic impact is unknown but will be much worse than past recessions.  As we slowly creep up to more than 30 million people unemployed, I recognize how important it is to give back and help the next generation. It’s not necessarily about providing jobs. It’s about providing counsel in your chosen profession and helping them navigate the uncertain destiny that lies ahead. It’s no longer a conversation about millennials or Gen Z. It’s about life lessons and entering new fields where their skills can be used for jobs that can make a difference.

I can’t express enough how rewarding it is to help students entering the job market. You get to share in their successes and guide them through their lows. You can help empower them to grow and use their passions to learn something new. We need fresh minds, new creative ideas and new experiences to help us grow our companies.

What’s event better? They will remember your help; they will support others and mentor the generation behind them. You can be proud of the impact you have made and the incredible legacy you will leave behind. Don’t miss this opportunity – they need you now!

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

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 nonprofit organizations and developing board + ambassador training programs.
 

APRIL 30, 2020 //     

B2B Lead Gen While Social Distancing

By: Terrance McDermott 

Reactions to the pandemic have all but eliminated in-person contact between B2B sales professionals and prospects, leaving some wondering, “How do I promote my business now?” The looming economic uncertainty also adds the marketing challenge of potentially generating and pursuing prospects who may not even know their true budget authorization or their organization’s near-term needs.

One clear pivot is to focus on strengthening relationships with existing customers. In the best case, perhaps it leads to an upgrade, an upsell or new users within an existing customer organization. At a minimum, it is an effort at customer retention.

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Unlock the Value of Your CRM Data

All organizations should take another look at their CRM database. No matter the sophistication of the marcom tech stack, the CRM system can yield a gold mine of avenues for marketers to pursue. Minimal contact information, even for key daily contacts? Figure out how to add name and phone number. Ask the sales team, search for the e-mail naming convention. If need be, call the main number! Extensive information about various influencers and decision-makers? Email them your most recent industry information. And if you don’t have something recent, create it! Build an infographic, create a survey and share results. Find video of an industry thought leader and share the link. And there is a lot of room in between.

Understand Your Customers

In addition to strengthening relationships, marketers can also seek data. Now is the time to become a LinkedIn expert. Is the LinkedIn insight tag loaded on your website? Add it and begin learning more about the visitors to your website, and a small re-marketing campaign will be a quick addition. From there, you can learn more about the content consumed by the industry you market to. That provides direction for the next piece of content you’ll produce.

An organization with extensive CRM data can use LinkedIn’s matched audience features for an ad campaign that will reach the exact people in the CRM database and others at the company. Then, the current environment presents a perfect opportunity for marketers to declare which other contacts at a current customer can influence upsell or retention. We often work with clients to define the buying group early in the sales cycle, but it is just as relevant for retention or upsell. Determine the title of end-users for your product, understand who may have originally created a vendor search with the assistance of procurement and investigate who within a client organization helps determine “value.” Small marketing campaigns to reach those individuals at an important client will help make them advocates for you – either in the face of a competitor, or for an add-on that will more fully use your product. 

Make a Plan for Growth

Now you have an expanded audience of influencers for whom you can adjust existing content or create something new. By this point, you have built an account-based marketing plan without ever making the declaration. You know the companies who are your current customers, thus similar companies are easier to determine. You know the content those customers consume. You know the titles at those companies who use your product. Now you can fill out your database with added information to strengthen relationships.

Of course, LinkedIn is just a first step, and many marketers already use its capabilities to the fullest. Microsoft, which owns LinkedIn, has slowly expanded opportunities to use LinkedIn profiles outside of LinkedIn itself. You may now be in a position to push further with data vendors who can help build a stronger and updated list, media vendors who can help you target the exact people you want to reach, trade publishers who can burnish your thought-leadership credentials, and other martech providers who can help push you up the learning curve. There’s no shortage of martech vendors.

But the best way to put them to work for you is to first understand your customers, the individual influencers and end-users within customer organizations, and what they need from your product or service. From there, whether you are equipped to go fast or you must go slowly, upgrades and upsells are the clear next steps. 

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

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.

APRIL 29, 2020 //     

“Houston, We Had a Problem”: Learning From the Apollo 13 Mission.

By Deb McCormick

April 2020 marks 50 years since Apollo 13 returned safely to earth, crashing into the Pacific Ocean after a harrowing adventure in space. The trip brought one life threatening disaster after the next — a story of overcoming massive crisis. But if we look at how Commander James Lovell and his crew faced the adversity, we might apply some of that courage under fire to today’s COVID-19 pandemic.

Apollo 13 launched on April 11, 1970. The spacecraft featured two independent structures joined by a tunnel: orbiter Odyssey and lander Aquarius. The crew lived in Odyssey during the journey to the moon, while lander Aquarius served as the vehicle for the moon landing. It was NASA’s third moon mission and sadly an unsuccessful one. An oxygen tank exploded 56 hours into the mission and forced the crew to abandon their visions of stepping foot on the moon. Lovell uttered those famous words: “Houston, we had a problem,” which Hollywood later changed to “Houston, we have a problem.”

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At the time, Lovell was the world’s most traveled astronaut with three missions and 572 spaceflight hours under his belt. That’s a guy you want leading the charge. The damaged Odyssey craft had Aquarius as a backup, but Aquarius didn’t have a heat shield to survive re-entry to earth. Aquarius also wasn’t supposed to be turned on until the crew was close to the moon. The space was cramped, wet and cold and only designed to support two people on the moon’s surface for two days. Mission control in Houston improvised, and came back with new procedures that enabled three men to be in it for four days.

From a leadership perspective, Lovell did the one thing all great leaders do in times of crisis – He didn’t dwell on the coulda woulda shoulda. I’m sure he mourned it for a sour second and then moved on. He then improvised, using everything he and his crew had to work within those moments and moving one step at a time.

The crew had to balance the challenge of getting home with the challenge of preserving power on Aquarius. After they performed a crucial burn to point the spacecraft back toward Earth, they powered down every nonessential system in the spacecraft. Without a heat source, temperatures dropped to close to freezing. Mission controls teams helped the crew with daily activities and spacecraft manufacturers worked around the clock to support NASA and the astronauts. It took a few villages. The journey home was rough, to say the least. They safely splashed down on April 17. 

The mission name and astronaut patches came from Apollo, the sun god of Greek mythology, represented as the sun with three horses driving his chariot across the surface of the Moon. This symbolizes how the Apollo flights have lit knowledge to all mankind. The Latin phrase “Ex Luna, Scientia” means “From the Moon, Knowledge.”

The astronauts brought back space miles of knowledge, and the event resulted in NASA making some well-needed operational changes.

I think we can all relate to this story. These are uncomfortable times for people and for brands. We’re crammed into places we didn’t expect to be, and we face unknowns.

First, it’s important not to look behind you – that’s in outer space now. Next, remember where there’s uncertainty, find your clarity. Use this time to improvise — by definition that means spontaneously or without preparation. Make something from whatever is available. You might just find your brand is capable of something bigger than what you thought you planned for.

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

Deborah McCormick is a Creative Director at Allison+Partners. She has more than 25 years of experience leading strategy and brand initiatives across healthcare, travel + hospitality, consumer, financial and automotive. She believes in meaningful content to drive conversions and spark brand love.

APRIL 28, 2020 //     

Innovative Thinking is Needed to Drive The Auto Industry Forward

By: Marcus Gamo

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the automotive industry in a profound way, forcing the closure of global manufacturing centers, the cancelation of auto shows set to attract millions of visitors and drive sales leads, and the temporary shuttering of dealerships.

These challenges certainly have a direct impact on short-term demand, with analysts predicting a 60% decline in U.S. sales for April and even more aggressive declines across Europe for the month. This challenges automakers and mobility technology companies to revisit priorities and resources with the hope of a V-shaped economic rebound during the second half of 2020.

What we see across a number of industries - including automotive - are innovative ideas and creative solutions to help drive new revenue streams. And, the same will be no different for carmakers, dealerships and brands that champion a direct-to-consumer model made popular by distribution EV makers Tesla and Rivian.

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  • Several carmakers, including Ford, Tesla and Toyota, quickly pivoted resources to address the immediate needs of the healthcare industry, from using resources to manufacture ventilators to large-scale 3D printers to deliver face shields. While these automakers embraced leadership responsibilities at a time of need, this quick pivot demonstrates the ability to reimagine how best to leverage engineering ingenuity to create new revenue.
  • With auto shows postponed or canceled outright, carmakers must revisit plans to develop a wave of buzz for new vehicle launches. To challenge this, VW built a virtual version of its Geneva Auto Show booth (planned for early to mid-March 2020) to help spotlight its priority vehicles for the year. Look for a growing number of automakers to take a similar approach, with top-tier shows in the U.S. greatly impacted this year.
  • With so many already impacted financially by this crisis, consumers will look for new vehicles that offer the most value. For automakers, it’s an opportunity to spotlight sedans (including hybrid sedans), largely overlooked, given the explosive growth of SUVs and light trucks over the past decade.

With so many dealerships only keeping service departments open and available at a time when showrooms have been closed, opportunities have opened for each to look at fresh thinking to deliver solutions for their customers’ mobility needs.  

  • Several dealerships have created mobile service offerings with basic services, such as oil changes and planned maintenance, conducted at a vehicle owner’s home rather than the Not only does this create revenue opportunities at a time when many consumers are unable (or simply cannot) leave their homes, it allows for a greater number of customers to get service at any given time.
  • Dealerships, which often leverage a fleet of courtesy vehicles for consumers who tap their service departments, have the opportunity to reimagine how these vehicles are used. For instance, it’s likely dealerships will step into the carsharing community - similar to approaches championed by Getaround, Zipcar and even traditional car rental brands - and allow access to these courtesy vehicles.
  • And similar to VW creating a virtual auto show booth to help drive demand for new vehicles, dealerships will likely lean into digital content to create virtual vehicle walkarounds and test drives to help augment digital commerce.

One of the hallmarks of the automotive industry is continued innovation, such as technology leveraged to reduce crashes and save lives, advance zero-emission mobility and in-vehicle entertainment. Even in the face of an economic crisis, we should expect continued innovation to drive the auto industry forward.

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

As the head of Allison+Partners’ automotive specialty group, Marcus Gamo helps a diversity of brands navigate a new mobility culture and communicate unique visions for mobility’s future and how transportation is consumed through smart communications programs. With more than a decade of automotive and mobility industry experience, he architects strategic campaigns that deliver impactful communication for OEMs across the U.S., a leading technology and 5G chipmaker that powers connected transportation and autonomous cars, and global energy companies that introduce L2 and L3 EV chargers. 

 

APRIL 24, 2020 //     

Great Company Culture is a Two-Way Street

By: Courtney Newman

Some businesses will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis with stronger company cultures, while others will see the ties that bind staff weaken under shelter-in-place orders. The difference will be how well businesses engage their employees in a two-way dialogue. 

Here are five tips to help you build or maintain a strong company culture, whether your staff is working remotely or back in the office.

Establish your cultural roadmap. Collaborate with staff to identify three to five core values that define a successful employee in your company and use them to recruit, onboard, evaluate and celebrate staff. If your company hasn’t developed yours yet, start a conversation with staff about the strengths that help you weather the current crisis and get consensus on the most essential traits to drive the business forward.

Make time for facetime. Regular interaction between your leadership team and employees – via live, interactive town halls and educational events – not only enhances investment in the company’s vision, but also allows you to uncover pain points that impact personnel. With staff quarantined at home, you can maintain this personal touch by hosting virtual town halls, recording video messages from your leadership team and developing a CEO advisory council of staff from various levels, functions and geographies to share their insights on video chat. 

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Be transparent about business challenges. During times of crisis, employees crave honest information about business performance and job security, and leaders who deliver this build trust and loyalty even when the news is bad. Solicit “Ask Me Anything” questions anonymously with an online survey tool like SurveyMonkey and have your CEO address them in an all-hands webinar. Given the ever-evolving nature of the global pandemic, biweekly sessions may be necessary.

Solicit feedback and act on it. It’s also essential to assess staff’s wellbeing and needs to tailor your internal communications and support systems accordingly. Conducting anonymous pulse surveys on a weekly basis will allow you to respond in real time as the crisis evolves. You also need to be explicit about how such input is being used. Neglecting this step is a trust buster and will make staff less likely to chime in and be forthright.

Offer perks that encourage teambuilding. Job satisfaction is enhanced when employees genuinely like each other, so it’s essential to offer perks that encourage them to have fun with each other and the top brass while they’re on the clock. Working remotely puts a damper on social events like running clubs and serving meals to the homeless, but there are many ways to continue the fun in video meetings: group workouts, icebreakers, book clubs, trivia, fitness challenges and home tours in the style of “MTV Cribs,” which offers all-access tours of celebrity homes.

An honest, two-way relationship between leadership and employees will not only foster a strong workplace culture but will also help you uncover great solutions to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and build an army of loyal followers to implement them.

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

Partner Courtney Newman leads learning and employee engagement for more than 500 A+Pers in the U.S., Europe and Asia-Pacific. Her A+P career highlight is the agency being a perennial PRWeek Best Places to Work winner.

APRIL 23, 2020 //     

Why Higher Education Needs to Consider Brand Reputation

By: Paul Breton and Lydia Wilbanks

Campuses have shut down. Classroom instruction is completely online for the foreseeable future. Sporting, recruiting and graduation events have been cancelled or postponed. And the lawsuits over tuition and fees have begun.

It’s a make-or-break moment for higher education. In the coming months, university presidents, college deans, development officers and administrators will need to make complex and potentially unpopular decisions that can affect their long-term brand reputations. That’s why now is the optimal time to pivot their communications strategies and engage stakeholders differently.

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Students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni and institutional donors each have myriad questions that need to be carefully messaged and addressed, not least of which include:

  • How and when will campuses reopen and make it actually safe to return?
  • How will online vs. on-campus tuition and fee decisions be managed?
  • How will out-of-state and international student admissions and enrollment be impacted if prospective students are unable to travel and take campus tours?
  • How will virtual, online stewardship keep alumni and donors engaged and connected – and for how long?
  • Are traditional methods of marketing outreach still effective?

Institutions that take decisive action to navigate these concerns creatively, empathetically and transparently will emerge stronger. They will build credibility and goodwill, especially when unpopular decisions become necessary. Schools that hesitate or underestimate the importance of their communications will face a long, uphill road to reputational and financial recovery.  

Here are four important communications initiatives school officials should focus on now to engage students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni and institutional donors to shore up their long-term brand reputations:

Double down on digital

With in-person events and activities no longer viable options, colleges and universities need to shift resources and maximize the full range of digital capabilities to stay connected to their audiences online. Effective use of virtual events, online campus experiences, emotionally engaging videos, email newsletters, search engine marketing, social media influencer engagement and online conversation mining will give university communities the ability to remain visible and relevant during this prolonged time of social distancing.

Keep employees engaged

Now that everyone is working remotely, it’s even more imperative for school officials to increase connections with faculty and staff who are on the front lines with students, parents, donors and other stakeholders. While broad, one-way, top-down updates are customary, schools that rely on these types of communications exclusively will miss out on opportunities for valuable community temperature checks. Instead, communicators need to embrace virtual townhalls, online Q&As, department-wide video conferences, real-time employee surveys and other forms of remote social engagement.

Narrative matters

During times of high anxiety, people want reassurance and empathy from their leaders. They accept that decisions are being made in real time with incomplete and ever-changing information. While stakeholders don’t expect perfection, they do feel entitled to explanations of how and why important decisions are made and what they mean for the future. And they expect sincere contrition and quick corrections when leaders make the wrong call. 

Now more than usual, it’s important to consider how difficult messages are delivered and how they support an overarching brand narrative. Do stakeholders have a reason to trust and believe? Are they inspired? Can they see themselves as valued contributors to how the story gets written – or are they merely pawns in a game over which they have no meaningful control?

Tell stories that inspire

University marketers and fundraisers already appreciate the power of emotional stories about how higher education transforms lives and how researchers make new discoveries. Now is the time to delve even deeper and mine for inspiring stories that showcase the ingenuity and resilience of students, faculty, alumni and staff. 

How did professors come up with innovative ways to engage their students online? Which staff members truly went above and beyond the call of duty? How did the school community rally together to support each other or the community at large? How have alumni stepped up to hire students, establish internships and give back in new and inventive ways? 

These types of stories yearn to be discovered and disseminated.

While higher education faces an uncertain future, communications decisions that institutions make now will have brand reputation implications that endure long after students return and campuses once again safely open their doors.

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

Paul Breton is an executive vice president in the Corporate + Public Affairs practice. He counsels executives to communicate effectively and tell memorable stories that result in positive earned media coverage, stronger brand reputation, greater stakeholder engagement and more revenue. He has 20+ years of PR and marketing communications experience and specializes in executive thought leadership, brand storytelling, crisis and issues management, internal communications and employee engagement. His industry experience spans education, technology, financial and professional services, entertainment and healthcare.

Lydia Wilbanks brings more than three decades of consumer and corporate communications experience to Allison+Partners. She specializes in target market analysis, strategic planning and thought leadership. After owning her own award-winning agency, she now focuses on communication counsel and market development for Southeast based organizations.

APRIL 17, 2020 //     

Has COVID-19 Killed Techlash?

By Karyn Barr

Apple and Google announced a game-changing partnership on April 10, and the world took notice. The long-time rivals became allies in the fight against COVID-19, seemingly putting down their gloves to build large-scale contact tracing using their smartphone networks. Words like “bold,” “innovative” and “unprecedented” dominated the related headlines. Inc. magazine even went as far as hailing the tech giants for “building the only realistic way to get out of this shutdown.”

It seems – at least in the immediate wake of the announcement – the partnership is a glimmer of hope emerging in the tech world. Not just in the sense that Apple and Google have provided a potential solution to flatten the curve, but also in the sense that collaboration itself may counteract some of the negativity that plagued large tech companies for much of the past two years.

Could COVID-19 be the unexpected antidote to “techlash”?

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Two years ago, the word “techlash” was born, marring reputations within Silicon Valley and beyond. Big Tech’s integrity was called into question as scrutiny over companies’ ethics, social responsibility and intent skyrocketed toward an all-time high. A wave of negative reactions to tech’s power and influence dominated headlines. And the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Google were pushed into the government spotlight with calls for regulation, data responsibility, privacy and so much more.

As we headed into 2020, America’s trust and patience had begun to disappear. The one-time tech darlings were well on their way to becoming Public Enemy No. 1. come the November election.

Then COVID-19 hit, changing everything we once knew and forcing us to adjust personally and professionally to a new norm. Technology – whether we consciously think about it – has made all our adjusted lives more palatable. We’ve connected with colleagues, teachers, friends and family on a variety of platforms like never before. We’ve relied on fixed and mobile networks to maintain business continuity, tested bandwidth boundaries and proved a work-from-home life, while not desirable for some, is actually feasible and efficient. And we’ve relied on delivery services, telehealth and social networks to provide creature comforts when we’re all on edge.

We cannot deny technology has become our connective tissue. But great power begs for great responsibility. COVID-19 hasn’t changed that.

Apple and Google took an admirable first step with their collaboration. And, yes, it’s initially helping big tech emerge from the shadows of techlash. However, we must see how the partnership plays out. Promising “privacy, transparency and consent are of utmost importance” was appreciated as both companies look to stop the spread of coronavirus. But maintaining that public, socially responsible commitment well-beyond this critical time is where the rubber will meet the road.

After all, this pandemic has potentially permanently changed the way we live. As a result, we now have even higher expectations of technology, its reliability and security, and its impact at a global scale.

COVID-19 hasn’t cured the fundamentals of why techlash emerged in the first place. Techlash was never just about a company being “bad” or “capitalistic.” Instead, it was centered on the actual business decisions tech companies made – decisions that called into question and sometimes egregiously compromised our privacy and security. Even after this pandemic, consumers, governments and businesses will still demand transparency and consent, while debates around greater, more serious regulation will continue.

But what COVID-19 has done – and will continue to do – is trigger tech to be accountable. Thus far, tech companies of all sizes have responded. The glimmers of hope are there. Security measures have tightened. “Tech for good” partnerships have emerged. And some techlash-ed reputations have started to mend.

So maybe, just maybe, the tech world gained a little more perspective – a game-changing perspective that will help define how every company needs to operate to regain brand trust today and well into tomorrow.

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Karyn Barr is Head of B2B Technology at Allison+Partners and primarily counseling clients inside and outside of Silicon Valley on global growth strategies, brand positioning and C-Suite thought leadership programs. A long-time agency veteran, she had led award-winning work across numerous industries, including artificial intelligence, data analytics, additive manufacturing, cybersecurity and more. Karyn resides in the Bay Area where she and her family are rehabbing their 110-year-old home.

 

APRIL 16, 2020 //     

Brands, Your People Need You: Now Is the Time for Social Innovation

By Paul Sears

In a COVID-19 world, brands face a big question – should we launch that new product now, or wait it out?  Uncertainty abounds as marketers must reevaluate the economics and the optics. 

A well-conceived launch can help the bottom line and boost brand reputation, but it must legitimately help. Most importantly, the company must protect the dedicated workers throughout the value chain. During the immediate calamity and the extended recovery that follows, brands have a strategic opportunity to create powerful social innovations to meet new consumer needs in unexpected ways while providing comfort and relief to a world in crisis. 

Consumer behaviors have changed dramatically in the last few weeks. Instead of movies and restaurant meals, millions of families eat together and play board games at home. Instead of commutes with a stop at Starbucks, professionals make their best efforts to remain productive while home-schooling their children. Many others have been displaced and need support just to meet basic needs.

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As the landscape changes rapidly, it will be key for brands to scale up their listening efforts.  Not just to better tailor their marketing messages, but to identify new customer needs that can foster rapid innovation. We help our clients in this key area, combining AI and human analytics that extract signal from millions of digital conversations, allowing them to understand how hearts and minds react to an uncertain world.

Rapidly turning insights into solutions is the next step. Peloton quickly created all-new workouts for families. Craft breweries rapidly stood-up digital storefronts and pivoted taproom-focused business models to delivery and pickup. Alamo Drafthouse now offers ticketed screenings of cult classics on Vimeo. Marketers will have to seize strategic opportunities with the digital infrastructure they already have or use new resources they can quickly add.

Brands will also need to assess if they have credibility to deliver helpful new offerings. For example, Netflix doesn’t have much history in the respiratory mask business. But what if it partnered with Hasbro to deliver virtual board games within the Watch Party environment? Marketing leaders must step back and reassess their product roadmaps to evaluate whether 10-degree shifts, digital extensions or new partnerships can create an unexpected innovation to benefit both society and the business.

A few key questions can prove helpful:

  • Will a new product meet socially-oriented definitions of value in a COVID-19 world?
  • Is the supply chain stable – will consumers have sustainable access?
  • Can you, suppliers and partners protect workers’ health and safety?
  • Can the product be launched authentically, with care and goodwill?

In the midst of a global crisis, it’s easy to overreact and put everything on hold. Yet studies of prior crises and downturns have found the companies that double down on innovation significantly outperform those that make drastic cutbacks. Leaders must assess their portfolios and make immediate pivots. They must ramp up listening to deeply understand changing consumer needs and identify new ways to socially innovate. It’s more important than ever that brands make bold, socially conscious moves to help build a better, stronger and more resilient world.  

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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.    

APRIL 15, 2020 //     

How an Online Community Can Help Your Business Through COVID-19

By Stephanie Cinque

COVID-19 disrupted every aspect of our lives and left many confused and overwhelmed. Companies and organizations have postponed or overhauled conferences and events, employees now work remotely and many businesses that thrive off face-to-face interaction are in crisis mode as social distancing becomes the norm. 

As we are forced to embrace the world of Wi-Fi, virtual interactions and digital communications, online communities can be the answer to maintain internal communications and keep customers engaged at home.

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Allison+Partners’ measurement and analytics team shared the insight that “with physical distancing recommendations in place, there’s a growing ask from consumers for creative ways to entertain family members at home.” Likewise, employees expect their employers to maintain company culture and engage them in a WFH environment. An online community can be an essential tool to connect with both audiences.  

If your business is new to an online community, these best practices will help you create a successful space for your business’ employees, clients or customers to connect. 

Consider your audience needs

A community is not only an effective way to push out communications, but it can provide needed support and guidance for team members or customers. Community managers and administrators are responsible for maintaining that safe space while giving individuals the opportunity to maneuver together through these unique times.

Orangetheory Fitness launched #OrangetheoryAtHome to bring its members “a new workout everyday to keep you strong.” In addition to participating in the workouts, members send in their at-home bloopers and equipment work-arounds to maintain the studio culture at home. Orangetheory features member photos to motivate the community to push toward their afterburn – a signature to the Orangetheory Fitness brand.

The Professional Beauty Association (PBA), the nation’s largest organization of salon professionals, stepped up to support its industry by offering a complimentary preferred membership for licensed professionals and non-licensed salon employees. This community gives access to like-minded industry professionals to lean on one another for support, access to its insurance marketplace and a way to quickly receive industry-specific news and updates. This is especially important as many freelancers, contractors and beauty professionals experience financial hardships during this crisis.

Allison+Partners launched an COVID-19 Resources and Updates microsite and internal community to keep employees informed of company-wide announcements and resources related to this evolving situation. An agency priority remains to ensure employees, clients and communities are safe and healthy. We also launched support forums to encourage sharing work-from-home tips and tricks, photos, client best practices and case studies. Employees use the forums to share photos of pets, creative work from home setups and their new school-aged co-workers. It’s become a needed connection as we all navigate uncertainty and prepare to adjust to a new normal. 

Put collaboration first

For employees, a community can help keep projects organized and moving forward, especially in a virtual environment. Teams can brainstorm best practices and work together to pivot marketing strategies and manage a crisis in real time.  

Try the below tips to manage an effective virtual collaboration group:

  • Create topic communities and resource sharing groups for specific workstreams, deliverables and brands. This will help everyone manage their workloads and stay engaged. 
  • Reward participation through gamification, employee spotlights and content features. 
  • Provide ownership. Give employees responsibility as moderators. By doing so, message threads will be well-organized and aligned with the community guidelines.
  • Launch user-generated newsletters. Incorporate daily or weekly emails summarizing leadership announcements, news updates, relevant discussion threads and link directly back to the community to drive participation. Learn more about the importance of internal communications during a crisis here

Run virtual gatherings

While companies and organizations have cancelled many in-person events, they have created ways to bring their gatherings online. Virtual gatherings are new for many, and an online community can help make the transition easier. 

Brand Innovators, an exclusive community of brand marketers from the world's top brands, is known for gathering regularly for thought leadership conferences and social events. As the world has pivoted to the virtual sphere, it had no choice but to pivot as well. To remain a safe haven and resource for the marketing, adtech and media industries amid the chaos, Brand Innovators launched a virtual livecast series that brings online its community the greatest portions of its physical events, such as compelling keynotes, panel discussions and fireside chats with industry leaders.

Netflix extended its party feature, so friends and families can watch the same content in real time while social distancing. Not only does it give viewers a virtual experience of being part of something and connecting with others simultaneously, it also provides the ability to discuss in real time. 

We all must continue to adapt to a new normal, which involves creating innovative methods of connecting online. By learning from this pandemic’s threat, we can build lasting opportunities for customers, colleagues and businesses alike to inspire and innovate together online. 

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

Stephanie Cinque is a Content Marketing Manager at Allison+Partners and specializes in online community management and building successful engagement strategies for clients. With a passion for social media management, influencer marketing, and the beauty industry, Stephanie works on several integrated projects for the agency. Born and raised in New York, Stephanie currently resides in sunny Arizona. 

APRIL 14, 2020 //     

The COVID-19 Landscape Through the Eyes of An Influencer

By: Lexi Holden

Once states enforced shelter in place and the media focused coverage solely on COVID-19, influencers finally realized the pandemic was real and lasting. They started posting their pre-planned sponsored collaborations earlier than previously agreed upon, worried contracts would terminate and their expected source of income would evaporate. Posting agreed-upon pieces of content meant guaranteed payment – perhaps the last for several months.

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While there are plenty of opportunities right now for wine and spirits brands, packaged foods, beauty products, home décor and fitness programs, other companies are not as lucky. Travel brands and goods, clothing meant to be worn outside the home, restaurants, hotels, anything that gets you off your feet and outside your home – they all struggle. Still, other brands find themselves in the middle. For example, food and alcohol delivery services are at a peak and business booms. Yet, they have no marketing budget to put toward influencer programming because consumer demand is too high and the need to have influencers promote no longer exists.

As a blogger who also specializes in influencer relations at Allison+Partners, the influencer landscape seems in flux. Based on conversations I’ve had with fellow influencers, some said their partnerships are quiet, although a handful of brands still reach out to do exchange partnerships instead of paid partnerships. Others said partnerships have been put on hold until further notice. I’ve had a handful of my partnerships put on hold until later months, with the goal to resume as normal once things improve. On a brighter note, I’ve also had a few partnerships that focus on the “at-home” angle, which shows brands still believe in the influencer industry even during this stressful time.

That said, even in this weird flux, the pandemic won’t drastically change things for all influencers. For example, home products brands will continue influencer marketing and might even put more budget behind their programs as marketing around COVID-19 quickly becomes a saturated space. But once the pandemic is over, where will influencer marketing stand? Will budgets be the same? Will influencers still be able to effectively influence? Where will marketing needs turn?

Once the nation sheltered in place, I hesitated to post content – both content surrounding my daily life and paid content. I polled my audience to see if anyone disagreed with posting branded content, and about 85% of the people who took the poll said they don’t mind #sponsored content. Of course, I wanted to be mindful of everything going on. But it was nice to receive reassuring messages that noted how Instagram is an outlet that gets people away from the negativity going on in the world and provides happy and positive entertainment.

I have lost count of the number of times a kind follower has told me this is “the content we need right now!” So for me, my goal is to bring positive and humorous content to my channel. Because if I feel like I need that, I am certain others do too.

As a micro influencer, I believe business for micro influencers will stay the same and potentially be more fruitful – brands with a decent budget will want to reach a variety of people across the nation and partner with more influencers, as opposed to one macro influencer. It will vary based on program goals, but micro influencers – those who people feel like they can relate to more on a personal level – will have ample amounts of opportunities in the coming months. Brands will have a chance to build up their content channels too by using unique pieces of content from their influencer partners.

I sense brands are quiet right now because they are planning their comebacks once things improve and normality returns. For brands that move forward business as usual during the pandemic, they try their best to partner with influencers that make the most sense for them while respecting our new norm.

I have taken this time to reevaluate my brand goals and plan for the year ahead. What do I want to accomplish and what do my followers want to see the most? People still want to relate to something real. So, I will continue to walk through this new norm with a mindset of being relatable and real.

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

Lexi Holden is a senior account executive at Allison+Partners and the founder of Lex and the City, a blog focusing on city life and style in Chicago and beyond, with a love for fashion, fitness, beauty and travel. Lexi has partnered with brands such as Swarovski, Madewell, Park City Tourism Board and Lyft, among others.

 

 

APRIL 13, 2020 //     

Taking Leadership in a Global Crisis: The Six Phases of the Disruption Life Cycle

By Tom Smith and David Wolf

Few things are more terrifying to even the most stout-hearted executive than the prospect of waking up and finding their team, department or company is the focus of a major tragedy or scandal. Fortunately, the craft of managing such crises is so well-established and proven that few companies of any size have failed to take at least rudimentary steps to prepare for that occurrence. Business crises, however regrettable, have become so routine that one of the only significant differences to crisis communications over the past 50 years has been that we now live in an environment of immediacy as digital tools and social channels are a part of the media mix.

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Not quite as well understood, however, is something we all face today: how to manage a business during a crisis that affects everyone around the world. The unearned existential threat is just as real as with a scandal or tragedy: the difference is resolution lies as far outside your power as the cause. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb pointed out in his farsighted treatise “The Black Swan,” it is just such events that pose the greatest incipient danger.

Fortunately, while we are unused to facing the consequences of pandemics, the regular cadence of systemic disruptions over the past century have taught us much about keeping the enterprise afloat in the face of a perfect storm. Our study of systemic disruptions and the patterns of business response to them provides a useful framework for understanding the crisis at hand.

In dealing with the disruptions caused by COVID-19, businesses must work through six phases, which we have termed Shock, Orientation, Command, Recovery, Bump and Equilibrium (or “The New Normal.”) Understanding each of those phases, and how and under what circumstances businesses move between and address each, offers us the beginnings of a charted course through and out of them.

SHOCK

Shock describes the phase when the disruption has happened or is in progress. It is characterized by disorientation, a constant lack of sufficient information and an escalating stream of events that threaten to send a business careening out of control. Panic is barely held at bay. Companies either act for the sake of action or are caught in paralysis, unable to respond.

ORIENTATION

This is the first step toward a coherent response – the process of understanding the full potential breadth of the disruption and its potential consequences to the business. During this phase, initial responses get considered and discarded, and they eventually lead to the first concrete steps, often tentative, to begin addressing the disruption.

COMMAND

The process of taking charge of the business in the face of the crisis is Command. The situation still evolves, but company responses become quicker and more assured. And gradually, the company is able to move beyond playing catch-up and start thinking ahead, even as the crisis continues to pinch the company, its people and its customers. For the COVID-19 crisis, this phase will last until the numbers of daily infections have begun to taper off, and then for an additional 28 days after the last significant outbreak. Unlike Shock and Orientation, the business no longer controls the timing of the phase: it can only manage through it and begin laying the groundwork for the next three phases.

RECOVERY

Recovery is the period during which the actual emergency has passed, but either the company, its customers, its supply chain or all of the above have not yet returned to normal operations. This is when a company will be able to assess the damage or in some cases the positive impact to its operating system and begin to adjust to what is likely the new equilibrium for the business. In some cases, this will mean business will remain diminished for some time, necessitating investments in order to enable or speed the process. Businesses that grew during the crisis will now likely return to normal, and adjustments will need to be made.  For both cases,  the process will be organic and will show quick progress.

BUMP

At the completion of the recovery, many businesses that experienced significant disruption in demand during the crisis will face its opposite: a sudden and short-term surge in business that represents pent-up demand for its goods or services. While ostensibly a “good problem,” this is an extraordinarily challenging phase. Keeping customers happy while walking the line between meeting the short-term surge and not over-investing in people, plant and equipment requires almost constant adjustment and superior communications with customers, suppliers, the media and employees - sometimes hourly. Indeed, the Bump is a mini-crisis, a sort of aftershock that will again tax the business.

EQUILIBRIUM

Equilibrium describes what many refer to as “the new normal,” a tempo of business sustainable over an extended period of time. For some companies, this will be more business and a larger market. Others will find the shock of the crisis leaves them with a smaller market. This period will require the largest adjustment of all – a recognition that while the crisis is over, the business landscape has been indelibly altered and the company will have to go through jarring adjustments to accommodate that change.

Each of the phases above is its own business continuity challenge, each demanding its own response. Start understanding each of those processes now – if you wait until each phase is underway, you are already behind. The optimal time to begin the effort of planning your way through these stages is during the Command phase, during which the nature of the Recovery, the magnitude of the Bump and the outlines of the Equilibrium will become clear. The sooner you are prepared for each of these, the more likely your business will survive it.

FIRST STEPS

Start by ensuring that your organization is operating as a high-performing team with all the right players on board, including outside advisors. Make sure everyone on that team understands these phases and their inherent dangers and opportunities and that they share your vision of how to emerge stronger than before the coronavirus unleashed itself on our world. Once you have done that start to ask these questions:

  • Are you using data, analytics, and social listening to understand how your stakeholders are thinking and feeling, and how that is evolving daily?
  • Could you be working more closely with those dealing directly with customers and key stakeholders to understand what they are hearing and what they think?
  • What innovation needs to take place to ensure your organization is prepared to prosper in the New Normal?

Finally, remember your response may begin with, but cannot be limited to, the matter of your company’s survival and future prosperity, or even monetary donations. Organizations and their leaders will be remembered for how they responded to this crisis and how used their full resources to help resolve it. At some point in the future reporters, employees, new hires, prospects, and customers will all ask, at least implicitly, “what did you do to help?”

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

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.

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.

 

APRIL 10, 2020 //     

A Rabbi and a Priest Walk into a Zoom Conference

By Cathy Planchard

I’ve experienced a lot of firsts this week. Many times, I scratched my head at how surreal all of this seems – the run on paper products, empty grocery shelves and joggers adorned with facemasks.

But this past week set a new bar for the bizarre, as I watched the most holy of weeks for religions worldwide unfold before me through the lens of a TV screen and webcam.READ MORE


We’ve all held way more video conferences in the past three weeks than we ever thought possible. We’ve gotten accustomed to online birthday celebrations, virtual office happy hours and walking our parents and cousins through the process of setting up cameras and mics (with varying degrees of success). But Passover and Easter online?

In a world that desperately craves that which it can’t have – personal touch, reassurance and clarity – we hold on to all the traditions we can, albeit in new ways. Community, family and faith are more important than ever before. And social distancing does not mean spiritual distancing.

Watching the adaptability and creativity of families holding true to tradition and faith has deeply inspired me. Families across the country that normally spend the High Holy Days together held their Seders online. A friend shared how her extended family of 40 that would normally gather in her home instead united by Zoom. And there were other technology assists. Because the Haggadah reading order is often divided among those in attendance, Seder.live was created especially for this year’s virtual holiday.

My priest and parish were also in on the innovation. Ever heard of a drive-by confession? Imagine my surprise as I drove up to the church, followed the orange cones and confessed from the comfort of my car, while my priest stood a safe distance away. It beats a small, enclosed booth any day.

Easter Sunday Mass will be livestreamed. I’ll watch it from my living room on our biggest TV, dressed up of course. I can only imagine EWTN has seen the highest viewership in its history.

I’ll miss the frilly Easter dresses of our youngest parishioners, the bonnets and barely contained energy (fueled by too many chocolate Easter bunnies). But I fully expect families will continue to adapt, that new traditions will form. Maybe virtual egg hunts will become a thing.

Either way, I’ll scour my social channels and Nextdoor app to share in the Easter fun. And I’ll be buoyed by the fact that in the face of adversity, we adapt. We stay true to our traditions. We get assists from technology. And ultimately, we persevere.

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

Cathy Planchard is global president of All Told, overseeing the company’s content, digital, creative, research and measurement teams. She is an avid traveler, Saints fan and spicy Cajun cook.

APRIL 10, 2020 //     

Real Heroes Do “Whatever It Takes” - Not Just the Ones in the Movies

By: Scott Pansky

“We lost friends. We lost family. We lost a part of ourselves. Today, we have a chance to take it all back. You know your teams, you know your missions. No mistakes. No do-overs. Most of us are going somewhere we know. That doesn’t mean we should know what to expect. Be careful. Look out for each other. This is the fight of our lives. And we are going to win – whatever it takes. Good Luck!”
                           Steve Rogers, Captain America, Avengers Endgame

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I am a huge movie fan, and I love the Marvel movies. I have read Captain America comic books for more years than I can remember. Underdog stories are what I cherish most. Whether it was the Avengers against Thanos, Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed, Luke Skywalker against Darth Vader, Rudy fighting his way into one game at the University of Notre Dame, or the kids from “The Bad News Bears” and “The Mighty Ducks” going from the worst to first – no matter what, they always got up.

Today, our first responders have stepped up bravely, as they always do. But who would have thought people many of us might take for granted would become our unsung heroes during this pandemic? These heroes who still go to work, who still get up no matter what! Whether it’s the warehouse workers, packers, delivery drivers, cooks, bakers, grocery store clerks or baggers, these are the brave souls on the front lines every day. Who would have thought of the neighbors and friends who stay home making face masks to give out friends and families or to donate to strangers around the globe? Who would have known companies could change their business models so quickly to make respirators, face shields and surgical gowns needed by medical facilities when these products were unavailable?

What makes a hero? What makes an underdog rise up during a challenge?

Right now, the real heroes are the people who help others at their own risk, who help their peers and do their personal best to make a difference. Perseverance, grit, determination and focus are just words. But getting up every day to help feed people, give them a place to shower, volunteer serving food, sell groceries or assist those who suffer at home or in a hospital – these are the real heroes!

Let’s do more than watch them. Let’s show them your gratitude and appreciation and say “please” and “thank you,” and think about offering them a cup of coffee, a meal or gift card. We can also take the time to write positive Yelp reviews or personal letters to companies showing our appreciation and calling out team members that went out of their way to make us feel comfortable. There are so many ways we can show our appreciation.

Let’s follow their lead! As Cap said, “This IS the fight of our lives. And, we are going to win… whatever it takes… whatever it takes.”  

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


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 nonprofit organizations and developing board + ambassador training programs.

APRIL 10, 2020 //     

Leadership and Solidarity: Leading the Covid-19 Battle in India

By: Pranav Kumar

As we enter the second half of the 21-day lockdown in India with hopes to ‘flatten the curve’ of the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s a good time to examine some marketing and communications undercurrents shaping the new reality in India:

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1. Clarity of communications underpins everything: Considering the velocity at which COVID-19 unraveled, this very basic tenet of crisis communications couldn’t be truer than now. Rallying 1.3 billion Indians to stay at home couldn’t have been possible without simple but creative messaging. These included: #JantaCurfew (meaning “people curfew” in Hindi), which served as a precursor to the larger lockdown or pivoting to the No. 21 with a simple rationale – If people didn’t follow the 21-day lockdown, the country could compromise 21 years of its progress. 21 days = 21 years became a compelling call to action from Prime Minster Narendra Modi. 

2. Command and control: We’ve seen some remarkable examples of brands leading by example, from moving beyond the shock of the pandemic, to establishing command and control in their communications and outreach efforts. Proactively communicating service disruptions and mitigation strategies meant that elaborate crisis frameworks and planning were mostly in place (though one couldn’t have predicted a scenario of such magnitude). Airlines, which typically have more crisis contingencies in place, were swift to manage proactive communications, such as India’s largest low-cost carrier IndiGo. The airline moved expediently to establish strong and preemptive communications flow on flight cancellations, eventual suspension of operations and address concerns about refunds from passengers.
 
Clearly, there will be lots to learn from a scenario-planning and management perspective in future crisis communications workshops.
 
3. Compassion: Organizations and their leaders need to be visible, authentic, have a guiding purpose to drive forward their businesses and serve the communities where they operate. At this crucial juncture of the lockdown in India, we have seen extraordinary compassion from companies to collect funds and feed the less privileged or those displaced. Notably, restaurant aggregator and food delivery start-up Zomato, with its ‘Zomato Feeding India Initiative’, collected more than $3 million to feed India’s migrant workers. Hotel chains, such as Indian Hotels Company (of Taj fame) Marriott to local operator Lemon Tree, now offer idle inventory as quarantine facilities, accommodating India’s healthcare professionals from the front lines and serving meals to the needy.
 
We have seen a paradigm shift in corporate social responsibility that will echo in the years to come.
 
4. PSA’s and marketing: The conversation on hygiene and washing hands to keep COVID-19 at bay has never been more important. Venerable brands Dettol and LifeBuoy have been quick to up the ante on the importance of handwashing and educate people at large. Apart from working with a range of India’s leading influencers, brands in India have leveraged short-form video platform TikTok. Dettol’s hand-wash challenge for example, notched up 8 billion views in just four days on TikTok. Expect more innovation there!
 
5. Uniting for greater good: It’s important for brands to come together and channelize their efforts for those in need as well as for business continuity. From Uber partnering with local eCommerce platforms Flipkart and Big Basket for delivering essentials to consumer goods major ITC partnering with pizza chain Dominos for deliver supplies – brands in India have clearly set the tone for unprecedented solidarity and care in unison.
 
6. Misinformation and misperceptions: Exacerbating the pandemic is the continuing streak of misinformation and fake news, which remain persistent problems whether in good times or bad. From alleged COVID-19 cures to rumors about shortages of essential goods and hoarding, the government and communities continue to grapple with this menace. Similarly, brands struggle with misinformation on their products’ safety and whether they’re carriers of the virus from plants in China. This is a significant challenge for communications teams.
 
7. Communications priorities: #stayathome campaigns are centerstage with brands doing their bits to encourage people to comply with the lockdown. In addition, employee engagement and customer outreach is a top priority, confirmed through a COVID-19 webinar survey by communications industry journal PRovoke in partnership with Asia Pacific Association of Communications Directors (APACD).
As we navigate these challenging times ahead, communications will play a vital role as clients navigate the new normal and manage disruptions in their businesses. As initial conversations around partial lifting of the lockdowns around the world start to begin, it’s important in equal measure, to start thinking of a limited or post-CVOID world to be ready for the ‘new normal’.

If you'd like to sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates, click here.
 
Pranav Kumar leads Allison+Partners in India and works closely with its teams to provide client support across corporate reputation, business and brand communications remits. He brings nearly two decades of communications experience predominantly on the agency side a focus on crisis counsel, issues management, c-suite communications advisory and thought leadership.
APRIL 9, 2020 //     

COVID-19 and the Hispanic Community: What We Can Learn from Rana the Frog

By: Claudia Vargas

Fear, worry and stress know no cultural borders in this global pandemic. In this incredibly challenging time, brands have a key role to play to help support consumers from all communities to navigate a sea of change. Hispanic reactions to COVID-19 on social media can offer insight for brands looking to bring some much-needed comfort to this important group. Some Hispanic consumers have jokingly mourned the death of “Rana” the frog.  Injured Hispanic children learn the frog rhyme when they need comfort: “Sana, sana, colita de rana. Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana.” The translation, “heal, heal little frog tail. If you don’t heal today, you’ll heal tomorrow.” Think of it as a twist upon the old “kiss it and make it better.”

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T
he dead frog message underscores this community’s virus concerns: if the coronavirus can kill the healing frog, then we are in deep trouble! There’s a lesson in there for marketers willing to listen and learn from the culture. 

Despite the regular application of gallows humor, Hispanic communities feel the COVID-19 stress a bit more intensely than others. As a group, they are more likely (50%) than Americans as whole (34%) to see the Coronavirus as a serious threat to their health, finances and community, a new Pew Research Center report shows 

Hispanics are also concerned about missing vital information due to the delay in language translation. The lifesaving information is sometimes translated as a general overview and is not verbatim from official COVID-19 briefingsThese fears of being misinformed and unprepared, combined with larger families who often live together, has motivated many Hispanic Americans to stockpile food and supplies more than any other ethnicity. 

There’s opportunity for brands to address the Hispanic community’s concerns and offer them real help, sympathy and relief from their fears. 

With financial turmoil on the horizon, brands can show they care by providing meaningful support to local Hispanic communities. This includes sharing Spanish-language information about local organizations offering assistance and providing coupon codes and other discounts that can lighten the burden of feeding and caring for multifamily homes. 

Demand for information in Spanish will only rise throughout this pandemic. Think of the many missed opportunities by not simply translating information into the second-most spoken language in the U.S. Brands must do their parts to share information in Spanish to help the communities across the nation stay in the know. The appreciation for that consideration, respect and kindness will endure long after the quarantines and social distancing disappear. 

Beyond just the frog, social chatter also suggests Hispanics use humor to share ways to keep their families healthy and provide each other tips to avoid getting sick. Brands themselves can use an empathetic and funny tone to get their messages out to the community, but they should not lose sight of the serious nature of the virus and its impact. 

Hispanics continue to be heavier users of social networks than other groups. More than half of the group uses WhatsApp to stay connected. And Hispanic audiences tend to be brand loyalists, with 75% talking with friends and family about positive experiences they have had with a brand. However, they can be just as vocal in spreading dissatisfaction with a brand – 65% of Hispanic Americans are not shy to discuss negative experiences or interactions, according to a Mintel report on Hispanic attitudes towards advertising. So, striking the right tone and interaction is more important than ever. 

Brands can use the right cues to convert Hispanics into brand advocates who spread positive messages. Being connected to the core of the Hispanic culture, brands have the opportunity to show and help the community to stay connected virtually. 

When searching for entertainment and information, the nation’s Hispanics are most likely to watch digital videoA Mintel study on digital trends published in May 2019 showed Hispanics also over-index for household ownership of technology products often found in family rooms. And they add streaming media capabilities through smart TVs, streaming media players and UHD TVs. That means content created for connected families will resonate even more strongly now as the population practices social distancing and stays home.  

As Americans, we all face the challenges the coronavirus presents while hoping we can return to normalcy as soon as possible. Brands that can understand the Hispanic community, its concerns and its behaviors during this crisis, and who can communicate effectively and empathetically, will endear themselves to the community and have a much greater positive impact.  

Isn’t it amazing what a frog can teach us? 

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

Claudia Vargas serves as a Director of Integrated Marketing bringing a wealth of knowledge in strategy and account management. With experience in paid media, brand ambassador programs, content development, multicultural campaigns and social media community management, Claudia leads several integrated projects for the agency connecting the dots to drive results for clients. 

APRIL 9, 2020 //     

What Every Company Must Know During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By David Richeson


The drastic changes the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to every aspect our lives are obvious to all. But it remains challenging to know exactly how this crisis will affect each industry and company. Previous market and stakeholder research may no longer apply in this new context, as possibilities and priorities have shifted globally. Companies need to know how to handle this new landscape, weighing emotional IQ with an ever-changing set of guardrails to conduct profitable business.
 

Every company, brand or organization needs to know what they should say — and, importantly, how they should say it.

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Companies and organizations also need to know what their stakeholders and audiences expect from them. What questions do these stakeholders have? What are their main concerns?

As global priorities shift, how do you pursue your business and communications objectives without striking the wrong tone with your key stakeholder groups?

More than ever, every company, brand or organization must know:

  • The top COVID-19-related questions your key audiences and stakeholder groups have for your company and industry
  • The relative perception of your company or brand vs. competitors within the context of COVID-19
  • The top positive and negative COVID-19-related discussion topics for your company (or brand) and competitors
  • The top positive and negative COVID-19-related discussion topics in your industry
  • Key communication channels and personas in the conversation
  • Top influencers in the conversation who are driving opinion

Knowledge of the points above is critical to understanding how to move forward within this new global context. Not knowing the key points above is like flying an airplane blind in heavy fog. Data and insight are necessary to navigate safely.

At Allison+Partners, we generate these insights to help our clients effectively and efficiently communicate with their customers and stakeholders.

We helped a national outdoor recreation company understand the most frequently asked COVID-19 related questions and helped them create a Q&A document so they could prepare their hundreds of franchisees with the right answers for local and social media.

We worked with a global communications technology company to help them understand what their customers and stakeholders want from them right now, so they can address the most important topics and make sure they are perceived as a leader in their industry, both internally (with their employees) and externally.

A company, brand or organization’s reputation can be made or broken during this important time for the world. Clear winners and losers will emerge based upon how they respond to the COVID-19 challenge. But one thing is for sure – Nothing will ever be the same. 

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

David Richeson has more than 20 years of experience in data and insight-driven integrated communications, business strategy, creative writing and technology. He has developed engagement models on the cutting-edge of influence, focused on real-time communications, influencer strategy, micro-moment based marketing and behavioral economics techniques.

APRIL 8, 2020 //     

Cementing Brand Love in A Sea of White Hats

By: Lisa Rosenberg

The marketing industry has talked a lot about brand purpose over the last few years. This has largely been driven by millennials changing consumer and employee expectations. While they didn’t invent brand purpose, they certainly helped usher it into the mainstream. Today, Gen Z ensures it’s here to stay. 

During this pandemic, we have seen brands step up, do good and deliver beyond their purposes. Many have helped others, whether it be their own employees, the customers they serve, the communities in which they operate or on an even broader scale. Many have donated equipment, expertise, money and more to help those impacted by this crisis.

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While each contribution is critically important, it’s the early movers – the companies that rallied to make a difference quickly – that should not only be recognized for the good they have done but for inspiring others to follow suit. Consumers will remember these brands when this is all over, especially those that jumped in to serve without being asked.

Perhaps it’s because I live in New Rochelle, N.Y., and our schools were among the first to close that Eric Yuan’s move to make Zoom free to K-12 teachers has stuck with me. I remember an interview where he talked about this not being a time to think about sales, and I was impressed with the company’s commitment to doing good at the early stage of the outbreak. While the Zoom platform has some security issues currently being addressed, what I hope people will remember is the company didn’t wait for things to be perfect. Rather, it sprang into action and did what it believed would have the most meaningful and positive impact on children and families.

Then there was LVMH, which went from manufacturing perfume to producing hand sanitizer in 72 hours. The speed at which the company moved to meet a societal need was both impressive and well-publicized. Other companies, including many distilleries, also shifted their manufacturing to help meet this increased need. We also saw similar efforts from the fashion world, with everyone from indie designer Christian Siriano to Gucci, The Gap and Burberry jumping in to sew gowns, masks and other personal protective equipment.

With travel at a virtual standstill, hospitality is one of the hardest hit sectors. The Four Seasons in NYC had already closed to the public when Ty Warner, chairman of the hotel's corporate owner, heard N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plea during one of his press conferences and felt there was no other option but to do whatever he and his company could to help. The luxury hotel now houses medical personnel for free.

A white hat has long been a mark or symbol of goodness. Today, we see a lot of brands wear white hats. Amid the COVID crisis, companies the world over have rallied to make a difference. Those that do will emerge post-pandemic stronger than ever. 

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

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

APRIL 8, 2020 //     

5 Brand Ambassador Best Practices During COVID-19

By: Lucy Arnold and Claudia Vargas

Allison + Partners’ recent COVID-19 Trend Report analyzed social media chatter and the earned media landscape to extract context from millions of COVID-19-related conversations. We’ve found emotions have shifted over the past two weeks from fear to frustration as uncertainty grows, supplies become scarce and concrete answers are hard to find. Consumers, influencers and journalists all share an overwhelming need for clarity in an age of rampant misinformation. 

Wouldn’t we all love a little more clarity? So, what’s the right strategy for engaging with brand ambassadors in times like these -- from the big names and recognizable faces you’ve hired, to the broad swath of dedicated brand fans who have stood by you through thick and thin? It’s important to recognize there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution – we must examine each brand ambassador program individually. It might be helpful to share some of the best practices we’ve developed for our clients, as we’ve helped them navigate these troubled waters.

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Here are some guiding principles to engage with your brand ambassadors in this time of uncertainty:

  • Reach out now. Don’t wait.  Let them know the brand cares about their situation
    Remember that brands are human constructs – they live in consumers’ hearts and minds. Celebrities, influencers, brand ambassadors are all in the same boat right now. They’re adjusting to a “new normal” just like everyone else. Simply reach out to see how people are doing. Ask about their kids or what they’re binge-watching. Share information, links and tools that might be helpful. Talk business later, but let the brand be human first. Brand ambassadors will remain a critical pathway for us to connect with the community, gain insights and maintain support for our brand in the market – but only if we nurture them, support them and keep them informed. Working together, we will not only get through this, but we will create a better world in the process.
  • Make sure they have enough supplies, including your products
    Grocery stores are doing double-duty to keep critical essentials in stock, but their hard-working staff struggle to keep up. Malls have closed and may not bounce back. Maybe you are an essential brand and have the ability to directly send your supporters a little product. Or if not an essential item, maybe a little swag could lift spirits. Surprise and delight moments will be an appreciated bright spot. It's an opportunity to reduce anxiety and be supportive to show the brand cares, which will pay dividends in the long run.
  • Read the room. Listen and engage in dialogue.
    Social listening and monitoring have never been more important. It’s tricky to positively impact conversation in a meaningful way without seeming self-serving or tone deaf. It depends on the conversation landscape, which changes by the minute. Right now, we see social media challenge after social media challenge – people tagging their friends to do push-ups, people sending photos of their dogs and encouraging their friends to send photos of their pets, Christmas lights to spread joy, sharing workouts and recipes. The need to connect right now during this time of isolation is apparent. Likewise, establishing the same two-way conversations with brand ambassadors is critically important. Our supporters are our eyes and ears and boots on the ground who can help provide us with insight into how to connect. They can help us uncover what keeps consumers up at night and surface unimagined ways the brand can be helpful right now.
  • Grant even more access - be excessively transparent - “People support a world they helped create.” - Dale Carnegie
    Providing influencers with more brand access will be important. As mentioned, listening to brand ambassadors to help inform the content strategy could be very impactful. Set up one-on-one virtual meetings with a brand representative and the influencer to talk about product news, initiatives and/or key differentiators. This gives the influencer a sense of being a true partner and insider. Or, host influencer roundtable meetings with a group of partners on conference calls with the brand. Making the brand ambassadors feel as if they are part of a focus group that helps the brand achieve its objectives together will go a long way. But note, it’s still important to get the product in the hands of the brand ambassadors and ask them what kind of content they think their audience will be receptive to engaging with.
  • We can’t be self-serving right now - we have to help
    To cut through the noise meaningfully, it’s more important than ever to root influencer or brand ambassador programs in insights and human truths. Aligning to business objectives will never change. Raising awareness has shifted to helping the community – brands must authentically make a difference during this difficult time.

A great proof point is Nike’s recent use of brand ambassadors for its 'Play Inside' to 'Play for the World' campaign. As athletes, its ambassadors know how to train and stay active. So, the ambassadors helped elevate the brand and its “Just Do It” motto, which has always inspired the community to lead and take action. Frankly, we all need to stay active both mentally and physically. The campaign offered Nike’s two cents while contributing to the broader mission of keeping the public safe. “Play for the World” checked all the boxes.

Striking the right tone is critical. It’s a balance between the brand ambassador's areas of expertise, the brand’s voice and objectives, plus what audiences really need right now.  Influencers can continue to help brands, and now more than ever, brands need to give back.

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

Lucy Arnold is a vice president on our Digital team and specializes in creating engaging digital strategies including influencer relations, campaign development and management, community management and paid media.

Claudia Vargas is a director of integrated marketing and brings a wealth of knowledge in strategy and account management. With experience in paid media, brand ambassador programs, content development, multicultural campaigns and social media community management, Claudia leads several integrated projects for the agency connecting the dots to drive results for clients
APRIL 7, 2020 //     

Stuck at Home, but #stillatraveler

By Emily Wilson Sawyer

The future of travel remains unknown. People will travel again, but where, when and how they will travel is a gray area that even fortune tellers can’t predict. But we do know this – the COVID-19 pandemic is not the time for travel brands to sit back and do nothing.

Brands must now lean into their expertise, reinforce the ethos of what they stand for and produce content that provides a warm and comforting hug to the millions of fans and followers stuck at home. For an industry that traditionally relies on its members, loyalty is literally up for grabs with an audience more attentive than ever. And brands that act fast can win in the long haul. Here’s how:

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Be Human

Tap into the real people behind the brand to show the challenges when hotels are closed, airlines aren’t flying and attractions aren’t operating to highlight what your brand is doing to help. Show compassion and give viewers a glimpse behind the curtain. Don’t worry about the polish, but use this time to test, learn and create based on the real-time feedback of those following the journey. Work to build an emotional connection with fans and followers beyond destinations and offerings – on the human level. Those that do, will earn loyalty far beyond point value.

At Your Service

While your actual business remains closed, now is the time to encourage fans to take a metaphorical vacation in their own backyard by supporting local business and helping keep the economy alive. Providing consumers with ideas about how to get away in their own homes will pay off in the long run, especially for hotels that once served as living rooms for their communities.

Purpose is Powerful

Before the crisis, numerous studies demonstrated Gen Z’s preference for brands that contribute to social good and show purpose. With more time than ever to evaluate who we are in the world (well hello there, mindfulness!) and what contributions we can make for the future of the planet, this mindset of aligning with brands that have a shared purpose will extend far beyond the young generation. In this new communications landscape, a common purpose will be essential for survival.

Futuretripping

Urging fans and followers to #DONTCANCELPOSTPONE is one thing. But when the world does open for travel again, companies will need to put their money where their mouths are with competitive deals to ensure that coveted postponed trip is with them. Every travel brand in the world will battle to put heads in beds and butts in seats, so brands that want to break through will need to get creative with offerings and messaging.

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

Emily Wilson Sawyer is a seasoned communications professional with 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 break-through 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. 

 

APRIL 7, 2020 //     

Creating Content in Quarantine, Hard Truths and Great Opportunities

By: Owen Clark

We are in the middle of one of the most frightening, complex and important chapters in modern history. It’s not a narrative landscape for the timid. But for brands with the right mix of courage and execution, there has never been a more important time to tell your story.

Before we get to the production realities of creating story content in a lockdown environment, it’s important to acknowledge a few key truths. It’s never been more important that everyone in your organization works off the same proverbial, and sometimes literal, script. And you must take advantage of all the tools at your disposal.

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This means being cleared-eyed and diligent about establishing the right tone for your narrative and ensuring you understand what stage of the Disruption Life Cycle we are currently in.

Understanding your audience is also crucial. Quick “pulse surveys” to gauge audience sentiment and an increased reliance on data to inform, measure and adjust your content are critical to avoid coming across as tone deaf within the current landscape. 

Finally, everyone needs to be brutally honest about the work required for good storytelling in these times. Minor tweaks to the same brand narrative you’ve used for the past few years probably isn’t enough to reflect how drastically the world has changed in the past few months. Your company’s vision and values, or even your origin story, are more relevant than ever but will also be pressure tested for their authenticity in ways you’ve never seen before, both internally and externally. 

At a minimum, crafting a good Story Brief that defines style, tone and content and gets buy-in from all stakeholders is essential to creating effective content right now. Even better, brand and story workshops gain extra importance in this climate and can be done easily over video conference.

Having worked with hundreds of execs on storytelling over the past decade, a huge takeaway for me is we all have the biggest blind spots when it comes to our own narrative. Often a CEO will be so proud of a specific talking point they wrote the night before, but truthfully it just sounds like jargon. Then over a lunch break, they will tell an amazing, off-hand story that ends up being the foundation for a truly powerful presentation. We all need feedback and collective discussion to uncover, refine and point ourselves down the right road for effective storytelling – whether that’s personal thought leadership or at a brand level.

Since I’d argue another key element in good content is brevity, I will try to keep the following short. But I think it’s valuable to share a few key learnings our team has uncovered in the content projects we’ve undertaken since the pandemic began:

  • The good news is anyone with a smartphone or a laptop has access to a high-quality camera. But that doesn’t mean you can expect them to be good delivering on-camera without help. Emoting without an audience is a difficult skill that requires coaching. As do framing, lighting and audio – which gain extra importance when you can’t use traditional editing tricks like cutting to B-roll. Anyone who gives a testimonial or interview should have access to a remote content and technical director to make sure they look and sound their best.
  • Podcasts are another great content opportunity in the current climate, but they are consistently misunderstood. While technically you can just record a phone call and turn it into a podcast, the landscape is incredibly crowded and your audience will skip to the next thing if they tune in and your audio quality is terrible. Again, the good news is we can use remote applications that allow for localized, high-quality recording and specialized (and affordable) microphones can be shipped to participants. Here again you need experienced engineers and directors to enable everyone to succeed.
  • The rise in video content captured over the past years has created a massive video library that many brands may not even realize they have. For every finished video you create, there are hours of unused footage that hit the cutting room floor. Plus, access to stock video libraries, like Getty, offer a whole other world of visual storytelling. With a skilled editor and creative text treatment, this existing footage can gain amazing new life to move your narrative wherever it needs to go, without sending a crew anywhere.
  • No one knows exactly when we’ll turn the page to the next the next chapter of this pandemic story, but the last few weeks have certainly illustrated how fast things can change. And it’s important to remember video production is often a four- to six-week process. If you want a killer sales video to be done as soon as your teams began ramping back up outreach, you need to work backwards to start that process a month prior. The first few weeks of story development, concepting and storyboarding can all be done remotely and give you a jump-start ahead of the competition.

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

Owen Clark is a senior director who leads the Allison+Partners Storytelling Studio and agency Media and Speaker Training offering. A former TV journalist, Owen has been with Allison+Partners for a decade and in that time has coached everyone from global CEOs, to regional non-profit directors (and a couple of rappers) on how to uncover and deliver an impactful story.

 

APRIL 6, 2020 //     

Helping Companies to Navigate a Changing Commercial Real Estate Landscape

By: Richard Kendall

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted most every industry over the past few months, creating a scenario of rising financial stress, retracting employment and diminishing market confidence for companies around the globe. The commercial real estate industry hasn’t been immune from the pandemic’s downward pressure on the economy. Many real estate owners and investors, and the service-based companies supporting these organizations, have found themselves in a wait-and-see mode before making decisions about projects and other business initiatives.   

To that end, according to a recent Bisnow story on data collected by independent research and advisory firm Green Street Advisors, real estate investment trust shares have decreased by 34% since mid-February, while office high-rises have experienced a 10% decrease in overall value across global markets. The same story notes unsurprisingly the retail sector has been among the most negatively impacted product types across the world’s commercial real estate portfolio.

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Moreover, a Globestreet story from early April predicts the COVID-19 crisis could put further stress on an already severe housing shortage across the U.S. — especially for subsidized and affordable market-rate apartment homes. Many new projects, particularly those that haven’t yet gone vertical, have been put on hold, potentially for several months, until there’s more certainty in the financial and consumer markets.

By no means is all lost for the real estate industry. First, it’s important to note there are marked differences between today’s economic crisis and the Great Recession that forever changed the real estate industry some 12 years ago. What we’re experiencing now wasn’t initiated by a real estate event like the housing bubble in 2008. Rather, COVID-19 is a healthcare event that has largely put the global economy on hold until the Coronavirus “curve” can be flattened and significant progress can be made on a working vaccine. Just a few months ago, our economic fundamentals were strong — with record-low unemployment, robust investment and rapid absorption — and many industry experts believe that bodes well for a faster market recovery once COVID-19 is brought under control.

Secondly, market uncertainty always creates opportunities for smart, savvy and proactive companies to take a leadership stake in their markets, whether it’s communicating with their various stakeholders or marketing their brands in an authentic way to strategically position their companies for when the market fully returns.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve worked with our commercial real estate clients to navigate these unprecedented times with a wide range of communications strategies proving beneficial to their brands:

Crisis Planning + Response – When any crisis hits, the hope is that there’s been some planning in advance to anticipate the potentially negative impacts it will cause a company’s reputation and put in place some strategies that can offset brand risk among key audiences. Our Real Estate Team has collaborated with real estate companies of every size and type over the past several weeks to help them develop a suite of crisis-related materials, including:

  • Media holding statements
  • Key messaging documents
  • Correspondence with staff and other internal audiences
  • Blogs and other social content
  • Press interview FAQs

Creative Earned Media – Engaging with the media during times of crisis carries a certain risk-reward element, and it’s not always beneficial to proactively pitch media on typical news stories, especially given their all-hands-on-deck approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, real estate trades and business media have increasingly requested non-crisis-related articles about companies with unique stories to tell. There’s a growing sentiment among trade and financial outlets that readers want more coverage of business-as-usual transactions, like this story on a recent acquisition deal brokered by Colliers International or corporate profiles of companies like GIS International, global, full-service real estate firm with a collaborative approach to complex property development. 

Strategic Thought Leadership – Crisis situations can often present golden opportunities for companies and their executive leadership to take an authoritative position in their communities on a wide range of issues – helping to build stronger brand loyalty and trust among their key publics. One way in which Allison+Partners helps its real estate clients in this capacity is through surveys and other data collection initiatives. Currently, one international real estate firm has instituted a multi-phased “Work from Home Survey” to gather insights from employees about how their workday has changed during the coronavirus pandemic – information it will share periodically with key target media. Another global real estate company, B+H Architects, recently provided third-party quotes for a trade story that shows how technology has supported its design-from-home activities on major commercial development projects. And international architecture firm Perkins & Will has taken a leadership role in consulting hospitals and other clients on the future of the healthcare environment in light of today’s coronavirus crisis. 

Stakeholder + Community Engagement – The COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting economic retraction, has created a host of problems in the commercial tenant market, with retailers, small businesses, nonprofits and many other users finding it difficult to pay their monthly rents. Many owners have responded positively by establishing rent-deferral programs to ease the pain. This includes Vulcan Inc., which announced last week it will not collect rent from 40 commercial tenants impacted by the crisis, across 30 real estate assets. Orange County, Calif.-based Irvine Co. also announced recently it will offer financial assistance to residential tenants experiencing coronavirus-related layoffs or losses to professional income.

If you lead a real estate company looking for help building a stronger communications message during these uncertain times, please contact me at richard@allisonpr.com or sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates. 

Richard Kendall is a partner and managing director of Allison+Partners’ Real Estate Group. He has more than 30 years of experience consulting organizations in the built environment on a range of branding, marketing, PR and crisis communications initiatives. 

APRIL 3, 2020 //     

Gratitude and Perspective Can Nourish You Through COVID-19

By Jacques Couret

I learned how to make a roux in 1989. That summer, I asked my Mémère to teach me everything she knew about Creole New Orleans cooking. An outstanding cook and loving grandmother, she specialized in all the classics – gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya, you name it. Understand that where I am from, making a roux is as important to living a Godly and decent life as learning to walk or graduating from college. Food is a blessed sacrament, not just a utilitarian necessity. My lifelong passion for cooking, grocery shopping for the best ingredients and eating well comes from that culture and my grandmother. 

After nearly three weeks without a visit to the grocery, I ventured out early this morning to restock my pantry and fridge. What used to be something I looked forward to now felt like dread. The fear of being around others or touching anything contaminated with the coronavirus upset my stomach. A queue of a couple dozen or so shoppers all standing ridiculously far apart kept guard facing the automatic front doors. That isn’t normal. I lined up as the queue began to move after a guard opened Publix for business.

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I imagined the things I needed most – bread, in particular – and headed to the far side of the store first to get a loaf or two before they vanished. As I stood between the long shelf of bread to my right and the sprawling produce department to my left, my nightmare began. I saw a large, empty space where the onions used to be, and I felt a sense of anger, panic and disbelief rolling into one unsettling emotion. Nearby, more empty spaces where bell pepper and celery should be. How the hell am I supposed to cook anything without onions, bell pepper and celery? The Trinity!

In that moment, my plans to make gumbo, red beans and rice or jambalaya evaporated. The dishes I grew up with and always turned to for comfort and when I needed to stretch a buck would now be impossible. Imagine New York without pizza or bagels, Philadelphia without cheesesteaks, Boston without clam chowder or San Francisco without sourdough bread or Dungeness crab. Culinary tragedy!

I continued to the meat department – no chicken, no beef and no sausage. Bye-bye jambalaya, bucatini with meat sauce and pretty much every recipe I usually make during any given week. I “settled” on turkey breast cutlets, ground bison and ground lamb. I’m fantastic in a kitchen. I know I’ll make something delicious out of these proteins. My belly will certainly be full. But it’s just not the same. These days, few things are.

America’s Southern culture is one where we look a stranger in the eye as we pass and say hello or share a smile. We make friends with strangers in the checkout line, because that’s what our mommas and Mémères did. Our hearts are warm like our weather, and we do insist upon being polite and kind as much as possible. If you wear your favorite SEC school’s logo when out during football season, you expect and welcome the likeminded, and similarly dressed, strangers to high-five you and give an old school cheer. You also expect and welcome others in rivals’ apparel to give you some “clean, old-fashioned hate,” as they say in Georgia. 

But at the store today, there was little eye contact, chatter or warmth, and there were no SEC cheers despite my LSU sweatshirt. Instead, there was stress, anxiety and a desire to get in and out as quickly as possible without catching COVID-19. There may not be any SEC football, or any other type of football, this year. And there certainly won’t be gumbo on my stove any time soon. It all broke my spirit when I thought about this while putting groceries into the car.

I tried to sort out my emotions as I drove home. Those damn empty shelves! I thought about growing up during the Cold War, all those images of Soviet Bloc countries on the nightly TV news. The rationing and endless lines of severe-looking babushkas and old men in heavy coats and ushankas hoping to get toilet paper. Lines for toilet paper! Toilet paper! Can you believe that?! 

The quarter-empty store I saw is nothing compared with the misery people behind the Iron Curtain endured and what today’s citizens of Venezuela, North Korea or Cuba continue to suffer. But this is America – the Norman Rockwell painting promised us “Freedom from Want” in 1943! Where’s my toilet paper?

I wondered what my Mémère and Pépère would have thought about the current pandemic. They grew up during the Great Depression and never wasted a scrap of anything forever after. She dealt with rationing stateside, while he fought the Japanese Empire in the Pacific. They reared two boys on a meager budget after that. To them, whining was unacceptable. It was OK to feel stressed or to worry, but then you had to do something about it or “fermes la bouche!” It’s something I continue to struggle with as I, and we, work from home and wonder when, and if, our “normal” lives will ever return. COVID-19 World – there are moments of despair and there are moments of joy. 

Before I got home, some final thoughts crossed my mind – gratitude and perspective. As an American, I, and perhaps some of you, got used to having everything anyone could possibly want on-demand 24/7. I, and perhaps some of you, grew up believing in this land of plenty, that we are indeed blessed, will never run out of anything and should be immensely thankful. There’s even a holiday every late November devoted exclusively to that concept – and over-eating, football and booze.

But I, and perhaps some of you too, have clearly taken a lot for granted. It’s hard not to. We got spoiled. How I’d now gladly fight an hour of traffic twice a day to get to the office and see my colleagues. Some people no longer have jobs. How I’d now gladly run an errand even when tired and browse the merchandise without fear of touching and contracting a potentially deadly illness. Some people cannot afford to buy whatever they want, whenever they want it. How I’d now gladly go to the gym even when feeling lazy. Some people aren’t healthy enough to even stand.

Gratitude and perspective – maybe the bison étouffée can become a real thing? 

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

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.

APRIL 3, 2020 //     

10 COVID-19 Revelations: Insights From the Front Lines in China

By Jerry Zhu

As millions headed home for the Chinese New Year in late January, Jerry Zhu, partner and GM of Allison+Partners' China operation braced himself for what had the potential to be the most challenging time in his more than 25-year professional experience. With his teams in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu now back in the office, albeit on a staggered schedule and mandated distancing, he shares some of his insights from this experience.

This piece has been translated from the original, previously published Chinese version.

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In March 2015, Bill Gates said in a TED speech that our greatest current threat is a large-scale pandemic, not a nuclear war. The challenge we face is not that our defense system is not strong enough, but that we actually do not have one.

This speech, delivered five years ago, showed great foresight.

When we witnessed the Ebola outbreak in Africa, we may have rationalized it as far away from home. When we heard about the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the Zika virus and avian influenza, we also dismissed them as having no impact on us. Although we in China experienced the SARS epidemic 17 years ago, memories of the events have already become distant and indifference set in as many chose to forget.

Because of this forgetfulness and indifference, our epidemic prevention system was caught unprepared and overwhelmed when COVID-19 broke out.

Past experiences, if not forgotten, can serve as an important a guide for the future. Although we remain in the midst of the pandemic, which grows worse globally, it has already provided many lessons and experiences worth pondering.

Listen to science and experts

Medicine and epidemic prevention are highly specialized scientific fields. Listening to the opinions of experts and professionals is absolutely paramount to avoid arriving at incorrect conclusions and making uninformed decisions.

Trust is key

At critical moments, people will trust the authorities only if all operations are transparent. A pandemic does not cause panic and confusion – a lack of trust does.

Crisis awareness

It is foolish to believe bad things will never come to us; a certain level of vigilance is important. Many companies have their crisis management systems in place, and the same should be true for epidemic prevention. 

Prepare emergency plans

No one can foresee a crisis, and no one can make all the right judgments at the very beginning. As the Chinese saying goes, "You need to bear 10 years of hard work to enjoy your one minute on the stage." Although each crisis is unique, there are also similarities in their history, their impact and in the response measures taken against them. Therefore, we must take full advantage of “peacetime” to mobilize the strength of all parties and brainstorm emergency plans. 

Rehearsal

The emergency plan will not work if it is only on paper. Just like the military, if you do not train or practice during peacetime, you will be unprepared for active combat on the battlefield.

Respect the power of public opinion

In the age of social media, the dissemination of information is quick and convenient, which is both a virtue and a curse. Although public opinion may sometimes seem extreme, it can also serve as a means to monitor the effectiveness of governmental operations. We can only guide public opinion – we cannot stop it.

Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked. We need to create a new system rather than sticking to set specifications for the selection and supervision of officials, so the top talent can assume important positions and form a stronger team.

Mobilize all forces to join hands

In the face of crisis, it is neither realistic nor efficient to take on everything alone. The related organizations may not only lack of expertise, but also perform well due to self-interest and intention to hold the power. 

Learning from experience can prevent the recurrence of crises

The epidemic will come to an end sooner or later. But when it is over, if we only praise the achievements, we lose the important opportunity for reflection the disaster has given us.

A confident China should accept both enthusiastic praise and be able to withstand sincere criticism, and the same is true of other governments around the world.

Always be optimistic

No matter how grim the situation seems, Chinese people are always kind and hardworking. We are not short of brave and dedicated experts, media personnel, medical workers and civil servants at every level who are willing to take the lead.

This is true for countries and even more so for businesses. Any enterprise may face crises, both in operations and communication.

For example, during this outbreak we have seen the educational institutions with online teaching capabilities are not only able to withstand the crisis, but are becoming bigger and stronger. However, the institutions that only have offline capabilities have been hit hard. This is a risk and crisis in business operations.

Just as we need strong epidemic-prevention measures, enterprises ought to create their own comprehensive crisis management system. They need to prepare by implementing measures, such as establishing crisis management teams, conducting simulation exercises, preparing crisis plans and organizing training speakers. Only in this way can we be methodical in resolving a crisis, withstand any difficulties that may arise and create a brand that can last centuries.

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

Jerry Zhu is a partner with the agency and oversees business operations, growth and client service for all of China, fostering expansion throughout Asia Pacific and around the world. He is a recognized expert in corporate communications, with experience in crisis management, public affairs, B2B and technology.

APRIL 2, 2020 //     

We Cannot Forget Native Americans During These Troubled Times

By: Scott Pansky

The number of deaths and those impacted by COVID-19 rises every day. Our media, whether online or off, gives us staggering statistics, political posturing and counsel on personal hygiene and social distancing. They report on celebrities and sports figures who have gotten the virus, and offer stories of hope – kids helping seniors, restaurants serving meals to first responders and donations of products and services.

Yet, they ignore or forget numerous audiences, including Native Americans. Allison+Partners works with numerous nonprofit organizations of different sizes that impact millions of people around the globe. And, we also represent smaller organizations that serve niche audiences, including Partnership with Native Americans (PWNA), whom we have represented for more than six years.

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PWNA provides goods and services to its Native American partners to support programs in and meet needs of tribal communities. These partners identify what kinds of distributions and services would best make an impact on community members. PWNA supports its self-determined goals by delivering supplies to help address basic day-to-day needs for immediate relief and offering support for capacity building, like nutrition and leadership training or emergency preparedness planning.

Now, more than ever, there is a shortage of healthy food, safe drinking water, healthcare and retail services to sustain these remote reservation communities. The Elders now find the shelves empty of their most basic supplies. With the lack of pubic transportation and access to full-service grocery stores, PWNA serves as a first responder and essential link in the Native American community’s supply chain. 

My family and I had the chance to spend a day on the Navajo Reservation a few years ago. There, we packaged supplies, such as water, blankets and food, and then we hand-delivered these and a hot meal to the Elders who could not make it down to the PWNA-supported community center. We saw up-close, these grateful and wonderful people who were so appreciative of our help and a conversation. Our family was changed by this experience, and we understand how others can stand up to make a difference today. 

The media is not covering the Native American story! The reservations need basic supplies, including food, water, baby formula, toilet paper, sanitizer and other essentials, to get through the COVID-19 pandemic. I encourage you to learn more about PWNA and the issues Native Americans face today. Don’t ever forget!

If you’re a nonprofit in need of advice on how to navigate these challenging times, get in touch at scottp@allisonpr.com or sign up for our weekly 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 nonprofit organizations and developing board + ambassador training programs.

APRIL 1, 2020 //     

The Importance of Internal Comms in a Time of Crisis

By: Todd Sommers

Crisis-focused organizations must not forget about their people.

Business conditions under COVID-19 continue to evolve rapidly. With more attention focused on business continuity, it’s easy to forget about internal communications. While employees, partners and customers understand you won’t have all the answers, it’s important to show you’re thinking about them. 

The new twist in today’s environment, compared with previous crises, was the rapid transition to WFH for most workers. Your organization’s stakeholders are isolated, distracted and stressed.

This situation will test many companies’ cultures, missions and values as employees lose the kinetic energy the physical office generates. Employers need to provide immediate, frequent and ongoing communications from leadership, and the existing content distribution strategy deserves reexamination as standups and townhalls get cancelled and email volume increases.

As we move from the immediate shock of our current situation, consider communications in the longer-term period of isolation and the eventual return to a new normal. Each chapter of this story needs a fresh approach.

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Here are steps to consider as the story evolves:

  • Do your people see and hear regularly from your leadership? And do your leaders communicate in different channels? You might suddenly need a microsite, YouTube channel or digital townhall. Or, you might need executives to create content on their cell phones where quick edits can add polish.
  • Do you focus your communications on the human element that addresses your employees’ emotions and realities? In a time crunch, talking points might get cut and pasted from one communication to another, but this is something you’d never do in person without context. Keep your humanity front and center.
  • Are there ways to turn previous office customs into virtual experiences? Recognizing birthdays, marking work anniversaries and brainstorms should not stop because your workforce is distributed. In the near-term, Zoom and other virtual services can help. Even happy hours have gone virtual.
  • Do you survey your stakeholder community with quick pulse surveys and deeper assessments to get a better understanding of their emotional well-being and professional needs? Don’t assume you know what employees think because there’s no playbook here, and everyone experiences this individually at home. There might be something easy you can do for working parents who now homeschool or for individuals who live alone and face severe isolation.
  • Are you planning communications for the new normal? It may be weeks from now, but employees will want assurances it’s safe. The patches built to address today’s issues might need to shift again.
  • Do your people managers have the tools and skills to manage a remote team? Compared with face-to-face meetings, a lot can get lost in email. Make sure your team has the support they need to communicate with employees and help them through this situation.

J.W. Marriott said, “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers and your business will take care of itself.” The hospitality legend knew who had the biggest impact on his organization – the people on the front lines. 

In this difficult situation, take some time out of your day to care for them.

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

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.

MARCH 31, 2020 //     

Four Ways for Brands to Succeed After COVID-19

PRWeekPrepare now for a strong post-pandemic marketing and communications strategy.

In this tumultuous time, we can agree on two things; there are knowns, and there are unknowns.

In both the pandemic itself and in a post-pandemic business world, unknowns cause panic and anxiety. While the best and brightest minds in medicine throughout the world will solve the healthcare challenge, the best and brightest minds in marketing should work to solve the marketing challenge.

The questions loom large: Will my funnel dry up? How will customers react? Will we have to reduce spend now and increase it later? What are my quickest times to impact? How can I accelerate deals? How is my brand or company going to rise above the noise? What are my competitors doing?

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The questions are endless, but they don't have to remain unanswered. At this time, marketers and communicators should immediately rely on research, insights and optimization to fuel a strong post-pandemic marketing and communications strategy.

Here are four easy-to-implement, quick-to-conclusion steps marketers can take to formulate a winning post-pandemic plan in what will likely be a hyper-competitive marketplace:

Run a quick marketing mix modeling, including time lag, to optimize spend. Once a costly, long-to-insight function, MMM can now produce results in days or weeks. If you haven't run an MMM exercise in a while or never, now is the time. They allow you to discover the channels that produce the most impact so you can allocate funds properly. Brands that know which channels move the needle and move it the quickest will win.

Survey your customers. The pandemic may have permanently or temporarily changed how your customers see your business. Now is the time to learn how they think about your brand, how their purchasing mood may have changed and other insights that can help you formulate a post-pandemic strategy.

Post-pandemic messaging, content and creative testing. Your customer's attitude about your brand, and its place in the world, could very well change in a post-pandemic world. Based on informed insights like customer surveys, you may have to change messaging, content and creative to meet how your customers now think about your industry, brand or product.

Are you going to do it in a bubble? If not, you need to implement testing to ensure you don't miss the mark. Some brands will miss it hard. Don't be one of them.

Improve your industry and competitor insights. Your competitors are up to something and your industry may change, possibly forever. Marketers or communicators that don't monitor their industry and competitors in multiple channels are likely doing their entire organization a disservice, at best.

A post-pandemic world may be the same, or it may be different. You can't assume either. Therefore, the brands that invest in research, insights and optimization today will be the ones that accelerate the fastest in a post-pandemic world.

Brent Diggins is managing director of measurement and analytics and can be reached at brent@allisonpr.com.

MARCH 26, 2020 //     

$2 Trillion in Economic Stimulus: What It Is And What it Means to You

By: Barbara Laidlaw with Josiah Adams

Following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s announcement early March 26 that the Senate finalized a deal outlining a $2 trillion stimulus package, Americans still wondered what it means for themselves, their businesses and the country as a whole.

The largest stimulus package in history includes provisions that seek to support individuals, hospitals, and small and large businesses. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will vote on the bill March 28 and, “It will pass. It will pass with strong bipartisan support.” While the full details of the nearly 900-page stimulus package are not yet clear, a few items have generated a substantial amount of interest among lawmakers, businesses and citizens.

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The stimulus package includes a massive $58 billion bailout for the airline industry, with some strings attached. Companies that receive a portion of these funds will be unable to lay off any of their workforce until the fall and will be barred from engaging in stock buybacks until one year after they stop receiving assistance.

The stimulus package also restricts its recipients’ executive compensation and bonuses. While the airline industry will receive a substantial amount of these funds, some $500 billion in total has been allocated for larger industries. This amount has already generated some pushback from progressive Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who called for more worker protections. While this could threaten the chances of the bill passing via unanimous consent, like it did in the Senate, it will have little impact on the overall House vote. In her press conference, Pelosi addressed these concerns, asserting the democrats had “performed jujitsu” on the bill to increase workforce protections and limit corporate handouts.

One of the core pieces of this bill assistance to small businesses. It dedicates $367 billion in loans to businesses with fewer than 500 employees that pledge to retain their workforce during the COVID-19 crisis. The loan period will begin once the bill is signed into law and would last until June 30, 2020. It remains unclear what percentage of these loans will ultimately be forgiven, effectively turning them into grants. At this time, widespread loan forgiveness appears unlikely.

Payroll-tax relief provisions are another critical piece of this stimulus for small to midsize business. Those that continue to employ their workers throughout the crisis will be eligible for tax credits and deferments on payroll taxes for 2020. Some 50% of these deferred taxes would be paid off in 2021, while the remaining 50% would be paid in 2022. Maintaining employment at the small business level is at the core of these allocated funds, but the limited amount of tax and loan forgiveness may deter certain businesses from accepting the aid to keep their workforces intact.

At the individual level, the stimulus package dedicates direct payments of $1,200 to most individuals making up to $75,000 a year or $2,400 to couples making up to $150,000 a year. It also grants $500 per child. The amount decreases at an unspecified rate after the $75,000 threshold and cuts off at $99,000. While this piece of the stimulus has generated a great deal of attention over the past few weeks, these checks will take some time to hit bank accounts. Eligible Americans with direct-deposit bank account information on file with the IRS (roughly 70 million) will see payments “within a few weeks of the bill being signed into law.”

Along with these payments, unemployment insurance has been expanded by 13 weeks and will include four months of “enhanced” benefits, which amounts to an additional $600 per week. Additional individual relief includes suspending federal student loan payments through Sept. 30 without interest accrual and requiring group health plans and insurance providers to cover the costs of preventative COVID-19 services.

Business leaders and individuals should be cautious about this historic stimulus package. Details about implementation and management remain unknown. And even after President Donald Trump signs it into law, it will be a considerable period before you, your business or your communities see real dollar figure relief. This waiting period is absolutely critical on a personal and professional level, and we recommend exercising extreme prudence in the coming weeks and months.

Above all else, we all must continue adhering to all CDC and local guidelines to help expedite our fight against this virus. The true stimulus will come when we have demonstrated control over COVID-19. The sooner we can reach that point, the better for our personal and economic health and well-being.  

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

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.  

MARCH 26, 2020 //     

Keeping Mentally and Physically Well While WFH

By: Ashleigh Butson

It’s Monday morning and day seven of self-isolation. Your alarm goes off and you quickly hit snooze. You lie there and remember your HR department has told you to stick to the same routine you would if it was a normal workday. That suggestion is great, but not realistic.

Let’s be honest, it’s not a normal day – not even close. Your routine now involves figuring out how to use your coffee machine because Suzy from your local Starbucks won’t be able to make your favorite morning concoction. You now homeschool your children, take conference calls from your kitchen table and blare CNN in the background. You decided today is the day you will start one of the 20 different workout apps you downloaded over the weekend. You must be ready when someone tags you in the push-up challenge on Instagram. This is your new routine, and it’s hard.

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As an HR professional, it’s difficult not to worry about your staff during this time. I find myself trying to come up a with one solution that fits all, but unfortunately there is no one perfect answer.  What I can do, is provide guidance on everyone’s new normal and how to manage through this unfamiliar stress.

Absolutely have a routine, but know it won’t be the same as your normal one. Set alarms for meals and breaks, carve out time for your family, a facetime call with your loved ones and, of course, your workout at home. Companies will need to be flexible for all employees. Give parents time to teach science, and give the employees who live in the 450-square-foot Manhattan flat a break from their tiny space. With the proper communication within a team, this uncomfortable living will soon feel comfortable.

As for communication, there is no time like the present to overdo it. Employees want to hear from everyone, including leaders. Employers can eliminate employee stress with daily calls and emails. Nothing is more comforting than waking up to an email from your CEO letting everyone know they are thinking of them and their families. Communicate your new routine to your team. Let them know you will be unavailable from 10 a.m.-11 a.m., that way you won’t be interrupted in the middle of your fourth-grade reading lesson. I also encourage virtual meetings and happy hours with your teams. It’s important to continue to celebrate the culture you worked so hard to develop. Seeing a familiar face after a long day of managing work, the news, and two pots of mediocre coffee will generate some normality and calm.

Although much of the population has taken a liking to the at-home workouts, they aren’t for everyone. It’s still critical to give our brains and bodies healthy attention. Whether it’s an e-book, or a real book, a podcast, meditation app, a puzzle, Jenga with your 5-year old or a trip to the dog park, detaching from the business and having some self-care is important. A social media cleanse in the evening is suggested. Staying off your phone at night will allow for a less stressful evening and more restful sleep. I promise you, everyone’s stories and latest TikTok videos will still be there for your viewing pleasure in the morning. 

Lastly, it’s time to be kind to each other. Take the time to say thank you, say sorry if an apology is needed, acknowledge the employees who worked over the weekend or send an email to see how your peers are doing across the country. Remember that no one is in this alone, and the slightest effort will make this time feel less lonely. Gratitude is proven to boost mental health and can do miracles for our new normal. Be a part of someone’s journey to getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. It’s time for us to be grateful for what we have and the people around us.

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

 Ashleigh Buston is the Global Chief Talent Officer at Allison + Partners. Her main focus is on building up our people, culture and finding ways to enhance the employee life cycle.

MARCH 25, 2020 //     

CPG Brands: Harnessing the Power of the Grocery Store Aisle During COVID-19

By: Cheryl Weissman

Grocery store shelves have been in the news a lot lately. They’ve become the star of countless COVID-19 headlines for good reason. They’re a source of comfort and relief as consumers stock their pantries and refrigerators with their favorite foods and drinks to prepare for mandated sheltering in place and quarantines. They’re also a source of stress and anxiety when found empty, in disarray and out of fan-favorites or other essentials.

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As a result, the brands and companies behind the products on shelf are in a paramount position. They have a unique and fleeting opportunity to connect with consumers in a way that helps settle and bring them comfort – something much needed during a time when there are more questions than answers.

As brands take advantage of this opportunity to connect with consumers in a new way, it’s critical they tread lightly. There is heightened awareness about how to communicate – and there is a right and wrong way to do it. Following are a few guidelines for brands and communicators to consider as they decide how to engage with consumers during this time.

  • Give Back. CPG food + beverage brands that have experienced a surge in sales as consumers stock their pantries can use funds and resources to support those who struggle. Brands that can do their part to give back, must do so with no strings attached. Whether consciously or not, consumers want brands to step up, and being a good corporate citizen during this global pandemic will have a lasting impact on how consumers think about and support brands in the future.  
  • Continue to Share Brand News, But Be Authentic. As food + beverage brands rethink their social media tone and content strategy to respect sensitivities, many use these channels to highlight scheduled product launches and find ways to relay their messages in an appropriate manner that is careful, considerate and relevant in today’s challenging environment. Brands looking to introduce new products or SKUs can still do so by leaning into a tone focused on bringing more lightness and brightness to the world, while also responding more directly to the pandemic and acknowledging the current issues the public faces. 
  • Encourage At-Home Brand Engagement. There is a tremendous uptick in sharing creative food dishes families make at home due to widespread social distancing recommendations. This introduces opportunities for food and drink brands to source creative recipes that tap into ingredients many already have at home and can test, create and enjoy. Consider leveraging a network of friendly social influencers who still develop unique content for their channels to help co-create these recipes and push out widely. Or consider taking it a step further and use social listening to identify consumers using your product and send out surprise-and-delight mailers with product to deepen the relationship.
  • Over-Communicate. Consider leveraging social media to keep consumers up to date on product availability to combat disappointment at the shelf. Use this channel to share where and when product can be found. Or if possible, consider pivoting to direct-to-consumer product deliveries as needed, even if in a limited capacity.

While the COVID-19 situation evolves, consumers will continue to look to the brands they know and love to find comfort during a trying time. If done with a tone of empathy, humanity and understanding, brands can not only strengthen the bonds they have with current brand advocates, they can also connect with new consumers and make them customers for life.  

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

Cheryl Weissman brings 15 years of experience to Allison+Partners’ Consumer Brands practice and leads the agency’s food and beverage specialty. She is responsible for the strategic management of account teams within the category across the agency, supervising client activities, providing counsel and helping some of the world's leading food and beverage brands navigate the ever-changing world of public relations.

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