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JUNE 10, 2021 //     

The Benefits of Continuous Learning

By: Molly Luby

My mom spent her career as a teacher. My dad was an entrepreneur and small business owner. So it’s not surprising I find myself constantly looking for the next opportunity to learn something new. It’s also not uncommon to hear a PR practitioner say they’re a student of the world and curious by nature. If not immersing ourselves in a new industry, we’re reading up on the latest trends, diving into a book or recommending a new podcast. We look for inspiration, opportunity and growth around every corner.

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There’s something powerful in learning. Like a great book, it can take you to new worlds. It can also remind you things about yourself you might have forgotten or push you to stretch your limits and challenge the status quo.

I’m fortunate to work for a company that supports continuous learning, be it through the resources provided by our incredible Allison+Partners Learning & Development team or by supporting staff who pursue personal and professional education opportunities outside the company. This spring, I enrolled in NYU’s Stern Executive Education program to earn my Certificate in Corporate Sustainability. Having had the opportunity to help execute award-winning earned media campaigns for companies leading the way in sustainability and build external communications on related issues from climate change to responsible packaging innovation, I wanted to learn even more about the business of sustainability.

The experience not only provided a wealth of knowledge on corporate sustainability and the business value of Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG), but it served as a reminder of just what’s so beneficial about learning:

  • Surrounding yourself with diverse perspectives – The virtual course was comprised of professionals from across the globe, representing different industries, roles and experience levels. Through forum discussions and peer reviews, I learned not only from the curriculum but from their diverse perspectives.
  • Getting out of your comfort zone – While I consider myself a continuous learner, it had been several years since I had been in a school setting. Balancing weekly reading assignments, lesson deadlines and a final project with the demands of work and home life shook me out of my comfort zone (in a great and refreshing way) and helped me reprioritize what’s truly important and impactful.
  • Finding inspiration in unexpected places – While the focus of the course was corporate sustainability, the lessons and readings provided inspiration in unexpected ways. It sparked new ideas for my clients, new perspectives on my attitudes as a consumer and new connections.

Here’s to the teachers, the entrepreneurs and the lifelong students! Here’s to learning!

Molly is a seasoned public relations and communications professional with experience across a variety of sectors, including consumer packaged goods, technology and corporate. She is responsible for day-to-day operations and business development efforts for Allison+Partners’ New York office and serves as senior lead on accounts. She has expertise in integrated communications strategy, thought leadership and brand purpose with a focus on driving impactful storytelling and results. Molly holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and a minor in Communications from Arizona State University.

 

JUNE 7, 2021 //     

Are You a 2021 Grad Interested in a PR Career? Advice from Those Recently In Your Shoes

Congratulations, you did it!  

I remember the summer after graduation so fondly, but I also recall how daunting the transition to the “real world” was. As I pounded the pavement dropping off physical résumés and cover letters at firms to start my PR career (and start those pesky student loan payments!), I could have used some real-world advice from those agency-side.  

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There are a ton of tips and advice columns out there for recent grads, but not enough that focus on PR. So, who better to share advice with 2021 graduates than some Allison+Partners stars who graduated and started their careers fairly recently? Let’s hear from N.Y.-based Lucas Thompson, Phoenix-based Yasmine Gonzalez and San Francisco-based Ellen Marrero. 

Q: Let’s start with advice for securing a job in PR. Any tips on this? How can candidates set themselves apart?  

Yasmine: I graduated during the pandemic, which was a difficult time for many. I think the biggest lesson I learned was to be patient and not give up. One way to stand out is by being proactive, and it’s encouraged to follow up with thank you notes after your interview. Even if you don’t get hired at that specific agency, it will leave a good impression and they might even refer you to someone else who is hiring (that happened to me!). 

Ellen: Before searching for jobs, I think it's important to look within and figure out your interests and your “why.” Then, use this as a North Star when searching for companies you want to work for. I think this automatically sets you apart because you'll naturally be invested in the hiring process, which will definitely show through your responses, the questions you ask and other general post-interview stuff.  

Lucas: Never submit a job application or go on an interview without first doing your research. Going into the interview process with a clear knowledge of company values, awareness of notable clients and specific reasons why you are interested in the company is the best way to set yourself apart as a true contender instead of someone who just stumbled upon the listing on LinkedIn. Quality over quantity is key! 

Q: Once new grads have entered the PR workforce, what are key qualities that will help them be successful? 

Lucas: The important quality is to be open-minded and eager to learn. The truth is, as you start your career you aren’t going to know the answers to everything. And that’s perfectly fine! The important thing is taking the time and putting in the work to learn your role and progress your skills. Similarly, NEVER be afraid to ask questions.  

Ellen: Similar to Lucas’ advice – be a sponge! Maintain a curious mindset and be open to learning new things. Imposter syndrome is real, and it can feel like you have no idea what you're doing (trust me, been there). But remember to view each challenge as an opportunity to learn something new. Overcommunicate and proactively ask for feedback. Taking advantage of mentorship opportunities and Employee Resource Groups can go a long way!  

Yasmine: And building off Ellen’s great advice on the opportunities available to you – just get involved! It’s so important to find the things you’re passionate about when starting and connect with people who do that well. That’s why I love the OpenDoor program at A+P, where we get an opportunity to speak with senior leadership that specializes in different things.   

Q: What is one thing about PR that you now know (maybe something surprising), but didn’t know before you started your career? 

Yasmine: In college you learn a lot about pitching media, but it’s a whole new world when you’re actually doing it. Pitches are so much better when they are uniquely tailored to each reporter.  

Ellen: I agree with Yaz. And I’ve learned media relations take time, and so do meaningful results. At first, I felt frustrated about not hearing back from any of my contacts. I later learned timing really is everything – just because it's not a fit today, doesn’t mean it won't be a fit the next month. This made me realize the importance of patience and building those relationships.  

Lucas: I was surprised at how often I use Excel. Across accounts I work on, a lot of measurement tasks require me to analyze different metrics and use Excel functions. I love getting the opportunity to think analytically and have really expanded my knowledge of Excel’s capabilities.   

Q: How do you think graduating and learning in a global pandemic will help 2021 grads entering PR? 

Lucas: Speaking as someone who got to enjoy a few months in the office before the pandemic, working remotely taught me to be much more self-sufficient and a better critical thinker. In the office, I’d always pop over to my teammates' desk if I had a random question or needed a quick clarification. Working at home helped me become less dependent on my coworkers and forced me to think through situations on my own. This has made me a much better problem solver and turned me into a more well-rounded professional.  

Yasmine: Graduating during the pandemic automatically gives each graduate a unique experience to share. They are able to market themselves as already knowing how to adapt quickly, meet deadlines remotely and most likely are already pros at Zoom meetings.  

Ellen: While a pandemic certainly can throw you and your life plans off guard, it teaches you resilience and resourcefulness. I actually think that the abrupt change in the learning environment equipped ‘20/’21 graduates with two important skills needed to thrive in PR – agility and adaptability.  

Q: Parting words of wisdom -- what is one piece advice you have for a 2021 grad starting on their first day in PR?  

Yasmine: This is the moment you’ve been studying for. Have confidence in yourself and know they picked YOU for a reason. Now go show them why!  

Ellen: YOU are a valuable asset to everyone – so be excited to use your voice, whatever it is you bring to the table! 

Lucas: You might be confused and overwhelmed at first, but you’ll eventually find your place and be all acclimated in no time! 

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

 

JUNE 3, 2021 //     

Principles and Approaches to Internal Corporate Communication

The story was originally published in China PR News  

Corporate culture is the heart of an enterprise and the driving force behind its sustainable development. To some extent, corporate culture can decide what kind of talent a company can attract and how good it is at employee retention. 

Therefore, internal communication is hugely important to strengthening corporate culture, as it provides a means of empowering employees to thrive and grow together with the company. 

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The key to good corporate culture: Humanity 

To foster a positive corporate culture, humanity is key -- not rules and regulations. This is especially true for founders and top executives who oversee the company’s direction. 

A good business leader makes the staff’s continued employment a top priority even during challenging times, such as during a global pandemic. A good leader will pursue all means of reducing costs and improving business development, rather than laying off employees. 

Trip.com Group offers an inspiring example. As one of China's largest travel service companies, Trip.com suffered huge losses during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the face of these challenges, co-founder James Liang began to market the company’s products and services himself through livestreams, despite his considerable wealth and the personal freedom that comes with it. Within a year, he had brought in about RMB 5 billion in sales. By putting himself in front of the camera and entertaining audiences, the co-founder staved off a crisis and likely saved many jobs, an act worthy of respect. 

In recent years, the “996 work culture” -- working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week -- has sparked heated debate in Chinese society. This culture can be seen as a reflection of the values of corporate leaders. First, it is certainly true companies can ask employees to work overtime, provided they comply with labor regulations. But they must pay reasonable benefits and avoid squeezing employees. Secondly, companies should appreciate their employees and not take their extra efforts for granted by taking real steps to reward their employees. By showing true appreciation toward employees through benefits and rewards, companies and their leaders can avoid falling into disgrace among their own staffs and the public. 

Approaches to Internal Communication 

So how do we effectively communicate with employees in the digital era? 

Let’s examine one of our clients, a large medical equipment company. Its customer service department is made up of hundreds of engineers who work on-site for their customers for years on end. This has resulted in a fractured work environment, where employees lack a true sense of belonging and connection with the company.  

In the face of this challenge, effective internal communication is essential to increase employee retention. To better reach the company’s decentralized workforce, we launched a campaign involving a wide range of mediums, from posters to H5 pages to videos to in-depth articles, leveraging platforms, such as WeChat and EDM, and even hosting offline events. 

To implement the campaign, we began by working with the client to clearly define the service department’s core values. We then launched a five-month communication project called "Service Engineers’ Moments of Glory." Through this project, we engaged more than 700 engineers across five offices and created deep dives of 10 “customer hero” stories.   

One such story was a service engineer who received an emergency request while he was taking wedding photos. He rushed to the client’s worksite to help, still in his wedding attire. The customer was deeply moved by his commitment and impressed by his ability to quickly solve the equipment issues. 

In addition, we created an exclusive online H5 page using the company’s staff data. By typing their staff number into the page, the employee can see all their proudest moments and achievements from the past year.  

These efforts have had a positive knock-on effect: as the enhanced internal communications helped to improve the confidence of its service department employees, it also strengthened their customers’ trust, which in turn has brought more possibilities for business expansion. 

In today's business environment, competition for talent is extremely intense. Creating an image as a reputable employer is crucial for the healthy growth of all companies. But before embarking on an internal communication plan, the core ideas must be established -- namely, the company’s corporate culture and values. Only when the company truly cares about its staff will the staff feel truly valued, and only then can internal communication achieve its intended purpose. 

Jerry Zhu is the Managing Director & Partner of A+P in China, a veteran in China’s PR industry and a recognized expert on corporate communication. At Allison+Partners, he serves as the managing director for China and partner for Asia. He drives the agency’s expansion in China and overseees the service quality of all practice groups. He also acts as the senior counselor to many clients on brand positioning, issue and crisis management, content strategy, CSR efforts and training.  

Zikki provides integrated PR services with special focus on social media communication. She has worked with a wide range of clients covering the automobile, healthcare, education, finance and automation industries. Her clients include GE Healthcare, Elekta and Swiss Re, among others. 

JUNE 2, 2021 //     

Agency + Client Partnerships: Our New Paradigm

When friends and industry acquaintances ask me about the effect of COVID-19 on our business, I invariably give the same reply. Namely, that Allison+Partners has been privileged – blessed, even – to have made it through the pandemic thus far without making any of our team redundant, without implementing salary freezes, and even with our promotion cycle running as usual.  READ MORE

All this is only possible because clients have continued to trust us with their business. Looking back at the past 15 months, I believe that our Singapore team has learnt a great deal through the process of proving ourselves worthy of this trust, during a time when agencies and clients alike have had to continually redefine the meaning of “business as usual.”  

Our journey to this new paradigm began in Q1 2020, when the pandemic first introduced uncertainty not just to our daily lives, but also to the state of our clients’ businesses. Every one of the brands we work with came under tightened budget scrutiny. Our client contacts needed our support to provide justification for the value of their activities – whether PR, content marketing, social media, or any combination of all three.  

 Here is how we rose to the challenge.   

  1. Embracing new ways of connecting PR and marketing programmes to business value 

    For many brand marketers, the start of the pandemic marked a period where literally every cent of their spend required justification. Out the window went old-school measures of success such as AVE; vanity metrics (likes, comments, shares) also proved insufficient.   

    We saw an opportunity to level-up our client partnerships accordingly. To prove our value, it was critical that we make clear the connections and correlations between our programmes and our clients’ results. We asked for – and received – access to sales and business data that PR firms never used to have. This gave us the opportunity to establish the role of marketing communications within the sales process, which was made possible by our team members’ fluency in the language of the audience journey and the path-to-purchase.  

  2. Maximising the shift from paid media to earned media and influence  

    Marketing and communications professionals are painfully aware that the decline of paid media – broadcast and paid ads, OOH media, even digital display ads – has been exacerbated by pandemic life. Everything we used to know about audiences’ attention spans has been upended by COVID-19 behaviour trends, from the rise of WFH to the decreased trust in media outlets.  

    With the increased client demand for demonstrable value, coupled with a push towards authenticity in brand storytelling, we leaned hard into building influence through a combination of pure-play PR and content co-creation. By collaborating with agencies in other specialisations, we were able to punch well above our weight. We pitched amplification and syndication strategies for the media coverage that we secured; we reviewed budgets previously allocated for paid influencer content and renegotiated the entitlements for greater impact. 

  3. Earning trust and building partnerships in the absence of F2F contact 

“Is it a face-to-face WIP or a call?” This question became completely redundant as the entire world moved to work-from-home as a default.  

While we take pride in the collaborative, consultative relationships we build with our clients, we knew that each new client we onboarded would require a very different mode of engagement than we used to take for granted. Doubling down on results was a given, but at the beginning of every new client relationship, we worked hard – and creatively – to build the much-needed trust that would shape the way forward.  

Beyond communication, we embraced over-communication. We scheduled regular meetings more frequently, but there was no running away from the need to address client concerns over ad-hoc calls and text messages. This pandemic-era dynamic definitely took some getting used to – and I would be lying if I said it didn’t contribute to my own Zoom fatigue – but we got used to it as a necessary part of the new normal.  

Over time, we settled into a more predictable cadence of communication with our clients, both new and old. And when in-person meetings resumed cautiously at the start of 2021, it was as if the camaraderie of our partnerships never left. Our client relationships were all the stronger for having weathered a full year of the pandemic, one of the strangest periods in any of our lives.  

Relationships are at the heart of every agency-client dynamic, and all relationships need work to grow and evolve over time. By breaking free of the PR silo, and by sharing our clients’ accountability for results and success, we demonstrated ourselves worthy of their continued trust during the most unpredictable of times. I for one don’t take this paradigm for granted: if anything, I'm compelled to work harder – and smarter – to continually build and maintain these hard-won relationships with our clients and partners.  

Lewis is a member of the Allison+Partners Singapore team. He plays an integral role in the growth of the Singapore team, consistently securing breakthrough results for the agency’s major clients. As a regional specialist, he has led and executed award-winning campaigns in APAC, ensuring tangible outcomes for clients in the consumer, corporate, technology and public sectors.  

MAY 26, 2021 //     

A+P Women’s Leadership Program Empowers and Inspires

The Women’s Leadership Program (WLP) at Allison+Partners is a career development program focused on women-specific leadership development topics and activities to enable its staffers to reach their full potential. The goal of this program is to improve leadership skills at Allison+Partners and is open to both men and women. The program includes quarterly speaker sessions with a female leader outside of the company, as well as a group mentorship program that brings together senior Allison+Partner female leaders with small groups to discuss a specific leadership topic. 

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One of our most recent sessions focused on how to better promote diversity in the workplace and create more opportunities for women of all backgrounds, races, ages, and sexual orientations to have a seat at the table. Following our guest speaker Natasha Bowman’s webinar “Being a Woman of Color in the Workplace,” each mentor/mentee session in the program held breakout discussions on diversity, allyship, challenges and stereotypes that we have faced in our careers. 

With varied backgrounds and experiences, our amazing A+P mentors have so much insight to share on these topics -- each woman has faced her own unique challenges, and come out stronger because of them. Here are a few key insights and tips coming out of those breakout sessions:

  • Move away from evaluating“culture fit” when recruiting new talent. Instead, focus on the candidate's qualities and hard skills appropriate for the role, bring in diverse interviewers and interviewees and incorporate a more structured process for interviews. 
  • Exceptional allyship is about empowerment. It’s not just about advocating for others, but coaching them on how to speak up for themselves too. Listening is also critical to being a good ally - you need to truly hear different perspectives, not just prepare to refute or respond. Pay attention and course-correct immediately if you’ve shown unintentional or unconscious bias.
  • Stereotypes around strong women is an ongoing issue. Many women feel the need to adapt different parts of their personalities in the workplace to earn a seat at the table. This can be anything from speaking at a higher volume, being more assertive with opinions during meetings or altering our body language. We have the difficult job of customizing how we present ourselves depending on who we’re engaging with -- male or female managers, peers, direct reports, clients, etc. Misconceptions about what being a strong woman means are perpetuated in pop culture, workplaces and more, and we’re tasked with challenging and disrupting them on a daily basis. 
  • Look for ways to build meaningful connections. Connection builds empathy and empathy helps us understand one another on a deeper, more personal level. Empathy also helps us consider how our individual privileges shape our unconscious biases. Consider starting meetings with ice breakers and more casual conversation. Prioritize coffee meetings--this can be virtual--in which you take the time to understand your colleagues’ ambitions, passions and challenges. The better we can empathize with one another, the stronger our teams will be. 

These initial discussions and takeaways are just the tip of the iceberg, but having group mentorship sessions to regularly have these open conversations has been incredibly helpful. Connecting with others across the agency on a deeper level exposes participants to a wider range of potential career paths, diverse insights on topics that matter to us and actionable tips for growing as both A+P employees and as women in the workforce. 


The Women’s Leadership Program Content Committee manages all things content for the agency-wide initiative. This includes sharing inspiring or thought-provoking articles, podcasts and videos with members of the program, organizing discussions around this content and more. Members of the committee include Molly Luby, Lauren Bayse, Kelly Kenney, Rachel Busch and Taylor Rearick. 

MAY 19, 2021 //     

Crafting a Mental Health Campaign for Brand + Cultural Impact

The COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption it caused took a significant toll on our mental health. Yet it has also accelerated a positive shift toward more frequent, nuanced and responsible media coverage of mental health issues and suicide. Brands have noticed, and more companies have entered the mental health conversation during Mental Health Month 2021 READ MORE


I am lucky to lead Allison+Partners’ partnership with The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). When the world shut down in March 2020, everything felt uncertain, 
including life in PR. Working with AFSP to educate people on mental health and provide them the tools to openly discuss what they were experiencing was one of the things that grounded me. The work is deeply fulfilling because communications and marketing are absolutely essential to the mission of changing culture and behavior around mental health. And everything I’ve learned from working in the mental health space has made me a healthier person and a more compassionate friend and colleague. 

As influential drivers of culture, brands now have an opportunity to engage their stakeholders for authentic programs that go beyond mere messaging to impact real change and foster brand affinity. Below are a few guiding principles for marketers to keep in mind when considering mental health-themed programs.   

Take an honest look at your internal mental health policies. As with all issues-oriented campaigns, brands must take an honest look at their internal practices before pursing external communications. Do you offer your employees benefits that support their mental health? What is your culture when it comes to discussing mental health in the workplace? Asking these questions as a first step will help ensure any external campaign will feel authentic and shareable not only to your external audience, but also to your employees. 

Mental health is a large umbrella for many issues and experiences. Focus on those that most impact your brands’ target audiences: A myriad of related health issues, such as anxiety and depression, sit under the mental health umbrella. The challenges faced vary significantly by individual and by population. For instance, middle-aged white men are statistically most at risk for suicide, yet men are less likely than women to openly discuss mental health. Entrepreneurs face extreme stress and loneliness, but may not have the health benefits that come with working for a large company. And teachers, frontline workers, restaurant workers and parents have all faced unprecedented, unique challenges during the pandemicadding to the stress and anxiety.  

Understanding your target audience’s unique mental health behaviors, beliefs and concerns is essential to develop a campaign that resonates with both media and consumers. For example, Gillette has partnered with The Confess Project to train barbers in communities of color – where stigma regarding mental health is pervasive  to listen actively to their customers and refer them to mental health resources. This campaign is a reminder that while mental health is a universal issue, a highly tailored approach is the only way to have maximum impact.       

Language matters. Make sure you’re informed and write intentionally. I am a communications nerd who studied linguistic anthropology. So, it should come as no surprise that one of the things that fascinates me most about the mental health space is the enormous impact the language we use has on our audience’s beliefs and behaviors. An important part of the work with do for AFSP is educating reporters how to write responsibly about suicide. 

 For example, we say someone “took their life” instead of “committed suicide,” because “committed” implies a crime. And while a lot of our work is about increasing cultural understanding of mental health, we avoid the word “stigma” in our external communications because we don’t want to inadvertently perpetuate the idea that mental health is taboo. When developing campaign messaging and copy, make sure you consult the latest research and mental health experts to ensure your communications are responsible and effective. 

Mental health, like physical health, impacts everyone. This creates opportunity for brands to engage consumers authentically.. Those that focus on impact, not just dialogue, will be the ones that break through to capture attention and build brand equity.   
 

Kristen Kmetetz, EVP Client Service + Operations and leads the Boston office at Allison+Partners, where she partners with clients across health and wellness, technology, food, and consumer to build brand awareness and change behavior through storytelling.

MAY 6, 2021 //     

The Office – (n.) Physical Property with Purpose

In 2020, the words remote and virtual became synonymous with work. In 2021, many companies around the world will reexamine the office’s role and its impact on business.    

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The pandemic taught us we can operate business remotely thanks to technology and software that supports collaboration. As companies begin to announce their return to work plans, we must remember the critical role the physical office plays in Allison+Partners’ award-winning culture. While we were able to pivot and adapt in the pandemic, collaboration software will never replace the output that happens with human-to-human interaction. The natural organic moments and creative sparks that grow in a physical environment are nearly impossible to recreate in a virtual setting.  

As the 
general manager of our largest officeI believe the office will continue to serve as a catalyst in three key areas:   

  • Collaboration – multiple perspectives are always better than one. Simply put, physical environments are better equipped to foster collaboration. Problem solving in person and side by side tends to happen best when team members are in the same space. From a hallway conversation to a formal in-person brainstorm, the human element is the X factor when it comes to collaboration. 
  • Creativity – there’s nothing like being in the same room as other creative thinkers who know how to build together on and develop ideas, programs and campaigns. For anyone who has participated in a remote brainstorm, it’s not just the snacks and candy that’s missing – it’s the real-life triggers that spark creativity that’s missing in our virtual world. 
  • Community – our core values come to life best in a physical space. The office is the home base where we create IRL an inclusive and collaborative environment. The strong connections and relationships made in the office make us better at our jobs and make us better humans. Community also supports a strong culture and creates lasting and meaningful connections between colleagues, one of the elements that has helped cement Allison+Partners as a best place to work in New York and across the world. 

While the cadence with which people frequent the office may evolve, the purpose of the office as a home base and fertile ground for new ideas and thinking will remain. The office is part of our journey in work but not the end destination. Even before the pandemic, we proved as an agency work could be done from home, airplanes, hotel lobbies and in transit. The driving purpose behind the physical office space will be community –  human-to-human interaction and collaboration.    

As we prepare to reopen our doors and reunite with colleagues, friends and clients, the office will be a key part of the journey. I look forward to our coming return to the office and believe the experience will be met with joy, excitement and gratitude and driven by a common purpose of person-to-person contactI’m looking forward to “seeing” clients and team members soon. 

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

 

MAY 4, 2021 //     

Kicking My Corner Office to the Curb

A+Pers participate in a plank challenge at headquarters in San Francisco.

When I joined a fledgling Allison+Partners as a junior practitioner almost 18 years ago, I was shocked to arrive at an office that was more like a newsroom than a corporate workspace offering private spaces to career climbers like I intended to be. Where would I get my writing done, and how would I know I had finally made it?

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Little did I know that those non-hierarchical seating arrangements, including my placement next to CEO Scott Allison’s cubicle – yes, cubicle! – would help me navigate company culture and hone my PR and leadership skills. Being surrounded by senior employees was a crash course in how to be successful at my job. For that reason, the hard-won corner office I now enjoy as a partner in our global agency must go!

Remote workers have proven their ability to be productive at home, but they have missed out on the in-office exchanges that build trust, develop staff and help new employees learn how to behave by observing others. To maximize informal learning in the hybrid workplace, senior leaders must break out of our offices and away from our pre-COVID-19 tendency to work behind closed doors.

With the flexibility to work from home on writing and planning tasks, we can and should spend more time interacting with colleagues when we’re in the office. This requires flipping the traditional office setup, using executive offices as shared spaces for team meetings, presentation rehearsals and private calls and open areas as seating for all, regardless of level. Such proximity allows leaders to provide in-the-moment mentoring and model behaviors that give others permission to spend in-office time building relationships. These include participating in an ad hoc brainstorm, getting a colleague’s take on a challenge, offering acknowledgment of a job well done or asking about a coworker’s current projects or long-term career aspirations.

It’s also important to reevaluate seating charts. Instead of grouping staff by function, cross-department “neighborhoods” ensure everyone is exposed to new ideas and people. We also need to devote time to rituals. At Allison+Partners’ headquarters in San Francisco, we hit a gong when we win a new client, enjoy staff-taught yoga and beer appreciation (aka Wellness Wednesday and Thirsty Thursday), and participate in fitness challenges, with CEO Scott Allison sweating it out with the rest of us. These gatherings create a celebratory atmosphere and provide additional opportunities for staff to mingle.

Such in-the-trenches leadership will help ensure our physical workspaces provide the kind of spontaneous interactions we’ve missed during the pandemic and foster a culture of mentoring where all members of the organization, especially those at the mid to senior levels, are active in growing new and junior colleagues.

Partner Courtney Newman leads employee engagement for 500+ A+Pers in the U.S., Europe and Asia-Pacific. Her career highlight is the agency’s perennial “Best Places to Work” designation.

APRIL 28, 2021 //     

Engage for Good - 19 Years and Counting – It’s Time to Register for EFG 2021

By: Scott Pansky

Almost 20 years ago, prior to starting Allison+Partners, Scott Allison, Andy Hardie Brown, Jonathan Heit and I all worked at Connors Communications, a New York-based boutique public relations firm. I opened the Los Angeles office with Jonathan; Andy was in New York and Scott was in San Francisco. Connors was one of the leading dot.com communications companies that helped launch a few “tiny” companies people may remember, including Priceline.com, Amazon.com, Edmunds.com, MySpace and Nordstromshoes.com.

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When I joined the firm, I hoped to differentiate some of its offerings from public relations, media and analyst relations to include entertainment, nonprofit and cause marketing services. Prior, I had spent eight years at another agency building a cause practice and developing a regional cause conference with San Diego American Marketing Association.

One day, received a phone call from David Hessekiel, the founder of the Cause Marketing Forum. David was launching his first conference at the Yale Club in New York. He shared his vision about bringing together major brands and nonprofits, sharing best practices and recognizing the best campaigns with something called the Halo Awards. I remember sharing with him my dream to do exactly what he was doing. In its first year, a little more than 100 people showed up with common interest and passions. And, an annual conference that I look forward to every year came to life.  

Brands, including Hasbro, Ford, BMW and Nestle, attended that first year to learn more about best practices in cause marketing. There were also many nonprofits that wanted to learn more how to work with corporations. Back in the day, the focus was on partnership marketing and case studies of great campaigns.

Today, I love how the Cause Marketing Forum has evolved into Engage for Good. Cause-related marketing has truly become more of a marketing tactic than a deep brand strategy. I’m not saying cause-related marketing is bad or that brands and nonprofits shouldn’t do it. But, today the practice and the conference is focused more on how companies live their purposes and how partnerships with nonprofits help bring the company’s or brand’s purpose to life. Campaigns are deeper and the brands recognized as Halo winners (now the industry’s leading social impact award) implement programs that reach all of their target audiences internally, externally, supply chain, etc. Campaigns aren’t just transactional, they are deeper to include:

  • Employee engagement
  • Building brand reputation
  • Behavior change
  • Consumer call to action
  • Impacting communities where their companies have local operations
  • Environmental impact
  • Social Justice and health equity

Now, instead of 100 organizations participating, you have thousands interested in purpose-driven strategies. This year’s lineup is exceptional with speakers from Qualcomm, Google, PayPal, eBay and nonprofits include CARE, Feeding America, Boys & Girls Clubs, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and so many more. As an ongoing sponsor, I encourage everyone to register now while there is still an early-bird pricing. This is a great community to learn and network with.

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

APRIL 27, 2021 //     

Cue the Ceremonial Mask Burning Ceremonies

La So's photography of Italy (@larasophie996)

By: Emily Wilson Sawyer

A new era in travel has begun. All hail the return of the roaring 20s, but with a new and recently vaccinated twist!

While the travel industry was amongst the hardest hit, all signs point towards a swift and triumphant return of a beloved pastime and the ability to turn on 'vacay mode' for its fans and followers. But for an industry that felt the most dramatic impact, while immediate demand is strong, it will likely take months, or even years, to turn profits back from red to green. Expedia Group recently reported fourth-quarter earnings that included a 64% revenue drop. That is one giant hill to slowly hike back up in 2021.

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So, as the lights turn back on, with it comes increased competition to earn heads in beds and make brands stand out from the pack as the destination and home base for your vacation comeback story in 2021. The major players are showing up for this royal battle, and are putting money, star power, and even humor behind it.

Last week Accor hotels launched a tongue-in-cheek ad campaign with actor Neil Patrick Harris who teaches travelers how to be a 'real person' again after more than a year of the coronavirus pandemic. To put its own mark in the proverbial bucket of return to travel campaigns, Hotels.com coined the term “revenge travel” for those travelers looking to make up for a year of lost getaways. These early campaigns have shown a valiant effort, but few to date have exhibited real benefit to consumers beyond marketing fluff. Below you will find some recommendations for meaningful ways to win customers back:

  • Discounts - While hotels need to turn a profit, discerning travelers are making important purchase decisions based on the perceived value of which brand wants them back the most and how much they are willing to discount offerings to get them there. And while discounts do work, it’s those that are discounting creatively and adding value along the way, that are earning the ever-illusive brand affinity. A good example of this is our client Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. The boutique hotelier owned by IHG just launched a national partnership and book club with a world-renowned literary platform, Lit Hub. The partnership gives guests staying on property access to books which reflects how literature responds to cultural moments, as well as an opportunity to take part in a safe activity in the comfort of their own room. Guests who want to join the book club also have access to a 20 percent off rate code, making this offer a true bibliophile’s dream. 
  • Lose the Gimmicks and Lean Into Real Tensions – While the world is ready to travel and vaccinated customers are ripe for adventure, anxiety, as it relates to the return to travel, is a real thing. How do I small talk in a post-pandemic world? What if I pay to get on a plane and am too anxious to leave my hotel room? Will my pet miss me too much? How can I find resort wear to hind my ‘Quarantine 15’? Are trust falls at the company retreat still a thing in a post-pandemic world?  Brands that can successfully solve a real tension, and do so in a creative way, have the opportunity to earn fans for life. 
  • Culture is King - While recapturing guests who have previously stayed at your property is important, it is equally important finding creative ways to make your object shiny for the next generation of travelers. In addition to maintaining a steady and on-trend social presence and artfully integrating new platforms (oh hey there Clubhouse!), brands must find ways to tap into pop culture to increase consumer relevance. Whether that means giving hard-working moms a whole month to celebrate Mother’s Day because one day just isn’t enough after the year we’ve had, or launching a $10 million “Summer Stimmy (a play on stimulus) Proposal for Fun” to help stimulate the economy, culture remains king when it comes to breaking through with Gen Z and beyond.   

With new CDC guidelines released today effectively stating that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks outside, travel brands must continue to evolve fast to meet the ever-changing consumer demand. Cue the ceremonial mask burning ceremonies being sold as an “experiential” package at a hotel near you! 

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

 

APRIL 21, 2021 //     

How the Pandemic Paved the Way for Snacks to Take Center Stage

By: Cheryl Weissman

[
snˈak] - a small amount of food eaten between meals. 

My love for snacking started at an early age – chips, fruit, veggies, pretzels, popcorn – you name it, I’ve perfected the art of snacking on it. Who doesn’t love to sit down with their favorite snack to enhance the experience of watching TV, reading a book, working, or just relaxing

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Snacking has been on my mind more over the past year, permeating my thoughts since I’ve worked from home. My kitchen  stocked full of my favorite foods  calls out to me to come grab a bag of chips to help me think better or reminds me I only have 10 minutes before the next call… just enough time for a little nosh. It got me thinking I can’t be alone, which led me to partner with my food industry practice colleagues to unveil key insights from our latest report, “The State of Snacking,” to answer a critical question as we address the evolution of mealtime: Has our pandemic-shifted focus on food paved the way for snacks to take center stage? 

Traditional sit-down meals three times a day can be a challenge with our many competing priorities, which has led the practice of snacking to enjoy a rise nothing short of meteoric. While it’s clear snacks have become a focal point of our eating habits and is expected to continue as 2021 unfolds, we wanted to dig a layer deeper to understand how brands big and small could take advantage of this behavior. 

We found that while taste is table stakes, there are four key insights – the four Ps – that food marketers need to consider:  

  • Price: More than 60% of consumers indicate price is a priority when it comes to snacks. It’s critical to execute marketing programs that emphasize a curated selection of limited availability deals or promotions through strategic channel placement and emotion-based messaging to catch consumer attention. 
  • Private Label: Complementary to price, retailers’ private label brands continue to rise in popularity among consumers, as evidenced by the popularity of Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Costco and other store brands with a cult following. Snack brands – even those not categorized as “private label”  can tap into this trend with a strategic marketing program that shines a light on on-trend tastes, flavors and retailer availability at key times of year. 
  • Plant-Based: From chips and pretzels made from peas and cauliflower to meatless jerky and oat milk everything, the rapidly growing plant-based snack segment attracts small startups and big food companies alike. Consumers are hungry for healthier, plant-forward snacking choices, and they’re more willing to experiment with new brands, flavor profiles and taste sensations. 
  • Purpose: Purpose is more important than ever, providing opportunities for CPG snack brands to showcase their missions through their products. There is a myriad of ways brands can remain actively involved to help solve problems that matter to consumers and impact the world in a positive way – leveraging their impact for marketing purposes. 

While it’s clear from our research snacking's star burns brightly today, how soon before it fades?  

Download the report and make sure to grab a snack to enjoy while reading. I know I will! 

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. If you’re interested in learning more about Allison+Partners' work with food and beverage brands, get in touch at Cheryl@allisonpr.com 

APRIL 20, 2021 //     

Panel Brings Together Old Friends For A Good Cause

On April 21, I will host a special panel on mentorship with the Broom Center at San Diego State University. As I have shared in past blog posts, mentoring young professionals is one of my passions. It was to Glen Broom, my mentor and friend, as well 

As a public relations professional, I have met some incredible people over the past 30 years. Some are current and past colleagues and clients; some are from partnerships and alliances; and others I’ve met through networking events and conferences. 

In this seminar, I will have the opportunity to introduce four of my friends who have never met each other but have all played important roles in my life. I wanted to take a moment to recognize each of them here. 

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Linda Rutherford, Senior Vice President & Chief Communications Officer, Southwest Airlines Co. 

Out of this group of people, I have known Linda the longest. Allison+Partners Co-founder, Global Chairman & CEO Scott Allison and I had the pleasure of meeting Linda early in her incredible career with one of our past 3P speakers, Deanne Yamamotomanaging director at Golin, when we developed a fundraising program for our client Angel Flight. Linda and I forged a lifelong bond while creating “On A Wing and Spare,” a bowling tournament between Southwest employees and the cast and crew of NBC’s then hit comedy Wings. We had a great time watching Southwest Founder Herb Kelleher train for the big event and AMF bowling legend Dick Weber teach the cast of Wings how to bowl. This employee engagement program raised more than $100,000 back in the 1990s. And, I have cherished my relationship with Linda for nearly 30 years. 

Ashley Hart, Senior Vice President & Global Marketing Leader of the Oracle Cloud Platform 

When we launched Allison+Partners almost 20 years ago, we had a client called eUniverse. That company acquired numerous websites to build a base of content to attract advertisers that wanted to reach Gen Xers. In addition to MySpace, we had the opportunity to launch the casual gaming site Skilljam Technologies Inc. Ashley was its vice president of marketing at the time and we got to build the first WORLDWIDE WEB GAMES, a casual game tournament in which Skilljam gave away a million dollars to the champion. This was never done in the casual game arena. Ashley’s leadership helped build the brand, which today is part of the Game Show Network’s online format. Our relationship was cemented and has led to numerous partnershipover the years.   

Charlene Thomas, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, United Parcel Service Inc.   

I met Charlene through a leadership training program, Leadership LA, part of the Southern California Leadership Network (SCLN)where I am a board member. Charlene and I were part of a group with Warner Bros. Vice President of Community Engagement Sally Chan, another past 3P speaker. We spent eight months together learning the inner workings and politics of Los Angeles, as well as developing our leaderships skills. With this said, we have never worked together directly. We established a personal relationship in which we are there for each other during good times and bad. We counsel each other, offer resources to each other and support each other in our continued growth. These are cherished memories.  

Javier Angulo, Senior Director of Community Relations, Walmart  

Prior to joining the board of SCLN, I presented the benefits of cause-related marketing and business to business partnerships to the group’s members. When I was done presenting, Javier had to step out and I was leaving for another meeting. As we walked out, I told him that one of our past employees had just gone to work for Walmart’s public affairs and digital team. He casually shared with me he had interviewed her and thought she was great. I told him he owed us one. We both laughed. This conversation led to a great friendship, from coffees to brainstorms to partnerships with Arizona State University’s PR Lab.  

I am honored to call each of these people my friends and feel honored they will share their experiences and recommendations to students all over the country. I want to take a second here to say thank you to each of them.  

And, for those who have made it through this entire post, remember – you establish meaningful relationships every day. As we grow in our positions, it is really important to stay in touch and check in with your friends. They can always be there for you!  

The webinar will be held on April 21 at noon PT/ 3 ETYou can register for the webinar 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 15, 2021 //     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other additional key findings from the survey included:

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

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

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

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

APRIL 13, 2021 //     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

APRIL 8, 2021 //     

The Art of Self Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARCH 30, 2021 //     

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

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

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

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

Demand Generation

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

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

Social Listening

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

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

Content Marketing

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

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

The Road Ahead

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

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

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

MARCH 23, 2021 //     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What skills expected in new grad hire?

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

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

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

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

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

Is the cover letter relevant?

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

 

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

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

MARCH 18, 2021 //     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARCH 16, 2021 //     

The COVID-19 Pandemic: A Reflection

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARCH 11, 2021 //     

Making an Impact at The Right Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARCH 8, 2021 //     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARCH 2, 2021 //     

How Striving for Wisdom Makes Us Better PR Pros

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

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

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

Curiosity 

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

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

Ambiguity Tolerance 

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

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

Regulation of Emotions 

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

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

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

Empathy 

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

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

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

Reflection 

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

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

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

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

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

 

FEBRUARY 26, 2021 //     

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

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

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

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

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Short-Term

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

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

Long-Term

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

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

Questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEBRUARY 18, 2021 //     

Has Brand Strategy Gone to the Dogs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEBRUARY 16, 2021 //     

Find Your B2B Target Audience Even Without Third-Party Cookies

By: Terry McDermott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

FEBRUARY 11, 2021 //     

What is Clubhouse and How Can Brands Take Advantage

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

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What It Is

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

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

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


How It’s Used

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

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

How Can Brands Use It

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

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

Here are a few thought starters of ways to activate:

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

 

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

FEBRUARY 9, 2021 //     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 //     

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

By: Adina James and Pearl Xu 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

 

JANUARY 28, 2021 //     

Super Bowl LV: The more things change…

By: Jacques Couret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pulling against Bama and Brady certainly does.

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

JANUARY 26, 2021 //     

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

By: Paul Sears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JANUARY 21, 2021 //     

What Does This Inauguration Mean? Let Us Pause!

The White House

By: Brian Feldman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need more pause, more reflection and less reaction. 

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

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

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

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

 

JANUARY 14, 2021 //     

Communications Considerations During Unprecedented Moments in Time  

By: Lindsay Hyman  

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

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

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

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

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

Should my company issue a statement?  

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

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

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

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

What are media saying?  

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

What about my social and paid influencer programs?  

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

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

DECEMBER 18, 2020 //     

Lessons Learned in 2020: Goal Setting, Patience and Gratitude

By: Amanda Bock 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DECEMBER 17, 2020 //     

The Crypto Surge and The Biden Administration

By: Todd Aydelotte

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

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

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

Others beg to differ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

DECEMBER 16, 2020 //     

Five 2021 Predictions from Marketing and PR Pros

By: Jill Coomber, Sue Grant and Kate Lynch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

DECEMBER 15, 2020 //     

Incorporating Brand Reputation Into COVID-19 Considerations

By: Barbara Laidlaw and Josiah Adams 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DECEMBER 10, 2020 //     

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

ANS

By: Marcel Goldstein

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

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In your own words, what does ANS do?

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

How does marketing help ANS achieve its mission?

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

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

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

What marketing functions are most valued by leadership and why?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DECEMBER 8, 2020 //     

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

By: Tracey Cassidy  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DECEMBER 2, 2020 //     

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

By: Lisa Rosenberg  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DECEMBER 1, 2020 //     

Giving Back on Giving Tuesday – Stories that Matter

By: Scott Pansky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOVEMBER 30, 2020 //     

Delivering Happiness: The Key to a Great Company Culture

Zappos

In Memory of Tony Hsieh

By: Scott Pansky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We looked at and better defined our core values:

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

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

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

RIP Tony.

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

NOVEMBER 23, 2020 //     

With Elections Over, Corporations Must Reaffirm Commitments on Purpose

By: Scott Pansky  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOVEMBER 20, 2020 //     

London’s Lockdown 2.0: What We’ve Learned

By: Gina Mossey

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

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

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

Dan Whitney, Managing Director, Content Strategies

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

George Collins, Account Executive 

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

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

Andrew Rogers, Account Director

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

Jess Docherty, Senior Account Manager, Integrated Marketing

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

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

Jim Selman, Partner + Managing Director, UK + Ireland

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

Jill Coomber, Managing Director, Integrated Marketing Europe

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

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

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

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

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


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

NOVEMBER 19, 2020 //     

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

Consumer Technology Association® Director of Communications Riya V. Anandwala

By: Jamie Rismiller 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOVEMBER 11, 2020 //     

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

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

By: Demar Anderson 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOVEMBER 10, 2020 //     

Keep Calm and Bake On

Clarissa with her succulent cupcake creations.By: Clarissa Dickinson


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

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

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

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

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

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

NOVEMBER 6, 2020 //     

Dead Ant

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

By: Tom Smith and David Wolf 

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

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

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

Shocking as it is, why should anyone else care?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

NOVEMBER 2, 2020 //     

Dia De Los Muertos

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCTOBER 26, 2020 //     

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

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

By: Kay Brungs Laud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCTOBER 22, 2020 //     

The Year of the Voter

By: Kristal Swim

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, 2020 is the year of the voter.

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