It's About the Work





They came, I saw, and in a very unbiased (and slightly annoyed way), they conquered. By “they” I mean Airbnb.

I recently attended the third annual Airbnb Open, an event that brings 7,000 hosts from 101 countries together to find ways of “improving hospitality together.” I also heard from celebrities, entrepreneurs and other influential people paid to attend.

For the event, Airbnb took over downtown Los Angeles in a powerful, impressive and money flaunting, step and repeat kind of way — and I liked it. It reminded me that in order to stand out in an ever-crowded media market, brands that go big, never lose, and this was no exception.

Beyond the celebs, impressive stage, oversized and glowing branding and boast-worthy gift bags, the purpose of the conference was to let consumers know loud and clear that Airbnb wants them to do more than just rent a room. Rather, through their new “Trips” feature, they want you to buy the experience.

As a long time hospitality PR veteran and staunch believer in hotels, I would like to say that the conference was a grotesque display of wealth and power. But, in fact, it wasn’t. It was a true and sure-to-be award-winning example of PR done right. I’d like believe that the idea for the conference came out of a brainstorm with their PR agency about how to launch an “experience” in a crowded space, and that some talented PR veep said that the only way to launch an “experience” platform, is to create an “experience” that no other brand can replicate. Thus, the Airbnb OpenLA was born.

In addition to making their big announcement about “Trips,” what I proceeded to see over two days was a superb example of brand-making moments and thought leadership done mostly right. I had the pleasure of listening to producer Brian Grazer talk about importance of remaining curious, Blake Mycoskie from Tom’s telling the story of how he started the cult classic shoe company out of his apartment, Frank Gehry and Kelly Wearstler waxing poetic on design, and many more. All the while, there was very little to no real push for Airbnb.

The lack of overt brand pushing got me thinking that great brands play supporting, not central, roles. And while celebs and entrepreneurs gathered on the stages of some of LA’s most famous venues, it was not to talk about Airbnb, but to talk about creativity, curiosity, innovation, charitable giving, localization and dare I say it, “experiences.” Branding for Airbnb was not over the top, but it was there if you wanted to unpack it (pun definitely intended).

Another takeaway was that celebrities, when used sparingly, and not a Kardashian, create a WOW factor worth remembering. While it was the Gehry’s, Mycoskie’s and Wearstler’s of the conference that gave thought-provoking and inspiring speeches, the celebs posing on red carpets, and keynote speaker Gwyneth Paltrow bragging that she once thought that Airbnb offered rooms for rent with air mattresses on the floor, are the stories and pictures that made the gossip rags. #WINNING for Aibnb who used celebrity right to get the brand into a new consideration set of celebutante fanatics and future Airbnb consumers. #DOUBLEWINNING for also scoring a piece in Forbes that called the conference a successful step towards becoming a “lifestyle brand” while highlighting the launch of “Trips” (which, while packaged nicely and tied up with an expensive bow, is not an entirely new concept).

On the final night of the Airbnb Open, and in mic drop fashion, Lady Gaga herself showed up for a surprise acoustic performance. As she sang her hit “Millions,” I found myself thinking not only about what an incredibly talented performer she was, but also the millions of dollars spent on this “conference.” I can smell a Gold Anvil Award a mile away.

Emily Wilson is an executive vice president at Allison+Partners, and a seasoned communications professional with 15 years of experience who has served as a marketing and media liaison for clients especially in the travel industry.

How long, O Lord, how long? Where will it end? — Hunter S. Thompson (Doctor of Journalism)




Clinton up 5…Trump up 3…Safe state now a toss-up… battlegrounds… firewalls…

You can’t go an hour without a new headline flashing the confines of what has become the most headshaking of Presidential races. New media, old media, online and social media are all culprits in this maelstrom of nattering and prognostication. To be fair, why shouldn’t they? After all, it has been a surefire ratings and web traffic bonanza.

What can we take away from the endless data and opinion streams overwhelming our senses? Not much. Because as Christopher Hitchens once wrote, “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” Or as another political critic, Bill Shakespeare, once put it, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Mercifully, this election cycle will soon come to a close when actual votes are reported and information isn’t gathered simply by polls.

On election night what should be our primary source of ‘truth’?

Every four years, our viewing choices continue to expand across the television dial and the vast confines of the internet. It wasn’t that long ago before the internet was switched on that cable news was the frontier for election night coverage. Election nights without the internet are as ancient as radio broadcasts for newly-eligible voters in 2016.

Election Night 2016 will arguably offer the widest range of viewing choices in our nation’s history, a mashup of new and old media, opinion sites and journalists, all piled on top of digital platforms. CBS, NBC, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC… Sure the traditional players will be there in their Sunday best. But just look at some of the buffet of options now at our fingertips:

  • Buzzfeed livestreaming coverage on Twitter
  • ABC partnering with Facebook
  • MTV using its digital and social screens for live broadcasts
  • Mediaite and LawNewz
  • Start-up app VoteCastr partnering with Slate for real-time results
  • Politico livestream
  • YouTube livestream
  • Stephen Colbert live on Showtime
  • NPR teaming up with PBS to broadcast across all digital channels

Are you not entertained? Are you emotionally dead from the information overload?

So how to choose? I for one will be doing a tasting of all the options throughout the evening. Liberal rantings and ravings…Huff Post, I am ready. Conservative screams and shouts? Fox News, I am all ears. Stuck at an airport without internet? CNN, good to see you. Snarky nihilistic comedy? The Onion running an election special on Fusion has you covered. Is Fusion a channel? I guess so.

By night’s end, we will all be experts on exit poll results in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, unless you are playing a drinking contest with the phrase “game change,” in which case you will be on the floor before the polls even close. The only certainty is that America will wake up the next morning with a slight hangover and the name of its next President Elect written on a crumpled cocktail napkin in its back pocket.

So have your smartphone fully-charged, Wi-Fi running at full steam, surround yourself with family and friends and prepare for hours of live broadcast filled with “sound and fury signifying nothing,” until the results are actually called.

David Baum is a vice president in Allison+Partners’ Corporate practice who has worked on political campaigns in the United States and United Kingdom.



By the Numbers, Chicago


108. That’s the number of seams on every baseball manufactured. I’ll say that again: THE NUMBER OF SEAMS ON EVERY BASEBALL. Could this get any more storybook? And the number of stories – genuinely interesting stories – is staggering. Ross’, Bryant’s, Rizzo’s, Schwarber’s, Russell’s, Ross’, Schwarber’s, Russel’s, Fowler’s, Zobrist’s, Baez’ – might as well name everyone on the team. What a World Series, Chicago!

I spent game seven of the World Series in an Irish pub down the street from Allison+Partners’ San Francisco office, mesmerized for hours. From the lead-off homer by Dexter Fowler to David Ross’ blast into the stands in his final career game, to the Hand of God unzipping the heavens with a game-resetting rain, to that final, beautiful throw from Bryant to Rizzo. Many have said, and I will add my name to the list: that was the single greatest game of baseball I have ever seen. Single. Greatest. Ever.

I sat in San Fran’s airport on Friday writing this, realizing that I left a city on Wednesday morning that I would never return to. It doesn’t exist anymore. This wasn’t closing a chapter, a chance to exhale or to turn a page. This is a new book. A stunning, magical, feel-good, “we’re all in this together” new book we are all beginning to write, starting with 5 million people showing up for a parade.

At Allison+Partners, we like to say that We See Things Differently. The Ricketts, Epstein and Maddon saw things differently this year, and it certainly has paid off. In this new book, I predict Chicago will fully embrace that notion – that sometimes, you just need a new and different perspective.

So now I’m back in Chicago, what story am I going to tell? Hey, City that Works, I at least know the title: “The City that Wins.”

At the parade and rally on Friday, Cubs’ owner Tom Ricketts gave the crowd the following quiz:

Q: How many years has it been since the Chicago Cubs won a World Series?


Go Cubs, Go. GO, CUBS, GO! Congratulations, Cubs, and congratulations Chicago!

Shane Winn is general manager of Allison+Partners Chicago office.



As a communications professional, there is much to learn from Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump. Whether it’s how to conduct proper research, when to tone down social media rhetoric or when to keep personal thoughts to a minimum, they’ve both reminded us of some fundamental marketing lessons we should always apply to our day-to-day work.

  1. Know your target audience. If more than 50 percent of the voting population includes women and minorities and you’re trying to win an election, it’s probably good to understand how they think and what resonates with them (as well as what does not). While some candidates may have missed this mark, it’s a great reminder for us to always do our research to understand our client’s audience so they can connect with them in a meaningful way.
  2. Find the ownable position. In any competition for business or votes, it’s important to know where one stands and take a clear positon. For candidates, that means articulating a clear point of view on policy. For clients, it means creating a thought leadership platform to leverage in their respective industry. In either case, finding that ownable position helps build credibility, which in turn helps drive business or political results.
  3. Less is always more. The banter from this year’s election has left many searching for an outlet away from all the election chaos. At some point, it becomes so overwhelming that people just begin to drown things out. This is no different than what the average reporter experiences daily working with PR pros. So, if you want to grab their attention, keep it simple and quickly get to the point without a lot of fluff.
  4. Social media will burn you if not used correctly. Social media has been a powerful tool in this year’s election, influencing everything from public opinion to campaign donations. However, we’ve also seen what backlash can occur if it isn’t used correctly. The same is true for the work we do with our clients. Having a clear social media strategy and team in place is critical for companies today. Ensuring they know how to handle a crisis in the space is even more important.


@realDonaldTrump via



Christen Roberts is an account coordinator in Allison+Partners’ Washington, D.C. Office.

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