It's About the Work

J.J WattJ.J. Watt, via Deadspin


Each month, Sports Sesh explores the intersection of sports and PR in current events, while highlighting the good, bad and ugly. This month: The NFL, again…

The Good: Hard Knocks

The hit HBO show ‘Hard Knocks’ is easily the best thing about the National Football League (NFL). With all the negative headlines seemingly dominating the sporting news cycle, the unfiltered, all-access look at what it takes to make it in the NFL is a breath of fresh air and a PR win. For the tenth season, HBO Sports and NFL Films gain unprecedented access to an NFL training camp – this year’s production spotlights the Houston Texans. In an era where professional athletes are put on a grand pedestal, fans rarely have the opportunity to see these icons in a raw setting. The cast of characters, led by defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Brian Cushing, fill Sunday night episodes with a mixture of brash, offensive and downright historical sound bites. Google ‘Hard Knocks’ and I bet you’ll be surprised at the amount of coverage the show generates. The Texans are everywhere and, if you weren’t a fan of them before, you will become one.

The Bad: Deflategate
Let’s be honest. We’re all tired of talking about the Deflategate scandal, but the saga never ends. Tom Brady and the NFL are now duking it out in the Supreme Court. Yes, the Supreme Court, and the case is tied to underinflated footballs. Laughable, I know. Regardless of how this plays out, the PR damage is already done and it’s compounding each day the nightmare continues. We have an NFL commissioner in Roger Goodell who serves as judge, jury and executioner when it comes to NFL disciplinary issues. In this case, Goodell is punishing Brady without any hard evidence directly linking him to the scandal. Brady has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 regular season, but rest assured, his name will be in the A-block on SportsCenter. While excitement and intrigue for the NFL season to get underway certainly exists, the positive momentum and news coverage is overshadowed by ‘Deflategate.’ Fans are tired of hearing about it and frankly don’t care anymore. As long as this continues, the NFL will continue to sack itself in the press.

The Ugly: Chris Carter – “Fall Guy”

The NFL has an image problem and the recent “fall guy” remarks from NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Chris Carter didn’t help to reshape public perception. Carter played 15 years in the league and, since retiring in 2002, has built a career serving as an analyst on numerous NFL-focused television programs. In 2014, the NFL asked Carter to speak at the Rookie Symposium, a two- day crash course for first year players to learn what life is really like in pro football. Carter took the stage and had a great platform to speak about accountability, moral aptitude, making the right decisions, not squandering the opportunity and surrounding oneself with good people. However, Carter took this time to introduce impressionable young men to the “fall guy.” He said, “If you have a crew, one of them fools need to know that they’re going to jail. I know a lot of you aren’t going to drink, I know a lot of you aren’t going to use drugs, but still get yourself a fall guy.” What? These comments weren’t made public until recently, and the backlash has been epic, especially on Twitter. When an NFL Hall of Fame member can’t find the right words to represent the league in a positive way, there is absolutely no hope for the NFL to change the narrative. I feel for the NFL PR team.


Josh Reed is an Account Executive in Allison+Partners’ Phoenix office who has worked with numerous sports-focused clients during his time with the agency.



IATW 1 Ken Brown/


Taking your company public is a remarkable achievement and an important milestone. Successful initial public offerings (IPO) provide significant benefits to a company, including: improved financial position, liquidity, higher public profile, and the ability to attract and retain top talent, among other things. However, we also know the challenges IPOs bring related to cost, mandatory public disclosure, communication restrictions, increased liability and additional corporate governance requirements. Over the course of our careers, we have managed more than 100 IPOs across the spectrum of emerging-growth companies to established brands. Whether you are a large-cap, small-cap or micro-cap company, the following guidelines will ensure your IPO communications strategy positions you for success.

Create a Compelling Business Plan – Your company needs to have a clear, compelling corporate strategy and a vision of how to execute against that strategy.  The plan will need a detailed timeline that includes business process, operations, management, valuation and financial metrics.

Act Like a Public Company – We recommend that you start acting like a public company a year in advance of an IPO.  Establishing a quarterly process early on gets everyone accustomed to working with regular reporting mandates. It also gives your team time to develop a complete understanding of the legal, regulatory, financial, and operational requirements once you are public.

Manage Coordination – One of the biggest challenges in preparing for an IPO is the coordination of bankers, auditors, lawyers, an IR/PR firm and your internal team.  As everyone needs to work together from the same IPO roadmap, we recommend you bring in communications counsel at least six to 12 months before you plan to file.

Implement an IR Communications Platform – While the prospectus is viewed as the primary selling document for an IPO, investors and research organizations will seek additional insight into a company’s goals, business model, management experience and competitive position. Consequently, it’s incumbent upon your company to have an IR platform in place that builds credibility and enhances its reach within the investment community.

Tell Your Story Early and Often – Pre-IPO companies must get aggressive in telling their story before the quiet period, when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) limits what information they can release to the public. The timing of this communication generates awareness in the marketplace with media, investors, analysts and customers and also creates a “business as usual” platform that allows the company to continue issuing releases and leverage milestones with the media once the quiet period has begun.  

Meet with Public Investors and Sell-Side Analysts – Over the last five years as private companies have eschewed the public markets, institutional investors have warmed to the notion of later-stage private investing. We recommend securing meetings with investors and sell-side analysts at least six months prior to filing. These meetings provide opportunities to refine the company story, build your reputation, and to practice responding to questions typically posed by public investors.

Know the Business and How Wall Street Works – If your management team doesn’t know the business well or how Wall Street works, hire someone who knows both at least a year before your IPO.  Management, especially the CEO and CFO, play a central role in marketing your IPO and should have several quarters to learn the business and ensure they have visibility with Wall Street.

Polish the CEO’s Presentation Skills – According to a recent study, when taking a company public, presentation skills and appearances matter. Study participants viewed more than 200 CEO presentation clips, ranking them by perceived attractiveness, competence and trustworthiness. Results revealed that a higher perception rating correlated to a higher IPO price.

Keep Metrics Simple – Investors will only invest in your company if they understand how to forecast your growth. Don’t get fancy. Use only the metrics that make sense for your business and clearly communicate your financial performance.

Set Appropriate Financial Expectations – Don’t sell your IPO using unrealistic financial expectations. Your goal is to earn a reputation on Wall Street for setting realistic goals and achieving and/or exceeding them. Should you fail to meet those projections the first time you report earnings, the company’s reputation many be permanently damaged.

Celebrate Your Success – Going through the IPO process is hard, but rewarding work. It takes a strong team to get to the finish line successfully. Plan to celebrate at the exchange and at your headquarters with your entire crew on the day of listing.


Tom Smith, Managing Director and Gus Okwu, Senior Vice President of Allison+Partners’ Corporate Communications

Nuestra VozRawpixel/


Blurred lines. This simple phrase perfectly describes the complicated world we live in. However, within our melting pot of cultures, languages, preferences and perspectives, many communications strategies still fail to reflect the diversity among specific groups of people. Take for example, Hispanic millennials like myself, who are becoming prominent decision makers in the workplace and beyond. To put our growing influence in perspective, Pew Research Center reported that millennials today number 75 million, with Latinos accounting for more than 20 percent of that number.

U.S. Spanish-language TV mega giant, Univision, calls my generation “billennials.” We are young Latinos who speak Spanish, consume media in English, and prefer English-language TV programs to the telenovelas favored by our parents. Capturing the attention of my generation presents unique challenges for these networks as they work to contemporize storylines, change program formats and use various iterations of Spanish, Spanglish and bilingual communication to reach us.

Billennials’ ease with culture and language blending is a result of our multifaceted Latino upbringing. For example, I grew up in a world of blurred traditions and languages. My mother is a first generation immigrant from Ecuador and my father was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Life was always a wonderful mix of Spanglish, international summer vacations and Andean traditions with a Borinquen (Puerto Rican) flare. It was through these experiences that I realized and saw first-hand the communication differences that exist within our community, and even within our families.

At the age of 15, I spent my first summer in Puerto Rico. Prior to that year I had spent my summer vacations in Ecuador. This was certainly a big change and even more of a culture shock than I was expecting. My family in Puerto Rico spoke little English, and while I’m fluent in Spanish, the differences in slang, dialect, accent and cultural references were significant. I was left feeling lost within my own language. It was then I understood that even though we share an ethnicity, our stories, traditions, language and perceptions could sometimes be very different.

As Latino millennials become a major consumer force, understanding our diversity is essential to successfully reaching us across these differences. Speaking both as a communications professional and as a “billennial,” I offer the following advice:

  • Don’t treat us as you would like to be treated

Growing up, we are taught to treat others, as we would like to be treated. The flaw in that logic is the assumption that we know what someone else wants. The same goes for how we communicate. Don’t make assumptions about Latino millennials. Understanding how we want to be communicated with should form the foundation of your strategy.

  • Be mindful of non-verbal communication

You’ve heard the phrase “a picture is worth a 1,000 words.” Well, so is a gesture, a facial expression or an eye movement. Physical queues communicate a lot about a presenter and the message to an audience. People who don’t speak English as their first language will be more attuned to non-verbal messages so make sure your verbal and non-verbal delivery are aligned.

  • Don’t let your message get lost in translation

It is common for ideas and slogans to mean something else in another language. Take the time to understand cultural references, idioms, communication styles and translations.



Do you ever feel like your company’s “Kool-Aid” tastes funny sometimes? It’s probably because workplace culture is a living and breathing organism that changes every day. The culture of one office can be really great at the same time other offices are struggling to keep employees. I get this. We have 18 offices on a three continents. We work hard to create a great culture that is inspiring for our team members. I think many times we get it right, but sometimes we don’t.

I’ve been in Asia for the past 10 days, visiting our offices and meeting with the incredible people on our teams. Jonathan Heit, the president of our firm, was with me on this trip. We all went out together to sing a little karaoke and Jonathan performed a duet with one of our colleagues from Shanghai. It was a wonderful moment that was really symbolic of our work hard, play hard culture. Seeing folks from our Asia and U.S. offices having a good time together is a great memory that will stay with me for a long time.

On the flip side, I recently read a negative review on Glassdoor where somebody described one of our offices as “toxic.” Wow. Clearly not the culture we’re trying to create. But, as a business owner, I must remember the culture opinion meter changes every day.

There’s a lot riding on the ability to keep a culture healthy. Adweek recently reported the results of a study that surveyed executives about how culture impacts a client’s decision to work with you. Sixty percent of executives said knowing what a company stands for is one of the most important factors in making that decision. More than 80 percent agreed that companies with strong client relationships make a direct correlation between their mission and the way they conduct business.

How to Build (and Keep) a Healthy Corporate Culture

As the CEO of a fast-growing company, I’ve learned a few things about nurturing and evolving culture. Our core values clarified our purpose as a company from the beginning and keep us focused today. Here are a few things I’ve found to be effective.

  1. Put culture firmly at the center of your organization. Your values must influence everything from hiring choices to what businesses you acquire. In this way, culture is tightly woven into your DNA as you continue to grow.
  2. Revisit your values periodically. Scott Pansky, co-founder and senior partner, led a “core values reboot” during our 10th anniversary year. He asked junior associates to examine our list of values and share thoughts on how we were, or weren’t, still living them. After much discussion, they decided not to change our core values, but to evolve the emphasis on collaboration and helping others to reach their full potential.
  3. Hire people who are also a good “culture fit.” Finding someone who connects with your culture is just as important as their professional experience. Once they’re in continue to keep them engaged through activities and trainings that have a cultural focus.
  4. Be accessible and flexible. When you’re growing a company new challenges are presented daily. It’s important to keep listening to each other. Solutions will come faster if you do. Ask your team for input and be willing to make changes based on what they say, even if that means revamping your core values.
  5. Develop and sustain trust. Get to know people beyond what they do for the company. Good relationships are built on trust and create an environment where people do their best work and help others. But remember, trust can be eroded too.
  6. Keep a global perspective. It’s important to never lose sight of how international colleagues understand and contribute to your evolving culture. One time, our North American team accidently scheduled a company call on a national holiday in another country. This was insensitive and made those colleagues feel like we didn’t know anything about them. We are still learning, sometimes the hard way, about the many regional nuances where we do business.
  7. Create a respectful environment. A workplace free of politics and intimidating management “styles” is what enables people to be bold and take chances that help them grow professionally and move the business forward.
  8. Recognize people and celebrate along the way. Building a company is hard work and everyone needs to feel appreciated for their contribution. Offer incentives that reflect your culture, and develop unique bonus programs and internal awards. Say “thank you” often, and mean it.

Scott Allison is the Co-Founder, CEO and Chairman of Allison+Partners.

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