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OCTOBER 17, 2017 //     

Web Design and Your Business: The Benefits of ADA Compliance

Image: Wedgie MediaBy: Patrick Dean Hodgson

Boot up, launch your browser and pull up your favorite website. Now, close your eyes and have someone cover your ears. Try to navigate and go to your favorite hot spots on that website. This is the obstacle millions of Americans with disabilities face every day.

A good corporate website isn't all about appearance and content. Ensuring accessibility is as important as providing visitors with solid information. According to the United States Census Bureau, 56.7 million Americans have a disability. That figure makes up nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population. Now think about if one in every five customers can’t use your website. How much revenue might you lose? That’s why it’s critical to understand how beneficial ADA compliance can be to help these Americans and for the future of any company.

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What's ADA compliance and why is It so important?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 2010 sets the standards for accessible design. Implemented by the Department of Justice, it states how all commercial and public websites should be built to remain easy to use for everyone.

While there are a lot of guidelines governing ADA websites, you should be aware of Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C). Both documents carry much of the same rules, however WCAG is more extensive.

A few best practices you can easily use to combat common ADA violations:

  • Add text to images and videos. Many sites are guilty of not using text to identify pictures. Not only is it harmful for search engine optimization (SEO), but it also creates a challenge for blind customers. For example, a sports apparel website may have a picture of LeBron James. The blind person should be able to use a screen reader on the image and hear “photo of LeBron James.” If your customer is deaf, text captions and descriptions on your videos are effective tactics.
  • Avoid PDF files. PDF and other similar files are problematic for the visually impaired too. Unlike images, these types of formats usually can’t be read by screen readers.
  • Adjust colors and font sizes. When designers and developers build websites, high contrast colors are often an afterthought because of brand guidelines or overzealous creativeness. This is one of the great missteps by web teams because most people with vision issues rely heavily on high contrast settings.

While listing all the guidelines is beyond the scope of this article, here's why building an ADA-compliant website should be a top priority.

  • You'll increase your organic reach, drawing more people to your pages: For the disabled, choosing which sites to visit often isn't a choice at all. Achieving total ADA compliance means everyone will feel comfortable browsing your pages. In turn, that leads to more engagement from a broader range of people, resulting in more social media shares, mentions and an overall increase in brand awareness. 
  • You'll rank better in searches, beating out competitors: While search engines won't check whether a website respects ADA, Google and its peers do care about the number of hits each URL receives. Since building an ADA-compliant website attracts more visitors, it in turn increases your ranking. More pageviews and longer sessions show how relevant your space is, taking it straight to the top of Google search results.
  • You'll bolster your reputation as a socially responsible organization: Today, disabilities and their effects are no longer just medical issues. Throughout the world, hundreds of organizations fight to defend the rights of those suffering from disabilities. When you dedicate time and effort to create an ADA-compliant website, you make a statement about your company’s social engagement depth, which can drive real business results.

Even though a significant number of Americans have trouble accessing the web, most websites fail at ADA compliance. This is risky for businesses, since the Department of Justice is planning on enforcing these rules on websites in 2018. The time to become ADA compliant is now.

Patrick Hodgson is digital director at Allison+Partners. 

OCTOBER 10, 2017 //     

SAY SO: ANA Masters of Marketing Conference

By: Lisa Rosenberg and Kevin Nabipour

Chief Creative Officer Lisa Rosenberg and Managing Director, Content Strategies, Kevin Nabipour attended the 
ANA Masters of Marketing conference last week. In this installment of “Say So,” they discuss the common themes that stood out and what it means for marketers and brands alike.READ MORE


Kevin:
 Hey Lisa! So, last week we were in humid and overcast Orlando Florida soaking up the lessons of some of the brightest marketers and premier brands in business today. The ANA Masters of Marketing summit is ground zero for learning from and schmoozing with the best of the best – Samsung, P&G, Walmart, Lane Bryant, KFC, Chase, MGM Resorts, Cadillac and State Farm all had impressive presentations. Listening to each it was hard not to see a common theme: find your purpose as a brand and communicate it authentically. Similar to how we preach in our Storytelling and Brand Workshops, brands need to find their core values, their strengths, and elevate them above their product messaging in the hopes that they can connect in a deeper way with customers and prospects. That’s how you stand out, endure, innovate from and create memorable marketing experiences that drive growth. And get you on a stage telling everyone else about it. Of course, we couldn’t agree more and we were happy to see other big brands show not only superlative work, but the transformative results that came from them. Seeing how Cadillac and KFC recharged their struggling brands by doubling down on their brand truths, how P&G and Lane Bryant connected with cultural touchstones and movements but in ways that felt permissible and genuine to the brand mission and product experience. The results for the bottom line were persuasive, and their risk tolerance and brand management skills were incredible to see and hear. 

Lisa: Kevin, what a great couple of days it’s been it was listening to industry legends like P&G’s Marc Pritchard and Walmart’s Tony Rogers. And while the theme of the conference was the role of brands in driving growth, what struck me was how many of the brands sharing their stories not only talked about their journey to find brand purpose, but understood the power that purpose can have in becoming a force for good. There was much discussion of gender equality and the perception of women in society. P&G’s #weseeequal digital ad campaign was a powerful reminder of gender equality, simply stating it as an obvious matter of fact. Brian Beitler, EVP & CMO for Lane Bryant went a bit further opening his session with a rallying statement that “gender equality is not a female issue, it is a human issue.” The work that Lane Bryant has been doing to change the conversation around body equality is filled with provocative imagery, bold language and hashtags designed to spark a movement. While the #imnoangel and #plusisequal campaigns are not without their critics, it’s hard not to give huge props to a brand whose purpose “is to change the way women see themselves and the way the world sees women.”

Kevin: And as is often the case, the winning formula seems to be to develop something so provocative yet honest that paid media becomes an afterthought. Get the world talking, have the blogs buzzing, make your message carry enough weight that the brand is recognized as relevant and interesting (and interested). As we preach nonstop – and as it was mentioned in a slide by none other than an auto brand – brands need to tell stories that intrigue and inspire, instead of just showcasing products and features. Your business must be obsessed with your customers, must be data driven and digital first, yes. But it must also be purpose led, so that the stories you tell don’t feel out of touch with our need to feel centered around a shared humanity. This should not be only applicable to consumer brands or worthy non-profit causes. It’s the province of any company looking to gain the attention of a potential customer and translate that attention into interest. One of my favorite slides was from Cadillac, which was titled “We’ve Re-Focused on Building Desire for the Brand” and featured a graphic that had all product features sitting in the base of a Maslow’s “hierarchy” as costs of entry. Appeal, relevance, prestige and exclusivity of the experience sat at the top. If all brands did that as an exercise it would be a great first start! 

Lisa: Not only is building desire for the brand critical, but understanding how to build a brand from the inside out is increasingly important when you think about a brand’s most powerful stakeholder. MGM with its new corporate brand campaign, “Welcome to the Show,” understood the impact that its 77,000 employees could have on shifting perceptions of MGM as just Vegas hotels and casinos to a global entertainment brand. The work put into its internal communications program squarely put the emphasis on the role of the employee in building the brand. It was interesting that so much of the work shared featured anything but traditional advertising. I thought that KFC and its agency, Weiden+Kennedy with their “branded everything” mantra are paving the way for what’s to come. While KFC’s Extra Crispy Sunscreen was met with equal parts laughter and wrinkled noses, it stands as one of the hallmarks of the brand’s turnaround. I think that brands who demonstrate marketing innovation – Cadillac’s Book, State Farm Next Door - on par with product innovation, are going to be the big winners with next generation consumers.

Lisa Rosenberg is partner, chief creative officer and co-chair of Allison+Partners' consumer marketing practice. Kevin Nabipour is the head of Content Strategies for Allison+Partners.

SEPTEMBER 25, 2017 //     

Navigating influence in a post-truth world

CampaignBy: Jim Selman

At a time where fake news and user-generated content are often indistinguishable from stories by reputable journalists, discerning who yields the most influence in today’s media landscape has become a challenge. 

The industrialisation of information has not only led to issues with ethics and accuracy but also left consumers confused about who to trust – and brands are constantly challenged about the authenticity of their message. Part of this is also because influencers today include anyone who can carry your message, whether it be a journalist, academic, politician, social media star, or celebrity.

In this post-truth world, the role of PR in navigating consumer cynicism and building public support has become more important than ever. Whether it be from the podium or in a social post, PR has always helped organisations relate to their publics using wide-ranging strategies. 

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SEPTEMBER 25, 2017 //     

Fish Out of Water: A Lesson in Business Development Learned on the Tracks

By: Milena Stancati

The charming smell of mom’s homemade chicken soup crossed with dead fish and the never-ending sound of small motorbike engines zooming by welcomed me. What first seemed like a place where I’d count down the days until my flight out turned into a month I wish I could repeat.

I’ve never planned to visit Hanoi, Vietnam. Even when my Remote Year itinerary announced that leg of the trip, I wasn’t too excited about it. It wasn’t necessarily the harsh vibes I get from my parents and their friends who lived through the Vietnam War, and it wasn’t because it was so different from what I was used to coming from the Western world. I just really didn’t know what to expect.

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We visited Hanoi’s famous “Train Street” within the first couple of days. While I feared being pinned against a house if a train were to pass, it was interesting to see the excitement of the children running up and down the tracks, while women cooked on their hot pots outside their homes. However, we were lucky enough to meet a 90-year-old local man who made the experience stand out.

Hatred, discomfort and annoyance are what I thought he felt as we passed. Instead, he said “What are a bunch of pretty people like you doing on this old thing? You should be at the Opera House! After all, this is just a train track. Never seen one before?” At that moment, all I could think was that while this man found the tracks boring and unexciting, it was a special and unique experience for me.

Applying this experience to my role in business development, especially as the busy season of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) begins, I’m reminded not to treat any new business opportunity as routine. All too often, folks take them for granted, like the old man sees the train tracks. However, we must remember to approach each lead with a fresh perspective and enthusiasm if we want to win.

To do this, I offer teams this advice:

Immerse yourself. Don’t just read the RFP and respond. Dig deep to truly experience and understand the brand. If it’s a retail client, get out and visit the store. If it’s a food or beverage company, taste the products. Doing so will not only help you understand the brand, but also inspire new thinking on how to approach your response.

Experiment with content delivery. Each prospect is unique. Therefore, your approach to responding to them should be too. Is it a technology company that creates tools that can be used to deliver your response? Are there ways to present your thinking outside of a standard PowerPoint presentation? Thinking creatively about how to deliver your response will help grab the prospect’s attention and set you apart from the pack.

Push for the inside track. In some cases, it’s not possible to develop a personal relationship with the prospect during the RFP process. However, if they’re open to it, make building that relationship your number one priority. You’ll be rewarded with insight that can’t be found on the pages of the RFP and increase your chances of checking the coveted “chemistry” box.

Always go above and beyond. This could mean addressing something they may not have considered in the proposal, but could also relate to what you do after it is submitted. How can you start helping them even before the decision is made? Look for ways to continue the momentum of the process, ensure you’re top of mind and position yourself as someone who is already their partner.

Milena Stancati is marketing + business development manager for Allison+Partners who is currently spending one year working, traveling and living in 12 different cities throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

AUGUST 31, 2017 //     

FISH OUT OF WATER: Cross-border communication isn’t easy

By: Milena Stancati

Visiting a new country every month gets easier as time passes. Unfortunately, learning a new language doesn’t.

What happens when you can’t communicate well abroad? Like me, you could end up eating sour cream for breakfast for several days (instead of yogurt) after you’ve failed to translate the Cyrillic alphabet in a Bulgarian corner store dairy aisle. It wasn’t the end of the world and I had a Russian friend help with future purchases, but my accidental breakfast taught me an important lesson -- ineffective communication happens easily and has real-world consequences.

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According to this article by Forbes, even the U.K. and the U.S. face challenges when speaking the same language. In communication, style is just as important as the spoken word no matter the tongue. In America, for example, we communicate directly. Perhaps that’s obvious to Americans, but it’s not necessarily to foreigners. When people from other countries head to America for a job relocation or an important business pitch, their goal is always to impress. But for them to perform effectively and connect with their American audience, it’s important they know Americans don’t want to read between the lines.

The same goes for American companies that expand globally. After all, 96 percent of the worlds’ consumers live outside the U.S., so American companies must learn effective communication overseas. We in PR do too. There are now more than 250 global PR firms, but at one point they existed likely in only one country, just like Allison+Partners. And, as Fast Company noted, language barriers are one of the most difficult challenges in global expansion. Communicating with international customers and team members is crucial to growth, and that takes time. Thankfully, advanced technology has made it easier for us and allows more face time thanks to quick translation apps, visual communications and video conferencing.

I’ve learned that to avoid uncomfortable miscommunication, it’s wise to do a bit of research before entering a new country. Things such as whether its proper to shake hands or bow, to leave the napkin on the table during dinner or to place it on your lap, to hand a business card with two hands or one – potentially embarrassing mistakes lurk within foreign customs. You must be aware of these situations. In addition, it’s vital to know a country’s history, such as when it fought its last war, what nationalities that nation harbors hostility toward and what traditions are important. Although this seems obvious to anyone with a high school textbook knowledge of history, it’s easy to forget. 

In the future, language barriers might not be as problematic due to translating ear pieces. Until then, we must use what we’ve got. And it’s no cure-all. I’ve lived by Google Translate and other travel apps along my four-month journey, and sometimes I still end up buying the wrong food. Sour cream for breakfast, anyone?

Translating words doesn’t always convey the full meaning, and none of us are equipped to communicate perfectly. But I’ve learned that there are ways to prepare and to communicate effectively in a new country and I am always more successful when I do.

At Allison+Partners we stand by our unique one P+L structure. We aren’t competitive with one another. Instead, we help each other achieve the same goal – do great work for our clients. It’s more valuable to eliminate borders and boundaries, communicate well with each other and use our international footprint to our advantage. Understanding different cultures and languages is challenging, but we have a better chance at success when we tap our talent across the map for support. Heading off to Asia next month, you can bet I will ask our teams there which yogurt to buy.

Milena Stancati is marketing + business development manager for Allison+Partners who is currently spending one year working, traveling and living in 12 different cities throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

AUGUST 30, 2017 //     

Hurricane Harvey: The Impact of One

@JJWatt

By: Scott Pansky

Hurricane Harvey is one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. More than 250,000 people have been displaced from their homes and businesses, and that number will only continue to grow as the heavy rain is expected to last for weeks. As expected, our government and corporate America have made commitments to funding and rebuilding, with brands like Walmart, PepsiCo, Disney, Home Depot, Lowes, Visa, and Starbucks, among others, immediately offering support. Yet, when I was sitting at home Sunday night watching the news and flipping to Sunday Night Football, it was the call to action from J.J. Watt, defensive end for the Houston Texans, that immediately grabbed my attention.

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One of the leading players in the NFL, J.J. could not make it back to Houston due to the storm and detoured to Dallas. Sitting in his hotel room, he taped a video asking his followers to donate on Youcaring.com to support the victims of the hurricane. In addition to using his platform to reach a wide audience, he also promised his fans he would match their donations up to $100,000.

By Monday around 6 p.m., J.J. had already raised more than $983,000. His more than 1.8 million followers on Facebook, 2.7 million followers on Instagram and 3.9 million followers on Twitter reposted, liked and tweeted his call to action. As of Wednesday morning, there has been more than 320,000 Facebook shares from the Youcaring.com website, and his efforts have raised more than 9 million dollars, which I am sure will only continue to increase.

J.J continues tweeting and talking to the media about how inspired he is that so many people have donated, whether it be $5 or $50,000, like the donation from Houston Rockets’ Chris Paul. However, this comes as no surprise as, according to Allison+Partners’ most recent Influence Impact Report, “How Influence, Empathy and Engagement have Transformed Cause in the Digital Era,” more than 60 percent of consumers trust influencers who share stories of individuals helped or impacted by a cause or who personally volunteer with an organization.  

Interestingly, J.J. has not selected a specific charity that will receive these funds. What he has done, however, is make it clear that 100 percent of the money raised will go to the families in need and none to administrative costs, further proving that his authentic connection to the cause earned him trust from his audience and great success in his efforts.  

Scott Pansky is a co-founder at Allison+Partners, who also leads the agency’s Social Impact group.

*This blog was updated on August 31 with an updated number of Facebook shares and money raised to date. 

AUGUST 22, 2017 //     

The most interesting executive uses of digital thought leadership

Getty ImagesBy: Todd Sommers and Jacques Couret

In our previous digital thought leadership post, we recommended starting with some foundational elements and suggested a mix of content proven to breed success. But it is also important to understand your efforts aren’t just about LinkedIn connections. It’s certainly about building an audience, but it’s also about keeping them engaged. If done correctly, a digital thought leadership program can drive results for you and your organization.

You’ve dipped your toes into the waters of digital thought leadership, now it’s time to check out some of the most interesting executive uses of digital thought leadership we’ve seen recently:

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Paris Climate Accord reaction

On June 1, 2017, President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord,angering a number of global allies, the American left and the leaders of some of the nation’s largest and best-known companies. But rather than stew in silence or worry speaking out would alienate some of their customer bases, these executives took to social media to voice their frustrations. In the process, they won invaluable and positive global media publicity.

Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook tweeted Trump’s decision was “Wrong for our planet. Apple is committed to fight climate change and we will never waver.” Sharing his personal opinion while reaffirming his company’s position on the environment garnered 16,000 retweets and 1,800 comments.

Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of the usually conservative Goldman Sachs Group Inc., made his Twitter debut with: “Today’s decision is a setback for the environment and for the US’s leadership position in the world. #ParisAgreement.” Blankfein’s bold Twitter debut generated 2,600 comments and 13,000 reshares for him and his company.

Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger announced “As a matter of principle, I’ve resigned from the President’s Council over the #ParisAgreement withdrawl.” Iger’s tweet to explain his personal decision got 11,000 comments and was retweeted 55,000 times -- Not such a small world, after all.

The global media rushed to cover these executives, and plenty of others, giving them the platform to broadcast their points of view and giving their companies authentic publicity. The media knows its audiences look to these leaders and watch how they react to major events to gauge their levels of concern or confidence, then after adjust accordingly their own opinions.

Elon Musk listens and reacts

Communication is a two-way street, as Tesla founder, entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk demonstrated on Twitter in December 2016. A Tesla owner tweeted at Musk to complain some Tesla owners plug in their cars for a charge and then leave the vehicle there for hours after the charge is complete.

Musk -- who divides his executive time between Tesla, SpaceX, PayPal and other companies and is among the busiest men in the world -- responded within minutes:

“You’re right. This is becoming an issue. Supercharger spots are meant for charging, not parking. Will take action.”

Less than a week later, the electric car company told its customers they would be charged (penalized financially) if they left their cars after completing a charge. Tesla then released a software update to Tesla owners with a warning.

Don’t just talk – listen and respond. Know your customers sometimes repay your investment in digital thought leadership with ideas that may better your company, or its products and services. People will notice responsiveness like Musk’s and reward it with goodwill, retweets and positive publicity.

Jeff Weiner blends the professional and personal

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner grew his company into the leading platform for thought leadership content, but he’s still active on social media rival Twitter. In contrast, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg does not have a Twitter account. Weiner understands Twitter is an essential part of driving the conversation. He uses the social media channel smartly, to distribute his content with a well-thought blend of personal and professional posts.

On any given day, you’ll find Weiner discussing sporting events, offering opinion on the day’s news or championing LinkedIn’s latest projects and offerings.

On June 15, sports -- “One of @steven_ballmer’s best acquisitions to date: Jerry West, behind the scenes architect of Lakers & Warriors championships, now with Clippers.”

On June 16, the Amazon-Whole Foods deal – “Only 1 company on earth can buy grocery chain, be rumored to buy enterprise software company & in both cases be lauded for strategic vision.”

Two different types of acquisitions, but the same authoritative and personable voice to which audiences respond.

Later on June 16, Weiner retweeted Musk’s SpaceX video update: “Reusable rockets, electric cars, tunnel boring machines...Must be nice to be able to physically build virtually anything you can conceive of.”

Who doesn’t find charming one successful tech leader poking playfully at another?

Trump excites and enrages

If any executive demonstrates the power of using social media to influence, it’s surely the current chief executive of the world’s most powerful nation.

It could also be argued that, as The New York Times has stated, he has used Twitter “as a one-man accelerator of the erosion of truth and trust eating away at our society.”

What is irrefutable is how consequential his social media statements are in motivating businesses to act. You may remember that even before he took office Trump tweeted: “Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!”

After that tweet, the defense contractor did not respond to Trump on social media and its stock fell $4 billion.

Also that month, Trump tweeted: “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”

Boeing saw a brief stock plunge, but it responded to Trump with a tweet linking to a company statement and its stock recovered quickly after.

Then in August, he made Amazon’s stock lose briefly $5.7 billion in value after tweeting: “Amazon is doing great damage to tax paying retailers. Towns, cities and states throughout the U.S. are being hurt – many jobs being lost!

Trump’s tweets had the power to make billions of dollars in stock vanish. Think about that – 140 characters on social media can cost companies and investors billions! But he did manage to get Lockheed to lower its prices. And there’s another lesson here: how the companies responded to Trump (or didn’t) on social media determined their ultimate financial fates.

We will stop short of praising his efforts as successful for his administration and his brand (Comey tweet, anyone?), and the jury remains out on whether his use of Twitter is valuable to the government that he oversees. In the first year of his administration, Trump’s use of Twitter has proved to be a double-edged sword at best.

Regardless, Trump remains the most talked-about example of digital thought leadership concepts put into practice.

We exist in a time where the president leverages digital thought leadership strategies to “talk directly to the American media” unfiltered, rather than allow a media community that largely questions his capacity to govern filter his message. This trend feels permanent, particularly as the traditional media’s newsrooms continue to shrink. It also feels bold and risky. Digital thought leadership isn’t just about self-promotion. It’s about opening dialogue, sharing opinions and sharing others’ points of view to your advantage. It is also the most immediate and effective way to communicate your point of view, cutting out the middle man that is the modern media. Done correctly, it will benefit immeasurably you and your brand.

Todd Sommers is vice president, integrated marketing. Jacques Couret is a former journalist who currently serves as editorial manager of All Told, Allison+Partners global integrated marketing offering. 

AUGUST 21, 2017 //     

Why Building Your Employer Brand is Critical to Business Success

By: Hadas Streit

Job openings hit a record-high 6.2 million in June, while unemployment remains at record lows, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This scenario has left skilled professionals with an abundance of job opportunities, making it challenging for employers to retain and attract top talent.

In this landscape, having a strong employer brand is more important than ever. In addition to helping attract and retain talent, it also has a direct impact on a company’s bottom line. Building a strong employee brand does not happen in a day or even a year. However, there are a few steps companies can take to get there.

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Adopt an "employee-first" mentality. Talent is tough to come by, and customers will be too if you do not put employees first. A recent Allison+Partners’ study on consumer perceptions about employee engagement revealed 67% of consumers would be inspired to try or buy a product if an employee spoke positively about the brand, while 60% would actively avoid buying a product if the employee spoke negatively about the brand or company. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, and Kip Tindell, cofounder and chairman of The Container Store, have evangelized this notion for years. Their mantra is if you take care of your employees first, they will take care of your customers and everyone wins.

Establish a mission and values and be willing to put them to the test. By having a clear mission, you give employees a purpose, and job seekers understand what your organization wants to accomplish. Values establish the code of conduct you expect from all employees. Google had its values tested when a memo from an employee that questioned its diversity recruiting and policies circulated and went viral. However, because the company has a very clear set of values in place, it came to a quick conclusion on the employee’s code of conduct violation and stood by its actions.

Know thyself. When it comes to employer branding, ignorance is not bliss. Talk to your employees, conduct internal surveys, and listen to what HR and recruiters hear from employees or potential employees about the organization. Identify your employee evangelists, ask them what they love about the organization, and use their feedback to promote your organization as a best place to work.

Celebrate the wins. It’s important to communicate internally to employees all the great work you do as an organization. Don’t assume they know about it. By circulating media articles, awards, and videos of employees speaking at conferences and community events, you boost employee morale and help make employees feel part of something bigger.

Perks do not equal culture. From ball pits and snacks to unlimited vacation to flex-time, companies have developed many creative "perks" to attract talent. While perks are something every employee surely appreciates, perks do not define a company culture. In fact, a Gallup poll showed even when companies offered benefits such as flex-time and work-from-home opportunities, employees preferred workplace well-being to material benefits.

The best defense is a strong offense. The first line of defense is to always respond to any Glassdoor or Facebook review, whether positive, negative, or neutral. Doing this shows your organization is engaged and willing to have a transparent dialogue about how best to improve your employer brand. A Glassdoor survey showed 69% of consumers are likely to apply for a job if the employer actively manages its employer brand (e.g., responds to reviews, updates their profile, or shares updates on the culture and work environment).

At the core of an employer-brand are motivated employees who enjoy showing up and doing smart work every day. Companies that adopt an employee-first mentality have a better chance of attracting top talent, building employee loyalty, and, ultimately, inspiring consumers to engage with their brand.

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AUGUST 9, 2017 //     

Why aren’t more CEOs on social media? The case for digital thought leadership

By: Todd Sommers and Jacques Couret

What do Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? They’re billionaires who created some of the most popular products and services on Earth. But in the process, they’ve also built some of the biggest social media followings.

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They each have an ever-growing and well-engaged audience of more than 7 million followers. Leaders of some of the largest and most innovative companies -- Google, Tesla, Facebook, Virgin, Expedia, Sales Force – all share regularly their thoughts on social media. More than company news, they’re shaping public opinion on the future. And unlike a Kardashian sharing their political views, people actually want to hear from business leaders.

Today, the C-Suite is almost expected to voice an opinion, political or otherwise, particularly by younger generations. Yet 60 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are not on any social networks. Examining the numbers, those executives are missing out because:

  • 62 percent of Americans get their news from social media
  • 200 million people log in daily to LinkedIn looking for professional opportunities and updates
  • 65 percent of journalists look to social media when researching stories

As an executive, you always keep at least one eye on the bottom line. So you wonder what’s the return on investment. The financial returns can be difficult to plot, but the benefits are clear. Adding a digital layer to your thought leadership strategy requires you to humanize your brand by sharing interesting stories, create a deeper connection with consumers to gain insights to inform your business strategy and develop a direct line to communicate your vision at the time you choose.

 As an executive who aims to add a digital layer to your thought leadership strategy – and if you aren’t, you should be – it’ll comfort you to know audiences want more than just political opinions and pictures of your meals. There’s a big market out there for thoughtful content. And audiences, be they customers, fans or peers, have shown they won’t punish executives for voicing reasonable opinions. You just can’t cross the Kathy Griffin Line.

Social media gives Branson, Musk, Zuckerberg  and other executives a direct method to share announcements and make news – plus, importantly, they get to control their messages. That’s a powerful tool if used wisely.

You don’t need to be to an iconic “tie-loathing philanthropist” like Branson or have a vision to colonize Mars like Musk to build a large audience for your thought leadership brand. You can build large audiences in several ways: 

  • Share expertise about your fields – industry peers are a particularly great place to start. Most people yearn for insights to help empower them to do their jobs better, especially in these rapidly changing times.
  • Share content that grabs your attention or makes you rethink your point of view. Show how you think by sharing items with which you agree and disagree.
  • Be authentic and share information about your non-work passions. You should not be defined solely by your job and the old journalism maxim holds true even in the age of social media: People love reading about people and their interests.

The bottom line is if you want a reporter to call to get your insights, give them a great reason. A speech at a conference will be heard by those in the room, but most of the audience will likely be on their phones looking for more engaging content anyway.

It’s time for more executives to realize their personal digital strategy is just as important as their company’s.

In our next digital thought leadership post, we’ll share some of the most interesting examples of that we’ve seen in 2017.

Todd Sommers is Vice President, Integrated Marketing. Jacques Couret is a former journalist who currently serves as editorial manager of All Told, Allison+Partners global integrated marketing offering. 

JULY 31, 2017 //     

FISH OUT OF WATER: Communicating a Brand Story is Best Told Through Video Content

By: Milena Stancati


Storytelling through video content is one of the most important and valuable marketing tools for a brand. In fact, according to a 2017 survey by HubSpot, four times as many consumers would prefer to watch a video about a product than to read about it. That said, consumers are not blind. If your story isn’t authentic, they can and will see through it.

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During my third month of my Remote Year program in Lisbon, Portugal, I had the opportunity to meet with a company that is taking advantage of the consumer trend towards video marketing with great results. Kinabuti is a Nigerian clothing label whose mission is to use fashion as a vehicle for the empowerment and development of Nigerian women. They believe that storytelling through video content is one of their most successful marketing tools. In 2014, the company launched a YouTube series called Dare2Dream, which focuses on young Nigerian women in the fashion, entertainment and creative arts sector. The series was started to help launch their line through a fashion show, and features local Nigerian women competing to be the face of the brand. Since the series’ first season, viewers grew by 70 percent and their highest-viewed episode attracted 39,000 views.

Another company I’ve observed during my global travels that’s using video content to effectively engage with audiences is Airbnb. The online marketplace where homeowners offer their properties to travelers uses “Stories from the Airbnb community” to give consumers an idea of what to expect from your stay. Airbnb teams up with local directors and photographers to help co-develop these stories with hosts and bring their brand to life. It should come as no surprise that a company like Airbnb, which continues to stay authentic and personally connect with its target audience, is listed second on Business Insider’s most valuable startup list.

In every country I’ve visited to date, having a nice way to capture your experiences is essential. That is how I also discovered GoPro’s “Video of the Day,” which allows you to get a first-hand look at what using the camera is like. Whether skydiving or cliff jumping, these videos give the illusion that these experiences can be your own and help make you feel more comfortable with the technology. User-generated content continues to become an important tool for brands to connect with consumers, giving GoPro an inherent advantage over others.

Milena Stancati is marketing + business development manager for Allison+Partners who is currently spending one year working, traveling and living in 12 different cities throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

JULY 18, 2017 //     

New creative production tech complements A+P’s One Global philosophy

@NimbleCollectiv

By: Jeffrey Miao

Allison+Partners is a global agency, but when we talk about creative production and building teams, we think locally. We think about regional teams serving regional needs. But new technologies are poised to transform creative production into a globalized industry.

Last summer, I joined Nimble Collective, a small crew of start-up animators, engineers, and designers, at its new office in Mountain View, Calif., to work on an animated short film called “Coin Operated.” Have no illusions, you won’t find any red carpet here – the office hides behind a converted strip mall between a self-storage facility and an extracurricular prep school. One of the engineers lives inside a silver Airstream trailer tucked into an out-of-sight corner in the parking lot. Sounds like Silicon Valley.

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“Coin Operated” is a charming little gem about a young boy who tries to fly to the moon with a toy rocket and handful of quarters. It looks and feels like a Pixar short. But as much as I’d like to advertise the film, the real story here is the new technology that created it.

“Coin Operated” was produced from start to finish in a computational cloud. As an artist working on this film, I logged onto a data center, built and saved the many different parts of the film in much the same way I stream movies on Netflix, and sent the project to an on-demand render farm. Using

Nimble Collective’s technology, I worked equally well from my workstation at home, on my laptop in a cafe, or on the road in Taipei.

The industry achieves more than ever with less, thanks to the computational power and creation tools now available widely to artists. Proprietary tools are no longer necessary for quality and production work decentralizes as a result.

Hollywood has already started moving away from former giants such as Rhythm & Hues (more than 1,500 employees at its peak) to agile medium-sized studios like Method (about 200 employees). Companies such as Adobe, Autodesk, and Foundry have rewritten their business models and now offer software-as-a-service subscriptions that are more accessible to individual artists and freelancers.

Fourteen years ago, an SGI Inferno license with custom hardware would cost a studio $520,000. Today, a studio can produce film-quality animation on a $5,000 workstation and spend monthly $60 to $800 a seat according to production demands.

Talented creatives take advantage of these opportunities by leaving traditional hubs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City to start boutique studios in emerging creative enclaves such as Chicago; Portland; Ore.; and Salt Lake City. However, many of these new studios face the same problem: finding local talent. For decades, the film and animation talent pool was concentrated in a handful of hub cities, and many are reluctant to leave despite soaring costs and stagnated wages.

Post-production artists must usually be present on site to work. In a world where everything faces globalization, information technology limits have helped delay animation and post-production commoditization. When a film enters post-production, the biggest logistical hurdle is data storage. A typical two-hour film will record more than 1,200 minutes of footage and require at least 18 terabytes of storage. Animation and visual effects can occupy 1 terabyte a minute including assets, drafts, and renders. Add in sound design, and it’s clear why post-production artists work on site (security aside); it’s impractical to sync that much data constantly.

Many companies, including Nimble Collective, are close to cracking the problem. They are building new and expanded cloud services designed for the creative industry to make it easier for any studio to quickly ramp up full-spectrum production capability on demand. Even Google and Amazon are both piloting on-demand render solutions aimed at the film industry. These barriers of entry are lowering at an unprecedented pace, and I’m excited by the potential for creative expression. At the same time, this will pose a challenge for studios and agencies already balancing thin margins and high overhead against growing competition. We face the same problem that farmers, manufacturers, and programmers have wrestled with over the last 20 years.

Even A+P is not immune to the challenges of this new paradigm. In June, I collaborated with our creative team in Bangkok on a video project for a client based in Thailand. Some of the obstacles, beyond the time difference, our team encountered – storage, data transferring, software licensing – took some maneuvering to overcome, but we’re heartened to know technology now in development will eventually render those impediments inconveniences of a bygone era. 

As we look ahead to operationalizing our creative development process in the spirit of our One Global philosophy, we take solace in having firsthand experience, and all the learning moments therein, adapting to the inevitable shift of collaborating and creating across countries and time zones. It’s the dawn of a new age. Are you ready?   

Jeffrey Miao is a senior animator at Allison+Partners.  

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