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Welcome to The Stream: Allison+Partners’ content hub that features the latest news and trends making the biggest waves in media and marketing.

FEBRUARY 26, 2021 //     

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

By: Brent Diggins

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. 

AGENCY NEWS // FEBRUARY 25, 2021 //     

Seven 10 Minute PR Career Hacks

Having a break and a quick coffee? Now could be the perfect time to spend a few minutes boosting your career. Here are some simple steps that can be done in a jiffy, yet could have a big impact on your future in PR. READ MORE
FEBRUARY 18, 2021 //     

Has Brand Strategy Gone to the Dogs?

By: Paul Sears 

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.    

AGENCY NEWS // FEBRUARY 17, 2021 //     

How Comms Tech Helped Savvy Marketers use Super Bowl Uncertainty to Their Advantage

PRWeek

Nearly a year into a pandemic, the show went on. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, Tom Brady proved that age is just a number and Super Bowl ads took over the airwaves — and our social media channels. 

With more than a full week to digest the Super Sunday campaigns, experts highlight the importance of purpose in brand messaging, noting that companies that chose not to air an ad may have had the strongest message of all. Others are focusing on how big brands carried out large campaigns in spite of the pressures of coordinating remotely on one of the biggest nights of the year. And others note the unpredictability of this unique Super Bowl. 

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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.

 

AGENCY NEWS // FEBRUARY 15, 2021 //     

IPRCCC: ‘Influencers play a crucial role in the consumer cycle but are not the end-all’

The India Public Relations and Corporate Communications Conference (IPRCCC) 2020 was held on February 12, 2021, by the exchange4media group amid much fanfare. The gathering was graced by several industry experts who elucidated upon issues concerning the world of PR and Corporate Communication.

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FEBRUARY 11, 2021 //     

What is Clubhouse and How Can Brands Take Advantage

By: Lucy Arnold and David Imani

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

By: Paul Sears

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. 

 

AGENCY NEWS // FEBRUARY 1, 2021 //     

Super Bowl LV Already has a Marketing Winner: Budweiser

Campaign US

More than a week before kickoff, many big brands have teased or fully revealed their Super Bowl ads online. But it is Budweiser, which won’t have its own game day spot for the first time since 1983, that has made the best play. 

Thanks to a purpose-focused call to action, Bud’s ad is scoring in media coverage of who’s in and who’s out for Super Bowl LV on February 7. 

What brands are running big game spots is a business story each year, but the angle has been heightened this season because of the pandemic and its economic impact. Coca-Cola, for example, benched itself after cutting 12% of its U.S. workforce in late December, likely reasoning that spending the estimated $5.1 million for a 30-second Super Bowl ad would be flagged by observers. 

This week, Budweiser said it would bow out of the broadcast, but for a different reason: it has invested in a 1:30-second film called Bigger Picture, narrated by actress and activist Rashida Jones, to drive COVID-19 vaccine awareness and education. It is sharing the PSA-like spot online via earned media, digital buys and social media. 

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AGENCY NEWS // JANUARY 29, 2021 //     

Super Bowl LV Already has a Marketing Winner: Budwesier

PRWeek

More than a week before kickoff, many big brands have teased or fully revealed their Super Bowl ads online. But it is Budweiser, which won’t have its own game day spot for the first time since 1984, that has made the best play. 

Thanks to a purpose-focused call to action, Bud’s ad is scoring in media coverage of who’s in and who’s out for Super Bowl LV on February 7. 

What brands are running big game spots is a business story each year, but the angle has been heightened this season because of the pandemic and its economic impact. Coca-Cola, for example, benched itself after cutting 12% of its U.S. workforce in late December, likely reasoning that spending the estimated $5.1 million for a 30-second Super Bowl ad would be flagged by observers. 

This week, Budweiser said it would bow out of the broadcast, but for a different reason: it has invested in a 30-second film called Bigger Picture, narrated by actress and activist Rashida Jones, to drive COVID-19 vaccine awareness and education. It is sharing the PSA-like spot online via earned media, digital buys and social media. 

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AGENCY NEWS // JANUARY 28, 2021 //     

6 Takeaways From the Crises of 2020

PR Daily

The usual roundup of crisis stories from the past year—something of a tradition at PR Daily—feels a bit superfluous this year. The COVID-19 crisis, the social justice movement in the wake of the George Floyd murder and the presidential election pretty much sum up the year.

Instead, let’s take a look at the lessons to be drawn from the events of 2020. After all, everything has changed and crisis communicators must adapt—or else.

Here are the lessons industry leaders say we should take from the never-ending crisis cycle we now find ourselves in, and what that means for the future of the industry.

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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.

 

AGENCY NEWS // JANUARY 20, 2021 //     

Telum Talks To... Jeremy Seow, Managing Director, Growth & Innovation, APAC, Allison+Partners

"Look at opportunities where you can generalise and grow, and deepened your expertise in a lot of areas before you look at specialisms slightly later on in your career."
 
We caught up with Jeremy Seow, Managing Director, Growth & Innovation, APAC at Allison + Partners as he takes us through his unexpected career path in public relations which has led him to be the forefront of integrated agencies. Jeremy tells us how he found success and meaning by embracing his inner generalist, and shares the changes he has seen in the industry since he started out. READ MORE
AGENCY NEWS // JANUARY 15, 2021 //     

Allison+Partners Buys Corporate Comms Shop Sommerfield

NEW YORK — Allison+Partners has bought Sommerfield Communications, a New York boutique shop that specializes in corporate communications.

In announcing the deal, Allison+Partners said the acquisition expands its financial communications, ESG-related communications, executive positioning, thought leadership and B2B communications capabilities.

Sommerfield president Frank Sommerfield, who launched his eponymous firm 25 years ago, will focus on growing those offerings further as as an Allison+Partners managing director. READ MORE
AGENCY NEWS // JANUARY 14, 2021 //     

How to get Media cut Through in These Covid Times

There is only one thing dominating the news right now, so it is not easy to get a journalist’s attention with stories unrelated to the pandemic. We asked senior PR communicators for their top tips for achieving cut through.

Invest time and resources
Sue Grant, managing director, B2B tech, Europe at PR firm Allison+Partners: “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? 

“As PRs we need to invest in unique ways to build and maintain media relationships that will pay off. As we enter 2021, building quality relationships with regular contacts will continue to be critically important."

“This might range from investing time (allocating time for teams to read journalists’ content and share feedback separate to outreach on behalf of a client) to investing in resources (perhaps you Deliveroo the journalist’s favourite meal to chat about your news over a virtual lunch). Taking the time to be thoughtful, appreciative and supportive will continue to pay dividends.” 

READ MORE
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.   

AGENCY NEWS // JANUARY 6, 2021 //     

PR Pros Offer 21 Words on What They're Expecting in 2021

PRWeekFollowing a year of COVID-19 chaos, we asked PR leaders to give 21-word predictions of what they believe is in store for the profession in 2021.

It's fair to say that last year’s industry predictions round-up didn't quite go to plan. Not surprisingly, nobody PRWeek approached could predict the devastation that the coronavirus pandemic would inflict on the economy and society at large.

Although the vaccines provide hope, the UK is clearly not out of the woods just yet, and there is a great deal of uncertainty about how 2021 will pan out. In spite of this, industry leaders are cautiously optimistic about the year ahead.

PRWeek asked a broad range of agency and in-house communications professionals to gaze into their crystal balls. 

READ MORE
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!
READ MORE

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.

AGENCY NEWS // DECEMBER 16, 2020 //     

Podcast: Allison + Partners' Lisa Rosenberg On Innovation and Creativity During Challenging Times

PRovoke MediaAllison+Partners consumer brands leader Lisa Rosenberg joins Aarti Shah on the PRovoke podcast to reflect on how the challenges of 2020 shaped innovation this year. We also talk about the creative campaigns that broke through a tumultuous social and political backdrop. Rosenberg was also featured on the 2020 Innovator 25 in Americas.  
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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. 
By: 

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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. 

AGENCY NEWS // DECEMBER 4, 2020 //     

All-staff PTO, no Video Fridays, Wellness Checks: How Team Leaders are Countering Employee Burnout

PRWeek

Agency leaders are sounding the alarm on the stress and pressure their employees are under after months of being isolated at home, a race to finish client work for 2020 on a revenue high and no respite in sight from COVID-19. 

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my career. Folks who usually run through walls are hitting walls,” says Andy Pray, founder of Praytell Strategy. “Those walls are coming from fatigue, stress and build-up of having been in this mental and physical space for eight months.”

“People are feeling the pressure to give 100% when they don’t always feel 100%,” he adds. “They’re hitting walls at rates I’ve never seen before. That’s troubling because we’re not through the woods of this.”

Scott Allison, chairman and CEO of Allison+Partners, agrees.

“There is no sugar-coating it. It has taken a real toll on people,” he adds. “In the first few months of the pandemic, we could be like, ‘We’re all this together, no one was laid off at our agency and we’re all happy to have our jobs.’ But the pandemic went from a sprint to a marathon and it is hard to play that ‘grateful’ message for the long haul.” 

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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.

AGENCY NEWS // NOVEMBER 16, 2020 //     

PRovoke Innovators 25 2020 Americas

Creativity and storytelling are at the heart of the consumer brand work Lisa Rosenberg leads at Allison + Partners, highlighted by her success running wide-ranging campaigns, which have supported new products including Gillette razors and purple M&Ms to initiatives like introducing Mercedes Benz’s clean diesel technology and Driscoll’s rosé berries. Rosenberg is also a dedicated leader who invested in her practice’s output and, as such, she stays very much in the thick of team efforts, helping craft strategy and generate ideas. READ MORE
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!” 

AGENCY NEWS // OCTOBER 27, 2020 //     

America's Best PR Agencies

ForbesAs public relations professionals look to navigate their clients through an uncertain, volatile and noisy year, some of the top agencies are looking to further diversify offerings beyond the classic pitch. Whether it’s becoming more like consulting firms and advertising agencies or adding new offerings like research from data insights and surveys, PR agencies have increasingly sought to integrate with their clients to provide new types of information that help with both external and internal communications. Forbes partnered with market research firm Statista for our inaugural ranking of America’s Best PR Agencies 2021. To develop the list, Statista surveyed more than 12,700 experts and 20,500 customers who nominated more than 5,000 firms. Participants were asked to indicate how likely they were to nominate a particular agency on a scale of zero (very unlikely) to 10 (very likely). Statista then narrowed the list to the top 200 and gave those that received at least the median score a four-star rating and those that exceeded the median score a five-star rating. READ MORE
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.

OCTOBER 21, 2020 //     

BSA Anna Hughes Q&A on Association Comms

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 BSA | The Software Alliance Senior Director of Communications Anna Hughes about the unique now normal for industry associations. BSA | The Software Alliance represents members of the enterprise software industry. 

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How does communications help trade associations achieve their mission?

Trade associations speak as the voice of an industry, and the communications function plays a large part in bringing people together and getting the message out. While many individual member companies may be better known than an industry association, we can elevate both the industry as a whole and smaller members that lack a large platform. In addition, trade association communications can drive cross-industry collaboration on issues of mutual importance.

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

Success leads to more success, but you must back up that success with data. In the association world, most visibility is seen positively, and the communications function is valued as it helps support policy advocacy. I would definitely encourage an emphasis on the basics: build trust with colleagues and spokespeople, present good ideas, be responsive, show up when you say you will, follow through, and be open and honest. Importantly, while good leadership trusts communications, you should acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them to build trust and support. Nobody likes to be the guinea pig, so it is critical to show how an idea was successful in the past. Have the intelligence and humility to not suggest things just to suggest things!

What communications functions are most valued by trade association leadership and why?

Press coverage hands down. Visibility for the association, its leaders and our member companies is still the most valued communications function. Events are also very much valued for their ability to help us connect with new and existing stakeholders. Finally, strong relationships with communications teams at member companies are a critically important role for association communications.

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

Communications for a trade association requires balancing many different stakeholder voices as well as the visibility of the association with its members. We often take on the tough questions that members would prefer not to take on and speak for our members on issues that are easier to field as an industry-wide association. Without the brand names of our members, it is more of an uphill climb with reporters until we have invested in building those relationships.

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

Working with lots of different communications professionals at member companies and PR firms that provide understanding and support. And although travel is no longer a part of my job due to the pandemic, I enjoy working with my colleagues around the world--virtually. BSA works on issues that affect just about everyone, like privacy, emerging tech, and cybersecurity; I learn a lot just from sitting in on interviews and hearing my colleagues say smart things!

What do you think businesses can learn from trade associations about communications?

Compromise, balance and listening to all voices – skills that are honed in the association world. The board of directors brings strong accountability, and communications professionals learn the importance of reporting directly to the board in a way that shows successes and provides a look ahead.  

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?

Education of the press and policymakers is our differentiation. As we educate, we must think about what our audiences want and need. For example, does a reporter need a quick quote or an in-depth explanation of a policy matter? We work hard to be as responsive as possible and stay focused on topics that we can speak intelligently about. If we do, we will slowly and steadily build the perception that we hope to see of our industry. Not being responsive, not being aware of what is being written and said about our industry, and not understanding different perspectives pose the greatest risks for us when addressing industry-wide perceptions.

Many trade associations address policymaker audiences, and policymakers can heavily influence perceptions about an industry given their platforms and influence. If an industry comes under public criticism from policymakers, should industries keep their heads down until the storm passes or should they come out swinging to shape the narrative? How do you keep members happy when an industry is under fire?

We want to be problem solvers, so we do not trash ideas. We are never overly negative, and you will not see us come out swinging. We try to keep to the middle ground and be part of the solution. Differentiation is important for us, and our members want to see that we are trying to differentiate. As a result, we are willing to be on the front lines and take media interviews. Keeping your head down until the storm passes is not a good approach because the stories are going to happen anyway. If necessary, we will go off-the-record to maintain good reporter relationships and still have an impact.

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

The biggest thing is the shift to virtual, whether events, interviews, or editorial board meetings. Face time has gone up, not down, as video calls have replaced audio calls with reporters. We will all get better at being virtual and better at putting on events. But we will need to address “Zoom fatigue,” when to use video and when not to use it, how to build virtual events that stand out, and how to measure their value. Because our members are not able to travel during this time, they rely more on associations to provide a local presence in government capitals around the world.

What can an outside communications partner bring to a trade association and what do you do you look for in a partner?

An in-house communications team can find itself in a bit of a vacuum, and an outside communications partner should challenge us to think differently. We do not want to be in a sector bubble so bringing perspectives from other industries is valuable. I want a partner team with a range of levels and backgrounds, different personalities, and different ideas, coming from different places. We count on outside partners to bring different specializations and expertise and provide global support. If needed, the partner should be able to help me run the communications function in another geography.

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

I love that in an association, we all have the same mission and move forward together. As a communications professional, I get to work with incredibly dedicated, smart people on a range of issues that change with the times. In the end, I am selling really good ideas.

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

Marcel Goldstein is an EVP in Allison+Partners corporate practice. 

AGENCY NEWS // OCTOBER 20, 2020 //     

Allison+Partners Forms Middle East Partnership

Orient Planet Group founder and managing director Nidal Abou Zaki.DUBAI — Allison+Partners has expanded its global footprint with its first presence in the Middle East, after forming a strategic partnership with communications agency Orient Planet Group.

The partnership gives Allison+Partners – which has 30 offices across the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific – reach into the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain and Kuwait with Orient Planet’s offices, plus a wider affiliate network across the Arabian Gulf, Levant, Egypt and North Africa.

Orient Planet Group founder and managing director Nidal Abou Zaki, who founded the firm 19 years ago, will serve as the head of the agency’s operations in the region.

Andy Hardie-Brown, Allison+Partners’ co-founder and global vice chair, said: “After several years of global expansion, the Middle East is a natural next step for the continued growth of our agency. Dubai in particular is an important hub for the region, and feeder market into Europe, APAC and Africa.”
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OCTOBER 14, 2020 //     

Q&A: West Coast A+P GMs and Colleagues Find Empathy, Vulnerability During Wildfires

Wildfire smoke over San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

By: Jacques Couret

By now, most are used to working from home, virtual learning, social distancing, wearing masks in public, frequent hand washing and all the other adaptions the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust upon them. But imagine 
navigating the “now normal” while wildfires cloud the sky with unhealthy air and destroy nearby houses, businesses and lives. The kids can’t go outside and play, the sky is dark and hazy all day and air quality is a health issue for many. Perish the thought of having to evacuate or losing everything.  

This intense physical, emotional and mental drain is daily life right now for many Americans who live on the West Coast, including many of our teams. 

In that stressful environment, our San Diego office General Manager Brian Brokowski, Los Angeles office General Manager Wendi Shapiro, San Francisco office General Manager Meghan Curtis, and Portland, Ore., office General Manager Katy Spaulding continue to serve our clients and lead their colleagues, both to our high standards 

They sat down with us and offered some insight into how they’ve helped keep their charges safe, motivated and engaged, and what they’ve learned about themselves and their teams.   

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Q: How do you lead through this plus the pandemic? What are your challenges? 

Brian Brokowski: Stay connected. Talk through the challenges that people have so they realize, and we all realize, we're not alone and we're not dealing with all of these challenges and issues alone. Strength in numbers, comfort in numbers  use that resource of the team and the relationships that we have to get through it together. And just check in on people, make sure they're doing OK 

Meghan Curtis: A couple of things. One, continued flexibility. We've obviously been incredibly flexible since we left our offices in March, but this has just thrown an additional wrench into that. So if folks just need mental health space, we really overtly encourage that. And in all of our huddles, we've actually been pretty vulnerable with each other and talked about what we're nervous about, what keeps us up at night. We know the folks who live in these fire areas or whose families are, and we ask, "Hey, are your parents OK? What's the status?" Everyone's just very in tune with each other and their emotional states. 

Katy Spaulding: I love that Meghan brought up the word vulnerability, because I think that that's a really important part of thisWe have to navigate on any given day being a cheerleader and optimistic and reassure them it's going to be OK, but also read the room and know when it might be best for us to be a bit more vulnerable and to share our concerns. It's definitely a balancing act based on what we feel like the team needs most in that moment. You can't just go through and say, "Everything's going to be fine. Everything's going to be great," which I think sometimes we want to do. All of us have that understanding that sharing vulnerability and sharing some of our personal fears and concerns can sometimes be reassuring for the team that we hear themwe understand them and we're going through the same thing. 

Wendi Shapiro: And communication has also been something we've tried to focus on in Los Angelesbecause we don't have really anybody coming into the office at all. We haven't seen each other since March and everyone is so busy. And we have our weekly team huddles and I try to call people at random times throughout the week just to say, "Hi, do you have 10 minutes? I just want to check in and see how you're doing and how can I help you?" It’s extending a life raft whenever we can to say, "We know you're experiencing high work volume and stressful life right now, and we're all here to help." 

Q: How do you keep our colleagues motivated and engaged throughout all these stresses and inconveniences? 

Wendi Shapiro: It’s hard to find motivation when we're all stuck in our four walls much of the day – every day, day in, day out. So, we try to find it in ourselves to motivate each other. We celebrate the littlest to the biggest successes as often as we can. Whether it's someone's birthday or someone's work anniversary or a great coverage that was secured from one of our team members or a client – kudos! Even the smallest thing that might not feel like a big enough deal to celebrate is totally worthwhile. We find those opportunities as much as we can. 

Katy Spaulding: I think it goes back to something that Meghan said, which is just giving people the flexibility in their schedules to do what they need to do to stay connected and motivated. There is so much on people's minds outside of what we do at work that it would be impossible to expect them to be motivated and there 120% every single day. So, we  encourage them to be in tune with how they feel. And if they need a couple of hours or a couple of days off, they should take it. Now is not a time that you should be pushing through in the way that we sometimes do. You’re not going to wake up every day and be ready to kill it, and that's OK! 

Meghan Curtis: Two things. Folks are lifting each other up and being kind to each other, and not in a superficial way by any means. Going back to the vulnerability factor, people are really just looking out for each otherYou can feel that in all your interactions in a genuine way. That’s motivating when you know your team cares, has your back and wants the best for you. That's one thing. And then we do bring some levity. We have twice weekly meetings and we show videosdo games and get to know each other. We do these things where people share their life history with photos. It's called a PechaKucha. And it's funYou might be having a really tough day, but if you can just unplug from clients or your writing assignments for 30 minutes and just have some fun with each other, I think it does re-energize you. 

Q: Have you learned any lessons in leadership during the firesHas it changed you as a leader in any way? 

Brian Brokowski: I continue to be floored by the resiliency of the team and their ability to, everyone's ability, to support each other, to step up to the challenge. I get so motivated coming off of our team huddles and listening to everybody's accomplishments and what they're doing. From a leadership standpoint, I had a strong sense of what our teams and everyone as individuals were capable of. I think the notion of what we can do individually and collectively is just so much higher nowI'm just so overwhelmed with how everyone I work with has rallied and responded to the situation, despite all of the challenges. They just keep grinding with positive attitudes.  

Meghan Curtis: Dovetailing off Brian, I've always known I can hang with challenging times in the professional environment. And now I'm really learning there's a softer side of me – not only I can grind through the tough, client challenges, new business challenges, the work, but also the people side of the business.  I've really softened and become, I think, a more empathetic, better person having to navigate the team and individual challenges.  

Katy Spaulding: The wildfires and everything else have just shown me how important it is to have authentic relationships with the people who work for us and with our teams. That's always been something important to me. But it's been, to Meghan's point, even more important now when we ask people to be really honest with how they feel. Having a really strong, established relationship based on trust and listening and trying to help where we can has just created a lot of good two-way communication that enables us to do our jobs even better. 

Wendi Shapiro: What everyone has said is 100% trueespecially what Meghan referenced. I know our team is great at their jobs and professionally working at a super-high level. But it's not just about, "How are your clients, how's your work? How's your workload?" That’s only half the story right now. There's a lot happening after work hours or that isn't work-related with the pandemic, the firessocial injustice, and the election and politicsEverything has culminated over the past several months to be this perfect storm of needing to be an understanding humannot just a work-bot, and understand all of the elements that make people. The things that impact their lives. I think we have gained a more holistic look at the people we work with, not just from a work perspective, but from a human perspective. 

OCTOBER 13, 2020 //     

Let the Holiday Shopping Commence?

By: Alison Fitcher

Growing up, Black Friday was the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. My mom and aunt would sit down after Thanksgiving dinner and pull out the coupons from the newspaper, decide which mall we would go to and when we needed to leave, and make a list of everyone we needed to shop for. 

Of course, they always took (or dragged) me along for the ride. I distinctly remember my mom waking me up bright and early and loading me into the car for a long, drawn-out day of shopping. I’ll admit, I often did not want to participate in this annual event. But as I look back, I have nothing but fond memories. I am sure that annual event is what led to my affinity for doing my holiday shopping in person and after Thanksgiving and quite possibly my career in retail PR. I enjoy the hustle and bustle, getting into the Christmas spirit with friends and family, and looking for the perfect holiday gifts. 

Over the last decade, the holiday shopping season has started earlier each year, with ornaments and trees popping up alongside Halloween costumes and stores opening on Thanksgiving to accommodate those looking to find the best deals and take advantage of doorbusters. Now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems holiday shopping this year will start even earlier. And for many, it will be done all online.

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Which brings me to the present. It is Oct. 13 and the first day of Amazon Prime Day one of the biggest shopping events of the year, rivaling the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend. The event typically takes place in July and gives third-party sellers a much-needed boost during the slower summer months. However, due to the pandemic shifting their focus solely on delivering essential items, Amazon delayed the event. 

Once it announced Prime Day moved to Oct. 13-14 — just 44 days from Black Friday — deal-seekers everywhere rejoiced to get a headstart on the holiday shopping season and take advantage of the deep discounts offered to Prime subscribers. 

Not to be outdone, Target and Walmart announced their own online sales coinciding with Prime Day and touted deals of the same magnitude as Black Friday. 

While big box stores have the ability and flexibility to make these quick pivots and offer steep discounts, most retailers do not. To thrive this holiday season and appeal to all shoppers, including those who still want to visit stores in person (like me), here are a few things stores can do to maximize Q4 revenue: 

  • Continue to provide in-store experiences: Brands that offer a robust in-store experience, such as Nike, Sephora, and Allison+Partners client PGA TOUR Superstore, thrived before the pandemic and will likely recover quicker. The reality is, consumers want fun and interactive in-store experiences. Nothing can compare to swinging a club or testing out a new lipstick before purchasing. This holiday season, with a few modifications, stores can still give their consumers the experience that brought them in the doors in the first place. Whether this is informal modeling with the models wearing a face mask, increased cleaning and sanitation of high-touch items, or offering in-store digital try-on of beauty products, retailers must rethink, not remove, their offerings.
  • Elevate and amplify customer service: One of the main benefits of in-person shopping is the customer service. Today’s consumer demands personalized service and expects store employees to go above and beyond. Marketing service offerings, such as help with picking out the perfect present and complimentary gift wrap, remind shoppers they can take their items home with them same day, thus eliminating any anxiety around shipping delays and drawing people out of their homes to shop. 
  • Reinforce safety and comfort features: It is natural for people to be hesitant to go into a store during the pandemic — let alone during the holidays, when crowds typically increase. Emphasizing the safety precautions put in place (mask wearing, hand-sanitizing stations, reduced store occupancy, increased cleaning and sanitizing) will help put customer’s minds at ease. 

2020 has thrown us enough curve balls. And for the past six months, I have done virtually all my shopping online because you can’t beat the convenience in times like these. But when it comes to holiday traditions, shopping included, I plan to do the majority of mine in person as I always do — with the appropriate safety measures in place. I
would love to know, what is your holiday shopping game plan?

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

Alison is a SVP in the consumer practice working with a variety of brands in the retail, food tech, CPG and automotive industries. Her expertise lies in creative ideation, media relations strategy, and event planning and execution. Prior to joining Allison+Partners, Alison served as the in the house Midwest PR manager at Bloomingdale’s.

OCTOBER 8, 2020 //     

An Expat’s View from The Ground: How the Global Pandemic Impacts Lives of Those Living Abroad

By: Jonathan Heit 

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

During the planning stages of my relocation to Tokyo to be more readily available to support the team here in APAC, I had some of the usual concerns any foreigner headed to unfamiliar territory might experience. Will the language barrier be too difficult? How will my family adjust? How will the business and team back in The States fare?

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Then there were the more trivial concerns. These included depriving my daughter of walking her eighth grade graduation with her friends and my six-year-old missing a year of tee-ball and the start of Kindergarten. Recognizing the benefit far outweighed such matters, off we went.

The kids’ school year started and quickly got into their grooves without a hitch. We made friends within a thriving expat community, and I deepened ties with colleagues from Shanghai to Sydney, Seoul to Singapore. I got to know my new officemates in Japan in a way that would otherwise never be possible and also experienced this incredible country through their eyes. True to the reputation of the Japanese culture, their generosity of spirit and welcoming nature knows no bounds.

As the holidays neared and Tokyo’s autumn foliage gave way to a crisp winter chill, we were charmed by the many beautiful illuminations lining Tokyo’s streets and planned a trip that was sure to be one of the most memorable of our lives, including skiing in Hokkaido and ringing in the New Year in Thailand. We’d travel from the capital to the mountainside to the beach over the course of an extended break.

We would finish in Singapore, where I had been spending a good deal of time working closely with colleagues. While there, my family could see this office, one of the most stunning in the Allison+Partners network with views across Marina Bay from the 38th floor. In this way, they could relate more directly to the responsibilities that so often call me away for long stretches of time. These special moments far outweighed any bittersweet feelings brought on by missing home for the holidays.

As Chinese New Year loomed, my travel to Singapore and other markets in the region was due to pick up thanks to a combination of key hires made and our annual in-person town halls. These would be a chance to highlight the incredible strides we have made in the region. All offices were thriving and poised for growth, despite some underlying economic issues and geopolitical cross-currents.

However, everything would soon change. In January, we started to get word of a new virus impacting large numbers of people in China. And it wasn’t long before our offices there were effectively shut down with entire teams working from home indefinitely.

As the virus started to gain traction and spread decisively across the region, schools in Japan were among the first to shut down. Tokyo was a city on the brink. Numbers seemed absurdly low, skeptics thinking perhaps this had something to do with the Olympics. It wouldn’t be long until those too were put on ice, with the world officially in a pandemic.

Watching my home country from afar, while bolted at home under what would paradoxically be called a voluntary lockdown, was perhaps one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. We enjoyed Zoom trivia sessions with our newly made Brit and Aussie expat pals and did family and college reunions 13 hours ahead. Like everyone, we made do and soldiered on, working and schooling remotely in our cozy Tokyo apartment. Of course, I worried for the safety of my family here and abroad, but I had to scratch my head at some of the behaviors I was witnessing.

In Japan, the concept of Wa (和) is one of the first any foreigner or gaikokoujin (外国人, far more polite than the better known but pejorative Gaijin) doing business in Japan should become familiar with, or any visitor for that matter. It is a historical foundation for this storied people and one of the bases of the Shinto religion. It is the belief that everything should stay in balance. Your behavior must take into account others before yourself, and consensus is far preferable to individual opinion.

For Westerners, this can be one of the most complicated – and honestly frustrating – parts of doing business here, as it can lead to perceived “inefficiencies” in the system because consensus can be time-consuming. Witnessing it put to effect in containment of the novel coronavirus, I’m here to tell you there are incredible advantages to this way of thinking.

While many countries, including my own, politicized or downplayed the importance of wearing masks, Japan embraced the concept fully in the spirit of maintaining harmony and looking after each other’s well-being. Japan’s history of mask wearing dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1868). But before the pandemic, it was an oddity to most expats. My family and I were certainly surprised to learn the primary consideration for mask-wearing isn’t about keeping yourself safe, but for the wellness of others. It goes without saying this effort has led to Japan being a clear leader in containment.

The other somewhat-related business concept that took root so effectively in Japan is known as kūki o yomu (空気を読む) or “reading the air.” This is ordinarily the driving factor behind so much being unspoken in Japanese culture. Applied here, it made the determination of “return to work” dictated not so much by the government, but by a sense among the broader business community of doing right by others.

Interestingly, Japan’s Constitution, formulated after World War II under the oversight of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, does not permit the government to mandate decisions for business. This was designed to effectively eliminate the ability to provide for a war effort. But it more immediately limits its ability to force businesses, including restaurants and other entertainment venues, to shut down. 

The government declared a State of Emergency in early April. But it did not enforce it punitively or with severe fines as in other countries throughout this region. Instead it enforced it through the subtle suggestions coupled with the risk for those who didn’t comply to lose face, as they might be publicly disclosed. However, the government is rethinking this policy as cases start to rise again in an unsettling second wave. 

This harmonic effort of companies understanding their obligation and providing for their people a safe way of working has again led to significant success in the effort to contain the virus, and was a great learning for me and other expats across this nation.

The entire experience was incredible and humbling. Even with a pocket of nearly four months of quarantine slowly loosening and opening, there were some powerful moments. I’ll always have indelible memories of jogging and biking through nearly empty Tokyo streets and seeing more of the city in a way we never would have previously been able. Unimpeded pictures of cherry blossoms and shrines were saddled with the sad reality that money was being lost and businesses around the world were struggling so mightily, not to mention the human toll.

So like the rest of the world, we took on our share of the burden. Working from home, Zoom calls, VPNs. Pitches and media meetings done remotely. Technology – the cornerstone of my focus throughout my career – was put to the test as never before and stepped up most pointedly as one would hope.

Technology could only do so much though, I’m afraid. My visits to the other markets in the region all became virtual, making my reason for being in this region somewhat obsolete, driving my ultimate decision to return.

As I look back on my experience as an expat during the pandemic, it is more than a little bittersweet. Though the last few weeks allowed for greater travel around Japan, including the rare opportunity to visit Kyoto with nearly no other foreign travelers in town, it is hard to put into words what this experience has meant, and how I hope travel picks up again soon so these experiences can be shared with others. 

I have spent the past nine months learning Japanese, only to be quarantined in a house with three people who speak only English. But as we re-emerge into the world, I’m no longer intimidated by the many different characters of the Japanese written language. If I see a wall of letters that just a year ago would have been indecipherable to me, the fact that I can often make out a word or two, or at the very least can sound out what they represent, is a source of great pride.

I firmly believe the legacy you leave is the impact you have on people, and that’s been a driving force for our agency since day one. I can’t say any more unequivocally how deeply blessed I feel to have worked with the team here so closely. I have built a lifelong relationship with this team and this country, but I’ve only just scratched the surface. 

Jonathan Heit is a global president and cofounder of Allison+Partners. As part of his responsibility, he works closely with all of our offices and client in APAC. Last August, he relocated to Tokyo to be closer and more accessible to the teams in the region. COVID-19 had other plans.

 

OCTOBER 8, 2020 //     

The Road Less Traveled By Lately

By: Emily Wilson-Sawyer

When Robert Frost wrote about “the road less traveled by,” I imagine he didn’t mean the travel industry. But this year, the industry and worldwide consumers have definitely taken that road – no travel, or at least markedly less.

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For the airline industry, this has meant furloughs, empty planes for some, mandatory COVID-19 testing and a battle to put butts in seats where only the strong (aka largest) will survive.

For cruise lines that pride themselves on bragging rights determined by their days spent at sea each year, all have been docked since March and are crossing fingers and bows that they can return to open waters in November or December. Oh, and did I mention everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure of the all-you-can-eat buffet complete with soft serve ice cream till you drop may be a thing of the past? New cruising restrictions and social distancing will most likely cause buffets to also sail off into the sunset with the pandemic.

For a hotel industry that has lost more than $46 billion in revenue to date and is on pace to lose up to $400 million in room revenue per day, this has meant taking what you can get – being flexible with rates and open to new ventures including renting rooms out as offices by hour, providing assistance with home schooling, hosting virtual celebrations and everything in between.

With the second wave of COVID-19 just beginning and major metropolitan areas like NYC threatening a second shutdown, the travel industry must stand tall and proud and shout from the rafters that it is down, but not for the count. To do this, hospitality brands should consider the following:

Find Real Tensions and Lean In

Recently, we launched a Chief Virtual Learning Officer (CVLO) program for Kimpton. It was born out of a true tension – during the pandemic, parents do it all. From at-home teacher, to always-on employee, to devoted caretaker, the juggling never ends. And parents seek help wherever they can find it. From here was born an opportunity – find a real way to help parents when most complain that just getting their kid on Zoom (while they are Zooming away too) is half the battle. Our CVLO does that, and media and real-life consumers eat and book it up. Brands that aspire to break though must find true insights and create opportunities to lighten the load or solve for a problem at a time when the world seems filled with nothing but problems. Research shows if brands are there for consumers during their time of need in a way that is true to their brand ethos, consumers will remember this and pay it forward with future loyalty.

TapIN To Remain Relevant

At Allison+Partners, we believe brands must live at the intersection of culture and commerce. And now, in an era where celebrities and brands are literally cancelled every day, showing proof of cultural relevance is more important than ever. This can be done by following the news like a hawk and acting quickly where and when it makes sense for your brand. A great example of this is the #12footskelaton that you may have seen spooking your Instagram feed as of late. Turns out this 12-foot-tall skeleton from Home Depot is currently “the year’s most sought after Halloween decoration,” and has since sold out. While the spook-tastic trend had been picked up on by some mainstream media outlets and showed off by consumers, including Kourtney Kardashian, the Allison+Partners TapIN team identified that not only had brands not jumped in yet, but the trend had the potential viral ability to become the next Art Basel banana. We acted fast and convinced Budweiser to jump in. Within 24 hours, we staged a photo shoot and created our own trend, which many brands (including several A+P clients) have already jumped in on and gotten coverage for. The keys here are agility and speed – knowing that catching trends on the upswing can set you apart from the crowd, and that catching them on the downfall can make you look utterly out of touch, or worse, out of culture. 

Little Things Matter – Now More Than Ever

At a time when so much has been taken away from us, the little things matter now more than ever. Amidst chaos, consumers look for a sense of calm, normalcy and a little je ne sais quoi  when it comes to service they’ve come to know and love. Quarantine has left us longing for social connection. But in-restaurant dining remains on hold and lobbies are no longer living rooms, so brands must lean into service as a differentiator. Whether it’s delivering “ridiculously personal experiences” like Kimpton does, surprising and delighting your guests while quarantined in their room with creature comforts of home, or even going the extra mile to find news ways to keep perks alive even during a pandemic, the little things are sure to be remembered when 2020 finally ends.

We hope you found even just a little bit of sage advice in these late-night musings. If not, and when all else fails, just rent out Hell (Michigan that is) like Airbnb did this week!

If you're interested in learning how our travel and tourism team can help your brand during this time, get in touch at Emily.Wilson-Sawyer@allisonpr.com. 

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.

 

AGENCY NEWS // OCTOBER 6, 2020 //     

PRovoke Names Global Agencies Of The Decade

PRovoke MediaPRovoke has named seven firms as its Global Agencies of the Decade — Adfactors, Allison+Partners, Edelman, Hanover, M Booth, W2O Group and Weber Shandwick.

The seven will be honoured at the upcoming virtual Global SABRE Awards on 21 October, where the top three will be counted down to reveal PRovoke's overall Global Agency of the Decade. READ MORE
OCTOBER 2, 2020 //     

Reunited and It Feels So Good

Smile Train’s World Smile Day® Live

By: Scott Pansky

What few people know about me is I love comic books. It’s not about the Marvel movies, although they are really good. As times get tough, I think we all want to find ways to stay positive and seek the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Reading comics and watching related shows and movies has been a great escape. And, every once in a while, you get to see one of your “heroes” do something good.

Oct. 2 (tonight), one of my favorite team of television heroes from “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” will reunite for a cause: Smile Train’s World Smile Day® Live. Elizabeth Henstridge (agent Jemma Simmons) is an avid supporter of Smile Train’s effort to provide free, lifesaving surgeries for children with cleft. She reached out to her cast members to ask them to join in sharing what makes them smile to help raise awareness for the event.

READ MORE

To be transparent here, Smile Train is one of the agency’s clients. It is the world’s largest cleft organization focused on a single, solvable problem: cleft lip and palate. It is also first cleft-focused organization with a model of true sustainability – providing training, funding and resources empowering local medical professionals in more than 90 countries to provide free cleft repair surgery and comprehensive cleft care in their own communities. To date, Smile Train has supported safe and quality cleft care for more than 1.5 million children.

On World Smile Day®, Smile Train launched its #540Today campaign to recognize the 540 babies born with clefts each day – many without proper access to treatment. I’m excited about this fundraising opportunity for so many different reasons:

Nonprofit Perseverance  

As COVID-19 has negatively impacted the nonprofit community, Smile Train, like many others has stepped up and let its stakeholders know the pandemic won’t slow them down and they will continue to develop programs that raise awareness and funds for their cause. More than 37,000 cleft surgeries have been put on hold since January, and the organization’s services are critical as surgeries are able to resume.

The Power of Talent

Along with the S.H.I.E.L.D cast reunion, Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Ciara will host the virtual fundraiser. Other celebrity guests and supporters will include Gabrielle Union-Wade, Elle King, Ginger Zee, Kevin Smith and more, all connecting with fans while raising awareness and funds for Smile Train’s lifesaving work.

Real Heroes

The Smile Train team, doctors, care workers, counselors and corporate partners make a real difference every day. They change lives, and events like World Smile Day® Live share their stories and impact.

World Smile Day® Live begins at 8 p.m. ET with special pre-show entertainment beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. Supporters can also engage right now through the virtual photobooth.


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. 

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