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JUNE 19, 2018 //     

Understanding the ROI of Influencer Relations in Asia

By: Susie Hughes

In recent years, interest has grown in using influencer relations as a tool for building brand awareness and growing a customer base for B2B and B2C organizations in Asia. However, there is still much uncertainty about how to measure ROI in the investment. Allison+Partners’ Paul Mottram, managing director of the agency’s All Told group in Asia, recently told the audience at the Tech in Asia conference in Singapore that the key will always be to first properly research and understand the people, topics and channels that make the most sense for their brand.

Mottram shared the findings from Allison+Partners’ “Harnessing the Power of Influence in Asia Pacific” research, which offers insights on achieving the always-elusive “buzz” through the effective use of Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs).

Here are a few of the questions he addressed at the conference.

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At which stage of the marketing journey should KOLs and influencers be engaged?

It’s ideal to apply influence through the entire customer journey, although it can be best to use different influencers at different stages. For example, for a new company or product, reach coupled with sufficient credibility are going to be the most important factors to gain brand awareness. However, as customers get closer to the purchase stage (such as having questions about the product or service), then it may make sense to engage specific subject matter experts who might have less reach but have outstanding credibility.

How much should companies pay influencers for their involvement?

Different industries and markets will have different pay scales for influencers. It also depends on how experienced and valuable an influencer is to a brand. That’s why it’s critical to implement a rigorous scoring system that can be optimized over time. When doing so, it’s important to look not only at reach, but also at how authentic and credible an influencer is, and compare a “cost per thousand” against that. It’s also important to take into account the influencers who are most credible for your business, and realize the market rate might not reflect that. All brands will have to undertake some experimentation and learn what works best over time.

Are high-reach influencers as impactful as micro-influencers?

There has been a trend away from super high-reach influencers and towards micro-influencers. While it’s certainly effective to use them for some products and services, five engaged influencers that reach 20,000 people each will drive more impact than a single influencer with 100,000 followers.

Susie Hughes is vice president in Allison+Partners’ Singapore office.

JUNE 12, 2018 //     

IHOP's New "B": Boon or Blunder?

Credit: IHObBy: Paul Sears


On June 4, IHOP teased us all with a big flip. That is, flipping the “P” in the logo upside-down to become a lower-case letter “b.” From this moment forward, executives told the media IHOP would henceforth be known as “IHOb.” The brand changed its logo on its website and social media profiles, as well as its sign in at least one restaurant. 

But, what did it all mean? IHOP asked us to patiently wait seven days until we could all tune in for the big reveal. 

And tune in we did, although, not without a hilarious response from social media. From Chiquita hoping the “b” meant “bananas” to Netflix tweeting it was changing its name to “Netflib,” the web was determined to crack the riddle. There was even some initial backlash, as influencers noticed the similarity to the logo of feminine products maker, o.b.  On June 11, the wait was over and we all learned the answer: “b” was for “burgers.” 

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But was it the right move? The Internet didn’t think so, and negative memes exploded after the announcement. One communications pro featured LeBron’s Game 1 antics and captioned his tweet: “International House of Bankruptcy.” Burger King attacked with a “Pancake King” logo, and Wendy’s said it was “not really afraid of the burgers from a place that decided pancakes were too hard.” IHOP was steadfast, replacing every “P” with a “b” all day long.  When one influencer asked on Twitter if it was a joke, IHOP quickly replied “Nobe, it’s real!” 

When the dust settles, what will IHOP gain and what will it lose? Brand value can account for up to 30 percent of a firm’s stock price, and brands with strong reputations can outperform global averages by up to 31 percent.  IHOP is playing high stakes poker with a brand that took 60 years to build. 

On the surface it may seem like a worthy gambit. Sales for IHOP have recently plateaued and, in recent years, other QSRs have branched out beyond their niches.  When expanding into new products and markets, marketers seek out competitive advantage. Yet, for IHOP, the burger segment is already highly saturated with competitors… and with fat.  

Consumer tastes align with healthier, sustainably sourced restaurant meals with bolder flavors and ethnic flair, according to Forbes’ 2018 restaurant trends report. Fast-casual consumers have stepped up to fine-casual, and are willing to pay more for an experience. Meanwhile, brand loyalty in the hyper-competitive restaurant industry can evaporate almost overnight. IHOP’s social media woes demonstrate it didn’t have adequate permission from consumers to make this kind of pivot.  It’s also arguable whether consumers actually want more burger options these days.

For 60 years, IHOP has been a go-to for breakfast, and consumers have come to expect a reliable product and experience. It’s natural for the brand to want to push harder on its lunch offerings as a way to drive sales (and it has been selling burgers for years). But it doesn’t have enough credibility to take an ownership stake in burgers at a brand level, compared to established players. IHOP’s brand-level flip suggests its entire offering is taking a 180-degree turn. They are about only one thing, but now that’s burgers. 

While more than a year in the making, IHOP’s move is simply a short-term marketing campaign that uses an iconic brand as a pawn to create buzz.  Much like “fake news” which plagues social media, IHOP has now introduced the “fake rebrand.”  It may or may not translate into increased lunch sales. What happens if sales don’t get that needed boost? At what point does a bold move on offense turn into a strategic retreat?  

IHOP executives have said there will be a moment in time where the “b” will eventually become a “P” again, regardless of sales performance. And, unlike sunsetting a product promotion, that brand-level change-back will be front and center for all to see. At that moment, will consumers find themselves nostalgic for June 11, when restaurant history was made?  Or, will they witness a tail-tucked run for the hills from yet another business that errantly put short-term sales above the enduring value of its brand? 

Time will tell. But luckily for IHOP, the Internet will still be there to watch it all unfold.

Paul Sears is senior vice president of Integrated Marketing for Allison+Partners.

JUNE 7, 2018 //     

Agencies Need Moms

By: Tracey Cassidy

Agency life needs a rebranding campaign and firms with programs in place to support working parents need to lead this charge.

A recent Adweek article touching on “returnships” caught my attention and reminded me agency life hasn’t always been welcoming to working parents, especially moms. Twenty years ago, I started my first agency job at a PR firm on Sixth Avenue in New York City that was reminiscent of Mad Men. As an eager recent college grad, I didn’t know anything different than an office led by chain-smoking men who ordered their “assistants” to do everything under the sun. Fortunately, since then, great female mentors and role models have debunked the perils of that 1998 gender scene and demonstrated to me that moms can have undisrupted careers if they so choose. 

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The article explains intern-type programs that get mothers back to work after taking time off to raise children. And it profiles several advertising agencies, including Allison+Partners’ sister agency 72andSunny, for their efforts to create programs that welcome moms back to the industry. While I applaud these efforts, there is still a lot of work to be done. How can agencies do a better job of enticing new moms to stay engaged in their career while balancing motherhood? It might not be a returnship, but rather a “stay-the-course ship” for new moms. 

At Allison+Partners, we meet with all expecting moms to help them plot out the course for returning to work post-baby. It’s an individualized program customized for both the employee and manager, but all include a seamless transition. Most of our new moms choose to work remotely for at least one day a week as they re-engage in work life after maternity leave.

I’m incredibly proud of the programs we’ve implemented at Allison+Partners to encourage new moms to stay the course and support them through all of parenthood’s wonderful and challenging milestones. Below are some of our offerings:

  • Five-month paid maternity leave
  • Flex work time post maternity leave
  • Dependent FSA programs, that allow parents to put aside pre-taxed funds to offset childcare costs

Allison+Partners has an extremely high retention rate for returning mothers. We also have an abundance of female executives (female executives with children make up half of our C-Suite and we now have a female president of North America) who lead by example and are doing the juggle every day.

Returnships might work for some, but I’m passionate about doing more to ensure that new moms don’t see that bleak future I once did. I want new moms to know that Allison+Partners is an agency that understands what they are going through. From our fantastic maternity leave policy to flex time and unlimited vacation, we trust and empower everyone, including new moms. And by doing that, everyone wins. It’s time to pay it forward. 

Tracey Cassidy is general manager of Allison+Partners’ New York office and a mother of two.

MAY 29, 2018 //     

Introducing The Stream Podcast

By: Owen Clark

It’s been almost eight years since I quit being a reporter. I made the decision while driving back from a courthouse in Quincy, Calif., where I’d been covering the murder of two high-school students who had been killed on prom night. 

While thinking of ways to re-edit the quote I’d gotten from the grieving mother into good web copy, I got an alert on my newly purchased smartphone. A blog I had been assigned to write on the “NFL’s Best Beards” for the fledging online sport site Bleacher Report had passed 10,000 views, which meant I got a “gold medal.” The medal was in place of real money, since all the writers for B/R wrote on-spec to help build their “digital profile.” 

Still, the reality was 10 times more people would read my hot takes on facial hair than would ever see, or read, my coverage of the double-murder for my local CBS television. Suddenly the absurdity of the whole journalism profession seemed to hit me like a tackle from Steelers linebacker Brett Keisel, who, if you were wondering, was my No. 1 choice for the NFL’s best beard.

So, what does all this have to do with a podcast launch? Well first off, the state of the modern reporter is the focus of our kick-off episode, “Faces of the Monolith.” In it, we hear from veteran print reporter Jacques Couret about what it’s like to have the SEC story you’ve slaved over for weeks be crushed in the click war by a slideshow of new Chick-fil-A menu items. Meanwhile, former TV journalist Sierra Oshrin explains the problem of literally not having enough hands to tweet, shoot B-roll and do a Facebook Live Stream all at the same time.

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Bigger picture, these stories illustrate what we want to do with The Stream -- bring you a podcast to keep you entertained and offer perspectives about the communications landscape to make you see things a little differently. If the name feels familiar, it’s because the podcast is the next chapter of what we’ve already built with great content you read on The Stream Blog.

The recipe for that content starts by tapping our insider experts, such as Jacques and Sierra, who can go beyond the binary narrative of Fox News vs. CNN and give insight into what it actually means to be a reporter in an era when the very nature of news is questioned. We combine that exclusive insight with perspectives from outside experts, such as University of Colorado Journalism Chair Elizabeth Skewes, who joined us on our first episode to discuss where future of reporting is headed as a profession, institution and an estate that protects and informs a democratic system.

The final piece will be the hot takes I dish up with co-host and super producer Micah Baro. Micah and I have spent the last 10 years weaving our way across career paths that include journalism, corporate sales, PR, media training and finally video production as part of the Allison+Partners Content Team. We hope our unique perspectives on the overlooked or misunderstood trends and topics in media and marketing help guide you through the turbulent waters of today’s communications landscape.

It should be a fun ride, and we hope you’ll join us. 



The Stream Podcast can be downloaded via Google Play Music and  iTunes.

MAY 24, 2018 //     

Feature Forward: Evolving the movie theater experience for today’s consumer

Credit: Samsung

By: Niki Hetchkop

A trip to the movie theater can transport you to different worlds, make you laugh uncontrollably, take you on an adventure, or make you shed tears for a fictitious character portraying a real-life tragedy. Some of my favorite memories growing up revolve around going to the movie theater, including 11 p.m. Star Wars premieres with my dad on school nights.

Movie theaters have come a long way since the first silent film premiered in 1894. But with domestic movie theater attendance hitting a 25-year low in 2017, there’s an obvious need for big advancements. The industry is challenged with finding enticing ways to bring people out of the comfort of their living rooms and into theaters to watch movies on the big screen. To combat this, movie industry decision makers have adopted some innovative and future-focused technology to lure more customers without having to rely on blockbuster hits such as “Black Panther” and “The Avengers.” 

Here are some of the latest advancements:

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First-Ever LED Cinema Screen: This past month, Samsung (an Allison+Partners client) launched the first ever DCI-compliant LED movie screen. At 34 feet wide by 17 feet high and featuring 9 million pixels, the new “Samsung Onyx” delivers exceptional visual quality and unmatched technical performance, projector-free. Showcasing the truest blacks and peak brightness, this screen allows for ambient lighting, flexibility in seating arrangements with no need for a projection room, and, most importantly, the ability to see the movies the exact way filmmakers and directors envisioned.

I may be biased, but once you see a movie on the Samsung Onyx, you can’t go back to projection. The difference is real and totally worth jumping out of the comfort of your home (still in your sweatpants) to go see a movie on this screen.

4DX with Screen X: Featuring smells, moving chairs and special effects, consumers will start to see 4DX with Screen X theater options for those who want to take immersive movie-watching to the next level. Pairing 4DX with Screen X allows for seats to move in-sync with the action and flow of the movie, in addition to the picture expanding to the sides of the theater. According to Business Insider, “There are 500 4DX screens in existence and 142 that are Screen X. It's unclear when theaters will have the combined version (one is opening in South Korea), but it's almost inevitable that it's coming.”

I had the chance to try out new 4DX seating at CinemaCon this year. It is unlike any other movie experience. Not for the faint of heart!

More Convenience and Loyalty Apps: In a world where smartphone users have unlimited conveniences at their fingertips, it’s important for the movie industry to adapt to a seamless mobile-user experience. Consumers will see the rise of ticketless entrances, more opportunities for advance ticket purchases and additional options for reserved seating in the near future. Movie theater subscription models are also on the rise with MoviePass competitor Sinemia gaining popularity in the U.S. market. Fandango also recently announced its VIP+ loyalty-rewards program that will offer monetary credits to returning customers.

Technology from Entrance to Exit: The cinema experience extends way beyond the confines of the theater. Outdoor displays showcasing the latest movie ads, digital menu boards at snack bars, mirror displays in the bathrooms, tablets to order food straight from your seat and interactive photo booths for consumers to insert themselves into a picture with their favorite stars are just a few examples of how movie owners are investing in technology beyond the auditorium. Movie-goers will see an uptick in technology throughout movie theater venues similar to how retailers have upped in-store attractions to yield more engagement and excitement.

My hope is these new technologies will enhance the movie-going experience and encourage consumers to get back into the theaters. It’s the best place in the world to grab a large popcorn (with extra butter, depending on your preference) pair it with a fountain drink and your favorite classic movie candy and put your phone on silent. Or even, if you dare, turn it completely off, and allow yourself to truly disconnect from the “real world.”

Niki Hetchkop is a director in Allison+Partners' DC office.

MAY 21, 2018 //     

Where are we headed in U.S. healthcare? Implications from WHCC

By: Brian Feldman


As the 15TH Annual World Health Care Congress (WHCC) in May wrapped up in Washington, the question remains: where are we headed in healthcare? Some of the topics highlighted below serve as a guide to where we may be going, offering insights on how brands and marketers should adapt their communications.

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Telemedicine growth and concerns

While some continue to herald telemedicine as a solution to access and cost concerns, rural communities still need the technology to make more access possible. It’s clear the use of telemedicine will grow and payers will become more comfortable reimbursing for these services. Like everything in American healthcare, telemedicine has the potential to be fragmented and implemented inefficiently. For healthcare organizations and marketers, it’s important to recognize the challenges that still exist with telemedicine and be ready to answer patient cynicism.   

Shift toward value

The market economy in healthcare is having an impact despite the Washington standoff. The sources of payment are voting with their feet and regardless of what system, public or private, some of the same forces effecting travel, consumer products and technology are saying “prove that what you are doing adds value and we will pay.” For organizations and communicators, it has never been more important to show value through outcomes, behavioral change, etc.

Criticism and “sabotage” of ACA

While President Barack Obama’s signature legislation retains its newfound post-repeal-effort popularity and Republicans have largely given up on getting rid of it, changes to the tax code and the desire by some to undermine it, put the system on unsteady ground. Consumers will gravitate toward options that give them value and likely ignore the partisan background noise. Marketers should take note that consumers will align with brands and organizations that have moved past the politics.

We continue to be a divided country on healthcare, but less on ideology and more about what we want versus what we can afford. As we head toward November, it’s obvious Americans are open to anybody, government or private sector, who can offer options to improve healthcare and lower costs. While we continue to explore uncharted territory, marketers should steer their brands with sincere, nonpartisan and outcome-centric messages.

Brian Feldman is a partner at Allison+Partners, who is a lead of the agency’s healthcare practice and general manager of the Atlanta office.

MAY 14, 2018 //     

The Passing Of A Legend

By: Scott Allison

Today in Seattle, there is a celebration of the life of David McLean Marriott who passed away on April 30th.  There are so many reasons to celebrate the life of this incredible man, a true legend in the PR and crisis communications industries, and a beloved member of the Allison+Partners family.

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David had long been an institution in the Seattle area after running his own successful firm, Gogerty Marriott.  He was known as one of the premier crisis communications experts in the country and we were incredibly blessed when David joined Allison+Partners in 2015.  It was a true honor to have him work at our firm and his experience was invaluable to our local Seattle team, in addition to his collaboration with teams across our offices throughout the world.

David worked on many well-known crisis issues during his career. None was more famous than his work on the crash of Alaska Airlines flight 261 which took place on January 31, 2000. It was a very difficult time for the airline and the Seattle community and David’s work was a text book example of best-in-class crisis communications. In fact, the work is included in many case studies taught at public relations programs at universities around the country. When we were talking to British Airways in January about potentially working for them, I caught up with David to ask about the case. The work done then is still incredibly timely and we discussed how social media would have made the situation much different today. To have someone in our firm that I could speak to regularly to gain counsel on a variety of sensitive issues was of tremendous value to me and Allison+Partners.

In addition to being one of the great communication’s professionals of our time, David was a wonderful human being, a great father and husband and a jazz loving gift to the local community as well as someone who donated so much time to so many people.

David Marriott will be missed by many, but never forgotten.

Scott Allison is co-founder, chairman and CEO of Allison+Partners.

APRIL 9, 2018 //     

Wellness tips for working professionals

Credit: Welldoing

By: Erin Cornell

One of my new favorite quotes is “Your worth is not measured by your productivity.”

As busy professionals in the client-service industry, we are often pulled in a hundred different directions, constantly multi-tasking as we strive to get as much done in one day as we possibly can. The idea that we are not defined by how much we accomplish may seem farfetched to the hardest-working overachievers, but this mindset can eventually take its toll. If your mental health is suffering under the weight of your workload, now is the perfect time to transform your perspective in celebration of National Stress Awareness Month.

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With the wellness trend picking up speed in every industry from health to finance to travel, self-care is a concept that is likely already practiced or at least familiar to many in our personal lives, but have you ever considered how it can also have lasting benefits when it comes to your career?

Here are a few tips to help implement more self-care into your routine, to ultimately fuel a healthier outlook of your self-worth as a working professional:

  • Take back your commute. Whether you’re sitting in traffic or scrolling through social media (or worse, email) while riding on public transportation, you are probably not enjoying your commute the way you could be. Instead, start your day with inspiration by listening to a podcast or an audio book on a topic of interest to you. You’d be surprised by the difference it can make to fill these windows of time with something more meaningful that can have you feeling energized before you sit down at your desk.
  • Stand once every hour. A recent study found that professionals who remain sedentary for hours on end are cutting years off their life. More specifically, sitting without movement for periods of more than 30 minutes at a time puts you at risk for an early death. How’s that for an excuse to take a break from your computer? Standing desks are becoming more popular for this very reason, but if you don’t have one, just get up and move around.
  • Know your limits. Most of us have heard the saying, “It’s PR, not the ER.” But with all the demands of our jobs, sometimes it can be easy to get swept up into believing that everything is urgent and needed to get done yesterday. Remember to keep it in perspective. Tackle your priorities first and recognize when you need to give yourself a break or push something off.
  • Get out of the office. While a traditional lunch break may be more of a luxury during busier periods, take the time to step away from your desk each day for a mental break, even if it’s only for 20 minutes or so. Clearing your head will allow you to tackle your afternoon to-do’s with a fresh mind, and staying connected to the world outside will help you feel less trapped by your workplace responsibilities.
  • Meditate. To better manage stress, set aside a few minutes a day to practice mindfulness, in which you learn to hold your attention and awareness on the present moment to achieve an emotionally calm state. Like anything else, our minds need to be exercised in order to perform their best. Headspace and Calm are two popular apps to consider for guided meditation. The great news is you can do it any time – in the morning when you wake up, before bed, or even at work when you’re feeling frazzled.
  • Power off. Arianna Huffington learned the hard way that working 24/7 to chase success at the expense of your health can have real consequences. After fainting from exhaustion in 2007 she made a few lifestyle changes, one of which includes leaving all her devices outside her bedroom. Don’t fall into the trap of checking email late at night when you should be preparing your brain to shut down for sleep, for a well-rested day ahead.

Ambition and a hard work ethic are admirable qualities, though pursued without restraint they can quickly lead to burnout. Consider jumping on the wellness bandwagon to strike a healthy work-life balance and find fulfillment in areas beyond productivity.

Erin Cornell is a senior account executive in Allison+Partners’ Boston office.

MARCH 31, 2018 //     

Quantifying Cuteness: Tracking the Next Generation of Influence

Introducing: Tracking the Next Generation of Influence. Our latest Influence Impact Report in which we developed advanced technology to translate barks and goo-goo-ga-gas into quantifiable data to give you a snapshot of how to leverage these key next-gen influencers for your brand.

Our favorite findings? Nearly 2/3 of all toddlers surveyed said explosive poop is “somewhat” or “very important” to their decision-making process, and the top decision driver for puppies (97% of those surveyed) was “being told they’re a good boy/girl.”

See the rest of our groundbreaking insights here.
MARCH 27, 2018 //     

Just Serve Real Food: Dispatches from Expo West

By: Annie Drury

I’m the rare breed who actually enjoys trade shows. And as a foodie and health enthusiast, Expo West is naturally one of my favorites. The largest natural foods show in the world brings the who’s who in beloved brands that line retailers from small herb shops to Whole Foods to your neighborhood supermarket.

Today is an exciting time in food retailing, as large brands innovate with great products to meet demand for protein-rich and other health-minded claims and small start-up brands help drive industry growth like never before. Consumers now more intentionally seek out artisan brands and have higher standards for clean ingredients, transparency and quality.

Some observations from the show floor:

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The return of meat

The Savory Institute’s Land-to-Market breakfast was a hot invite, and attendees got an inside look at the verification program designed to create a market and production system for products that regenerate land and human health. This has been championed by brands such as DanoneWave, General Mills and EPIC Provisions, the latter of which pays its respect to the animal through the best agricultural practices and aims to further eliminate animal waste with its nose-to-tail commitment.

Jerkies of every variety, and almost always 100 percent grass-fed were aplenty. Free range chicken even made its way into chips. Really! Wilde Chicken Chips sampled its fried chips made from chicken and tapioca flour in Barbeque, Jalapeno and Sea Salt & Vinegar flavors.

TRIBALI Foods cooked up its frozen 100 percent grass-fed burgers in Mediterranean and Umami flavors, creating a delicious smell that carried across the show floor.

Restaurant-quality foods made fool-proof

One of my favorite pieces of media feedback from years past was to recommend clients serve “hot, real food.” Thus, it’s no surprise TRIBALI’s patties and the new Lillie’s Q direct-to-consumer smoked pork offering were fan favorites. A multiple winner in America’s most prolific barbeque competition, Lillie’s Q is already perfectly cooked and shipped frozen, offering a gourmet meal with minimal time or effort.

One Culture Foods has made beloved soups like pho into convenient cups (and gluten-free), then enhanced them with healthy bone broth. Bantam Bangles were arguably one of the most popular samples in all of the Hot Products Hall. The mini bagel bites filled with cream cheese were absolutely brilliant and nearly on par with the experience of having a fresh bagel served up hot at a coffeeshop.

Celebrities adding greater visibility to the nutrition world

Celebrities have long attached their names to brands and served as ambassadors or investors. Sarah Michelle Gellar strutted the floor in a cool jean jacket adorned with “more flour to you.” Not only is she an organic food and baking enthusiast, she also heads up fast-growing natural baking line FoodStirs. The brand is on a mission to clean up the category by using heirloom flour, biodynamic sugar and fair-trade chocolate in decadent dessert mixes beloved by kids and adults.

Jennifer Garner even keynoted, as she recently joined cold-press baby food startup Once Upon a Farm as chief brand officer. Her interest to partner with an organic food brand was fueled while working with Save the Children and seeing the lack of access to organic food in rural America.

Whether integrated into the C-suite or acting as an ambassador, the celebrity CPG collaboration reminds me of a great interview from BEVNet’s Taste Radio Podcast where Jim Tonkin shared insights on launching Arnold Palmer’s tea brand. Palmer was hands-on to ensure the quality and authenticity of his product, he set a strong culture and he pressured his team to never dilute the quality of both the product and his personal brand.

Sparkling and functional beverages get exciting upgrades

Consumers don’t want diluted brands or diluted drinks, and a higher standard for beverages was apparent. Like most sparkling water-addicted PR people, I’m always interested in new sparkling flavors. Per Vida delivered with a unique Blue Hawaiian Ginger drink that boasts a unique patent for pomegranate seed oil, which has been found to reduce inflammation and enhance immunity. Anecdotally, it seemed to alleviate some of my soreness from tradeshow staffing.

Berri Fit had no bubbles, but added manuka honey, maqui berries, maca and coconut water in a cleaned-up sports drink in flavors such as Organic Dragon Fruit and Mango. Dr. Brew Kombucha showed off the first kombucha I’ve seen in a can, and graciously kept my thirst quenched with its 12 oz. cans of my favorite variety, Love.

While food is still an industry and a business, the passionate entrepreneurs within the natural foods sector who truly “do the right thing,” have much bigger implications than just creating a tasty meal. And thankfully, this sector’s only getting more delicious.

Annie Drury is a director in Allison+Partners' San Diego office. 

MARCH 22, 2018 //     

SXSW: A Look into The Future

By: Susie Hughes

Last week, I attended SXSW in Austin for the first time. Having been in technology PR for so long, it’s almost an achievement not to have been over the years. I certainly didn’t think that I’d be traveling all the way from Singapore to get there.

I accompanied our client Unilever Foundry, Unilever’s global platform for start-up collaboration. The head of the Southeast Asia region, Barbara Guerpillon, spoke on a number of panels primarily about how large corporates can effectively work with start-ups to drive innovation and technological advancement to help them better serve their customers. Unilever Foundry is recognized as a pioneer in this space, having developed a global program that has led to more than 150 pilots and 50 scale-ups across Unilever. Other corporate innovation leaders from organizations such as MolsonCoors, VW, Daimler and Comcast, joined her.

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If you’re familiar with SXSW, you know it’s full of visionaries and experts on topics ranging from AI and diversity to the future of love and how tech will change how we eat. The popular annual event also features a large number of brand activations, musical acts, celebrity appearances and bizarre things to see, such as a car with zero emissions driving inside a giant bubble.

I was lucky to attend a number of SXSW panels, where I heard experts across a broad range of industries present their ideas about what the future might look like. A few of the main takeaways that stuck with me:

  • The future of food delivery: Panellists from Walmart, Whole Foods and DoorDash touched on one of the problems with autonomous delivery – the first 10 feet and the last 10 feet. So, will all our new houses and apartments in the future be built with a temperature-controlled receptacle where our groceries and dinners can be left? An audience member pointed out when he was a child in the 1950s, his home had something almost exactly like this where the milkman would leave the milk. Are we therefore simply bringing back technology and systems we’ve used before?
  • Tech for good: Relating to returning to “old tech,” on a panel hosted by The Drum, Novalia’s Dr. Kate Stone talked about how much of the tech we have become used to (rides, food on demand etc.) is removing friction. However, friction makes experiences “memorable, mindful and meaningful,” which might account for why things like vinyl records have made a comeback. People want to bring back some of the experience -- in this case listening to music, needing to turn over the disc and the like -- into their everyday actions. She predicted the future is actually going to look more like the past than the ‘Jetsons’ future we might have once imagined.
  • Digital transformation: While digital transformation is probably the biggest buzzword at the moment, Design It’s Ayal Levin presented the concept of “constant transformation.” He explained many organizations approach digital transformation as a task to be completed and not as something that will happen all the time, which is why 80 percent of digital transformation projects fail. It’s critical leaders recognize today’s leading technology will not be tomorrow’s and that people themselves are not digital. Therefore, cultivating a mindset of change and innovation happens over time and not with the flip of a switch; businesses of all sizes must challenge their business models every year. On a personal level, employees need to regularly re-think their roles, who would be likely to replace them and who is likely to join the team. With these questions answered, what are the tools and skills required to maintain relevancy? Levin shared a good exercise for both businesses and individuals: Imagine a headline in the paper that says your company has gone bankrupt -- no more organization, no more jobs. Analyze it. What went wrong, why did this happen and what could have been done to prevent it?
  • Trust and the sharing economy: Experts from Airbnb, CNN and NYU Stern talked about the challenges companies such as Airbnb and Uber have because their brands rest hugely in the hands of people who are not employees and who they don’t know personally – drivers, home owners, etc. While the challenges of that are somewhat obvious, what stood out to me as a PR professional in this age of influence was the idea of trust has shifted for consumers. Trust – as measured by how much we ‘trust’ a random person on the street – has fallen from 50 percent to 30 percent since 1972. At the same time, studies have shown consumers are more likely to trust a stranger on the Internet with a fully built-out profile (such as an Airbnb host) more than a neighbour and at trust levels approaching those of friends and family. The NYU Stern professor also explained as platforms for reviews -- such as Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor -- have grown, so has our confidence in making purchasing decisions based on these things. This is compelling when we think about communications. In the past, there were fewer things in which people could place their trust and get information – essentially friends and the media. Now, people have many more options about who and what to trust, so consistency in messaging and customer experience is more crucial than ever.  

Susie Hughes is a Vice President in Allison+Partners’ Singapore office.

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