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APRIL 9, 2019 //     

Say So: Mobility Culture: Imagine What’s Possible

Credit: iStockBy: Marcus Gamo and Lisa Rosenberg

Allison+Partners’ latest industry report, The Birth of Mobility Culture, explores the implications for brand marketers of changing definitions of transportation. The study uncovered a shift from car culture to mobility culture, one that will be driven forward by Gen Z. Senior Vice President and Automotive Specialty Group Lead Marcus Gamo introduced the new study at a communications panel with executives from Toyota, Uber and Trōv.  In this installment of “Say So,” he and agency Chief Creative Officer Lisa Rosenberg discuss what stood out, as well as the impact mobility culture may have on the future of how we get from here to there.

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Marcus: I’m still amazed at how far we’ve come so quickly in accepting and consuming new modes of transportation. I had to laugh during one of our conversations about the thought that we were warned not too long ago about the risks of getting together with a stranger you’d meet online … or getting into a car with a stranger for a ride. Now, it’s incredibly common, accepted and rewarded for using our smartphones to Uber to a bar or restaurant to meet someone you’ve only connected with through Tinder! This really does speak to a dramatic shift in our values and behavior. What really stood out to me from the study and our panel conversation was that the birth of this new culture was sparked by our youngest group of consumers – Gen Z. These consumers are placing more emphasis on “we” values, such as shared time and experiences, rather than “me” values, which have defined other generations … especially Millennials.

Lisa:  That is so funny! I remember telling my kids when they were little never to get in cars with strangers and, now that they are teenagers (and squarely Gen Z), they think nothing about hopping into an UberPool and heading to a party hosted by someone they “know” only on social. It will be interesting to see how mobility culture evolves as this generation drives it forward. I can imagine brands outside of the mobility space looking to partner with a rideshare service such as Uber or Lyft as a way to capitalize on these “we” values and offer customized, branded experiences that can be shared and enjoyed with others. Who’s to say that in a few years you won’t be able to order up a “Beauty Bar Uber” so that you and a girlfriend can have your hair and makeup done while in route to a night on the town.

Marcus: I think you’re exactly right! If we look around our current mobility world today, there’s a real desire for drivers and passengers alike to rethink how they spend time on the road. The infotainment system of the past, with those in the car passively listening to music, a podcast or even taking a call, will look much more like James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke. We heard from Gen Z that they value a connection between mobility and engagement, especially with each other. If the entertainment value of the drive or ride experience is determined by the time spent with others, we can imagine the positive benefits. No longer is that drive home from work a commute. It’s a happy hour that doesn’t focus on the total time spent in the car. This may open people to the idea of moving and traveling further out from a city center, and create new communities, jobs and economic centers.  

Lisa: I think you’re on to something, especially when you consider the behaviors and preferences of Gen Z. This is a generation that’s just now entering the workforce for the first time. From what we’ve seen, they are going to flip today’s discussion of work-life balance on its head and will expect flexibility when it comes to how, when and where they work. If a commute is no longer the dreaded drag that it is for many today, we may see a generational shift away from urban centers and a return to the great outdoors. I can see it now – 20-somethings traversing the New York tri-state in the Jetson’s-like pods from my favorite television show growing up, while enjoying breakfast with friends before parachuting down to their offices’ drop zone in time for their first morning meeting. If that’s the mobility culture we’re driving towards, sign me up – it sounds like fun!

Marcus Gamo is a Senior Vice President and the agency's Automotive Specialty Group Lead and Lisa Rosenberg is the agency's Chief Creative Officer.

APRIL 5, 2019 //     

New AP Style and grammar changes: Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the change

Credit: TeachingEnglishBy: Jacques Couret

You can’t teach a dog new tricks, and the same often holds true for copy editors.

We’re a critical bunch, naturally adverse to changes to grammar and style rules after decades of upholding them and acting as the last line of defense between creative copy and an audience eager to find an embarrassing error. I believe the young kids call these people “Grammar Nazis”? I digress…

So when the Associated Press Stylebook update and American Copy Editors Society Conference hit every spring, people like me clench their teeth, cross their fingers and hope the higher powers don’t mess with beloved tradition. Inevitably, they do mess with beloved tradition and set off nerdy online and intra-newsroom grammar debates I enjoy as much as a glass of Islay scotch.

For those not as inclined to such fussy academic quarreling, I present some key AP Style and English grammar changes that will make writing in your professional life much easier.

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New AP Stylebook Rules

Percent vs. % – It is now acceptable to use “%” instead of having to write out “percent.” There should be no space between the numeral and the symbol. If the percentage is less than one, place a “0” before the decimal. Correct: “A survey shows 99.9% of Allison+Partners employees agree The Beatles are the greatest rock band of all time. Who cares what the 0.1% think?”

Hyphenated race – Race designations, such as African American, Asian American, Italian American and so forth, no longer require hyphens.

Casualty/Casualties – do not use the word “casualty” or “casualties” because AP deems the word “vague and can refer to either injuries or deaths. Instead, be specific about what is meant. If authorities use the term, press for specifics. If specifics aren’t available, say so: Officer Riya Kumar said the crash resulted in casualties, but she did not know whether those were injuries or deaths.”

Cocktail – it is no longer acceptable to use the word “cocktail” to describe a mixture of drugs. It’s now proper to write “drug combination,” “drugs” or “medications.”

Suspect – do not use the word “suspect” to describe “a person of unknown identity who definitely committed a crime. In other words, don’t substitute suspect for robber, killer, rapist, etc., in describing an event, even if authorities phrase it that way. Correct: Police said the robber stole 14 diamond rings; the thief ran away. Incorrect: Police said the suspect stole 14 diamond rings; the suspect ran away. Conversely, don’t substitute robber, killer, rapist, etc., when suspect is indeed the correct word. Correct: Police arrested the suspect the next day. Incorrect: Police arrested the robber the next day.”

Grammar change from the American Copy Editors Society

Split Infinitives – In a nod to the spoken word, it is now OK to split an infinitive in professional writing. For those who took naps in English 101, an infinitive is the “to form” of the verb. To go. To eat. To sleep. The old rule was to always place an adverb after the verb and never between the “to” and the verb. An example from Star Trek: “To boldly go where no man has gone before…” is now correct. Formerly, a copy editor would have corrected that phrase to read “to go boldly.” Split infinitives are now acceptable, meaning the written word will sound better to the ear.

In a related note, most contemporary grammarians now give their blessing to end sentences with prepositions. The great Sir Winston Churchill himself once mocked someone who criticized him for ending a sentence with a preposition by saying: "That is the sort of thing up with which I will not put!"

The “never end a sentence with a preposition” rule is arbitrary. It’s a rule a British essayist popularized centuries ago based on language roots in Latin, where it is not possible to end a  sentence with a preposition. Scholarly English grammarians who wished to apply Latin rules to English (a square peg in a round hole if there ever was one) should not dictate how we write today. If we have to rewrite sentences to avoid putting prepositions at the end, it can read and sound awkward. It’s better to go with what sounds better.

These are all rules you can live easily with.

Jacques Couret is editorial manager for All Told.

APRIL 2, 2019 //     

Shouldn’t every day be Equal Pay Day?

Credit: CNN.comBy: Anne Colaiacovo

When I began my career, it was understood that men needed to make more money faster than women because men, “had different financial pressures,” or “were responsible for caring for a family” or “had certain expectations for themselves by certain ages.” The thought was that women would wait. We’d be patient, understanding… because we’re women and that’s what we’re good at, right?

Not this woman! Not the women who came before me. And, thankfully, not the women AND men ahead of me.

Today is Equal Pay Day, which the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) started in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men's and women's wages. The date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned the previous year.

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Unfortunately for millions of women, today is still not an equal pay day. I’m grateful this hasn’t been my experience, thanks in part to my own doing and in part to the people I have chosen to surround myself with. I’ve been blessed with the luxury of choice, while most women are not.

Last week, the House Education and Labor Committee voted to advance legislation that would strengthen protections for female workers and help close the gender wage gap. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), aims to advance women’s pay by prohibiting employers from requesting salary histories and preventing them from retaliating against employees for disclosing their pay. The bill also calls for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to collect wage data based on sex, race and national origin to better determine if employers are responsible for discriminatory practices. It will next go for a vote in the Senate.

Those of us with the luxury of choice must now choose to speak for those who do not have it -- speak with our votes, speak with our actions and speak with our power.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “it will take until 2059 for women to reach pay parity if change continues at the current pace. Black women would have to wait until 2119 for equal pay, and Latina women until 2224.” We simply cannot wait that long.

In my role at Allison+Partners, I work with my partners and colleagues to ensure pay gaps do not exist at our agency. I’m proud of that, but it’s a small piece. For those of us who can, we must choose the companies we work at wisely. Ask the right questions. Do the research not just for ourselves, but for others. If employers know the best female talent in the country simply won’t work for their organizations, they will be forced to address their shortcomings.

We have the power to hold our companies responsible, to hold our industries responsible, to hold our politicians responsible and to hold ourselves responsible.

Anne Colaiacovo is President, North America at Allison+Partners.

MARCH 22, 2019 //     

The Perfection Fallacy: Four Ways to Achieve Your Career Goals That Have Nothing to Do with Being Perfect

By: Lauren Bayse and Chelsea Russo

“It’s OK not to have everything done perfectly.” If you’re like us, you’ve heard this before and you know it’s true, but it can be hard to truly believe. However, when it comes from Padma Lakshmi—producer, actress, model and host of Top Chef—you start to actually believe perhaps perfection isn’t an attainable or worthwhile goal.

The theme of perfection and how it can hinder women from “getting things done,” resonated during The Cut’s 2019 “How I Get It Done” event, which featured a roster of impressive “lady bosses,” including Robin Roberts, Aidy Bryant, Hope Solo and Maya Rudolph. All of these women agreed collectively perfection is an unfair, unproductive goal with which women burden themselves. So, the next time you find yourself obsessing over perfection at work, try obsessing over these four things instead:

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BUILD A NETWORK

Building a network of female (and male) cohorts is the most important thing you can do for your career. You can never truly know how your career trajectory will play out, so it’s important to cultivate meaningful connections wherever you can.

It’s equally important to remember building a network doesn’t mean setting up a few coffee dates to hastily compile a list of people you can ask to serve as references. Rather, networking is about finding people who appreciate and support your ambitions and passions. Natasha Lyonne and Greta Lee of Netflix’s “Russian Doll” shared their now strong and steady working relationship was born through a series of meetings and shared passion projects over time—it wasn’t built overnight. The pair’s relationship started as two women simply admiring and supporting each other’s long-term career goals.

EMBRACE UNCOMFORTABLE CIRCUMSTANCES

Change is uncomfortable, challenging and often unwanted. However, it’s also inevitable. Author A.M. Homes summed up: “[Change] is super important, because I think it gets dangerous when you become so routinized that you actually can’t do something another way.” This is particularly true for those of us in industries, like public relations, constantly impacted by technology’s evolution.

While it’s natural to react apprehensively to an organizational restructure, a new colleague or a different role, take solace that navigating change challenges everyone. Seek advice from friends and mentors, and remember there is no such thing as managing change perfectly. Be kind to yourself and know—more often than not—change is good.  

LEAN INTO YOUR STRENGTHS

It’s easy to recognize our flaws, but it’s much harder to identify and leverage our strengths. Topeka Sam, founder of The Ladies of Hope Ministries and Hope House NYC, witnessed firsthand in federal prison the disparity of incarceration on women. Realizing her affinity for community building and fundraising, she used her voice and network to advocate successfully for prison reform and help women transition out of the federal prison system.

In moments of perceived failure, it can be remarkably difficult to recognize our strengths. Lean on friends and reflect on past triumphs to help you identify the unique qualities you bring to the table. We all have strengths—it’s just a matter of finding them and acting on them.

STOP THINKING AND JUST DO

Perfection’s ability to stifle women’s career progression came up in different ways during the event. But at the day’s close, The Cut Editor-in-Chief Stella Bugbee really summed it up: “You don’t have to be perfect to set out and achieve your goals. The best thing you can do is just start doing.”

So often, as women, we feel the need to anticipate every possible outcome of our actions to avoid our own self-imposed notions of failure. This type of thinking holds us back from taking the risks necessary to get ahead in our careers. It’s easier to talk ourselves out of having difficult conversations, like asking for that promotion, instead of just going for it and seeing what happens. The next time you prepare pros and cons ahead of a big meeting or new venture, feel empowered to throw the “plan” out the window and just put the wheels in motion. Your instincts are stronger than you think.

So, here’s to saying “no” to perfection and “yes” to ambition, tenacity and empowerment. We’ll never be perfect, but we don’t need to be.

Lauren Bayse is a director and Chelsea Russo is an account manager in Allison+Partners' corporate practice.

MARCH 18, 2019 //     

Remembering My Mentor, Henri Bollinger

Embed from Getty Images


By: Scott Pansky

Starting to write something on a blank piece of paper is always the hardest place to begin. Most of us find it easier to edit than to write something from scratch. What most don’t recognize is that’s how our life begins, and we can take our directions anywhere we want to go.

I start here, because when I think about mentorship, I think of ways we are mentored, where mentorship comes from or even signals that we might miss and come back to when someone provides us counsel. Some provide you with their gut instincts, some provide you with knowledge and some tell stories about how they have learned lessons the hard way.

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When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was asked to open a public relations office for Connors Communications, the agency Scott Allison, Andy Hardie Brown, Jonathan Heit and I worked at together before Allison+Partners. I still remember my conversation with Scott when he asked me to open the office. I shared my fears of building something new, in a location that I had never lived and in a space I was not yet comfortable in. As a true friend and mentor, Scott told me not to worry, and that he would surround me with great people.

Two of those people came out from Connors’ New York office. One of those was Jonathan Heit who, today, has grown to become our company’s global president and a good friend. Another person was a gentleman named Jeffrey Bollinger. Jeffrey asked me if I had heard of his father, a famous entertainment publicist. I had not. So, he brought his dad to our office. You never know how one meeting could change your life and how being open to new opportunities can lead you down new trails. Just like the blank piece of paper, Henri asked what my goals were to build our office. I shared that we wanted to be the leading firm that helped build entertainment and tech companies as they began to transition content onto the web and other platforms, not yet knowing how mobile was ready to blast off.

Henri said he could help. He introduced me to the Entertainment Publicists Professional Society, which he had started with industry friends. Less than a year later after chairing a technology committee, I became the president of the organization. Over the next four years, I helped grow the membership from 200 people to more than 600. Networking with industry leaders, helped build a solid foundation of relationships that I still have today. Henri also introduced me to UCLA Extension, where I taught for more than 17 years in his shadow.

What I remember most about Henri’s mentorship, is his ongoing personal counsel. He was the father of three kids, and understood the balancing act of juggling work and a large family. His advice was always on mark. He never provided answers, just stories, and let his experiences help guide mine. He saw each choice as an opportunity to do something new. He inspired me greatly, contributing so much to who I am today. And through our recently established scholarship program at UCLA in his name, I know he will continue to have an impact on others for years to come.

At Allison+Partners, we recognize the importance of mentorship and developed a program many years ago that empower our team members to find peer-to-peer relationships or even outside mentorships in areas that they are passionate in. Each is a blank piece of paper waiting to be shaped and groomed for a career that can take them anywhere. I will miss Henri, as my paper is only halfway done. Yet his guidance and positivity will continue to direct me.

Scott Pansky is a co-founder at Allison+Partners. 

FEBRUARY 27, 2019 //     

Unleash Your Inner Writer: Tips for Writing in An Agency Environment

Credit: Next Avenue

By: Riley McBride Smith

In marketing and communications, writing is arguably one of the most critical skills to master. Yet, drafting messaging, a blog post, a complex press release, a speech or a byline is often just listed as another item on our to-do list rather than being recognized as a task that requires a unique environment and significantly more time.

Early on in my career, I struggled to find the time and the mind space I knew was needed to write well in the hustle of an agency environment. However, along the way, I’ve learned some best practices that have helped set me up for success.

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Don’t Rush the Process

The communications industry is fast-moving and deadlines are pretty much always ASAP. However, while some tasks can be expedited, more time should be allotted for complex writing projects. If you’re drafting a longer piece of content in 30 – 45 minutes without the opportunity to set it down and revisit, there’s a good chance it won’t be nearly as polished, thoughtful, or well-written as a piece written over several hours. Managers can help by giving writers on their teams enough lead time to tackle complex writing projects and by also weighing the time needed to complete the assignment appropriately and reallocating work as needed.

Set Aside Dedicated and Uninterrupted Writing Time

One thing that makes writing different than other tasks is the level of focus and uninterrupted time required to write. Spending ten minutes here and 15 minutes there in between calls and answering emails will lead to disjointed work that inevitably will take longer to draft. Writers will find they are much more efficient when they’re able to draft without frequent interruptions. Finding your rhythm and focus is important and so try to set aside several hours (depending on the length and type of writing project) so you can pull together a complete first draft or a full section. In our line of work, several hours of uninterrupted time will rarely emerge in your busy day, so the onus is on you to find ways to create that interrupted writing time in your schedule. Whether that means getting into the office earlier or finding a block of time in the evening, it’s important to create the environment you need to produce your best work.

Time of Day Matters

I recently attended the Digital Summit in Washington D.C. where social scientist Daniel Pink delivered a keynote inspired by his recent book “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, which provides a fascinating look at how time of day impacts cognitive function and ability. The research overwhelmingly shows that the most productive time of day for most people is in the morning. During this time of the day, people are more focused, able to ignore distractions and generally more positive and optimistic. Unfortunately, research shows that productivity begins to decline in early afternoon during what Pink calls the “trough” of your day. During this time, your mood and focus are both at all day lows and as a result, concentration and efficiency will suffer. You begin to recover later in the day and, while you won’t reach the peak of productivity you had in the morning, your mood will improve and you will become slightly more flexible, collaborative and creative. While each individual is different, keeping this in mind as you prioritize your writing projects may help. Most importantly, try to focus on what time of day YOU feel best. There is a small subset of people that are true night owls and can produce some of their best work in the evenings. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg notoriously works past midnight!) It’s up to you to find those magic hours when the writing comes easiest.

The Secret to Great Writing is Rewriting

The more you reread, redraft and refine your writing, the better it will be. Sometimes getting the first draft down on paper is the biggest challenge. Take a mental break and revisit it with fresh eyes, spend more time wordsmithing and streamlining. You may be shocked by how much your writing can improve between the first, second draft and third drafts. Also always try to pass it along to a third party, as even the best writers can benefit from an outside perspective.  

In the agency world, there are times when you won’t have the luxury of uninterrupted time to deliver great writing, but when you do, try to create an environment that will set you up for success.

Riley McBride Smith is an account director in Allison+Partners’ Washington D.C. office.

FEBRUARY 26, 2019 //     

What Influencers Wish Marketers Knew

Credit: Allison+PartnersBy: Brent Diggins

Studies about influencer marketing are often eager to dissect every detail and produce endless data on marketers, things like marketer pain points, spends or perceived effectiveness. And there are mounds of them. 

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But what about the influencers? Marketers continue to devote more spend to them and rely on their creative ability and network to produce results in this flexible and unique marketing channel. Yet, few have sat down with influencers at broad scale to uncover their opinions, particularly in context with marketer viewpoints.

To uncover more about the marketer/influencer dynamic, Allison+Partners conducted qualitative interviews of both marketers and influencers that operate in the same arenas and asked them complementary questions. The study found there was a large divide between influencers and marketers on many topics, from the length of an ideal engagement to the essential question of return on investment.

While exploring the divide with influencers, there were topics that screamed to the top. These insights are things that influencers wished marketers knew for the sake of mutual success, improvement and continued growth of the industry.

We Can Help Optimize Your Campaign

Optimization is a standard practice for most marketing channels. Not so much in influencer marketing, according the influencers surveyed. Influencers indicated that it is rare for marketers to ask for active campaign data and even more unusual that adjustments are made midstream.

It is easy for influencers to see what type of content is performing best (or not) in both numbers and by understanding the pulse of their audience. They can help marketers understand the channel mix, where to allocate resources or even what message is resonating. This leads to better outcomes.  

Longer Engagements Produce Better Results

One topic that the influencers strongly agreed upon is that longer engagements would produce better results. They believe their followers will see brand partnerships as more authentic and will become more familiar with the brand as they see it more. They also feel that micro-relationships, like one-post campaigns, are ad-like, which can discredit both the brand and influencer.

Content Lives Longer than You Realize

Many influencers provided anecdotes of high-performing content, especially on blogs, that lived long after the influencer marketing campaign ended. Examples of continued performance include content interaction, traffic generated to a website and appearance in search results.

As an opportunity, marketers could engage with the influencer to amplify that content where it lives or extend it through paid support. At the very least, reengaging past successful partners or content should be top of mind.

We Know Our Audience Better than You Can  

Often, marketers are going blindly into relationships with influencers. Influencers said that marketers rarely work with them to understand their audience and what may resonate, everything from tone to type of content. Sure, marketers may have tools to gain audience insights or more in-depth information about influencer, but influencers believe that their innate understanding of their audience, what they like and what they don’t like, is something that can only be truly understood by them.

If given the opportunity to provide deeper audience insights, influencers believe they can add great value to marketers at multiple stages, from planning to optimization.

Be Open to Changes in Your Creative Asks

If you offer no flexibility in your creative brief or campaign, you may not get the results that you want. Since influencers believe they know their audience better than anyone, they also believe that, if given flexibility in creative, they can produce better outcomes.

Many influencers bemoaned stringent creative briefs, especially those that provide canned content and copy with no room for personalization, which leads to a lack of authenticity and ultimately performance.

You Need to Ask Us for Our Opinions

Influencers believe that marketers need to learn to work outside of accustomed transactional relationships. Many insist that marketers see them only as a contractor, not a partner, and therefore rarely ask them for their opinions.

At the same time, influencers are self-admittedly bashful about sharing their unsolicited opinions. While some of this communication gap is surely a two-way issue, marketers need to understand that influencers do have useful insights to share.

Search for Authenticity

One topic that influencers strongly believe in is “authenticity.” They believe that authenticity is one of their greatest attributes and is a strong indicator of success. However, authenticity most often emerges in comments and interactions, places that marketers don’t typically look. They also believe that marketers can spot inauthentic influencers by going deeper and looking for posts with little quality interaction.

We Have Data You Probably Want

Influencers have a mine of untapped data that marketers rarely ask for. Influencers said the most requested data points are page views, reach or engagements and little else beyond. However, influencers aren’t sharing more than is asked, as they are unsure if it would be wanted or useful.

With platform analytics continuing to advance, there is more data available to influencers than ever. In addition to platform-driven data, influencers also can provide anecdotal data including messages they may have received and benchmark context.

Moving Forward as Partners

As the industry continues to invest in influencer marketing, it is time to revisit the marketer and influencer relationship. It is time to look at influencers not only as conduits, but as partners. As marketers, we must take the step forward to bridge the gaps that exist. It is our responsibility to unleash the full potential of influencer marketing. See our infographic for tips we recommend for both marketers and influencers to help bridge the gap.

Brent Diggins is the managing director of measurement + analytics at Allison+Partners, a global marketing and communications firm. 

This article was originally posted on www.ama.org

FEBRUARY 21, 2019 //     

The Stream Episode 3: Unpacking a Viral Video’s Success

By: Owen Clark


Sometimes there is a great story behind a great story. Such is the case in the third episode of The Stream podcast, which takes us the behind-the-scenes of the “shockingly successful” “Close Before You Doze” video campaign from the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI).

If you aren’t one of the 10M+ people who have already watched the video, stop what you’re doing and check it out now. It might save your life. It will also make you think twice about how a simple message and a creative approach to storytelling can spread like…well, you get the idea. 

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Fire is just the beginning of what went into the production of this officially “viral” video sensation. There are literal hurricanes, metaphorical production headwinds and a host of opportunities where the project would have gone sideways if it wasn’t for a creative team effort from everyone involved.

To tell this story properly, we switched from the Q&A format you heard in the first two podcast episodes and pivoted to an “oral history,” where we hear first-hand from folks at UL, Luntz Global and Allison+Partners who brought the video to life. By listening to what they have to say, you’ll learn about what it takes to create a viral video and what the project’s success says about the positive potential for social information sharing.

Thanks for listening, and please remember to subscribe, rate and review on your favorite podcast platforms.

The Stream Podcast can be downloaded via Google Play MusiciTunes, Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher.

FEBRUARY 8, 2019 //     

When Your Mobile Phone Can’t Help You

Credit: Your Black WorldBy: Scott Allison 

Like many people, I’m addicted to my smartphone and all the incredible things it can do. However, as a communicator and public speaker, I’ve seen firsthand how this great technological advance has impacted peoples’ ability to communicate in person. It’s now much easier to deliver stories from behind a shiny device than to stand up in public and present your point of view. And, for those who’d rather face death than face an audience, public speaking has become a lot scarier.

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I was one of those people. I had a massive fear of public speaking and, ironically, I was just launching a career in public relations. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) pointed out how it was an unfortunate career choice when public speaking would play such a significant role. Thanks.

Instead of hiding, I decided to join Toastmasters though and tackle the problem head on. It was a great chapter that met on Tuesday mornings in downtown San Diego. This was 30 years ago and some of the people in that group are still friends of mine today. We were all just starting out in our careers and recognizing the importance that public speaking would play. I gradually overcame the fear and recognized that I enjoyed speaking. I started to do it competitively, and ultimately became president of the local Toastmasters chapter.

As my career evolved, I realized I could take the skills I had learned and help others who were uncomfortable speaking. At Allison+Partners, I’ve had the opportunity to work with colleagues to assist many CEOs, filmmakers, marketing executives and even high-school students with their presentation skills. I know we’ve made a material difference in helping them find their voice, build authenticity and over-come roadblocks. I’m proud of the impact we may have made when I see people like filmmaker Peter Ramsey, who we media trained when he directed “Rise of the Guardians,” give a compelling speech after winning a Golden Globe Award last month. 

At the end of the day, technology cannot replace or even enhance one’s ability to give a powerful in-person presentation. Sometimes you must stand and deliver, and I worry the frenzy on digital and mobile platforms is detracting from building human interaction skills. I’m grateful for the time I’ve invested on my public speaking skills and I believe what I learned was essential to advancing my career, and is also important for others. Technology is amazing, but not everything can be disrupted.  People spend a lot of time focused on their “personal brand” which is largely focused online. But how about the real brand …  the brand people see when you stand up and speak?

Many, many people are still terrified of public speaking and most are doing nothing to improve these skills. However, at some point in time, almost everyone will need to stand up and deliver a presentation to colleagues, a sales target or group they’re involved with. Their mobile won’t be there to save them.

Scott Allison is the chairman and CEO of Allison+Partners

JANUARY 24, 2019 //     

Startup Roulette: Why The House Usually Wins

Credit: Don Mason / Getty ImagesBy: Scott Allison 

There’s always great anticipation when new companies with old ideas and old companies with new ideas flock to CES. Las Vegas provides the perfect backdrop to the startup community as the place where gamblers come in droves hoping and expecting to “win big” at the casino. But there’s a reason they keep building humongous new hotels and casinos there … the house almost always wins.

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The odds aren’t much better for startup companies. The failure rate is 95%, which is about the same odds you get on a roulette table. As a fellow entrepreneur who has been fortunate to study startups closely from a three-dimensional vantage point over a 20-year period, I would not want to discourage anyone. Starting and owning your own company is an amazing experience, but a reality check is also in order.

Eighteen years ago, Allison+Partners was a tiny startup that was woefully under-capitalized. Yet we were able to make it profitable in under 12 months and have delivered an astounding 6,000% growth since then. Now, we have 30 offices and more than 450 people around the globe. During our trajectory, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the world’s best and most disruptive startups, including YouTube, Dropbox and Whatsapp, as well as many small companies that never made it. I’ve also been fortunate (or unfortunate depending on your point of view) to do some angel investing on the side.

The culmination of these experiences has given me a clear perspective on why startups are so difficult to get off the ground and why so many fail. To the brave of heart who decide to roll the dice, I offer a few nuggets of advice…   

Having more money to invest does not mean you’ll survive.

We built our company with an initial investment of $300,000. It wasn’t enough, but we made it work. We knew that as a professional services company, few outside investors would be interested and we’d have to bootstrap it on our own. But we had a clear business plan in place and were very cautious with how we invested and spent.

Entrepreneurs are optimistic by nature and always believe they could be successful if they could only raise one more round. Unfortunately, many startups raise tons of money and then waste it. I won’t ever forget working with a startup in 2000 that raised and blew $750 million. The challenge wasn’t that they didn’t have enough money. It was that they couldn’t clearly articulate what their company stood for and were constantly changing their business model. Put simply, they did not know who they were. If you’re not clear on your objectives and your business strategy is wrong, more money won’t solve the problem. 

Know who you’re selling to and if there’s a viable market. 

Seems easy, right? Wrong. I’m always amazed at how many startups haven’t done their homework and don’t understand the marketplace. Many also don’t focus on sales or fall victim to “fascination with shiny objects” – constantly changing their product or service.  

When we launched our company, the founding partners had all been in the business for 15+ years. We knew the market and how our services would resonate in the marketplace. This deep understanding, combined with our focus on investing in our core offerings, laid the foundation for our success today.

Profits matter.  

We’re all familiar with Uber and know the company isn’t yet profitable. Think you can survive the same way? Sorry, you’re not Uber. Very few companies are. You need to make money. 

The startup graveyard is littered with companies that had great ideas but couldn’t turn a profit. This theory was proven many times in the dot.com era and still persists today. Turning a great idea into a great company is not easy, which is why I’ve always admired successful entrepreneurs like Dropbox co-founder Drew Houston and WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum. They had great ideas, focused on building robust and sustainable companies and surrounded themselves with good, smart people to help bring their visions to life. They had passion, but also knew there is seldom a substitute for being profitable through both good and bad times.  

Scott Allison is the chairman and CEO of Allison+Partners.

JANUARY 9, 2019 //     

Effective media relations strategies amid the changing media landscape

By: Alexa Hershy and Ian MacDonald

In the public relations industry, media relationships are important to secure earned media stories that add business value for clients. We consistently take out editors, pitch our clients and build important, lasting relationships. But beyond standard relationship-building practices, how do we elevate our company and relationships in unique ways as editorial staffs continue to shrink and face-to-face time increasingly diminishes?

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As the landscape continues to shift rapidly – print editions closing, frequent editor moves, etc. – it’s critical to hear directly from the source on a regular basis to learn how we can most effectively work with our key media contacts.

Cue the launch of Allison+Partners’ Media Maven Panel, an initiative developed in fall 2018 with Allison+Partners’ unique entrepreneurial spirit in mind to offer employees at all levels direct access to coveted media we frequently work with. The first panel’s theme, “Media 101,” presented an incredible opportunity to hear from three top-tier editors about how PR professionals can shine with a strong aptitude of media relations basics.

We hosted the below editors in our NYC office for an engaging discussion:

  • Amy Marturana, SELF senior fitness editor
  • Kerry Flynn, Digiday marketing reporter
  • Mike Murphy, Quartz deputy technology editor

We purposefully recruited editors from three different verticals (lifestyle, marketing, tech) to get a well-rounded perspective on best practices. We covered all things media – from a day-in-the-life, to the stories they’re most passionate about and the qualities they most respect in their favorite PR practitioners.

The Media Maven panel success is two-fold – we learn directly from editors excited to share best practices that, in turn, make our working relationship much stronger. And it’s a fantastic relationship-building opportunity, unique to our company. Hosting editors in our office gives them a special inside look at the Allison+Partners culture – another incredibly special differentiator to our agency and an energy and enthusiasm felt immediately upon entering one of our offices. 

Stemming from the panel, we walked away with three key learnings that can help any PR professional break through the pitching clutter:

Do your research – While this might seem obvious, not everyone does it (especially when on a tight deadline). Know the publication you pitch, what it covers/what it doesn’t and how your client most strategically fits in. Editors appreciate when you pitch them specific sections that prove you’ve done your research and know the publication or call out an article you’ve recently read and liked. Also, if an editor has just covered a topic, don’t pitch them on the same story. Doing your research also means knowing the editors’ beat and if they report for the print or online version – this of course informs their reporting timeframe and deadlines.

When to pitch, when not to and how-to follow-up appropriately –  Editors receive an influx of pitches between the 9-10 a.m. hour. When possible, try to pitch outside this timeframe so your note doesn’t get lost. Also – avoid addressing multiple editors in one email. This often creates a bystander effect, and no one ends up responding. It’s more impactful to address the one editor that’s the best fit. When not to pitch? Right before a holiday (stories are typically already baked, they’re not starting anything new), before a life event (i.e. if an editor is getting married) and avoid the weekends. Regarding follow-up, all editors said: “Do not call!” According to the editors, the only appropriate time to call is when you’re offering a publication an exclusive with a tight deadline. Otherwise, follow-up via email with a maximum of two emails. Pro-tip – when following up, consider reframing the angle of your initial pitch to appeal to the editor in a fresh way.

Relationship building is critical, so invest in it – Again, something that might seem obvious, but it needs to continue to be a top priority for PR practitioners. Relationship building is important beyond securing placements for clients. It makes the editor more comfortable to share candid feedback (which our clients always appreciate!). Some editors might avoid transparency when it comes to candid feedback if they don’t know you. When setting up meetings, ask what’s most convenient for that specific editor – everyone’s schedule and preference is different. Some might only have time for a morning coffee where others are more open to lunch or after work drinks/activities. Not in the same market as a key editor? No worries. Nowadays, editors are often open to building relationships via social media or email. Comment on an Instagram you thought was interesting or flag a story you loved over email. If you notice an editor is visiting in your market, reach out to make plans. Editors will appreciate the effort.

In 2019, we look forward to hosting additional Media Maven panels across the network in different offices and markets – ensuring we’re always up-to-date on our media relations knowledge and putting forward the most thoughtful, and impactful media strategies. Because, ultimately, it’s about the work.

Alexa Hershy and Ian MacDonald are account directors in Allison+Partners’ NYC office, specializing in media relations across the consumer and technology industries.

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