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We See Things

Our latest opinions::

JANUARY 30, 2017 //     

How to Bring Millennial Moms Back to the Mall

Millennial moms are an important demographic for the future of shopping malls, as they drive daily purchasing decisions for their families. However, over the past five years, countless media stories have chronicled the increasing obsolescence of malls around the world as they fall prey to the growth of online shopping.READ MORE
Characterized by their high mobile and Internet use, a love for online shopping and a penchant for consuming and sharing content on their social networks, millennial moms prefer the ease of doing household errands and shopping for necessities via mobile device. This evolution in shopping has significantly eroded the importance of brick and mortar malls in their lives.

For retail brands to stay relevant to this influential generation of shoppers, they must overhaul the brick and mortar shopping experience, using strategies that keep consumers engaged and coming back for more.

Prioritize convenience, family-friendly amenities and perks

Whether a “kids eat free” day, priority parking, playgrounds or spacious family lounges, millennial moms appreciate establishments that cater to their family's diverse needs while out and about. They also value convenience, which make investing in things like WiFi or a mobile-friendly website that allows shoppers to browse the store directory, before they arrive, critical considerations.

Curate the right tenant mix and promotions

Millennial moms set the tone for well being in their families, and are very willing to spend on health and beauty services, organic products and on early childhood education and enrichment classes. Malls should keep this in mind, and make it a priority when planning the tenant mix. When devising promotional strategies, offerings that appeal to the rest of the family (i.e., kids, dads and grandparents) should be bundled together so that the mall becomes an anticipated destination for all.

Create interactive, meaningful experiences

Millennial moms seek quality-bonding time with their families. From entertaining Sesame Street shows to educational science adventures, moms want fun and interesting ways to spend time with their kids. Being both progressive and traditional at the same time, millennial moms have a strong desire to connect their children to their own history, so malls should consider bringing back popular games that invoke parents' warm and familiar childhood memories.

Develop shareable content

These moms consume and share everything -- from articles with parenting tips and highlights of fun hang out venues, to photos and videos of their children. They seek solutions and parenting advice from websites, blogs and forums. Malls should consider partnering with parenting influencers to develop entertaining, informative and shareable content, such as videos or listicles that their mommy audiences can share with like-minded communities. Also, sponsoring contests on Facebook or Instagram would give these moms a way to share their happy family moments, promote the mall experience to their friends and strengthen their relationship with the local brick and mortar shopping venue.

Serina Tan is the general manager of Allison+Partners' Singapore office.
JANUARY 19, 2017 //     

Selling Bling in China: The New Rules


Advertising executive Bryce Whitwam wrote in his Jing Daily op-ed that the future of luxury advertising in China is about “tight targeting.” He's right, of course, and for more reasons than he realizes. There are many inefficiencies in advertising to 25 million people in order to reach an addressable market of 20,000. The luxury industry in China is weathering a political backlash against ostentation that has sent sales plunging. This makes the job of the purveyor of baubles not only challenging, but downright dangerous. One misstep in such a sensitized environment could lead to repercussions that effectively destroy the China market for a luxury product brand.READ MORE
In this context, luxury brands must not only take a targeted approach to marketing in China, but the efforts must also be:

Integrated. Anyone who thinks marketing luxury goods is about advertising has been asleep for a decade. In some cases, advertising is the last thing a company wants to do, as it would be horribly inadequate to earn the custom of China's well-heeled buyers. Today's luxury customer wants to see your website, engage with you through social media, touch the product if they can and to hear what people they trust say about your brand.

Smart. So much of the luxury marketing dollar in China seems to be aimed at tuhao, the newly rich hayseeds who have far more money than sophistication. The result has been a spiral of unsophisticated marketing. The approach today has to appeal to the growing number of luxury customers who are discerning, intelligent and experienced.

Relevant to the point of personal. Brands need to speak to potential buyers at a level that strikes a chord with them as an individual. This means knowing how many of those consumers exist (to Bryce's point) and how they think and feel. Segmenting is a good start, but the goal is to break consumers down into a “Segment of One.” This means you know how to build toward the sale and understand the appropriate moment to extend them the right offer.

While data tools are helping marketers move in this direction, they are only part of the answer. What luxury marketers need to develop is the keen instinct of a salesperson who knows when, how and why to reach out to a potential buyer. Indeed, good luxury marketing in China is going to become indistinguishable from inside sales. Eventually, there will only be two kinds of marketers in the luxury business: those who actually interact with the customer and squire the relationship on behalf of the brand, and those creating the tools and information to make that interaction more effective.

David Wolf is a partner and managing director in Allison+Partners' Global China Practice.
JANUARY 17, 2017 //     

Welcome to the Post-Truth Era

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.”-George OrwellREAD MORE
As President Obama said in his farewell address on January 10, “The selective sorting of facts is not just dishonest; it's self-defeating.” That statement, by and large, for those in the Washington bubble, Wall Street and Main Street alike, used to be the general rule of thumb when conducting oneself. You were entitled to your opinion and spin, but not your own set of facts. If you were following the trends in marketing and business up until recently, you would have likely come to the conclusion that the desire of most consumers, stakeholders and employees was greater transparency, greater understanding of a mission, a demonstration of values and a purpose beyond the products and services you sell. Confronting the truth of our globalized world of which we're active participants, it stood to reason, invited greater admiration and brand love.

Starbucks. Chipotle. REI. Microsoft. Companies and business leaders gained credit for boldly addressing an inconvenient truth within our culture and the world at large and committing oneself to it. Results followed. Good will translated to spikes in revenue and sales, stock prices and recruitment. But a lot of that seems different now.

Of the many lessons and handwringing that occurred in aftermath of the U.S. presidential election, one has jarred our mind and shaken the communications world to its core. As message specialists, marketers and CEOs look forward to the months and years ahead what the rise of Donald Trump has revealed in crystalline detail is the ghastly reality that audiences want affirmation, not information. Today, what's true is what people want to think. This is a trend with no end in sight.

“Faith is the surrender of the mind; it's the surrender of reason, it's the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It's our need to believe and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.”- Christopher Hitchens

The rise of and casual acceptance of fake news (married with the outright hostility to more prestigious and traditional outlets). The mistrust of science (health and nutrition: wine is good, no bad; chocolate is good; wait, bad; vaccinations, GMOs, climate). But perhaps most importantly, the myopic tunnel effect of social media feeds where nary a counter argument to a recommended or followed storyline is revealed, creating an echo chamber of one-sidedness that, while validating the mighty algorithm's ability to consistently present relevant content to users, shuts down empathy and disavows nuance and context. In fact, social media and the control readers have in discovering the digital content they require has had the most breathtaking impact on this “selective sorting of facts,” where you never have to confront the truth if you don't have to.

This schism had been building for years, yet for most pundits and leaders there was always a delusional sense that the firewall would be our political institutions. That firewall came crashing down on November 8, 2016 with the election of a celebrity who majestically played the media like a fiddle. Contradictions and bold-faced lies are no match for a bully pulpit who understands the media and the American audience better than editors and producers. Fight, never surrender, never admit defeat or show remorse, then fight again.

We have already seen how profound the consequences of this newfound truth crisis have had on business. In a Trumpwitter era, companies must now embrace new rules of the road, and the ride will be bumpy and ever-changing, with the real potential that you will twist toward a screeching crash. The surge in know-nothing boldness, where past is no longer prologue and standards, ethics and decorum are not seen as virtues but weaknesses that imperil your ability to win. Where higher ground is less important than an upper-hand.

In short order, we have seen pillars of the business community being forced to dodge and weave simply by President-Elect Trump issuing a single tweet. Whether Mr. Trump is taking a swing or supporting the company, the ramifications are immediate and profound (stock fluctuation, boycotts, employee protests). Here are just a few examples:

Macy's Inc.

“Good news, disloyal @Macys stock is in a total free fall. Don't shop there for Christmas!”-Trump tweeted on Dec. 4, 2015.

Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co.

“Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!”-Trump tweeted on Dec. 22, 2016.
“Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”-Trump tweeted on Dec. 6, 2016.

General Motors Co.

“General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to U.S. car dealers-tax free across border. Make in U.S.A. or pay big border tax!”-Trump tweeted on Jan. 3, 2017.

L. Bean

“Thank you to Linda Bean of L.L.Bean for your great support and courage. People will support you even more now. Buy L.L.Bean @LBPerfectMaine”- Trump tweeted on January 12, 2017

So what do we now? Well, for one, you need to be quick or be left for dead by the Twitterverse. Now is not the era for corporations to sit back and wait for the truth to come out. No one is coming to the rescue. Go and shape it.

Don't get drunk on Trump's brand of post-truth liquor. Unlike elected leaders, corporate heads are answerable to board members, stock holders, investors and customers; the fallout can be immediate. For the most part, Mr. Trump can be held accountable in the midterms of 2018. In today's digital age of communication and commerce, companies are accountable by the minute.

With President-Elect Trump set to take office on January 20th, the curtain is about to rise on the new communication landscape for organizations, media institutions and influencers. We will be closely working with our colleagues and clients on how best to navigate this new reality and will be keeping our eyes on the new pulpit of the digital age, 140 characters in length and with little room for truth or substance.

This is the first of an ongoing series that examines complex and consequential cultural moments from various perspectives within Allison+Partners' walls. Kevin Nabipour is the head of Content Strategies for Allison+Partners. David Baum is a vice president in Allison+Partners' Corporate practice who has worked on political campaigns in the United States and United Kingdom. 
JANUARY 10, 2017 //     

CSR in China: Strategies for Success

While CSR in China has evolved significantly over the past 10 years, it has still been slow in adoption. One reason is that many young businesses are focused primarily on increasing revenue and profitability. Rather than embrace CSR as an integral part of a successful growth strategy, they view it as an option for, and the responsibility of, established corporations. Another is that many companies equate CSR with simply giving to charity and, as a result, support multiple trendy causes. This approach is unrewarding for both employees and nonprofit/ NGO partners. It also makes CSR feel superfluous to the core business, which usually results in abandoning the program.READ MORE
Chinese companies would do well to follow the examples set by PepsiCo, Nike, P&G and L'Oréal, whose programs are successful precisely because they follow a set of time-tested strategies that bring value to their brands and the communities they serve.

Make CSR your business.

It's the social responsibility of every company to serve its employees and customers by providing competitive compensation, safe and friendly work environments, and delivering high quality products and services. From this perspective, CSR should be considered the business of every business in China.

Connect with your core competency.

Successful CSR programs make the connection between what the community needs and its core business. For example, PepsiCo supports farmers in Inner Mongolia by helping them plant potatoes. This program lifts farmers out of poverty, while ensuring the company receives a supply of high-quality potatoes to produce its chip products. Nike worked with the Chinese Ministry of Education to develop a physical education curriculum urgently needed by primary and secondary schools, while further promoting fitness among Chinese children.

Stay focused for the long-term.

It's essential that CSR programs be focused and engage partners for the long-term. This fosters maximum impact and ensures the relationship becomes an asset to the brand. The most effective programs adopt an overarching theme with corresponding goals that can be tailored to different markets and partners. This approach provides a consistent focus while keeping the program fresh. For example, P&G's global theme for its CSR program is to help children “Live, Learn and Thrive.” Under this umbrella, it localized a strategy in China to fund Hope Primary Schools; a government-led school system that ensures poor children receive compulsory education. After 20 years of partnership with Hope, P&G has become its largest donor, made a significant impact in the lives of countless children and has earned a strong and positive reputation among Chinese consumers.

Engage employees and business chain partners.

CSR programs have much greater impact if they leverage the efforts of employees and business chain partners. For example, P&G invites its employees, distributors and partners to participate in Hope School projects. BP is also a good example of having an effective mechanism for engagement. The company created the Employee Matching Fund to encourage volunteerism. It extends the impact of the program by calculating the monetary value of employee volunteer time and then donates those funds to its nonprofit/NGO partners.

Integrate, integrate, integrate.

As CSR is still a young concept in China, many companies have yet to integrate their marketing and CSR initiatives. However, appropriate alignment can multiply impact, promote sales and build brand loyalty. L'Oréal's “Be an Employee for a Day” program provides financial support to low-income students through a series of product charity sales held on campuses around the country. The company recruits socially minded university students to become volunteer salespeople at these events, providing them with product training and introducing them to the company culture. As a result, many of these students join L'Oréal after they graduate. Since 2003, this program has contributed millions of yuan to fulfill the needs of China's poorest students, built a positive image among existing and potential consumers, and expanded its employee recruitment efforts.

Jerry Zhu is a partner and managing director in Allison+Partners' Global China Practice.
DECEMBER 20, 2016 //     

The Chinese Home: Disrupted, Smarter and a New Global Model for Living?


Global marketers are obsessed with getting their brands into Chinese households, as no other country offers so much potential for growth. However, before western marketers attempt to gain market share, they should first step back and ensure they truly understand the evolution taking place inside Chinese homes and its implications for world markets.READ MORE
Disrupted Homes

No other country has experienced such profound change in both the lived experience and concept of 'home' as modern China. For much of the 20th Century, the seismic forces of war, collectivization, mass political movements and internal migration during an economic boom, displaced vast numbers of people and disrupted families. More than 20 years ago, no citizen of The PRC owned their own home. However, today, China has one of highest home ownership rates in the world.

After generations of disruption the Chinese are settling into their homes and learning to organize and decorate them. They are hungry for information that will support these middle class ambitions. However, this new generation of homeowners can't seek decorating tips from their parents, as they have little experience with these matters. In their objective to become homemakers and hosts, they respond to brands and resources that provide this kind of advice.

Smart Homes

As the Chinese build, buy and nest in their new homes, they also want them to be smarter. Smart home technologies, like e-commerce, mobile payments and wearable tech, are playing an important role in advancing markets in China. Chinese consumers embrace smart home technology to a greater extent than their global counterparts. In fact, an international survey conducted by GfK found that more than 75 percent of people interviewed in China said that smart home technology would impact their lives in the next few years, compared to the global average of just over 50 percent.

Chinese consumers' knowledge and appetite for smart home technology gives its domestic retailers and suppliers a strong start in the global competition for these products. The country has a tremendous ecosystem of innovation to respond to consumers' needs and aspirations. Internet giants Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are partnering with the country's impressive array of consumer electronics firms – Huawei, Hisense, Hai'er, Xiaomi, Midea and others, to create smart home solutions.

The government could also push the smart home boom. Over the last 20 years, the internet, mobile phone, and digital television networks that enable smart homes were part of government plans to establish universal connectivity. Connecting all homes and enabling technologies to control energy consumption and emergency response systems, could well become part of the Communist Party's vision for building a stable, well-off society.

A New Global Model for Living?

The China market could develop a new model for 21st century living based on an urban experience and a critical need for sustainability. It's predicted that by 2050 approximately 64 percent of the developing world and 86 percent of the developed world will be urbanized. That is equivalent to three billion urbanites, living mostly in Africa and Asia, markets where Chinese brands are building leadership positions.

Consumer demand, smart home innovation and sustainable development initiatives, are further bolstered by China's economic and trade policies destined to push a new model for the home globally. Under the 'One Belt, One Road' strategy, Chinese firms are building apartment blocks and infrastructure across Asia, Africa and Latin America. President Xi Jinping's much-touted 'China Dream' is beginning to take form, and it looks a lot like an affordable, smart, sustainable urban home for everyone, built by Chinese companies.

Advice for American Marketers

First, change your mindset. Many marketers assume that global consumers will follow American consumer behavior when they attain a certain level of buying power. This was a simplistic, but relatively useful, view ten years ago. Today, we must acknowledge that what's happening within the Chinese home is complex and evolving. While consumer research about buying and the user experience of refrigerators is necessary, if you lack an understanding of what consumers are doing or want to be doing in the rest of the house, your engagement with them will be short-lived.

Second, when communicating to Chinese consumers, remember that 'home-making' is still a new experience. Brands that appeal to newlyweds or single professionals to help them decorate, organize and clean their homes, will find audiences hungry for support and eager to show off their accomplishments via social media. More established homeowners are looking for solutions related to entertaining and living more comfortably.

Third, American style furnishings and décor are noticeably under represented in the conversation about the home in China. Brands like IKEA and MUJI are leading the way for other more premium northern European and Japanese brands. If American brands want to win in China, they must first define American style for Chinese consumers and then build a demand for it.

Finally, get ready for intense competition. Now that Chinese white goods have saturated the global market, solutions for smart homes will follow. To go head-to-head with competitors, marketers must understand how Chinese brands built domestic and global demand and how they are now targeting the world's new middle class in developing countries.

Bill Adams is an executive vice president in Allison+Partners' Global China Practice and market leader in Shanghai.
DECEMBER 2, 2016 //     

Airbnb Open Celebrates the Future in Travel


They came, I saw, and in a very unbiased (and slightly annoyed way), they conquered. By “they” I mean Airbnb.READ MORE
I recently attended the third annual Airbnb Open, an event that brings 7,000 hosts from 101 countries together to find ways of “improving hospitality together.” I also heard from celebrities, entrepreneurs and other influential people paid to attend.

For the event, Airbnb took over downtown Los Angeles in a powerful, impressive and money flaunting, step and repeat kind of way -- and I liked it. It reminded me that in order to stand out in an ever-crowded media market, brands that go big, never lose, and this was no exception.

Beyond the celebs, impressive stage, oversized and glowing branding and boast-worthy gift bags, the purpose of the conference was to let consumers know loud and clear that Airbnb wants them to do more than just rent a room. Rather, through their new “Trips” feature, they want you to buy the experience.

As a long time hospitality PR veteran and staunch believer in hotels, I would like to say that the conference was a grotesque display of wealth and power. But, in fact, it wasn't. It was a true and sure-to-be award-winning example of PR done right. I'd like believe that the idea for the conference came out of a brainstorm with their PR agency about how to launch an “experience” in a crowded space, and that some talented PR veep said that the only way to launch an “experience” platform, is to create an “experience” that no other brand can replicate. Thus, the Airbnb OpenLA was born.

In addition to making their big announcement about “Trips,” what I proceeded to see over two days was a superb example of brand-making moments and thought leadership done mostly right. I had the pleasure of listening to producer Brian Grazer talk about importance of remaining curious, Blake Mycoskie from Tom's telling the story of how he started the cult classic shoe company out of his apartment, Frank Gehry and Kelly Wearstler waxing poetic on design, and many more. All the while, there was very little to no real push for Airbnb.

The lack of overt brand pushing got me thinking that great brands play supporting, not central, roles. And while celebs and entrepreneurs gathered on the stages of some of LA's most famous venues, it was not to talk about Airbnb, but to talk about creativity, curiosity, innovation, charitable giving, localization and dare I say it, “experiences.” Branding for Airbnb was not over the top, but it was there if you wanted to unpack it (pun definitely intended).

Another takeaway was that celebrities, when used sparingly, and not a Kardashian, create a WOW factor worth remembering. While it was the Gehry's, Mycoskie's and Wearstler's of the conference that gave thought-provoking and inspiring speeches, the celebs posing on red carpets, and keynote speaker Gwyneth Paltrow bragging that she once thought that Airbnb offered rooms for rent with air mattresses on the floor, are the stories and pictures that made the gossip rags. #WINNING for Aibnb who used celebrity right to get the brand into a new consideration set of celebutante fanatics and future Airbnb consumers. #DOUBLEWINNING for also scoring a piece in Forbes that called the conference a successful step towards becoming a “lifestyle brand” while highlighting the launch of “Trips” (which, while packaged nicely and tied up with an expensive bow, is not an entirely new concept).

On the final night of the Airbnb Open, and in mic drop fashion, Lady Gaga herself showed up for a surprise acoustic performance. As she sang her hit “Millions,” I found myself thinking not only about what an incredibly talented performer she was, but also the millions of dollars spent on this “conference.” I can smell a Gold Anvil Award a mile away.

Emily Wilson is an executive vice president at Allison+Partners, and a seasoned communications professional with 15 years of experience who has served as a marketing and media liaison for clients especially in the travel industry.
NOVEMBER 7, 2016 //     

By the Numbers, Chicago


108. That's the number of seams on every baseball manufactured. I'll say that again: THE NUMBER OF SEAMS ON EVERY BASEBALL. Could this get any more storybook? And the number of stories – genuinely interesting stories – is staggering. Ross', Bryant's, Rizzo's, Schwarber's, Russell's, Ross', Schwarber's, Russel's, Fowler's, Zobrist's, Baez' – might as well name everyone on the team. What a World Series, Chicago!READ MORE
I spent game seven of the World Series in an Irish pub down the street from Allison+Partners' San Francisco office, mesmerized for hours. From the lead-off homer by Dexter Fowler to David Ross' blast into the stands in his final career game, to the Hand of God unzipping the heavens with a game-resetting rain, to that final, beautiful throw from Bryant to Rizzo. Many have said, and I will add my name to the list: that was the single greatest game of baseball I have ever seen. Single. Greatest. Ever.

I sat in San Fran's airport on Friday writing this, realizing that I left a city on Wednesday morning that I would never return to. It doesn't exist anymore. This wasn't closing a chapter, a chance to exhale or to turn a page. This is a new book. A stunning, magical, feel-good, “we're all in this together” new book we are all beginning to write, starting with 5 million people showing up for a parade.

At Allison+Partners, we like to say that We See Things Differently. The Ricketts, Epstein and Maddon saw things differently this year, and it certainly has paid off. In this new book, I predict Chicago will fully embrace that notion - that sometimes, you just need a new and different perspective.

So now I'm back in Chicago, what story am I going to tell? Hey, City that Works, I at least know the title: “The City that Wins.”

At the parade and rally on Friday, Cubs' owner Tom Ricketts gave the crowd the following quiz:

Q: How many years has it been since the Chicago Cubs won a World Series?


Go Cubs, Go. GO, CUBS, GO! Congratulations, Cubs, and congratulations Chicago!

Shane Winn is general manager of Allison+Partners Chicago office.
NOVEMBER 7, 2016 //     

The End is Nigh: How will you be watching Election Night?

How long, O Lord, how long? Where will it end? -- Hunter S. Thompson (Doctor of Journalism)

election-blogREAD MORE

Clinton up 5...Trump up 3…Safe state now a toss-up... battlegrounds… firewalls...

You can't go an hour without a new headline flashing the confines of what has become the most headshaking of Presidential races. New media, old media, online and social media are all culprits in this maelstrom of nattering and prognostication. To be fair, why shouldn't they? After all, it has been a surefire ratings and web traffic bonanza.

What can we take away from the endless data and opinion streams overwhelming our senses? Not much. Because as Christopher Hitchens once wrote, “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” Or as another political critic, Bill Shakespeare, once put it, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Mercifully, this election cycle will soon come to a close when actual votes are reported and information isn't gathered simply by polls.

On election night what should be our primary source of 'truth'?

Every four years, our viewing choices continue to expand across the television dial and the vast confines of the internet. It wasn't that long ago before the internet was switched on that cable news was the frontier for election night coverage. Election nights without the internet are as ancient as radio broadcasts for newly-eligible voters in 2016.

Election Night 2016 will arguably offer the widest range of viewing choices in our nation's history, a mashup of new and old media, opinion sites and journalists, all piled on top of digital platforms. CBS, NBC, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC… Sure the traditional players will be there in their Sunday best. But just look at some of the buffet of options now at our fingertips:

Buzzfeed livestreaming coverage on Twitter
ABC partnering with Facebook
MTV using its digital and social screens for live broadcasts
Mediaite and LawNewz
Start-up app VoteCastr partnering with Slate for real-time results
Politico livestream
YouTube livestream
Stephen Colbert live on Showtime
NPR teaming up with PBS to broadcast across all digital channels

Are you not entertained? Are you emotionally dead from the information overload?

So how to choose? I for one will be doing a tasting of all the options throughout the evening. Liberal rantings and ravings...Huff Post, I am ready. Conservative screams and shouts? Fox News, I am all ears. Stuck at an airport without internet? CNN, good to see you. Snarky nihilistic comedy? The Onion running an election special on Fusion has you covered. Is Fusion a channel? I guess so.

By night's end, we will all be experts on exit poll results in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, unless you are playing a drinking contest with the phrase “game change,” in which case you will be on the floor before the polls even close. The only certainty is that America will wake up the next morning with a slight hangover and the name of its next President Elect written on a crumpled cocktail napkin in its back pocket.

So have your smartphone fully-charged, Wi-Fi running at full steam, surround yourself with family and friends and prepare for hours of live broadcast filled with “sound and fury signifying nothing,” until the results are actually called.

David Baum is a vice president in Allison+Partners' Corporate practice who has worked on political campaigns in the United States and United Kingdom.
OCTOBER 3, 2016 //     

We See Things Differently


Let's talk about inspiration. It may just be the buzziest of all buzzwords in an industry where success is defined by how well we channel our inspirations into creativity. In recent years, we've tried to write a formula for inspiration. Boxing and bottling it as a tested hypothesis, where following the specified formula always yields success.READ MORE
I firmly believe inspiration should never be forced. Once we try to put it in a box, we lose the very part of what makes inspiration unique - its unbiased energy… its flash of brilliance. We need to stop treating it as something that can happen on command, like an actor who can cry one minute and laugh the next. We need to redefine it and what it means to the creative process. So, let's give inspiration and all its glorious subjectivity back to our people. Let's do better, more inspiring work.

The biggest thing I've learned when it comes to channeling my inspirations is to approach it with an open mind. I've found that my best ideas tend to be inspired by my every day normal. For me, inspiration lies waiting in tasks like blow drying my hair in the morning or picking my children up from school, and relishing in the offhand remarks they make to each other.

The personal nature of inspiration is the first thing any agency, manager or teammate should remember. An inspired idea looks different on everyone. It's triggered by the laugh shared between passersby at the deli counter, the sound of the first leaves of fall crunching under your feet or the opening notes of Mozart's Symphony No. 41.

Secondly, creative energy needs adequate time to blossom. We can't just sit down and immediately pull any inspired idea out of the depths of our psyche -- nor should we feel we have to. The purest creative idea will form as a result of opening ourselves up to the world around us and seeing things differently. We may not know inspiration when we first see it, but this is where the magic of the mind comes into play. Our brains play secretary to experiences, images, sounds and sights, dusting them off and delivering them to us when we most need inspiration. In order to fill the file cabinet of inspiration, you must open your mind and make time for those experiences to incubate.

These steps are essential to the creative process. We must allow everyone the flexibility to find inspiration in a way that works for them, then tap the collective inspiration for that one jaw-dropping idea. I'm sure we can all think of a time we forced group ideation and forgot that necessary, intrinsic first step. Emphasize the intangible and the tangible will follow.

The best ideas are often built together, pulled from a collection of individual experiences and inspirations. When we work together as one global community, we access an archive so vast that the possible permutations are virtually immeasurable. At Allison+Partners, we don't just see things differently. We see them brand new.

Lisa Rosenberg is the chief creative officer of Allison+Partners and a partner in the firm.
SEPTEMBER 28, 2016 //     

Sports Sesh – The good, bad and ugly in the intersection of sports and PR

tim-tebowWilfredo Lee, AP

Each month, Sports Sesh explores the intersection of sports and PR in current events, while highlighting the good, bad and ugly. This month: FootballREAD MORE
The Good: University of Colorado Depth Chart

The University of Colorado football program has spent the greater part of the last decade in the college football cellar. This year has brought optimism to Boulder, Colo. after a 2-0 start but, despite elevated expectations, the Buffaloes fell to the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines at 'The Big House', 45-28, on Saturday, Sept. 17.

Even with the loss, the Buffaloes are the real winners after dominating PR attacks and trolling battles during game week. Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh is notorious for not releasing his team's depth chart, so Colorado Head Coach Mike MacIntyre played the mind game and refused to provide his opponent with theirs. CU's Sports Information Director David Plati had other plans. Plati deployed PR brilliance by developing a fictional depth chart riddled with movie and television character references and entertaining fake names. Once it was shared on Twitter, the media blitz began. A quick Google search will show the breadth of the coverage, but it's fair to say that nearly every major publication in the country was talking about it. Well played, CU!

The Bad: Tim Tebow and the New York Mets

Tim Tebow, the former University of Florida and NFL quarterback, is dominating the sporting news headlines, but not for anything related to football. In early August, it was reported that Tebow was working out in Scottsdale, Ariz., in preparation for a pro baseball tryout. Huh? One thing Tebow and his camp have always excelled at is publicity and the foray into baseball is a prime example of that success. On Aug. 30, the former Heisman Trophy winner and two-time BCS national champion worked out for Major League Baseball scouts and there was an estimated 50-member media contingent on hand. Grades of Tebow's performance varied, which isn't surprising considering he hasn't played since high school. The fact that the New York Mets eventually signed Tebow to a minor league deal accompanied with a $100,000 signing bonus is what's most upsetting.

Sept. 19 marks the first day of Tebow's baseball career, as he reports to the Mets' instructional league team in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Also widely-reported is the sale of Tebow's trademark number 15 jersey thanks to some contractual loopholes. Of course, the signing and jersey promotion level back up to the business side of professional sports, but there are thousands of players around the world who have better baseball skills than Tebow. This PR move by the Mets is a slap in the face to current minor league players and those who will never get the same opportunity Tebow is afforded. The integrity of the game is being jeopardized in the Mets' quest to capture headlines, and to sell both tickets and jerseys. While they are owning today's sports headlines, it's not for the right reasons.

The Ugly: Football Fan Brawls

Sports have a tendency to bring out the best in people, but also the worst. Football is an aggressive sport, but that doesn't mean it should be in the stands. After all, spectators have absolutely no impact on the final result of the game, so the fact that fans at recent college and NFL games have been brawling inside stadiums and at tailgate plots is unsettling. This isn't a new issue, but it's a consistent PR problem. Fans are the foundation of university programs and professional football organizations. Passion for teams is generational, but there may come a point where parents stop bringing their kids to stadiums due in large part to the violence. Yes, people will lose their cool, and have been since the beginning of time, but as the YouTube videos mount, the proactive team responses trail behind.

Josh Reed is a senior account executive in Allison+Partners' Phoenix office who has worked with numerous sports-focused clients during his time with the agency.
SEPTEMBER 22, 2016 //     

Integrated Thinking is Key to Leveraging Accelerated Content Development Cycles

The most significant trend we see today fueling growth in integrated marketing is the accelerated content development cycle. Gone are the days of 12-month creative planning and advertising initiatives. The ever-increasing number of channels provides us with more opportunities to reach audiences with integrated content. As a result, CMOs and CCOs working with traditional digital and creative shops are in a difficult position. Structured to conceive and execute programs over longer periods (e.g., think Super Bowl ads and annual brand campaigns), many creative agencies struggle to execute short-cycle, integrated campaigns.READ MORE
In this new environment, the ability to develop opportunistic content, delivered over weeks or months, is what counts. We launched All Told to do just that. All Told combines our research, content, creative, digital and measurement expertise into one offering to deliver integrated storytelling for clients across the globe. Our centralized approach enables Allison+Partners to deliver in a way that other creative agencies can't because we work on shorter cycles that feed content through social, experiential, owned channels, earned and paid media. For example, the #OutsideSchoolWalls campaign for Connections Academy to raise awareness of K-12 virtual school options went from concept to launch in three weeks. A fully integrated content hub was designed to move audiences from awareness to interest and from engagement to active prospect. Content was distributed across paid, shared, owned and earned channels that included Facebook and YouTube ads, shared social on Twitter and Instagram, videos and testimonials on the Connections Academy website and blog, in addition to earned media coverage in regional outlets.

Central to our success is our process. Rather than build programs around a single creative element, we put the story at the center of our work, tailor the messages for different audiences, and then identify integrated opportunities across all channels. As another way to get the message out, we also think strategically about how to amplify what influencers are doing on their social channels, and find ways to integrate product placement or activations, among other approaches.

To create an environment where integrated ideation is the norm, we've brought in talent with experience across the marketing spectrum. Our team includes advertisers, publishers, in-house brand marketers, designers, digital strategists, research and analytics experts, whose perspectives create a holistic approach to brand storytelling and content campaign development. We've also added several new video production specialists, animators, illustrators and producers in the U.S. and Asia, which enables us to meet accelerated development timelines and incorporate local market input and aesthetics into every campaign we develop.

Cathy Planchard is President, All Told + General Manager, Phoenix
SEPTEMBER 16, 2016 //     

Do the Math - a disciplined approach to PR

At Allison+Partners, we actually like math. It's not something you'd expect to hear from a bunch of word geeks, creatives and media ninjas, but it's true. Quantifying and measuring our successes and failures is what we do, and what sets us apart from the antiquated “PR Agency” of old. There's nothing created here that isn't evaluated for success, calibrated for influence, weighed for potential or measured for impact.READ MORE
The drive to measure, to constantly set benchmarks for ourselves and test our assumptions, stems from our roots. Allison+Partners was born from frustration with organizations that would throw spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks or believed “All PR is good PR.” Our drive to measure stems from our instinct to own up to failures and amplify successes – through carefully measured formulas. No pasta here. We use measurement as a North Star, telling us the truth about our clients, teams and individual work and we're not afraid to be held accountable. Never before has PR and marketing been as measurable as it is today. What was once a “black box” of mystery is now a source of pride (or fear) for those in our world.

Whether we're working with a global electronics company or an automotive manufacturer, we think as much with our right brains as we do with our left. We go beyond the bounds of traditional PR, tracking physical and digital assets with accountant-like precision and taking a quantified approach to every initiative. We're a predictive analytics company masquerading as a communications agency. Like I said, we like math.

We're not the first agency out there to have a dedicated research and insights team, but we are among the few who don't even begin to think about a campaign, pitch, ad buy or video script, without first having measured, researched, compared and contrasted the industry, the product, the content or the platform.

Visit any office in Allison+Partners' global network and you'll meet people who are comfortable being asked to show their work and stand by the quantification of results – whether good, or less-than-good. We put people on every piece of business who take a measured look at the success of a program and are not afraid to say You know, this idea I had, it's not working, let's try another one.

But it's much more than that. We're working with a team of mathematicians and data scientists to help us create our own equations to help clients uncover the truths of today's industries and redefine our industry for a new era. We've tested our assumption that influence has been misappropriated and ill-defined to develop a new proprietary scoring system – The Influence Impact Score – to measure the potential impact influencers can have on consumer decision making. The score can be used as both a diagnostic tool for evaluating existing programs and a means to benchmark the effectiveness of future influencer relations programs.

As we look at the next fifteen years, we are furthering our investments in technology and team to make discipline endemic to everything we do. Whether it be enhancing our project management, research capacity, creative work or client relations – these investments will help us serve our clients and our industry for the next 15 years.

Jonathan Heit is a co-founder and the president, Americas at Allison+Partners.
SEPTEMBER 7, 2016 //     

15 Years, 25 Offices and One Global Community



Fifteen years ago this month, in the wake of the dot-com debacle, we launched an agency with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. While our initial footprint was small, our vision was global and intent was to do things differently. Rather than create a hierarchy and hire people to fill it, we adopted an entrepreneurial and flexible approach to growth. We knew that the most inspired work happens when talented people are encouraged to collaborate without being hindered by excessive processes and office politics. Also, as we had spent our careers in the agency world, we knew the risks inherent in taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach to expansion. We decided early on to put people and culture first, and trusted that everything else would flow from there.READ MORE
Growing a global business is a complex and dynamic process. Nurturing a global community can be even more challenging. While we've made some mistakes along the way, prioritizing our culture and establishing one global P&L have been among our better decisions, and why we think that Allison+Partners attracts stellar talent and great clients the world over.

Our approach to growing globally finds an analogy in the hotel industry. Big hotel brands have a tendency to create the same product in every market. So, no matter where you are, your room feels identical to the last city you visited. This cookie-cutter approach might allow a brand to enter a market faster, but any short-term benefits may inculcate undesirable longer-term outcomes. In contrast, boutique hotels can embrace local customs and flavors to create experiences that authentically reflect each location. We firmly believe in the boutique approach to growth. Rather than impose US-centric business values by transplanting an American leadership team into a new market, we seek out top talent locally and work together to integrate team members into the larger Allison+Partners community. The addition of each new office adds valuable texture to the whole as we incorporate and infuse different cultures.

Working as one cohesive worldwide community requires that we take the time to reflect internally on our unique perspectives and develop a global voice that resonates in every market. It also means creating opportunities to share our expertise. Our one global P&L has created a borderless business environment where teams can work together regardless of where they live. This makes for a richer creative experience and allows us to be more responsive to client needs around the world. As we believe in the value of face-to-face real time interaction, Andy moved to Singapore and Scott works in Europe for months at a time. Regular in-person leadership and “Open Door” meetings, Allison University events and our Global Exchange Pilot Program are other ways we stay connected and nurture our global community across multiple time zones and geographies.

Today, Allison+Partners has 25 offices across three continents, and the infrastructure to take on global assignments from brands like iRobot, .ORG, PepsiCo, ThoughtWorks and UL. We have come a long way together and accomplished much these past fifteen years. To everyone who has been a part of this amazing journey we offer our sincere thanks and gratitude. We couldn't have done it without you. Let's continue to do things differently.

Scott Allison and Andy Hardie-Brown are the CEO and COO of Allison+Partners
AUGUST 30, 2016 //     

Effective Influencer Marketing Requires Measuring Potential Impact


“Influence” is a term that is often overused. Across the communications industry, marketers regularly confuse paid blogger engagement, social media marketing, celebrity endorsements, content creation and more under the umbrella of “influencer marketing,” “influencer relations” or “influencer engagement.” While these are all tactics that might aid in the creation of influence, they don't deliver on an implicit promise of influencer relations as a channel to deliver content or carry a narrative to generate advocacy. In fact, the notion of advocacy as the intended product of influence is often lost today as marketers suggest programming where “influence” is positioned as the end point. In truth, influence is not the end goal, it is a means to cultivate brand affinity and, ultimately, advocacy.READ MORE
In our inaugural report on this topic, “Navigating the Flow of Influence,” we studied the dynamic ecosystem of influence to track consumer behavior throughout the purchase journey. We learned that influence begins with the consumer and is a pull, not push. In other words, an individual must be already actively seeking information and open to being influenced for the message to land. This makes understanding “impact” essential as a measure of effectiveness for influencer relations efforts.

To that end, we created a proprietary scoring system to evaluate and measure the potential influencers have to make an impact. This allows us to more effectively target and reach those who activate and inspire others throughout the process of consideration, purchase or advocacy. The new measure is expressed with the equation (Reach + Authenticity) x Power.

Impact Score in Action: America's Most Influential Athletes

We recently applied this approach to identify which top-of-the-podium athletes from the Summer games hold the greatest potential for influence. The findings in our latest report, “The Golden Influencers: A Ranking of the Summer Games Most Influential American Athletes,” can be used by brands seeking to understand the potential effectiveness of America's top athletes.

A number of striking trends emerged from the report:

Swimming, gymnastics, basketball and track and field athletes generally carry the most influence. All of the top 25 athletes came from these sports, and four of the five U.S. gymnasts were included in the top 25.
Carmelo Anthony and Michael Phelps are the most influential athletes, and both received the highest score possible (100).
Simone Biles (96.3) rounded out the top three. Her teammates, Aly Raisman (92.5) and Gabby Douglas (92.5), also ranked in the top 10, beating out a number of players who enjoy promotional support and media attention from the NBA, making their ascent and success even more astounding.
More women are influential, overall. Of the top 25 athletes, 52 percent are women. Allyson Felix, the most decorated female track and field athlete, scored an impressive 92.5.
Outspoken swimmer Lilly King (1551.49 percent) and Simone Manuel (1537.66 percent), the first African-American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming, are the only two athletes who experienced more than 1000 percent growth on Twitter over the course of the summer games.
Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky were the most prominent names in online media coverage, showcasing an undeniable ability to dominate the summer games news cycle.
A number of first time medal winners, including shot putter Michelle Carter (87.5), triathlete Gwen Jorgensen (80), and wrestler Helen Maroulis (77.5), posted impressive scores. Carter was in the top 25 of all athletes.


The Implications for Brands

Based on these findings, brands who seek to leverage these athletes should keep the following in mind:

Consider mid-tier influencers – those scoring in 65 to 78. These are incredibly strong scores that suggest powerful reach, effectiveness through credibility and authority, and showcase a proven ability to influence others.
Look at niche athletes that could provide great value for specialized campaigns. An athlete's authenticity can't be understated. A high authenticity score and an athlete with relevance to a brand that is intrinsic to his or her achievements at the games, life story, obstacles overcome or personal passions may mean greater relevance and ability to impact your target consumer.
Someone can have high influence, but not necessarily the right influence for your brand. Look beyond the score to the context of their actions, statements or public perception.
When engaging an athlete, examine the channels they are most active on and how that relates to your core audience. For example, nearly 10 percent of these athletes did not have a Twitter channel, while many used Instagram in a limited manner. Ensuring that athletes are leveraging their full potential to impact consumers by maximizing their reach across all online and offline influence channels will translate to brand success.

To view the full results and see who the top 25 most influential U.S. gold medal athletes are, visit


Corey Martin is the managing director of Allison+Partners' Consumer Marketing practice.
AUGUST 18, 2016 //     

BlogHer 2016 Report: Sorry Kim, but Bloggers Rule 

BlogHer, a media property for women inspiring women, was in full force last week and oh-so-LA, featuring celebrity appearances by Sarah Michelle Geller, Kim Kardashian and Sheryl Crow.READ MORE
While it was fun to see Kim strut across the stage and hear that she shares about 85 percent of her life on social media, it was actually much cooler to gain perspective on the world of “Bloggers vs Podcasters” in the tiny breakout session that followed Kim's overflowing keynote.

Podcasters poked fun that the internet is “full of mean girls,” and posed the question “who wants to always have to be camera-ready?” But in the end, it was simply indisputable that video is king and nothing connects with people and grows brands like creative, targeted and entertaining visual content. In fact, some surprising new stats were shared:

Every minute, 48 hours of video are being uploaded on YouTube
50 percent of video views happen on mobile devices
69 percent of total Internet traffic is video

If the Blogger Vs Podcaster debate was being duked out in a boxing ring, the bloggers would have won by a knock-out.

And sorry, Kim. Truth be told, I really didn't learn anything about you that I didn't already know. I guess that's what happens when you share your life on social media.

Carline Jorgensen is general manager of Allison+Partners' Los Angeles office and an expert brand strategist with more than two decades of consumer and corporate communications experience.
AUGUST 15, 2016 //     

Sports Sesh: The Good, Bad and Ugly in the Intersection of Sports and PR

Each month, Sports Sesh examines the association of sports and PR in current events, while highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly. This month: the Olympic Games.
olympicswww.edition.cnn.comREAD MORE

The Good: LGBT Progress

The Olympic Games are packed with inspirational stories, gut-wrenching heartbreak and triumphant achievements. But this year, LGBT athletes are setting a record of their own. The Rio Olympics is championing LGBT pride, featuring a record-breaking number of LGBT athletes, which is a remarkable feat considering that Brazil is one of the most notorious nations when it comes to LGBT discrimination.

Before the games even began, model Lea T became the first openly transgender woman to participate in the Opening Ceremony. Just months before the games, WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne came out to Vogue magazine, and gold medalist Rafaela Silva shortly followed suit on Brazilian media day. In another historical milestone, Brazilian women's rugby player Isadora Cerullo received an on-field proposal from her girlfriend Marjorie Enya following the finals, making it the first same-sex marriage proposal at an Olympic game.

While there is still a ways to go, the record number of openly gay, lesbian and bi athletes competing, and their ability to be open under the pressure of the Olympic stage, forces progress and an attitude of acceptance for games to come.

The Bad: Rule 40

When the International Olympic Committee amended the infamous Rule 40 leading into the 2016 Olympics in Rio, brands and athletes across the globe rejoiced at the opportunity to leverage marketing and sponsorship contracts to gain notoriety on the world's biggest stage.

While the modification of the rule now allows non-official sponsors to compete with the big players in the advertising landscape – such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Panasonic, who dish out $200 million each for official Olympic sponsorship – heavy restrictions have left brands and athletes displaced from Olympic discussions. In fact, even though non-official sponsors can run advertisements during the Olympics this year, the ads must be completely generic and are prohibited from using Olympic terms (including the words “effort” and “performance”) or any kind of imagery that would portray an association to the Olympic Games.

Perhaps the harshest stipulation during the blackout period – the designated timeframe in which businesses and athletes must comply by these restrictions – is the prohibition of social media use. Though companies fork out millions to sponsor Olympic athletes, they cannot engage, encourage or congratulate them on social platforms during the games. Athletes are also unable to mention their supporting brands or use Olympic terminologies, further limiting their ability to reward sponsors and attract new ones.

The Ugly: Doping Scandals

Off the tails of the corrupt 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, where Russia was found responsible for state-sponsored doping, the continued rule-breaking leading into the 2016 Rio Olympics has caused immediate friction among athletes.

Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova was among the list of athletes who was allowed to compete in the Olympic Games after testing positive for doping. After beating Lilly King in the 100-meter breaststroke semifinals, her finger-wagging celebration sparked outrage among athletes.

Lilly King of the U.S. confronted the issue head-on, criticizing Efimova during the post-race interview and bringing the issue to the forefront of public discussion. The King vs. Efimova rivalry is one of many public showdowns this year, as frustrated athletes are brashly speaking out to protect the integrity of the Olympic Games and advocate for a fair level of play. In the past, athletes have remained silent on the matter as there has been a culture of quiet acceptance toward athletes who compete after doping offenses. This year, however, athletes are using the massive worldwide platform to instigate change in a corrupt system.

Kate Judge is an assistant account executive in Allison+Partners' Phoenix office who has worked with brands in numerous industries, from sports, health, and wellness, to consumer electronics.
AUGUST 4, 2016 //     

Three Trends in Social Media for Sports Brands


Last week, I attended the Sports PR Summit's Social Media Workshop at Twitter Headquarters in San Francisco. Nearly 100 PR pros from across the sports industry gathered to hear how to plan and distribute digital content, engage fans online and monetize efforts in the sports digital environment.READ MORE
A few clear trends emerged from the discussions:

The value of live content

As sports fans demand more authentic and exclusive content from their favorite teams and athletes, live video streaming is becoming more and more popular. Through platforms like Periscope, Meerkat and Facebook Live, fans now have the opportunity to see what's going on with their favorite teams or players at any given moment. This platform also allows PR pros to give eager fans access to exclusive, behind-the-scenes content they wouldn't normally be privy to. While live content presents challenges akin to that of live TV (you never know what's really going to happen), it adds a layer of vulnerability and authenticity to the relationship between fans and their sports, strengthening the bond and increasing fanaticism.
Not all content is created equal

Storytelling through multimedia is essential for any successful social platform. But what makes the video of an NBA prospect being drafted a viral hit? While there are many possible answers to this question, the one that stood out most was the emotional connection. Moments like LeBron James finally bringing a championship home to Cleveland, or Peyton hoisting his latest, and final Lombardi trophy instantly imprint into our brains because we feel the emotion the athlete is experiencing. Of course these major moments may seem obvious, but the opportunity exists for us to source such moments for our clients as well. Did an athlete on his way to a ribbon-cutting stop to talk to a child about their basketball game? Were parents lurking in the background as they watched their child succeed? It's these moments that fans wouldn't normally have access to -- the moments that pull on our heartstrings-- that ultimately create the most valuable content.

Athletes are their own media entities

Perhaps the biggest way the public relations industry has evolved over the past decade is that now everyone has a voice through social media, and athletes are no different. Often, individual athletes have a higher social following than the teams they represent, giving them the opportunity to influence public opinion on their own. Brands can harness this power to engage fans, whether it be through a sponsored social media campaign, an online discussion with the athlete or allowing the athlete to take over their social channels for a day.

Laura Beshire is an account executive in Allison+Partners' Phoenix office who specializes in consumer and sports marketing.
JULY 27, 2016 //     

Ecommerce vs. Brick and Mortar—Who Wins and Loses The Retail Store War? 

The internet has changed our lives and had a dramatic effect on consumer behavior. Every year, the percentage of armchair shoppers grows, reflecting the continuous migration from stores to sites. It's predicted that online sales will hit $373 billion in 2016, up $137 billion from 2011.READ MORE
With online sales growing at double digit rates and in store sales lagging in the single digits, it's no wonder that earlier this year Macy's announced 40 store closings, Walmart announced 269 and more than 60 malls across the U.S. are considered to be on the brink of death. These big box retailers have figured out that though it may be a crowded marketplace online, cyber acquisition and conversion are far less expensive than multi-store real estate and inventory management.

Stores Will Survive

While there will be fewer large scale specialty and department stores in the future, brick and mortar retailing represents a critical touchpoint with customers. In fact, savvy ecommerce companies are opening up stores almost as quickly as dinosaur retailers are closing them. The result is a smart, new approach to specialty retailing—think Restoration Hardware, Warby Parker, Bonobos and Birch Box. While many of these stores carry samples only and little stock, they are providing their customers with a dimensional experience and, in return, get a shot at valuable research.

The store is the only way an internet brand can provide texture, offering an environment to see, feel, touch and taste merchandise, increasing the depth of their relationship with customers. Other than commodities, isn't that what shopping is all about? Interaction and inspiration? With this approach, both retailers and customers get what they want. And, without inventories to manage and move, retail suddenly gets much more simple, efficient and cost effective—no surprise pop-up shops are also on the rise.

For large box retailers, “bricks and clicks” (or multi-channel retailing) emerges as the single most significant trend in retailing. Last year, The Gap discovered that more than half of their in-store customers had been to their site before walking into the store, most of them checking out the merchandise online to see if it was worth the trip. This is the new normal in consumer behavior that stretches across all merchandise categories and sectors. In store and online are becoming intricately woven, with one as dependent as the other.

E-Commerce Has Work to Do

Online sales are predicted to account for only nine percent of overall retail sales this year, up from seven percent in 2011. All of the aforementioned bricks and clicks brands are single manufacturers not multi-vendor providers and, in that way, there is a rub. Like a retail store, ecommerce retailers have the issue of inventory. The majority of wholesalers (mid-market and below) are not set up to sell a single item, much less send one. Ecommerce companies have to buy multiple pieces (unless you are Etsy or in the one-of-a-kind business), whether it's costume jewelry, furniture, table top or clothing, and manage inventories just like their brick and mortar counterparts. Each item posted to an ecommerce site will need options: color, size and fit. Where a store would have a sales representative to help you through your purchase, most online shoppers buy more than one item and return what doesn't work. As a result, the multi-dimensional store experience will always trump the linear one.

As we look to the future, we will see more of the large box, multi-vendor retailers reduce their physical footprint. Many of these are critical mall anchors so the mall itself will have to be re-thought and become more modern if it is to survive this macro shift in consumerism. At the same time, more ecommerce companies will move into brick and mortar as they extend their brand to include and reflect the needs of their customer. At the end of the day, multi-channel retailing means we get our cake and eat it too and it's the consumer that wins the day.

Lydia Caffery Wilbanks is an SVP specializing in retail and consumer marketing.
JUNE 28, 2016 //     

Brexit: A Summary of Events from the Front Line

On Friday, it was confirmed by a national referendum that the UK electorate wishes to leave the European Union.READ MORE
We are still only on day 5 after the vote, and as one economist put it on Friday, “Today is a great day for journalism.”  The real impact of the vote will not be truly felt for some time and the immediate reaction is, as usual, being elevated by media coverage that in turn goads global markets to react. For now, this is what we know:

Immediate Consequences

The immediate consequences over the last few days have been political and economic.  Many millions of pounds have been wiped off the value of companies traded on global markets, and the value of the pound (£) decreased to the lowest it has been since 1985.  According to Merrill Lynch, we expect a UK recession in the next two quarters and a significant shock for the Euro as well as the wider global economy.  But the Bank of England under Mark Carney will, together with the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne attempt to steady the ship in terms of reassuring investors. They have been contingency planning for some time and Carney was among the first to release a statement on Friday.

Economic Opportunity

The pound is now worth $1.32 which actually presents an exciting opportunity for agency acquisitions in the UK. And, as it always comes back to soccer (proper football), you may see more American groups buying teams in England and potential difficulties in bringing non-British talent into the league.  Players may begin to prioritise other European markets instead.

Political Implications

On the political side, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation, which has triggered a leadership contest.  This will allow members of the parliamentary Conservative party to select a new leader outside a public voting process. However, it could also mean a snap general election as early as this October when the new leader is in place. In addition, members of the Labour party have submitted a vote of no confidence in their leader Jeremy Corbyn. Many in media and political circles are saying that he is responsible for the result of the vote because of his failure to campaign hard enough in support of a “Remain” vote. We are also hearing a whole range of other signals from across the UK, including a call from Scottish Nationalist Leader Nicola Sturgeon for another Scottish Referendum, as well as a call from Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in Northern Ireland to have a referendum on a united Ireland. There are even echoes from other European countries to follow suit after the UK's decision.

The Campaign & The Vote

Commentators have said that it was the less affluent communities in the middle and north of England, who feel disenfranchised by austerity measures made by the current government, that ultimately fueled the “Leave” vote.  Former Mayor of London Boris Johnson said on Friday that the UK had a glorious opportunity to re-establish itself on the world stage and “find our voice in the world again.”  UKIP leader Nigel Farage who led a very strong campaign for many years to leave the EU, became labelled as the more aggressive face of “Leave,” often accused of racism and being anti-immigration.  Since Friday, the mix of signals coming from the “Leave” camp has been confusing, with comments and clips trending on social media that expose potential gaps in their strategy.

The campaign on both sides has been fragmented, complex and aggressive.  It has torn apart parties and relationships on both sides of the House of Commons, and sadly one MP was brutally murdered in the days leading up to the vote.

MPs across both sides of the House of Commons have also called for calm in light of an increase in racist attacks since Friday, fueled by an ill-placed, un-British and unjustified prejudice.

What's next?

Does this mean the end of the United Kingdom?  The end of the European Union

It is the nature of media and public relations to react to a terrific event. However, at this point, it is merely a thought fueled by fear and excitement and based on very little fact.  Even the dramatic changes in global markets will clearly not be permanent. The emotional responses from politicians and voters alike will all eventually have to find their way to a practical conclusion and as always, life will go on.

There is change ahead but it is change that has been mandated by the people and therefore will happen lawfully and with process. This result has shaken both sides but it will become another challenge for our government and our people to overcome.  Will we be better or worse off?  Only time will tell.

Jim Selman is a managing director in Allison+Partners' London office. 
JUNE 23, 2016 //     

@WhiteHouse: The Historic Social Media Handoff

Image source:

Two months after Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States, Twitter spun off into its own company. Instagram was three years away from launch.READ MORE
As the first presidential candidate – and the first President of the United States – to be faced with the power of social media, Barack Obama has ushered in a new era of digital engagement for the White House and its staff. Looking beyond traditional media, his administration has launched dozens of online accounts, some with audiences that rival traditional media companies – including an Instagram account with more than 2 million followers and aTwitter account with more than 10 million followers. Two months into his first term, President Obama held an Online Town Hall and answered some of the 104,000 user-submitted questions.

Now, in the final months of his presidency, the first social media handoff in the history of the American presidency is looming. Questions arise, such as who will take over access to the network of online profiles, how will the channels change and will innovative use of social media continue with the new president? And, will they even bother with the @POTUS social accounts? Since 2007, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have started their own social media handles and amassed sizable followings.

There's more to consider than the social media handles, too. The Obama administration created (a flashier site than the previous, an Office of Digital Strategy to sit alongside the Office of Communications and online tools such as “We the People” and a Medium account with more than 100,000 readers.

If this were a business hand-off between agencies or new administrators, social media strategy would typically recommend maintaining a consistent tone and voice, revisiting content strategy and evaluating what's resonating with each audience. In this situation though, the voice should change and the content will follow a new perspective and news/events cycle.

Whichever channels the 45th President of the United States decides to use, one thing is for sure, the world will be watching…and tweeting.

Read more from International Business Times.
JUNE 21, 2016 //     

The Future IS the Platform

Copyright:Copyright: alexsl 

When looking for the right platform to create content, the least utilized yet most powerful approach is to envision the future.READ MORE
Tech companies dominate future-focused discussions, as they're perceived to be creating the next era of human experiences with new technologies. For example, GE and Oracle are masterfully touting a vision of the Internet of Things. But these companies, and their peers, won't be the only firms in the market in 2050.

Having worked in China for the past 20 years, I can say with confidence that few markets in the world are as obsessed with the future or offer brands so many opportunities to discuss their role in shaping a better tomorrow. It's for these reasons that we emphasize the power of future-based communications with our clients.

For example, I have worked with a Swedish home furnishings company to create a vision of China 2030 to accelerate internal communications and planning. I've also assisted a medical devices company in the development of a multi-stakeholder forum to discuss China's role in the future medical technology innovation network. Right now we're working with a global leader in aviation to communicate a vision of China's 'One Belt, One Road' initiative, in which regional airports and utility aircraft contribute equally to economic integration as will rail links and ports.

Unfortunately, most brands are hesitant to leverage the future and their vision of it. This is because the future is a complex and seemingly unknowable thing. Also, while reluctant to admit it, many CEOs and their management teams don't have a clear vision of their place in the market over the next few decades. This is understandable, as having an MBA doesn't automatically turn a business leader into the Oracle of Delphi. However, communicators should make the future a platform for content creation, engagement and influencer initiatives exactly because it's such a big, complex and critical topic.

Here are some reasons and recommendations to consider:

If your firm doesn't already have a vision of the future, and its place in it, get one. Your shareholders, employees and customers will thank you for it. The future-focused vision answers questions such as: Why should I invest in your firm? Why should I work for your firm? And, why should I partner with your firm? Building a vision involves getting smart people in a room to have a thoughtful conversation about your market, trends impacting it, a thorough analysis of what this means for your business and how you will respond.

Building a vision of the future is a valuable exercise in stakeholder engagement, risk management and innovation. Developing a vision of the future is an opportunity to invite your leadership, partners, regulators, researchers, and others, to share insights and knowledge. Leading the conversation about the future of your market positions your firm as forward thinking and prepared to capitalize on opportunities. Furthermore, the exchange that follows is likely to reveal risks, such as previously unexplored market trends, as well as spur innovation as potential new products and services are identified.

Once you have defined your vision, continually test it and don't be afraid to tinker. The megatrends affecting the global economy and shaping your market will shift and you should adjust your vision accordingly. Discussions about the future are fluid by nature and never become stale. This is what makes a future-focused platform so powerful.

Bill Adams is an executive vice president in Allison+Partners' Global China Practice and market leader in Shanghai.

Originally posted on O'Dwyer's PR Blog
JUNE 9, 2016 //     

Is Conventional Storytelling Dead?



This was the question asked and answered during a panel session at the In2 Innovation Summit in EMEA, moderated by our very own Jim Selman, managing director of the UK. Below are some highlights from the 40-minute discussion with Kaspersky Lab's Head of Strategic Projects, Rainer Bock; former Mirror Deputy Features Editor, Shiraz Lalani, and Stack Overflow's EMEA Marketing Manager, Natalia Radcliffe-Brine.:READ MORE
Was the 'old' method really storytelling?

It is accepted that the traditional PR model of simply faxing, posting or hitting send on a self-serving press release will no longer generate meaningful results for a brand. The 24-hour news cycle and the emergence of community-driven content through a myriad of channels has meant a significant loss of control for a brand in developing and driving an impactful story.

However, did the old method really create compelling stories? According to the panelists, we used to not have to think about what it meant to generate a captivating story that was consistent with the brand and how it drove ongoing value. The level of control we had over this meant we could say what we want, giving little thought to the long-term implications. As noted by Shiraz, “It's easy to control a brand in a product like a magazine, but much harder to do this online”.

This level of control isn't compatible with effective storytelling which should be interesting, lively and develop its own life.

Stories have to be authentic, and often community-led, in order to be successful.

Today's landscape means there is a struggle in creating a message that the company wants and what the community wants to tell. It's critical that brands are listening closely to their community in order to be successful. The stories should be shaped in this way as it lends a crucial authenticity to your stories. What's more, it encourages your community to develop the story in a positive way.

While the community was always a consideration when developing stories for brands, it wasn't the primary consideration it now is. The community gives life to the story and controls how it evolves. While the purpose of conventional method of storytelling was to retain control of the message, the opposite is true in today's environment. It also means that storytellers have to be quick to react and shift to another story that's more interesting and engaging.

As explained by Natalia Radcliffe-Brine, “When we have failed, it's when we tried to control it too much.”

Internal storytelling can be just as important.

According to the panelists, it can prove challenging to demonstrate the value of this new approach to storytelling to business stakeholders, many of whom are fixated on the traditional press release and old methods of disseminating a brand's message. There are also more people that want to input on these stories including marketing and sales teams. As a result, another part of a PR professional's role is to tell the story in the right 'language' internally as well as externally, and ensure to demonstrate its value. We need to also convince other disciplines that if we have a story, each will get a return on it.

What does this mean for the industry?

As discussed by the panel, having strong writing skills and a good network were previously the most important skills you could have for this profession. These days, these skills are being pushed down the list.

Today, it's crucial to have an understanding of how to develop stories and how they could unfold through many different channels. It's necessary to be experienced in dealing with stakeholders. Most importantly, people have to be adaptable and immersed in the world around them to help identify, shape and predict the path of stories while remaining consistent with your brand values.

So, is conventional storytelling dead? Not exactly. While it was and always will be the crux of what we do as PR professionals, a new, adaptable and shared storytelling process is now becoming more prevalent. Storytelling will always be our currency. As concluded by Shiraz, “If we don't have a story, it's a bad day in the office”.

Kate Lynch is a director in Allison+Partners' Dublin office.
APRIL 27, 2016 //     

Companies Can No Longer Afford to Sit on the Sidelines on Social Issues READ MORE
Do companies today have an obligation to engage in political issues and/or those deemed controversial? Recent legislation blocking LGBT rights in the states of Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and North Carolina have been met by companies that are taking a strong and vocal stand against the discriminatory legislation. They have done so through open letters to politicians and boycotts to the reversal of plans to grow businesses in those states.

Dan Schulman, PayPal's president and chief executive, said in a statement that the law “perpetuates discrimination” and “violates the values and principles that are at the core of PayPal's mission and culture.” More than 60 leading CEOs and business leaders from companies like Dropbox, Hilton Worldwide, Facebook, Apple, Salesforce, REI and Yelp signed an open letter calling on Mississippi's Governor to repeal the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act.” The economic impact of businesses backing out of these states has already been felt and will only grow.

Social Responsibility & Generational Differences

Countless surveys of Millennials and Gen-Z audiences have made it clear that they align themselves, and their buying powers with companies that uphold the same values they do. They expect their companies to take a stand on issues that impact their communities. Millennials have replaced baby boomers as the largest generation in the workforce today, and this legislation could have a substantial impact around their decisions on where they choose to work. Seventy percent of millennials (aged 34 and younger) supported same-sex marriage in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center, compared with only 45 percent of baby boomers (aged 51 to 70).

The market for employers to find pivotal talent is already the most difficult it has ever been, and these legislative actions could have a long lasting and detrimental impact on employers and recruitment.

Campaign Support & Brand Loyalty

In the past, many companies made the decision not to engage in topics deemed controversial or political because they feared a loss of revenue, clients, as well as the negative attention of consumers that could turn against them. But recently, many companies, including Campbell's Soup, Starbucks and Apple, have stated that if you have a problem with their ads or views on same-sex marriage, then you should feel free to take your business elsewhere. Some have actually seen a boost in sales based on their public views.

For some companies, the risk of offending some sectors of the population is becoming less important than taking a stand on an issue their employees, customers and shareholders care about. While brands may feel some backlash from certain groups, the overwhelming majority supported their stance, creating strong brand loyalty, generating positive conversation on social media and in some cases a boost in business. By making the decision to not take a stand on issues and not participate in the conversations that are core to their audience, companies run the risk of having their brand become less relevant in today's society and culture, which will ultimately hurt their bottom line.
APRIL 14, 2016 //     

Sports Sesh – The good, bad and ugly at the intersection of sports and PR

Each month, Sports Sesh explores the intersection of sports and PR in current events, while highlighting the good, bad and ugly. This month: March Madness.

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The Good: Gonzaga: The March to MadnessREAD MORE
Every year, The Big Dance showcases a distinctive quality that captures the hearts of consumers nationwide: emotional investment. Earlier this year, HBO fueled that investment by launching a five-part docuseries titled “Gonzaga: The March to Madness.” The series followed the Gonzaga University basketball team leading into the NCAA tournament, provided game-by-game coverage, behind-the-scenes footage, and unprecedented access into the personal lives and brotherly bond among the players. It spoke to more than the basketball fanatics, and drew in the general consumer by encompassing the spirit of March Madness beyond just game play. A spinoff of HBO's wildly popular NFL series “Hard Knocks,” “The March to Madness” provided a glimpse into Gonzaga's successful basketball program and the devoted town of fans that rally behind it.

The Bad: Players Outplaying the Ratings

Despite being the first national championship game to be determined by a three-pointer buzzer beater shot, this year's incredibly memorable championship averaged 10 million fewer viewers than last year. According to Adweek, the championship game averaged 17.8 million viewers across TBS, TNT and truTV, down 37 percent from the 28.3 million that watched Duke beat Wisconsin last April. In terms of household ratings, the Villanova vs. North Carolina matchup was the lowest-rated national championship game in history. While the steep decline in ratings could be attributed to the switch from broadcast to cable TV, the momentum and intensity of the games leading into the championship are also a considerable factor. The Final Four matchups this year were lackluster, at best, with Villanova stomping Oklahoma in a 40-point blowout.

The Ugly: Winners Don't Whine

As the Duke Blue Devils saw their NCAA fate winding down at the hands of Oregon during the Sweet Sixteen, Oregon's Dillon Brooks drained a controversial deep three; one that many would categorize as unnecessary and unsportsmanlike. The shot sent a ripple of anger through the Duke bench, and after the final buzzer sounded, the foul behavior ensued.

Duke's Grayson Allen reacted to the tough loss by shunning Brooks, who attempted to shake hands after the game. Duke head coach Mike Kryzyzewski followed suit when he pulled Brooks aside after the game to lecture him for the last-second three, advising Brooks that he is “too good” of a player to be showboating. The unsolicited advice stirred controversy at the post-game press conference, where Brooks humbly admitted that Coach K was right, and Coach K denied the conversation altogether. When audio of the exchange was released the following day in support of Brooks' claims, Kryzyzewski was forced to come forward and ultimately released an apology to Oregon head coach Dana Altman. While glossing over his own players' dirty tactics didn't require an apology, lying to the press about scolding an opposing player's poor sportsmanship, certainly did.

Kate Judge is an Account Coordinator in Allison+Partners' Phoenix office who has worked with brands in numerous industries, from sports, health, and wellness, to consumer electronics.
APRIL 5, 2016 //     

Five Health Highlights from HIMSS 2016

SamsungSamsung Booth at HIMSS 2016READ MORE

Surrounded by more than 41,000 participants and 1,300 vendor booths, we were onsite for the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Annual Conference and Exhibition (HIMSS 2016), in Las Vegas. As the industry's largest health IT event in the world, HIMSS 2016 brought together the best and brightest companies around the globe to share ideas and innovations, as well as problem solve some of the toughest issues in healthcare.

If you couldn't make it to HIMSS 2016, then allow us to share a few of this year's remarkable highlights straight from the conference floor – trends with impacts that will be felt across industries and geographies:

Privacy &Security

Evidenced by daily news headlines, privacy &security is one of the most challenging issues facing healthcare providers today. It is no surprise that an entire section of the conference floor and nearly all education sessions at HIMSS were connected to the topic of cyber security. With new technologies including cloud storage, mobile and medical devices, comes challenges in protecting patient privacy in accordance with HIPAA. The resounding message at HIMSS 2016 was that it's not just an IT issue – it is ultimately a patient care issue that needs to be top of mind for every facility.


The role of interoperability and mobile technologies in healthcare was overwhelming at HIMSS, with the term “connected health” buzzing in nearly every session. In fact, more than half of the hospitals recently surveyed by HIMSS are using at least three different kinds of connected health technologies, and roughly half say they expect to do more with mHealth tools soon. The future of healthcare is truly found with interoperable systems that allow individuals, their families and healthcare providers to send, receive, find and use electronic health information in a way that is appropriate, secure, timely and reliable. The exam room is no longer confined by walls thanks to mHealth technologies that are evolving the patient experience. Over the next few years, nearly 47 percent of hospitals expect to expand their connected health technologies. In the not too distant future, the majority of patients will receive exam results via text, consult a patient portal on their phone and access treatment instructions through an app, which will empower them to better manage their health and wellness – anywhere and at any time.


As a function of the mHealth movement, virtual medical health andhealth and education services have significantly advanced in the last five years. With that has come notable consumer demand. What is not to love about eliminating travel time, reducing stress and often reduce costs, with virtual appointments? More importantly, telehealth can be life saving for the more than 20 percent of patients nationwide who live in rural areas with limited hospital access. Telehealth can support patient diagnosis, with more than 14,000 possible diagnosis, and can select prescriptions from the more than 6,000 possible medications. In fact, companies like Miami Children's Health System have created robot technologies that can be sent anywhere in the world to take video and vitals of patients to be broadcast back to a live physician specialist in Miami.


Some of the most revolutionary companies at HIMSS showcased new innovations that are designed to solve some of healthcare's most complicated problems. From flying drones that can deliver life-saving kits to patients stranded in remote locations of the Florida Everglades, to pediatric breathalyzers that assess insulin dosing without a needle's prick – the innovations are simply inspiring. By the depth and diversity of the innovations featured at HIMSS, it is clear the future of healthcare is shining bright with companies dedicated to disease prevention, diagnosis, treatment and education.

Patient Engagement

We have entered the era of the empowered patient. No longer will patients solely rely on their physician to inform their health status. Today's patient has embraced new ways of gaining insights into their health, with wearable technologies leading the way. From wearables that monitor niche chronic conditions to more user-friendly patient portals that connect directly with physicians, technology has enabled self-management. In fact, a new dimension of patient engagement has emerged with online support communities that are powered and offered by hospitals and clinics. Recognizing that peer support can offer meaningful dialogue and greater adherence to treatment plans, these specialized online communities are driving down healthcare costs while offering patients meaningful encouragement when they need it.

Despite the many challenges facing healthcare today, HIMSS 2016 is proof that there are brilliant minds, companies and solutions being developed today that will transform and improve the future of healthcare globally.

Lisa Schmidtke is a Vice President in the Allison+Partners healthcare practice.

Virginia Anderson is a Director in the Allison+Partners healthcare practice.
MARCH 24, 2016 //     

The Way Cyberthreats are Defining Crisis Communications

No longer marginalized to the back office, the issues of encryption and cybersecurity have moved up the corporate food chain and now sit squarely in the eyes of the C-Suite. The global cybersecurity market is expected to be worth $170 billion by 2020. In fact, a 2015 Morgan Stanley report stated that 14.8% of CIOs listed security as a top priority, compared with only 5.2% just one year before.  While it is essential that businesses take these persistent cyberthreats seriously by protecting their sensitive data – it is equally important their communication strategy is as buttoned up as their security.READ MORE
Cybersecurity communication strategies must reflect the nimbleness of cybersecurity defense. In 2015, almost every American was affected by at least one data breach. Moreover, these breaches are global in nature and are expected to get worse over the next several years. High profile breaches have included a wide spectrum of organizations: Ashley Madison, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), TalkTalk and Anthem just to name a few. The suddenness of a data breach is what keeps these communication professionals up at night. It can happen without warning and spread like wildfire. Without an effective and immediate communications strategy, jobs, money and the public's trust can be lost. For example, the TalkTalk hack in the U.K. Their defensive public relations strategy of shutting down their website and just simply apologizing, rattled consumers and resulted in a financial loss of £60 million. In addition, the company suffered a complete loss of consumer confidence with 95,000 out of the 101,000 subscribers switching mobile providers.

An effective communications strategy can have the opposite effect. During last year's hack of Anthem, a swiftly implemented offensive communications strategy resulted in continued consumer confidence in their business and third party praise. The CEO provided clear and concise messaging that outlined what happened, specific to the type of information that could have been compromised to the company and publicly announced its crisis within days of it discovery. As a result, Anthem was able to weather the storm and continue to build consumer trust.

With breaches now occurring more frequently, an effective crisis communications strategy is a necessity, not a luxury. While securing data is a must, without a clear plan of action that can be executed immediately, company reputations and their brand can be irreversibly damaged.

Joshua Swarz is a senior account executive in the Corporate practice who specializes in B2B, cyber security and enterprise technology.
MARCH 22, 2016 //     

6 Breakout SXSW Trends Based on Digital Analytics


This year's South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival has officially concluded seeing more than 75,000 attendees and another reported 152,200 event participants across the festival's three categories of interactive, music and film. Each section showcased hundreds of exhibits, shows, sessions, workshops, screenings, events and parties. Altogether in its 10-day run, SXSW generated millions of pieces of digital content.READ MORE
But what trends really broke through all this noise and will influence the year to come?

Aside from the fact that the Obamas stole the show and that a breakout app didn't emerge as in years past (Twitter in 2007, FourSquare in 2009 and Meerkat in 2015), we sought to answer this question by synthesizing hundreds of thousands of data points that provide a definitive answer based on analytics, not hunches.

No. 6 – Augmented Reality (AR)


Video: Sony Interactive Table via The Next Web on YouTube

Nudging out 3D printing, which has historically been a SXSW darling, AR comes in with a 4 percent share of voice among this year's SXSW trends.

Despite having a joint track with virtual reality (VR) this year, it's clearly time to separate AR and VR as both are very different. VR replaces what you see and AR layers onto it.

In brand marketing, AR often comes across as a gimmick despite hitting engagement out of the park. It will be crucial for brands to begin investing in AR and AR marketing if they want to stay ahead of the curve and while doing so, they must shift from AR gimmicks to meaningful utility and experiences.

This year's SXSW augmented reality conversations were dominated by:

HP Aurasma's panel and booth
Hyperloops's augmented and interactive windows
Meta's panel, “Iron Man Interfaces: Next Generation UI (Or UX)
Notable mention: Sony's Future Lab's private showcase

No. 5 – Internet of Things (IoT)


Video: The connected yard via Miracle-Gro on YouTube

With at least 45 SXSW official IoT focused events and numerous brand activations, panel pickers and participating brands propelled IoT to the the fifth most discussed trend this year with a 5 percent share of voice.

Diving deeper into IoT, niche topics and debates emerged such as the rise of M2M (machine to machine) communications, the application of IoT in homes and cities and “the internet of you,” which centers around wearables and health tech.

Brands and marketers that are moving into the IoT space are positioned with great opportunities to showcase the future use of their products and industries at live events.

Activations that drove IoT conversations online were:

IBM Cognitive Studio's IoTFoosball
Scotts' Miracle-Gro IoT connected yard
WigWag and its Connected Experience Lounge

No. 4 – Robots


Video: Sophia the Robot via Mike Canfield on YouTube

Weeding out mention of JJ Abram's Bad Robot Productions keynote speech and the biggest brand activation seen at SXSW this year by the television show Mr. Robot, robotics in general still managed to take the fifth biggest trend with an 10 percent share of voice.

As one might expect, robots were discussed in ways seen in movies; Armageddon scenarios, impact on jobs, human companionship and improving our lives Jetson style.

With news breaking of Domino's pizza deliver robot during SXSW, it will be interesting to see how brands incorporate robots in future SXSW festivals.

Robotic waves were made most by:

Hiroshi Ishiguro's Geminoid
IBM Cognitive Studio's Pepper
Hanson Robotics launch of Sophia
RPA's high-fiving KIME-5 aka “karma-bot”

No. 3 – SXGood








Image: Puppy at the Mophie Rescue via @swisstarsringostarr on Instagram 

With an 11 percent share of voice, global issues and causes were the third most discussed trend from this year's event.

There were nearly 30 official cause related events dedicated to what organizers coin, “SXGood.” Topics included, poverty, gun violence, climate change, animal adoption, non-profits and of course how entrepreneurs, brands and tech all intersect with global issues.

Brands and agencies know the power of CSR and social impact, but its interesting to see such issues emerge as a festival trend.

#SXGood conversations were led by:

3M's “The Big Picture”
Viacom's WITNESS video booth
USAID's Global Innovation Challenge
Adrian Grenier's partnership with Dell
Mophie's promotion of the St. Bernard Rescue Foundation
Panel appearances by WWE's Renee Young and Stephanie McMahon

No. 2 – Virtual Reality (VR)


Image: SXSW participants experiencing Samsung's VR roller coaster experience via Getty Images

Dominating all other tech trends from SXSX with a 23 percent trend share of voice, anyone who attended or followed the event online likely saw people sitting, painting, standing, or even riding stationary bikes wearing a VR headset.

VR has reached a point where meaningful quality content is being produced across all verticals of the festival (interactive, film and music), so sessions and brands were primed with a platform for the topic to shine at every corner and showcase VR's application in a multitude of ways. In case you've fallen asleep reading this, yes, VR porn was a huge point of conversation at SXSW, but so were VR's roles in most industries such as sports, music, marketing and advertising, tourism, fashion and more.

As with the emergence of social media years ago, now is the time for brands to explore VR as an opportunity to become a category leader in consumer engagement, or risk falling behind to competitors.

This year's most talked about virtual reality activations were:

SAP's multiple activations, events and contests
Facebook's Oculus Rift just being a medium for VR
Merge VR's presence at multiple parties and panels
Samsung Gear VR for being an alternative medium for VR
Samsung's VR roller coaster experience in partnership with Six Flags

No. 1 – Diversity








Image: Michelle Obama at SXSW photo via Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

A breakout app not appearing at this year's SXSW festival could be the best news of all because it allowed for a more meaningful topic to trend – diversity – which accounts for a whopping 47 percent share of voice in our SXSW trend round-up.

But for better or worse, the topic of diversity really broke on day two when organizers of the event asked Olympic fencer and festival speaker, Ibtihaj Muhammad, to remove her hijab at registration, which she later tweeted about.

The tone changed however as SXSW organizers went above and beyond this year to create sessions and events that showcased topics such as diversity in tech and staffing, unconscious bias, women in tech and business, LGBT meet-ups and more. This mixed with all the SXGood events created an empowering atmosphere felt around the event.

Given the impacts that topics related to diversity had on this year's festival, it will be interesting to see how brands shape activations at SXSW 2017.

Leading the conversations in diversity were as follows:

Michelle Obama, Missy Elliott and Queen Latifah launching, “Let Girls Learn” initiative
Senator Wendy Davis at Tumblr's Feminist Lounge
Opportunity Hub's onsite multi-day presence
Online Harassment Summit
The Girls Lounge
MARCH 21, 2016 //     

Five Things B2B marketers can learn from B2C

width=300Copyright: Choreograph

Following the publication of a recent Forrester report which evaluated how B2C companies have been quicker than B2B to engage the digital consumer, I wondered, what are those successful B2C strategies that B2B marketers can draw upon? During a recent partner event we held with Notion Capital, Susie Hughes, VP in our Singapore office, shared the following insight: “There used to be a distinction between B2B and B2C. Now the lines are blurred – and B2B can learn from B2C.” So I've decided to take a look at five things that the B2C sector is doing well and why:READ MORE

With the rise of social media, it has become increasingly easy for brands to display their personality and directly engage with customers. Many B2C brands are using a recognisable brand voice and striking up conversations with their customers, engaging in a personal way. For example, Dove is kind with its real beauty campaign, Oreo Cookies is fun and whimsical with its creative social gifs and Tesco Mobile is informative, providing how-to links and articles on its social feed. B2B brands are targeting businesses – but within them are decision makers who are also consumers, therefore it is important for B2B companies to find a voice that resonates with individuals on a personal level.


As B2B brands develop their personal voice, they can better tell their brand story and deliver ongoing powerful storytelling. Many B2C companies do this well, such as UK brand innocent, which speaks to its audience in an authentic way, creates engaging campaigns such as the Big Knit, and tells their stories on their blog. Considering that the previously mentioned Forrester report showed that blogs are the third least used channels by B2B marketing decision makers (only ahead of legacy channels, TV and radio) – it could be time for more B2B brands to utilise blogs for brand storytelling.

PR Stunts

Consumer brands have long recognised the effectiveness of stunts in grabbing column inches and creating impactful brand awareness. For smaller B2B companies, PR stunts may be seen as expensive, frivolous or risky. However, stunts can be simple, inexpensive and have tangible outcomes. For example; the socially chatty brand, Michel et Augustin, a French biscuit SME, was asked to send samples to Starbucks. Instead, the brand sent two of its employees and publicised their adventure across social media with videos and the hashtag #AllezHowardUnCafé (#HowardGoesToACafe). Within 48 hours, Michel et Augustin had signed a deal with Starbucks.


Many B2B brands are sitting on a treasure trove of data, yet are not taking advantage of it. B2C companies often hire external research companies to obtain similar amounts of data but and then package it up and persuade their audience. Jawbone, the wearable tech company behind UP which tracks fitness, sleep, diet and other habits, is a B2C brand that uses its own data well. They present their information in a number of interesting and often interactive ways, whether on sleep disturbances, effective methods for weight loss or how people's habits change during holidays such as Valentine's Day.

Programmatic Ad Buying

In the post demographic-targeting age, programmatic tools are enabling marketers to target the most relevant customers across different devices, and in different environments based on data. Brands that engage in storytelling and show personality can better appeal to the individual, and with programmatic ad buying, brands can go one step further by setting variables to ensure maximum exposure and utilise the perfect audience, message, location and time. For example; Nike's 2014 World Cup Phenomenal Shot campaign targeted fans with immersive 3D mobile display ads, which they could interact with within seconds of the live action out on the field. This created nearly 2.2 million engagements across 200 countries with fans exploring and customising Nike's content in real time.

Katy Mendes is an Account Executive in the Allison+Partners London office. 
MARCH 16, 2016 //     

Have Branded Activations Jumped the Shark at SXSW?

With hundreds of RSVP only events and dozens of houses and lounges, branded activations are everywhere at SXSW and this year was no exception. Seemingly, the number of activations at the 2016 festival increased from years past, but the sea of experiential sameness was staggering.

Similar to what SXSWi festival director, Hugh Forrest said about there not being a breakout app this year, we can confirm there wasn't a breakout brand or marketing activation either.READ MORE
And this is more than just gut instinct. Digital analytics tools confirm that the only brand that really broke through was POTUS.

Below is a visual sampling of some of the brands that attempted to entice festival-goers with the common themes of VR exhibitions, free booze and selfie photo booths:

McDonald's Loft


Video Credit: Digital Bounds

Sony Future Lab


Video Credit: The Next Web

IBM Cognitive Studio

[caption id= align=alignnone width=496]Photo Photo Credit: Steven Rosenbaum[/caption]

NYT VR Event

[caption id=attachment_4474 align=alignleft width=300]Photo Photo Credit: Austin Music Video Festival[/caption]










MARCH 15, 2016 //     

Enough about Millennials, Let's Talk Gen Z

MARCH 10, 2016 //     

What to Look Out for At SXSWi 2016: President Obama, Unicorns, BBQ and More

As part of the consumer technology and digital entertainment practice, I've had the privilege to attend quite a few festivals and conferences. Austin's SXSW Interactive however, has been at the top of my list since I first stepped off the plane four years ago. An incubator of cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity, at SXSW I have the opportunity to hear from the brightest minds and creative thinkers across various industries. Not to mention, I've seen some media icons – like when I had my picture taken with the success kid. Maybe this year I'll be able to snap a picture with Obama!READ MORE
At Allison+Partners we have team members attend SXSW for current clients, networking opportunities and of course, the best BBQ! As I begin to pack and plan for both my panel and party schedule, here is what I am most looking forward to:

Politically Speaking – There have been some amazing keynotes at past SXSW events, but nothing can beat this year's speaker, President Obama. His appearance could not be more appropriate with the 2016 clearing turning into the “digital first” election. SXSW has welcomed politicians and policy makers throughout the years, but Obama is a huge get for the festival and should be a compelling conversation. In fact, the public will have the opportunity to be part of the conversation by sending in questions to the Tribune, who will be moderating the chat.

Unicorn Shopping – Along with heading to Allens Boots to window shop, I will also enjoy browsing to find the next unicorn (defined as a start-up company whose valuation has exceeded that of $1 billion). Think Uber, Snapchat, Dropbox and Pinterest. Last year, for example, Meerkat was the leading technology platform to come out of the festival. In fact, according to Tracx, it was the #1 brand talked about. I wonder which company will surprise us this year by taking over media coverage everywhere.

Virtual [Becomes] Reality – Virtual reality is becoming less of a concept and more of a reality, with product launches and demos at this year' CES in Las Vegas and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Now in Austin, VR exhibitors will be filling up the conference to demo new products and features. Attendees can also check out a three-day, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Experience space at the Hilton Hotel Convention Center. Additionally, there will be the first “augmented reality concert” hosted by Doppler Labs and Allison+Partners' client Deloitte Digital.

Getting Branded – Brands attending SXSW look forward to learning about the latest technology and how to apply it to their own business strategies, but the festival also gives them the opportunity to attract thousands of consumers' attention. From branded party houses like the Spotify House, to branded parties like MashBash, brands are everywhere, even on SXSW rickshaws! However, brands that separate themselves from the clutter by providing an engaging and fun experience are the ones that win over consumers.

BBQ for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner – It's been said that the best deals are made over cocktails and although that may be true, I prefer networking over delicious BBQ. Austinhas so much to offer, in various forms – food trucks, restaurants, tiny hole-in-the-wall spots. I've had reservations for spots like La Condesa and Lamberts for a while now! And when you would rather satisfy your thirst than your hunger, roam around the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel or Fast Company Lounge., to grab a drink and a  conversation with business executives and media. Follow representatives from Allison+Partners as we avoid the rain, pack on the pounds and take in all the technology and entertainment for another fun filled and exciting year at SXSW!

Dana Block is a Group Account Director in Allison+Partners Los Angeles office. 
MARCH 9, 2016 //     

Three Ways the NBA Plans to Continue Record Growth

OLYMPUSiStock / John NeffRecently, I had the opportunity to listen to NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum speak at Arizona State University's Sports Law and Business program. Tatum, who was promoted to his current position when Adam Silver was named commissioner in 2014, spoke to a packed room of eager students and professionals from across the sports industry.READ MORE
As marketing and PR professionals, it'll be interesting to see how the league evolves and markets to all of its stakeholders – sponsors, players and fans. Tatum addressed everything from the Hack-a-Shaq strategy to potentially advertising on players' jerseys. He shared three key insights on the state of the NBA and how the league plans to grow:

Aggressive Expansion: Expanding the D-League. Tatum shared that the league views the Developmental League as an area for aggressive expansion. He expects every NBA franchise in the league will have its own D-League team in the next 5-10 years. First up? The new D-League franchise in Chicago – The Windy City Bulls.

Going Global: Becoming a global brand and sport. Because the NBA's popularity has grown so much in the states (selling out 95 percent of games last season), the league has started to shift its focus overseas to explore other ways to generate revenue. Tatum credited the 1992 Dream Team as the first step toward establishing basketball as a global sport, and he shared that the NBA's intent is to grow the popularity of the game itself, in addition to the brand.

While the league would like to create new teams overseas, there are several barriers that exist – such as time zones and infrastructure – which they would have to move past before expanding. In the meantime, the league has continued focusing on growing its following in large consumer markets like China and India.

Building the Pipeline: Growing youth basketball. Last June, the NBA announced plans to expand its Jr. NBA program in the U.S. and Canada to reach 5 million children in the next two years. This fall, The NBA also signed a multi-year global agreement with Under Armor to make the company the presenting partner of the Jr. League. Tatum said youth basketball will be a priority for the NBA in coming years, as the league continues to market to both consumers and rising basketball stars.

These insights – expansion, going global and building the pipeline – have been successful in a number of different industries, including marketing and PR. Will they work for the NBA?

Christie Poole is an Assistant Account Executive in the Allison+Partners' Phoenix office who works on a variety of consumer, sports and tech clients.
MARCH 4, 2016 //     

Community Engagement Strategies for Urban Development


As urban centers continue to grow, opportunities for real estate companies and neighborhood leaders to collaborate increase. Cities around the country are looking to densify their downtowns and close-in communities with the idea that building up rather than building out is an efficient, environmentally sensitive approach to growth. Urban densification can open more doors for teachers, first responders, nurses, and others who find it increasingly difficult to navigate the rising costs of in-city housing.READ MORE
Some developers are creating mixed-use projects, many with affordable housing components that are close to mass transit, retail and other lifestyle services for convenience. The strategy is simple: by enabling our cities' residents to live closer to their work, and giving them better access to a range of valuable amenities, we take cars off the road and lessen the burden of travel.

But change is hard. Occasionally, neighborhood activist groups band together opposing densification and private-sector developers seeking to bring sustainable projects to market. In Seattle, the mayor has proposed a comprehensive plan to help generate more affordable housing units while it spurs new development in our cities' urban neighborhoods. Despite these efforts, many stakeholders still struggle with the idea of life in the city surrounded by more high rises.

As a public relations and public affairs agency with a qualified approach to real estate, we help our clients work hand-in-glove with neighborhood stakeholders, environmental preservationists and other special interest groups to create mutually beneficial outcomes for their urban projects. The process is not always easy, but it's a critical step for all urban developers, especially those who see themselves as stewards of communities and the environment. Here are four key steps for a successful community outreach campaign:

Be Proactive: It is imperative that developers get to know their neighbors when projects are proposed. Our clients meet early and often with neighborhood and community associations, their boards and other members, to inform them of their development plans and keep them in the know as construction schedules move forward.

Be Authentic: Nothing puts a relationship at risk more than a company saying one thing and doing another. Real estate firms don't need to overpromise stakeholders, but they do need to hold true to their commitment. The developers that maintain consistent communications about their vision are the ones who'll ultimately garner the most support in the public-approval process.

Be Sensitive: Community relations is more than creating a project that includes LEED-Platinum certification and cool ground-plane retail. The best developers design their projects with the neighborhoods' existing look and feel in mind. Successful urban-development projects incorporate both old and new, which generates appreciation from longtime residents.

Be Strategic: Successful neighborhood advocacy requires a thoughtful approach to communications. New development isn't created in a vacuum; it takes a team of designers, planners, land-use legal advocates and landscape architects' important to have all the right players at the table. Making sure they are present at community meetings to walk through specific elements, can only help in the effort to develop and maintain strong neighborhood relationships.

Richard Kendall is general manager of Allison+Partners' Pacific Northwest offices and has 20 years of experience working with real estate developers, owners, architects, brokers and other industry leaders. 
FEBRUARY 25, 2016 //     

The Equation of Influence

AP_InfluenceImpact_SocialPosts_Blog_Equation_1READ MORE
According to Allison+Partners' 2016 Influence Impact Report, brands must understand the concept of influence to truly harness its power and impact customer behavior during the consumer buying decision process.

Beyond the influence of social media and traditional shopper marketing, there is an equation that combines three key ingredients that allow brands to impact consumer's process of decision making.

Influence is defined as the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something. In the marketing and communications landscape, this translates to:

Influence = (Reach + Authenticity) x Power

Reach: the quantitative indicator of an individual's personal network and includes the number of channels augmented by the number of followers/circulation/viewership.

Authenticity: the qualitative evaluation of bias, or lack thereof. It is analysis of the source, an individual's personal credibility and the validity of their voice.

Power: the X factor that relates directly to impact and ultimately determines strength. This ability to take authenticity and reach and amplify them, comes from individuals with multiple channels of influence, a broad network of followers who are influencers themselves and an opportunity to access multiple platforms for storytelling.

Beyond this definition, it is also imperative for brands and marketers to recognize that influence begins with the consumer and is pull not push. Using reach, authenticity, and power, is how brands can influence consumers after they pull for information in their direction.

Cathy Planchard is the president of All Told, a group within Allison+Partners that combines research, content, creative, digital, and measurement expertise. Corey Martin is the managing director of the consumer marketing practice.
FEBRUARY 24, 2016 //     

Activating the “Who” Rather than the “What”

AP_InfluenceImpact_SocialPosts_Blog_PersonasREAD MORE
The Dave Mathews Band may have said it best: “Turns out, not where, but who you're with that really matters.” The sentiment of this this lyric isn't just limited to personal relationships. It also carries weight for brand marketers looking to harness the power of influence to connect with consumers.

For brand marketers, the “who” and the “what” are two parallel forces that shape influence. The “what” represents content, or any form of communication or information seen internally or externally by an audience. The “who” represents influencers, or anyone who has the ability to tell a brand's story to priority targets.  More and more, it is the “who” that determines the success of content's ability to reach targets, raise awareness, and change thoughts and actions during consumers decision making process.

According to Allison+Partners' 2016 Influence Impact Report, there are three key “personas” that brands must understand and activate to influence consumer's buying behavior during their purchase journey.

The Expressive Explorer: This persona represents the largest opportunity for brands to extend their reach, move market share from competitors and drive trial amongst new audiences. They seek out information to better inform their decision making process, primarily on social and online channels. In fact, 80 percent hear about new products on social media before traditional media and 62 percent identify blogs as their primary sources of information, proving the influence of social media on shopper marketing. This group also actively seek others views, as well as opportunities to express their own opinions, with 90 percent agreeing that people often ask their opinion of brands and products and they are very vocal in sharing their thoughts.

The Socially Conscious Connector: This persona offers brand marketers the opportunity to develop authentic, long-term relationships with their audiences. Since their decisions are guided by brand purpose and shared within trusted personal social networks, their opinions can carry great weight for brands. They rely heavily on word-of-mouth to get information during their buying decision process, especially from friends and family. Due to this reliance, they value “authenticity” with an expectation for diversity and multiculturalism; nearly one-third strongly believe that a brand spokesperson should be of their same cultural heritage. This expectation drives their defined world view, which encourages them to look for brands that share their point of view. In fact, 93 percent believe that a brand's values should mirror their personal values.

The Commnivore: The Communications Omnivore, or “Commnivore,” voraciously consumes all forms of communications. They begin their buying decision process through digital channels, and engage across multiple platforms at once to tell their story. For Commnivores, a brand's visual style is also of significance, with 92 percent indicating that it should align with their own preferences. These consumers are more likely to be multicultural, comprised largely by Millennials and Gen X.

Cathy Planchard is the president of All Told, a group within Allison+Partners that combines research, content, creative, digital, and measurement expertise. Corey Martin is the managing director of the consumer marketing practice.
FEBRUARY 23, 2016 //     

Unlocking the Power of Influence

AP_InfluenceImpact_SocialPosts_Blog_EcosystemREAD MORE
For today's brands, and the vibrant and unpredictable congregation of stakeholders they seek to engage, influence is everywhere. It's fueled by content of all kinds and streams from nearly every imaginable source: from smart-phones in pockets and screens in the backseats of cabs, to broadcast, print, and new media bloggers, vloggers, Viners, and YouTube sensations.

Its impact on brands and the agencies that serve them has intensified with the explosion of digital platforms and the rise of consumer participation and, ultimately, authority. Suddenly, stakeholders are no longer target audiences on a new digital broadcast platform; they're vocal participants and co-creators in a complex ecosystem — pushing content back into deep networks and shifting circles of socialized connectivity that reach and engage consumers with more credibility and relevance than even the biggest brands could hope to achieve.

The velocity of this constantly evolving, digitally driven ecosystem of influence can be difficult for marketers to grasp. So how can brands engage differently to more effectively identify and activate influence in their favor?

According to Allison+Partners' Influence Impact Report, brands must understand the forces that fertilize and shape the influence ecosystem in order to be successful.

1. Understand the flow of influence. As consumers have become increasingly comfortable with connecting, communicating, and even disagreeing with brands and each other, the initiation of influence as an action has shifted. In fact, influence actually begins with the consumer, who actively pulls influence in his direction. This understanding goes against the behaviors and assumptions made by many brand marketers who choose to utilize influencers as a channel for pushing content or to create influence, the noun.

2. Use the equation of influence. Influence is defined as the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something. If written as an equation for brand marketers, this would look like: Influence = (Reach + Authenticity) x Power. These elements of influence are helpful in understanding how influence can go from a noun to a verb and become something tangible and useful.

3. Identify influencers who will have the greatest impact. More and more, it's the who that determines the success of content reaching targets, raising awareness, and changing thoughts and actions. By understanding essential personas of influence, brands can more efficiently tailor content communications strategies.

4. Consider your source. Even though consumers may initiate the process of influence, it remains critical for brands to know which source has the highest level of influence so they're able to get them to change their behavior most effectively. According to the Influence Impact Report, WOM, traditional media, in-person experiential events, and digital channels carry the most weight.

5. Establish credibility through personalization. To achieve a halo of influence close to what's seen in WOM relationships, familiarity and trust are the core ingredients to inspire credibility among stakeholders. With that credibility comes an exponential intensification of influence, and beyond that: the potential for true brand advocacy. With a greater understanding of customers — particularly within the persona types — a brand can deliver personalized experiences, develop a degree of familiarity with consumers, and create interactions that have much greater efficiency and authenticity.

Cathy Planchard is the president of All Told, a group within Allison+Partners that combines the agency's research, content, creative, digital, and measurement expertise. Corey Martin is the managing director of the agency's consumer marketing practice.

Originally posted on PRWeek 
FEBRUARY 19, 2016 //     

Sports Sesh: The Good, Bad, and Ugly in the Intersection of Sports and PR

beyonceGetty Images

Each month, Sports Sesh explores the intersection of sports and PR in current events, while highlighting the good, bad and ugly. This month: The Super BowlREAD MORE
The 2016 NFL season concluded Sunday Feb. 7, with millions of Americans settling in to watch Super Bowl 50. From exciting performances and plays, to a myriad of interesting moments for brands, the big game gave us plenty to talk about.

The good: Queen Bey.

What does America love more than the NFL? Beyoncé. The singer slayed it during the halftime show with Coldplay. She not only breathed new life into a show that has been sadly average for the past few years, but used the opportunity to spark a national dialogue on race, announce her world tour and drop a surprise video and single. And, while we often recommend holding announcements during major events like the Super Bowl, make no mistake - the rules do not apply to Beyoncé.

We see you Bey, and we like your communications skills.

The bad: Awkward commercials.

We all know the right time to turn up the volume during the Super Bowl, and it's not when Peyton Manning is yelling, “Omaha!” Among a plethora of brands who shelled out the big bucks to buy 30, 60 or 90 seconds of fame, a few stood out as people who may need to have a nice, long chat with their media buyers.

Americans squirmed through cartoon images of toenail fungus, high-fiving intestines and heartfelt messages about opioid-induced constipation. It's safe to say these are not really topics to discuss over nachos and chicken wings. We liked the hot dog wiener dogs better.

The ugly: Cam Newton.

Sorry Panthers fans. You may be proud of your MVP-winning, attention-grabbing quarterback, Cam Newton, but he continues to display his immaturity. There's no leadership position in sports quite as visible as an NFL quarterback, and no podium larger than that after the Super Bowl.  Yet he chooses to walk off of the postgame press conference podium after just three minutes?

In this moment, Newton chose not to lose with grace, but to sulk through questions, provide one-word answers and abruptly leave the stage leaving dozens of reporters with unanswered queries.  The word on the street is that Newton may have made his exit after hearing a nearby Broncos player give an excited replay of the game. Either way, the lack of sportsmanship is not impressive, Super Cam.
FEBRUARY 17, 2016 //     

5 Ways to Communicate In Story Form


While advising marketers on the evolving role between brand and buyer,Robert McKee, the writing guru whose bestseller STORY remains the gold standard for aspiring screenwriters, offered a pointed and erudite perspective: “You don't solve their world. They solve their world using you.”READ MORE
While this commentary isn't at odds with the best examples of advertising or traditional brand strategy exercises, it does challenge the majority of business leaders and communications executives accustomed to pushing one-directional brand narratives that feature their company or product as the chief protagonist.

McKee is saying what many believers of the effectiveness and purpose of content marketing also echo. Storytelling can win a customer's heart and mind just as effectively as a film wins its audience. To do so, however, requires accepting the fact that you are not the hero. Your customer is.

At its essence, content marketing is a practice that believes the best way to sell something is to not sell anything. Earning the awareness, trust and affinity of your audience through useful, entertaining or informative content can actually serve the brand better. This mindset is not only instinctual, it's confirmed by consumer behavior and usage patterns: our reliance on digital content informs our brand preferences, choices and alliances.

But much like journalism in the Internet age, brand storytelling can be a tough sell. To some, it appears to be inspired by techniques more common with film school than business school, sowing a bias that can be an impenetrable hindrance for adoption.

Here are five ways that businesses can bring traditional storytelling techniques into their marketing programs with little controversy or concern.

1. Remember, you are not the protagonist. Your customer is.
This is especially hard in certain industries, such as consumer technology, where features and functionality drive differentiation and are obsessed over by companies and media alike. But there are real narrative limitations in that type of messaging, which often forestall the catharsis found in promoting how your products can aid human potential, a more enduring reframing of the product story that makes your customer the hero.

2. Understand the effects of turning points.
Some of the best brand storytelling – Chipotle, Always – leverage a societal tension, and unveil the positivity that can be gained through insight and a shift in direction (one, not coincidentally, the brand supports). It's a well-documented truth that to get people to see from your perspective, you first have to see it from theirs. That is how empathy is delivered, and it's the most potent ingredient in powerful storytelling.

3. Appeal to the “emoter” and “rationalizer,” in the correct sequence and on the right platform.
According to a study by Blue Nile Research, it's not enough to inhabit a channel – be it social, search, online or otherwise. You must also understand your audience's state of mind within that channel, and then sequence your messaging appropriately. For instance, their studyindicates emotion compels buyers to act, and this emotional connection typically occurs in discovery platforms and channels (mobile and social, specifically). Understanding this reality can properly inform your narrative choices – how and when you appeal to emotion vs. reason, and in what context – to convert interest into action.

4. Leadership stories require a comfort level in failings.
While outward storytelling should focus on your customer as the protagonist, inward storytelling allows businesses to show where they've been and where they're going. Targeting employees, storytelling of this nature can capture a culture and breed advocacy and ambassadorship. Similarly, a narrative that observes and appreciates relatable events, and the good and bad a company and its leadership have endured, can humanize a brand. As McKee has said, rhetoric whose only purpose is to impress can be a business story black hole.

5. To trigger the optimal outcome, you have to build a persuasive call to action.
The purpose of content marketing is the same as traditional marketing: encourage action that drives business interests. While storytelling requires developing a core character, defining their obstacles and path to satisfaction, you can't forget to include a call to action that carries an audience's emotional investment into actionable behavior change.

Kevin Nabipour is SVP, Content Strategies 
FEBRUARY 8, 2016 //     

Hey @VirginAmerica, Tweet Me


Do you use social media? The Pew Research Center recently found that 65 percent of U.S. adults use social networking sites, and a full 90 percent of young adults do. While most of us remember a time less than ten years ago when Twitter was just a twinkle inJack Dorsey's eye, it's safe to say that in another ten years, the next wave of young adults won't remember a time before Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and so on were the norm.READ MORE
What does that mean for customer service and your relationship with brands?

I flew from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco last week on Virgin America, and after having a particularly smooth experience, decided to tweet my thanks to the airline. As expected (and as has happened in the past with other airlines), I quickly received a response. In this case, it was, “so great to hear! xo.”

What I didn't expect is what happened next.

Read More

Heather Dratler is a director in Allison+Partners' Washington, D.C. office who provides strategic counsel to many of the agency's travel and hospitality clients. She is a regular contributor for Elliott. 
JANUARY 11, 2016 //     

The Quick & Dirty: The Anti-Trends for 2016 or “Enough is Enough”


I really wasn't going to do this piece: the standard trends piece for the new year. Last year I wrote about the distractions we can do without in 2015, and this year I decided to stay out of the game of predicting anything for 2016. But I just couldn't stay away — there were too many pieces on trends that really got to me.READ MORE
So, here we go: a randomly-selected number of supposed trends for 2016, along with solutions for moving past them. Some of these “trends” are stale (old and not new), and some of them are just pale (not going to happen). Hey, I even threw in a few ideas on how we can stop making these silly trend predictions.

To ensure no ego gets hurt in the making of this piece, I decided against naming the specific articles I read as I wrote this. But I read pieces in the following publications: Greenbiz, Forbes, Huffington Post, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, TriplePundit, the Guardian, and even Carbon Trust and Frontstream.
1. The consumer
Apparently, 2016 is when the consumer is going to step up and be the game-changer. One of the trends pieces even pointed to a Nielsen study showing that 66 percent of consumers will pay more for a product that comes from companies “that are committed to positive social and environmental impact.”

Please picture my eyes rolling on this one. Cone Communications had that statistic back in 2006. Edelman had the same statistic in its Good Purpose study of 2008. And it is now a trend? Just simply lazy.

Solution: The consumer is already there, and the biggest challenge is how business adapts to the changing consumer landscape and not the other way around.
2. The millennial
Millennials are going to be the big agents of social change in 2016. They are the drivers to make sustainability mainstream.

Firstly, this is the same group of millennials that gave us the Kardashian clan and the selfie. Don't hold your breath for them to be the sole drivers of all the good. We have to take their bad with their good. But more importantly, the millennials have already changed the world and will continue to do so. Nothing new to see folks — just people changing the world. And remember, none of these millennials are even at school anymore.

Solution: Stop seeing each consumer group as a unified group. They are diverse and unique, and the more we treat them as individuals and focus our interaction with them on a personal level, the better. And remember, money doesn't matter whether it is in the hands of a 60-, 25- or 12-year-old. The only challenge is how you interact with them at their level in their way. That is why it is called engagement …
3. Green energy
At last, green energy is here to save us. The big trend is the decline of renewable energy prices. We can all breathe easy, clean air now.

You see the problem with the logic in this one? Of course renewable energy prices will go down. Who expected anything else? More money, more research, more capacity, greater efficiencies, new technologies, etc. It all points in one simple direction: prices going down. It's how the world works.

Solution: Focus on this growth and get away from the anti-fossil fuel mentality. Green energy is winning because people instinctively like the renewable idea no matter what side of the political spectrum. But going after a dying industry (fossil fuels) makes you look vindictive and shows a lack of courage. We have won this battle; now start acting like winners.
4. Mainstreaming CSR
2015 was when business started mainstreaming corporate social responsibility (CSR). It is going to become their heart and soul. Their purpose.

Except they didn't. Every good company is still balanced out by a bad company. For every good company fighting climate change, there is another paying off a climate denier or API to fight climate change action. CSR is not mainstream yet. Maybe more people use the word, but we are still in as much trouble as before.

Solution: Stop worrying about businesses mainstreaming sustainability. They either have a purpose or they are selling snake oil. Snake oil sellers aren't going to see the light because their product remains snake oil. But the companies that already have it as part of their business model are kicking their asses. We don't need more “mainstreaming of CSR” arguments if those on our side are kicking the asses of those on the other side. They are already doing it today. Patagonia is walloping their competition. Toms Shoes is kicking butt. And Unilever. And, so on … All of these companies have put their purpose at the center of their business and are thriving. Mainstream businesses are sleeping while the revolution is happening. And that is good for us.
5. Reporting
This is a big bucket, but this trend never ends. Either reporting is going to become mainstream, or materiality is going to be the new hot topic, or social media will be the next big thing in reporting.

What the heck have you been reporting on if it isn't material to your company? And who helped you with that? You really need new consultants. You are either reporting what is important or you are the next Jackie Collins of sustainability with a much lower readership. And welcome to 2010 if you now use social media in reporting. I think we did that at Starbucks in 2009 and Best Buy in 2010 …

Solution: Stop writing silly reports no one will read. Know the limitations of these reports — they are meant to take stock, and only a handful of stories are really interesting enough for people to pay attention for maybe five minutes. Know what you want to achieve with the report and don't oversell the importance of it. It is one tool — only one.
6. The end of carbon
This might be slightly controversial because of so many people still high on COP21. The reality is that we are simply not one inch closer to stopping climate change. We have nice words and an apparent agreement on a framework, but nothing we are doing today is going to stop climate change from slowly choking humans off this earth. A bit of a downer, but I never said everything will be fun.

Solution: The sad truth is that the revolution we need to stop/slow down climate change won't happen soon. We will keep getting new frameworks and fancy words. This war will be won one battle at a time. One company transformation after another. One renewable energy source at a time. We are in it for the long run and must be mentally ready for the long run. Don't try to sell the battle short by thinking we have turned a corner.
7. Concepts
This was the year of the circular economy. No wait, I think that was last year. 2015 was ThriveAbility. Before that we had shared values. A new year, a new dress for old ideas and practices. Let's make 2016 the year of the NoConceptAvism. We are like Trotskyist — put two in a room and you have an immediate disagreement. We can't even agree on the oldest concepts of CSR, sustainability or citizenship.

Solution: Just stop. Just like the consumer, each business is unique and different. Each one offers a different solution and has a different value proposition. Some of them have the essence of their purpose in their products. Some need to focus more on supply chains. Others simply require a connection between a solution and a need. Each one is different, and that is why reporting and awards are so silly — they measure generics in a world of the personal. Just don't come up with a new fancy thing. Just do the action and measure it.

I will leave it there for now. There are many others I would like to add to this list of non-trends we should not start celebrating yet — measurement (social impact, outcomes versus inputs), diversity, employee engagement, cause marketing, big data, water, transparency, development, global versus local, cities are good/no bad, social media, supply chains, partnerships, social enterprises versus nonprofits, etc. Too many to list. But hey — the one trend I know you will see in 2016 is me writing about all of these — tongue firmly in cheek and always having a bit of fun.

Here's to 2016. May the trend forever be on your side.

Originally posted on TriplePundit
DECEMBER 30, 2015 //     

Sports Sesh: The Good, Bad, and Ugly in the Intersection of Sports and PR

stephenDerick E Hingle, USA TODAY Sports

Each month, Sports Sesh examines the intersection of sports and PR in current events, while highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly. This month: Basketball.READ MORE
The Good: The Golden (State) Boy

As of December 2015, the NBA's reigning king is none other than Stephen Curry. Not only does the 27-year-old point guard dominate the scoreboard, but he's also developed a VIP personality that has made his whole team more successful. With his impressive performances and his charming popularity, Stephen Curry is helping the NBA get noticed for good. In fact, he makes journalists talk about him on a daily basis, bringing positive attention to the NBA.

The NBA's 2015 MVP is the kind of guy any girl wants to bring home to meet her parents. He's a husband, a dad and even a Sports Sesh veteran. He was featured a few months ago when his daughter stole our hearts during a press conference.

Along with his popularity, the Golden Boy of the Golden State Warriors also brings relevant numbers. He scores an average of five three-point baskets per game, brought the Golden State Warriors to a record of 24 wins in a row and has more than 3.4 million followers on Twitter. And he doesn't seem to stop. Currymania continues…

The Bad: Why you gotta be so rude?

With 19 years leading the Los Angeles Lakers and five NBA championships in the books, Kobe Bryant said that the current season will be his last. After making a public announcement on The Players Tribune with a letter titled “Dear Basketball,” the 37-year-old basketball icon faced a harsh reaction from the media and an even worse reaction from his own team, who answered back with another letter.

Kobe's list of accomplishments is long. From championships to MVPs, to being an enduring icon of the sport, does he deserve such a cold farewell? Instead of writing about his career as a champion and his outstanding records, the media is focusing on Kobe's poor performance toward the end of his career. Fortunately for Kobe, his celebrity friends have shown their support on social media.

The Ugly: The NCAA

After an eight-year long investigation into Syracuse's athletic programs, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) suspended basketball coach Jim Boeheim for the first nine games of the 2015-16 season. And after issuing the suspension of Boeheim, the NCAA changed its mind to begin the suspension immediately, instead of the start of ACC play.

Boeheim wasn't the only coach the NCAA took action against this year, though. SMU Mustangs coach Larry Brown was hit with a nine-game suspension penalty for a case involving academic fraud, despite the fact that they couldn't find direct ties between Brown and the transgressions.

For being “a membership-driven organization dedicated to safeguarding the well-being of student-athletes and equipping them with the skills to succeed on the playing field, in the classroom and throughout life,” the NCAA is doing a poor job of leading by example. Whether it's unpredictable coaching suspensions with a lack of substantial evidence, or taking almost a decade to conduct investigations, the NCAA is looking pretty ugly these days.

Francesco Onorato works in the Phoenix office of Allison+Partners. Prior to joining the agency, he worked as a journalist covering breaking news and politics.
DECEMBER 14, 2015 //     

Big Brother v. Silicon Valley: Who Will Win?

joshCarolyn Cole/Tribune News Services
The recent events in Paris have reignited a debate on two of the most important topics facing us today: the use of encryption and the balance between national security and personal privacy.

There is little doubt that the perpetrators of this tragedy used encryption to plan the attack. However, the question we need to ask is are we willing to sacrifice more privacy in the name of national security? If the government can track our every move, will it mean even more security back doors for the “bad guys” to exploit? While these back doors may make it easier for law enforcement to perform their jobs, they are also easy targets for those wishing to do harm.

In a matter of weeks, the public and private sectors have staked out their positions. In an interview with The New York Times, C.I.A. Director John Brenan said he hoped the Paris attacks would be a wake-up call, adding that the use of encryption technology had weakened the ability of Western intelligence services to prevent attacks. NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton also stated that ISIS's use of encrypted applications are cause for concern.

On the other side, representatives from technology organizations such as New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute and companies such as Apple and Google believe that any attempt to mandate back doors or prohibit the technology would fail to make us safer against terrorism, while also threatening our digital economy.

Effective messaging will decide this debate. Technology companies and the government should sharpen their narrative, articulating why their point of view is correct. While the government stands lockstep with law enforcement on this issue, the technology community has a powerful counter-point and is exceptionally well-funded. Over the next several months, we will see both sides present their arguments, and it will ultimately be the American public that decides what they value more – personal privacy or security.

Joshua Swarz is a senior account executive in the Corporate practice who specializes in B2B, cyber security and enterprise technology.
DECEMBER 10, 2015 //     

Differences Between U.S. and Chinese Media


China's journalists and the outlets for which they work are in the midst of a rapid evolution from being the extensions of state propaganda to something more closely resembling the media we deal with elsewhere in the world. Yet the emergence of investigative journalism and the arms-length relationship between the government and media should not be seen as the emergence of independent journalism in China. The Party is determined to ensure that while the leash may be longer, media remain responsive to the needs of the government.READ MORE
The arrested development of China's media means that there are significant differences in the way Chinese media and journalists need to be approached when compared to their Fleet Street counterparts. The chart above offers some examples of what you must take into account before creating a media list, sending out a release, or conducting any form of media activity in China.

David Wolf is the managing director of Allison+Partners' Global China Practice. Recognized as a leader in China's public relations industry, David specializes in helping clients manage complex communications challenges, including government relations, crisis, new market entry, and corporate reorganization. His book, “Public Relations in China: Building and Defending Your Brand in the PRC,” was released in October 2015
DECEMBER 7, 2015 //     

Top Challenges for Cities Faced With Rapid Technology Growth

Seattle DJC

With so much economic expansion, it's easy to become immersed in the excitement that companies like Amazon, Google, Twitter and others bring to our cities. They're responsible for tens of thousands of new, well-paying jobs that help support both business and life. The meteoric growth of these companies impacts the broader areas of our communities. But does economic prosperity always equate to better quality of life?READ MORE
That question was raised at a recent keynote presentation by Dr. Enrico Moretti, at the University of Washington's Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies. Moretti is a professor of at the University of California-Berkley, and one of the country's leading authorities on urban economic trends. Moretti, a noted economics researcher and author of The New Geography of Jobs, drew stark comparisons between technology-rich cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Boston and Durham, N.C., and former manufacturing hubs across the Midwest and beyond. He described it as a “tale of three Americas,” with creative-based economies on one end and rust-belt cities with rapid commercial and residential loss on the other. The rest of America, according to Moretti, could go either way.

The tech boom comes with measurable costs, and following are some common issues faced by innovation-based employment centers:

Higher-paying jobs mean greater demand for single- and multi-family housing. It's not uncommon for median home prices to exceed $600,000 in cities like Seattle and $1 million in San Francisco. Teachers, first-responders, nurses and other hard-working Americans are being priced out, and real estate developers can't build apartments fast enough to keep up with demand.

As everyday workers are forced further from their jobs in a quest for housing that meets their budget, infrastructure becomes stressed to accommodate more cars on the roads. More time commuting creates greater stress and diminished productivity. It also means less time with families, friends and loved ones, which erodes overall quality of life.

Rapid in-migration also creates problems in school systems, as cities try to keep pace with population growth with the creation of new schools. Student-to-teacher ratios at public schools decline and private schools become more expensive as the number of residents increases in neighborhoods. Public universities also struggle to expand fast enough to accommodate the qualified students who apply for admission.

In summary, growth stemming from technology is good. It creates new jobs and higher wages for existing positions, and infuses investment into our urban areas that benefits a wide range of stakeholders. But there's a counter effect that necessitates better foresight and planning on behalf of our communities. The cities that employ and manage strong policies for housing, education and transportation will be the best prepared for the long run.

Richard Kendall is general manager of Allison+Partners' Pacific Northwest offices and has 20 years of experience working with real estate developers, owners, architects, brokers and other industry leaders

DECEMBER 4, 2015 //     

From Little Emperors to Leftover Women: A Journey Among the Consumer Tribes of China


China's middle-class consumer is expected to spend trillions of dollars a year as a pillar of the global economy. But what do international marketers really know about these consumers other than how much they spend? Miscalculating them to be the sum total of their purchases and lacking insight into their lives is a formula for creating irrelevant brands and unsustainable strategies.READ MORE
A tribe can reinforce identity, shape views and sometimes predict behavior. Tribes are not necessarily created by a shared language or political system; but rather, can form simply through a shared experience. The U.S. has many tribes of various sizes and influence. There are generational tribes such as Gen Xers and Millennials, and social-economic tribes like Hipsters and Yuppies, among others. Understanding them provides insight into American society and consumer trends.

China's consumers have been shaped by experiences foreign to the masters of global brands. They reflect the influences of Confucianism, Marxism, Maosim, the Cultural Revolution, one-child policy and 20+ years of double-digit growth. By looking more closely at these tribes, marketers can begin to understand consumer needs in this diverse and rapidly changing marketplace.

Little Emperors

In China, young adults are divided into Post 80s and Post 90s (80 and 90). This generation has witnessed momentous events such as the nation's first manned space flight and the hosting of the 2008 Olympic Summer Games. They tend to be optimistic and patriotic. Many of them started life as Little Emperors, the pampered offspring at the intersection of a booming economy and China's one-child policy. They are stereotyped as coddled, overconfident and self-indulgent.


The Diao si (屌丝), which means, “pubic hair,” are self-proclaimed losers among the Post 80s and Post 90s tribes. The term started as in Internet meme and is used as badge of honor. Diaosi women are not bai, fu, mei (白富美) and Diaosi men are not gao, fu, shuai (高富), which are standards for feminine and masculine that literally mean white, rich and beautiful and tall, rich, and handsome. White refers to pale skin, signifying a woman is not from a farming family, therefore, the sun has not darkened her skin. Global cosmetics brands do a brisk business selling whitening formulas and sunscreen.

Mortgage Slaves

The Fang Nv (房奴) refers to those who pay between 30-50% of their monthly income to fulfill the dream of home ownership. In China, owning a home is of particular importance to men, as a young woman's parents are reluctant to give their blessing if the potential groom cannot provide a home for their daughter. However, home ownership is not attainable for many, as the price per square meter is as much as five times the average monthly salary.


Chinese who got a late start in their careers belong to the tribe of Kenlao (啃老), which means, “nibbling on the elderly.” These are often university students who return home after graduation and find it hard to transition into adulthood. Today, despite torrid economic growth many young adults remain financially dependent on their parents. 


The Ant Tribe (蚁族) are recent graduates who move to cities, live cheaply and work in low-paid jobs. They are the white and light-blue collar version of China's migrant labor force that have gone from working on production lines to occupying seats in cubicles at computers. Its members live in cramped subdivided dorms, while fervently searching for better opportunities.


Together, these tribes comprise the majority of China's millionaires and billionaires. The Fuerdai (富二代), or second-generation rich, are the children of successful business people. The Guanerdai (官二代) are the children of government officials who are likely to have obtained wealth by dubious means. The Tuhao (土豪) are the provincial nouveau riche, seen as having more wealth than class.

Leftover Women

Any unmarried woman over age 30 is considered a member of this tribe. The Leftover Women (剩女) are living the contradiction between traditional cultural norms and the emancipation of women in modern society. Pressure for a woman to be married before entering her 30s is staggering. Those who wait, choosing to pursue an advanced degree or life as an entrepreneur, often face criticism and have difficulty finding a partner.

A Note to Marketers

The market is littered with the graves of multinationals that didn't cater to the changing needs and preferences of Chinese consumers. Marketers must pay close attention to China's tribes, as they keep pace with how customers are evolving. They need to ask important questions such as, which tribes do we appeal to and how are we going to use their life experience to connect with them?  Where is this tribe headed and will it even exist 10 years from now?

Bill Adams is Executive Vice President, Allison+Partners Global China Practice.
DECEMBER 2, 2015 //     

Social Media In China


There are two truisms about social media in China. The first is that social media has risen to a level of importance for public relations professionals in China that is equal to, or greater than, the importance of journalists and the outlets for which they work.READ MORE
The second is that social media is still a moving target. Nearly a decade after the emergence of the first Chinese social networking sites (SNS),

For that reason, as I note in my book, Public Relations in China, there are as yet few rules for social media, including which department should oversee it. Here are five non-negotiable rules to enhance your efforts.

PR and Social Media cannot exist in separate silos. Social media teams understand how to leverage direct channels to the public for maximum impact. Public relations teams are adept at responding to audience challenges to ensure that they are consistent with the corporate voice and are also genuinely responsive. Each plays an essential role in communicating with stakeholders. Separate these functions and your company will suffer, especially when dealing with a crisis.

In China, our social media presence and the nature of the content you post and the conversations you conduct, are as important to your credibility as your website with audiences born after 1980. Give your social media equal time and effort, if not more, than what you give to your website.

Social is mobile in China. Take that into account at all times.

Engage, don't just post. Social media is as much about conversations as content. Make sure you are responding to content and that the entire company is addressing concerns that appear.

The key to social media success in China is not the number of followers you have. It is the number of followers your followers have. Getting a hundred influential opinion leaders to retweet your posts is much more valuable than doing it yourself. Focus your efforts on the quality of followers first, then quantity.

David Wolf is the managing director of Allison+Partners' Global China Practice. Recognized as a leader in China's public relations industry, David specializes in helping clients manage complex communications challenges, including government relations, crisis, new market entry, and corporate reorganization. His book, “Public Relations in China: Building and Defending Your Brand in the PRC,” was released in October 2015
NOVEMBER 24, 2015 //     

Sports Sesh: The Good, Bad and Ugly in the Intersection of Sports and PR


Each month, Sports Sesh examines the intersection of sports and PR in current events, while highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly. This month: Daily Fantasy Sports READ MORE
The Good: Leagues Embrace Fantasy

Fantasy sports have come a long way from the days when participants would send the picks for the season into their favorite magazine. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, 56.8 million people in United States and Canada played in some form of fantasy sports in 2015. This represents a whopping 26 percent growth from 2014. The average household income of those 56.8 million is $75,000 a year. These statistics show how much opportunity is out there, and the four major leagues – NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB – aren't shying away.

The big four have embraced the fantasy sports movement, and have even looked to incorporate them into the game day experience. Currently, the Atlanta Falcons have plans to include a fantasy football lounge in their new stadium. On an almost daily basis, a new team is signing a deal with either DraftKings or FanDuel. Rather than trying to weed out fantasy sports due to gambling concerns, the leagues have embraced it. The NBA even signed a partnership with FanDuel in 2014 that landed them an equity stake in the company. As a result, they have opened themselves up to larger fan bases who are more engaged with their respective sports.

The next step, once investigations around Draftkings and FanDuel die down (more to come on that later) is for the leagues to be more proactive about how fantasy sports fit into the future of their games. It's a thought leadership platform that appeals to a wider audience. 

The Bad: The Advertising  

I wish I could count on one hand the amount of times I see an ad for DraftKings and FanDuel on a daily basis, but there are way too many. Both of them are spending money on all forms of advertising to reach consumers. According to Nomura analyst Anthony DiClemente, DraftKings and FanDuel have spent a collective $150 million on TV and web ads from June-September 2015.

Both companies have invested in banner ads, radio ads, TV ads, sponsored posts and even integrations with local sports talk radio hosts across the country. But they all sound the same, and ultimately their message is the same: “By playing daily fantasy sports, you have the opportunity to win $1 million in a day.”

Again, both companies are under investigation, and if they do come out on the other side, they need to invest in a public relations platform. They're at the forefront of a bustling industry, yet they'd rather pay for the message than put spokespeople out in the public eye who can discuss the rise in popularity. It's not like they don't have the statistics to back any of it up.

The Ugly: The Lawsuits

The New York Attorney General is going after daily fantasy sports hard. He's even gone as far as adding Yahoo! to the lawsuit that both DraftKings and FanDuel are wrapped up in for being “nothing more than a rebranding of sports betting.” It all comes down to regulation. It's an unregulated, multi-billion dollar industry that was made possible by a 2006 federal law that banned Internet gambling, but allowed fantasy sites to operate because they are games of skill rather than chance.

That is where it gets ugly. Rather than proactively building the platform around daily fantasy sports and what they really were, DraftKings and FanDuel chose to hide behind a law knowing they would be in this situation someday. It now presents a PR crisis, especially when there's a DraftKings employee potentially using his knowledge to win over a quarter of million dollars on FanDuel. There is a shroud over the industry and its transparency and it's something that can't be fixed until these daily fantasy operators have had their day in court.

Alex Pitocchelli is a Senior Account Executive in Allison+Partners NY office who has worked with numerous sports focused clients during his time with the agency.

NOVEMBER 23, 2015 //     

5 Takeaways from Dublin's Web Summit


Earlier this month, Susie Hughes (VP of the London office) and I attended the last Web Summit being held in my home city of Dublin before it moves to Lisbon next year. Collectively, Susie and I have attended Web Summit for the past five years and have seen it grow from a tiny 200 person gathering to the massive 30,000 person event that it is today.READ MORE
It was another great year of content and discussion. If you're planning to attend the next one, here is some insight for you:

The speakers and 'tracks' are getting more diverse.

Web Summit is inherently a technology conference. However over the past five years, the rapid infiltration of technology into every aspect of life has become increasingly apparent. This event doesn't just target a niche group of industry specialists anymore. The line-up of people waiting to hear Allison+Partners' client Infusionsoft, was just as long as the line to hear Dan Brown's interview and former Irish rugby player Brian O' Driscoll's panel.

Set up meetings ahead of time.

In years past, we would simply show up on the first day and march straight to the media or speakers 'village' to set up our networking shop. By the end of day three, our rolodex was full of new contacts and business cards. As the event has grown, this has become more of a challenge. Attendees are more dispersed and there are more activities to distract people from our (persistent) charms. Instead, this year we set up meetings ahead of time, which proved to be very productive. We scheduled meetings for our client, Dublin Commissioner for Start-ups, with The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and USA Today.

Night Summit is where the best networking happens.

Over the three days of the conference, a series of evening events are held throughout the city of Dublin. One thing that has remained consistent as the conference has grown is that the most valuable networking happens during these events. This year was no exception. We attended events held by two of the biggest Irish start-ups – CurrencyFair and Intercom – where we caught up with media and mingled with VCs and entrepreneurs. We even caught a live taping of my favourite podcast, an Irishman Abroad.

The start-ups in the exhibitor area get more insane every year.

The exhibiting 'village' at Web Summit has grown every year and now spans across the two venues. When we have some down time at the conference, we love to walk through the exhibitor areas and spot the most outrageous start-ups and start up names. Could you imagine a health tech start-up called 'What the Health Are You Doing' or an app that lets you turn on your microwave with your mind? Neither of these are real, but give you an example of the creative start-ups we regularly come across.

The growth of the Dublin tech industry.

The biggest change over the past five years has been the remarkable growth of Dublin's start-up and tech industry. Previously, the city was known as the headquarters for European multinationals, but now it has fast carved out a name for itself as a major European Tech Hub, contending only Berlin and London. The city is bursting with creativity and innovation, which is evident (and sometimes a surprise) to everyone who attends Web Summit.

It will be interesting to see how Web Summit's new home in Lisbon impacts the vibe and essence of the conference. Only time will tell, but you will all have to wait with baited breath until next year when I will report back on my findings.

Kate joined Allison+Partners in 2010 and has worked in both the San Francisco and London offices. Based in Dublin, she serves as director of the London office working closely with her U.K. and U.S. colleagues.
NOVEMBER 18, 2015 //     

Four Ways to Influence Government Policy in China


It is more difficult than ever for a company -- especially a foreign company -- to influence government policy in China. The current administration in Beijing views such influence as undesirable if not nefarious. Policies have been put into place that limits the interaction between senior officials and international companies. International commitments notwithstanding, China also appears determined to favor domestic firms that it hopes will lead China into a future of global commercial dominance in a range of profitable industries.READ MORE
That said, there are still ways to ensure that your voice is heard in the policymaking process. Your efforts to have a say in the evolution of policies and regulation around your industry should include four avenues of approach.

Direct contact. While these instances are rare, they are precious and often come with little warning. You need to be prepared to take full advantage of opportunities to have senior leaders hear your point of view. That doesn't just mean being able to speak Chinese or having Xi Jinping's book on your desk when welcoming a Chinese official; it means understanding how to earn respect without being a sycophant, and how to deliver your case convincingly to those most resistant to it.

Diplomatic intercession. Getting your embassy or your home government to intervene directly on your behalf is the nuclear option as you don't want to bring in the hammer unless you've tried everything else. Beijing's leaders have become expert at turning a diplomatic solution into a pyrrhic victory. At the same time, commercial, economic, and political attachés at the embassy can be sources of insight and information, help align you with other companies in the same predicament, and ensure that your broader concerns are part of the bilateral discussion between China and your home country.

Local influencers. The voices that matter the most to policymakers in Beijing are the ones that belong to Chinese enterprises and local governments. If you make your case to local leaders and to your Chinese partners in a way that demonstrates that your gain is their gain, you have recruited the most powerful spokespeople of all.

The community at large. When the policy tide rolls against you, your best insurance is the devoted support of consumers and neighbors in your community. Building loyalty among your customers is, naturally, very good business. It is also a powerful bulwark against the vagaries of policy change in Beijing. Social media and relationships with opinion leaders offer another reason why all components of your external communications team need to be synchronized in China.

David Wolf is the managing director of Allison+Partners' Global China Practice. Recognized as a leader in China's public relations industry, David specializes in helping clients manage complex communications challenges, including government relations, crisis, new market entry, and corporate reorganization. His book, “Public Relations in China: Building and Defending Your Brand in the PRC,” was released in October 2015
NOVEMBER 13, 2015 //     

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