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SEPTEMBER 17, 2020 //     

Generating Leads From Podcasts

By: Terry McDermott

Omnicom’s commitment to purchase $20 million worth of podcast ads with Spotify confirms the streaming platform’s investment in Streaming Ad Insertion (SAI), a new, proprietary podcast ad technology that delivers Spotify’s full digital suite of planning, reporting and measurement capabilities. The technology offers more precise measurement of impressions and may be a key development in bringing large brands into the podcast advertising sphere. But even without the measurement technology, podcasts have worked and will continue to work for advertisers seeking leads.

For example, after Joe Rogan explains to his podcast audience the MasterClass product offering, he then tells his audience they can save 15% when they type masterclass.com/Rogan. SimpliSafe.com/chiclets is the URL the podcasters from Spittin’ Chiclets recite, so its listeners can get a discount from the home security tools provider. And HelloFresh.com/officeladies80 is the URL to which Jenna Fisher and Angela Kinsey of Office Ladies direct their listeners. Again, to receive a discount.

You can bet the advertiser tracks traffic and conversions at those URLs like nobody’s business, producing ROI reports in a flash. Their continued presence advertising with podcasters helps prove podcasts can be effective for lead generation. 

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Moving away from the direct-to-consumer advertisers, using podcasts to generate leads requires some additional work. For years, print ads promoted /XYZ after a URL with uneven impact. It turns out even the most “memorable” URLs were difficult to remember. But podcasts visitors can simply hit the rewind button or replay an episode. And podcasters themselves use free podcasts to promote premium services.

With a clear definition of a lead, advertisers can use podcasts to generate leads and do the math to connect those leads to sales. Retailers, such as Trader Joe’s, have advertised their own podcasts on NPR’s podcast network. It is easy to imagine how a retailer can track the confluence of podcast listeners and shoppers by highlighting exclusive offers on their own podcasts.

The absence of real-time conversion data is where the art of media buying and the science of media measurement collide – an advertiser that wants leads can seek the demographic data of the listeners of a specific podcast and match that with the topics typically discussed. If it seems “Blackpacking” has the right audience discussing the right things, an audio ad for travel gear makes sense. But, beyond simply making sense, the advertiser can check to see the total traffic to widgetbrand.com/blackpacking. Those are the leads easily tracked back to the ad on Blackpacking.

For B2B advertisers, where the definition of a lead may require explicit contact information added to a CRM database, similar techniques can be used. SquareSpace.com/StarTalk is the key for listeners of the Neil deGrasse Tyson podcast to unlock a discount. Garyvee.com/marketingforthenow is how Gary Vaynuerchuk advertised his content webinar series via his podcast. Register for the webinar – voila, you are a lead.

A more typical path in B2B will follow the example set out by Adobe in its Experience Essentials series. The series itself burnishes Adobe’s reputation as a thought leader in customer experience, and assists marketers in understanding how multi-channel marketing can boost performance. But Adobe also uses its podcast to drive traffic to https://www.adobe.com/experience-cloud/role/marketer.html

From there, live chat, the contact us button and the ability to register for free virtual events or download analyst reports turn podcast traffic into actionable leads. It may not be certain the lead came from a podcast – yet, if the podcast performs a different role, adding a lead gen component is an easy way to squeeze even more value out of the tactic.

Thus, whether explicitly to deliver leads or serve another purpose, our advice to marketers producing podcasts is simple: create and promote a unique URL extension to which you will direct podcast listeners. From there, promote the same offers that are available to traffic from other sources (paid search, re-marketing banners, trade eNewsletters). Existing tracking can the be used to understand which leads are attributable to the podcast, and marketers have another channel they can measure, optimize and compute ROI on their way to filling the sales pipe. Improvements in ad measurement have arrived, and more may come. But there is no reason to wait.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help your integrated marketing needs, get in touch at terrance.mcdermott@allisonpr.com 

Terry McDermott is a digital evangelist with expertise in turning objectives into strategic plans and developing, executing, and measuring demand generation programs. He leverages his background in direct response techniques, including CRM marketing, to develop insights that build lead gen and customer acquisition campaigns. He also creates account-based marketing programs for key prospects, selecting targets via predictive modeling and creating marketing automation campaigns to nurture and score leads. Additionally, McDermott advocates for investments in emerging digital products, technologies and channels, while building and managing teams to generate leads, boost sales and increase awareness.

SEPTEMBER 15, 2020 //     

As the Clock Ticks Down, Why TikTok Matters

By: Jonathan Heit 

Over the past several weeks, the tumult surrounding the entertainment platform TikTok has reached a fever pitch. Global Chair of our technology practice, founding partner Jonathan Heit, weighs in…

[Full disclosure: A+P represents TikTok, parent company Bytedance and Bytedance subsidiary Lark in several markets across Asia-Pacific] 

If it seems like every day you are inundated with news about TikTok and its business prospects in the United States, well that’s because you are. Every few years there seems to be a “next new thing” the kids use, and this is certainly TikTok’s moment.

Thinking about other platforms that generated this type of attention over the years – namely YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat – it’s important to recognize how so many of these also faced major global implications on the political and business landscapes. 

However, few have been in the crosshairs quite like TikTok. Owned by Chinese parent company Bytedance, it faces incredible scrutiny. With reports on Sept. 14 that Oracle won the bid for TikTok’s technology ahead of the impending deadline for either a sale of its U.S. assets or a ban, it’s a good time to put the company under the microscope.

To show its reach and real impact, TikTok recently revealed it hosts about 100 million monthly active U.S. users . TikTok already goes far beyond “the kids” as the graphic below indicates:

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TikTok content is clearly much more than the latest dance craze for teens, though it has an extraordinary and growing impact on the music business. Its content crosses all forms of entertainment, religion, education, DIY cooking, grilling and home renovation, among many other categories. It also hosts political coverage across a broad political spectrum that actually leans right, despite the widely reported case of the pesky teen K Pop fans that torpedoed President Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa. There really is something for everyone on TikTok. 

This broad reach is one reason why TikTok still manages to dominate the headlines during a worldwide pandemic, a U.S. presidential election and a historic fight for racial justice led by the Black Lives Matter movement.   

Let’s review what’s gone on in just the past few months:

  • In early June, Disney’s Kevin Mayer became CEO of TikTok on the heels of the successful launch of streaming service Disney+.
  • June 29, India banned TikTok along with 58 other Chinese-owned apps over concerns that these apps were engaging in activities that threatened “national security and defence of India
  • Just two months later, Trump signed an executive order effectively banning the app in the U.S. beginning Sept. 15 and requiring the company sell to a U.S. company
  • A flurry of interest in the company ensued, led by potential bids by Microsoft, Oracle and Walmart in the span of just a few weeks
  • A subsequent executive order signed Aug. 14 pushed the deadline for a transaction to be completed to Nov. 12
  • On Aug. 27, Mayer stepped down as CEO after less than three months on the job
  • Two days later, China introduced a “poison pill” that makes any deal nearly impossible by making the transfer of AI from a Chinese entity illegal
  • On Sept. 7, TikTok filed suit against the U.S. government to avoid a ban 

Whether you agree with the politics behind India and the United States’ actions or China’s countermeasures, the reverberations are undeniable. The offer from Microsoft and others were originally believed to be in the $30 billion range, and the overall valuation of Bytedance was estimated at between $100 billion and $150 billion

Of course, these deals were all formulated prior to China’s attempts to extricate the AI from the package, which would bring the value down considerably. If you’ve spent any time on TikTok, and the chart that follows shows many of you have, you’ll recognize the value is in the algorithm. 

That’s true of any social platform. But the key to TikTok is an algorithm unlike any other. Despite movements toward transparency, this is the very AI that China aims to hold onto and is at the heart of U.S. concerns, along with data security and privacy. The way the app quickly learns user interests and tailors videos for them on their “For You” page is almost eerie. Within two to three days of using the app, users get served nearly tailor-made and customized videos.

Brands, consumers, parents and the market have begun to recognize this is far more than just the aforementioned collection of fun videos set to music by teenagers. As my colleagues Pranav Kumar and Natashia Jaya pointed out in their blog here, the COVID-19 pandemic kept human interaction at an all-time low and TikTok outpaced the competition by a wide margin by bringing people together in a more meaningful way.

In terms of potential suitors, Microsoft has a good track record in consumer entertainment and social media (think Xbox and LinkedIn) and already does significant business in China. As such, it seemed to be a strong potential partner with a security legacy far better than Facebook or Amazon. Despite, or perhaps because of, its grander ambitions, Microsoft learned over the weekend its bid was rejected in favor of a less all-encompassing deal by Oracle. 

Oracle is a Trump favorite. That may have played a factor in the ultimate decision, which will certainly evolve over time as the deal consummates. While Wal-Mart originally appeared to be a bit more of dark horse as a partner with Microsoft’s deal, further reporting made it clear the value this would add to the world’s largest company and the value it brings to marketers across the spectrum.

Not content to stand by idly and allow its fate to be decided, TikTok went on the marketing offensive. On Aug. 18, the company launched its boldest ad campaign featuring a mix of clips from a wide range of creators set to the song “Sing to Me” by Walter Martin featuring Karen O. The campaign focuses on TikTok’s position as more than just a personal plaything, but a platform capable of creating “a global, cultural moment that travels across countries, cultures and communities.” Furthermore, it splashed media dollars across podcasts and other channels to reach as broad an audience as possible. 

Through this prism, Walmart’s involvement in this deal begins to make a lot more sense.

In a statement talking about the deal, Walmart noted this represents “an important way for us to reach and serve omnichannel customers as well as grow our third-party marketplace and advertising businesses.”

At the same time, TikTok recognizes the value of its enormous and passionate user base and upped the ante to partner more closely with agencies. It brought in a full-time team to focus on building relationships with brands and aggressively marketed “TikTok for Business” to enhance revenue-generating opportunities for brands on the platform.

Already, users have seen a variety of ads from high-profile brands. But trust and safety issues abound, not to mention the usual tension between user experience and profit-making. The platform has taken important steps to stem bullying on the platform, but it must also account for data privacy and security. This is one of the central concerns in the ongoing U.S.-China rift, and it’s a driving force in the current administration’s push to sell the American operation to a U.S. company. For its purposes, Beijing would rather see the site shut down than sold to Oracle or any U.S. company. 

How TikTok navigates this and maintains its prodigious user base is an important evolution and will show its commitment to sticking around for the long haul. Will the gambit ultimately pay off? One thing is for sure. There will be no shortage of media coverage documenting every step of the way.

Jonathan Heit is a co-founder and partner at Allison+Partners, as well as a trusted adviser to some of today’s best-known technology brands. In his role as global president he focuses on the growth and operations of the agency’s two largest regions, Asia and the U.S. Jonathan also serves as global chair of the Technology practice, spearheading work in both the consumer and B2B categories.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2020 //     

9/11 Reminds Us We Can Overcome COVID-19 Challenges

By: Shanna Brown

As New York City begins to show some life after six stressful months, it’s hard not to wonder if the City That Never Sleeps can bounce back from COVID-19. On one hand, indoor eating, exercise classes and bar hopping are not what they once were. But on the other hand, the city is in a better place than we thought it would be back in April. Schools have adjusted and reopened, and the parks safely bustle with New Yorkers again. Even though winter looms with a new season of unknowns, it is hard not to be relieved the city has begun to resurrect. 

It’s not the first time New York City has had to rise from the ashes. 

Everyone who says COVID-19 will be the end of this city has clearly not paid attention. It has been 19 years since the world changed and the city was put through one of its toughest challenges. It took some time, but a new, New York City was born after Sept. 11, 2001. In March 2020, while offices, schools and shopping areas shut down, the frontline workers and first responders once again stepped up. 

As we look back on this day 19 years ago, we are reminded how quickly everything can change and how much we take for granted in our daily lives. There were questions and concerns then that New Yorkers faced, such has how would returning to skyscraper offices ever feel safe again after something so tragic? How could going to any public spaces, such as sporting events, Broadway shows or restaurants, ever feel safe again? Sound familiar?

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I grew up in Westchester County, New York, just 35 miles north of Manhattan. My childhood was awesome. I lived a street away from my school and enjoyed endless playgrounds. I was allowed to ride my bike everywhere. I would go to my friends’ houses, the deli down the street and my school… I owned that town. 

It was the last year of elementary school on a beautiful Tuesday morning in September. I was 10 years old and in a really good mood because my oldest sister was unexpectedly home from college. My family was all together for the first time in a month.

I was in Mr. Henderson’s math class. As we worked through the problems on the board, my homeroom teacher Mr. Frye barged in and called on my classmate Greg. He said his mom was there to pick him up. “Greg is so lucky he gets to leave early today,” I thought.

A bit later, Mr. Frye returned, and it was Ricky and Kay’s turn to go home. Someone from the back of the room shouted: “Mr. Frye, what’s going on? Why does everyone get to go home early?” 

He replied, “Didn’t you know? It’s National Go Home Early Day!” and he left.

The next thing I know, they corralled us all back to homeroom. Rumors flew, teachers held back their tears and we sensed something was wrong. I recall hearing an atomic bomb was headed our way. I wasn’t even sure what an “atomic bomb” was! But I knew a bomb was a bad thing and that my school day had turned into organized chaos. 

Eventually, they put us all on buses and I headed home still unsure about what had happened. I walked into the house and saw my middle sister in the kitchen watching the TV and crying. The World Trade Center was in flames on the screen. My heart sank and I ran to the family room to my older sister, who sat in silence watching the same thing unfold. I started to panic.

My dad came home some time later. He was in Albany that day with his boss and had driven home as soon as he could. My mom didn’t come home until much later. I was already in bed but awake. She was a healthcare worker, so she had to stay at work in case any victims came to her hospital. It was all hands-on deck. When they realized there were more dead than survivors, she made her way home to us. I’m one of the lucky ones.

I wasn’t old enough to deeply understand what was happening. But I was old enough to remember that day and for 9/11 to define me. I will always remember what I saw and felt, and I will never forget the resiliency I witnessed in New Yorkers. It is one of the main reasons I wanted to live in New York City when I grew up.

In my life, and many Americans’, there are two time periods – before 9/11 and after. It feels as if 2020 is on the same path. This year, we have our “normal” lives before March, where we lived in a carefree world. And we have our lives after March, where everything came to a halt and we wonder if our “normal” will ever return.

Though signs of normalcy now emerge in New York City, we remain far from where we would like to be. But like life after 9/11, we now need to give this city time to rebuild. Unfortunately, we can’t snap our fingers and return to the pre-March mindset. 

I look forward to the day where I will wake up, get ready and head to Allison+Partners’ new office in One World Trade. It feels as though my life has come full circle.

Shanna Brown is the marketing and business development manager in the New York City office. 

SEPTEMBER 9, 2020 //     

Mentors Might Be Surprised How Much They Get from The Experience

By: Kay Brungs Laud

It goes without saying that 2020 will be a year many will remember for decades to come. The monumental events that have shaped this year have already had an impact on our economy and job market. With 13.6 million American’s currently unemployed, I have reflected on what I can do as an individual and as a professional to help support students, recent graduates and professionals looking to make a career shift. It has made me think a lot about the people along my career path who took the time to provide guidance and advice.  

When I was an undergraduate, I was lucky enough to have several extremely valuable experiences through internships, which also gave me access to incredible mentors. Without their support and professional feedback along the way, I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today. As Allison+Partners Co-founder Scott Pansky so eloquently wrote in his blog, “Pay It Forward and Help the Next Generation,” it’s important as professionals to give back and make sure we invest in our future talent by helping them along their career paths.

Whenever I have been asked to conduct an informational interview with someone thinking about getting into public relations, review a resume or speak to a college class, I’m always thrilled to do so. For me, it’s a way I can pay it forward for all the support I’ve received over the years. However, recently I’ve looked for ways to make a bigger impact. So when I was asked to help Allison+Partners work with the LAGRANT Foundation to support the launch of its new mentorship project, I jumped at the opportunity.  

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Over the past few months, our team has worked closely with the foundation on ways our team members could participate in its new mentorship program and provide opportunities for both our mentors and their mentees to learn from each other. While the main goal of the program is to provide professional mentors to ethnic minority undergraduate and graduate students and young professionals in advertising, marketing and public relations, we also wanted to develop our agency’s side of the program to allow the mentee’s experiences to inform and share their unique perspectives with us.

The LAGRANT Foundation’s annual mentorship will run from October through April. One mentee from the foundation will pair with a mentor who is currently employed in a field that relates to the mentee’s career goals. Mentors will be a resource and provide guidance and support to their mentee’s professional goals. The time invested by the mentor and mentee will lead to new ideas, help build enthusiastic future leaders and nurture supporting professional relationships.

From my experience, I know just how rewarding it is to help someone as they start their career. It’s almost like going back in time – you get to share in their joys of discovering an area of passion and celebrate their successes! A bonus is just how much you get to learn from your mentee. I have always been amazed by the amount of creative ideas and new perspectives I got from the mentees I worked with throughout the years. 

If you seek a rewarding way to help someone starting their career or looking to change their career, seriously consider becoming a mentor! You won’t regret the decision.  

Kay Brungs Laud is a senior vice president and works out of Allison+Partners’ Chicago office. Prior to starting her career in public relations, she lived and worked in Washington, D.C., where worked on the Hill and was part of two presidential campaigns. She graduated from American University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

 

AGENCY NEWS // SEPTEMBER 3, 2020 //     

Happy 19th Anniversary Allison+Partners - Celebrating 2020's Global Day of Giving

By: Scott Pansky 

As we reflect on our 19th anniversary, the world continues to change and we continue to change with it. Similar to when we launched in 2001, just a week before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, our business continues to deal with challenges. Unlike 9/11, the entire world is dealing with the pandemic, economic disruptions and natural disasters. We have had to prioritize, making sure we can take care of our team members around the globe and adapt to new ways of working. We have had to ask ourselves hard questions, commit to change to evolve our culture and provide the best service possible for our clients. As so many have said, “We are all in this together!”

To celebrate the agency’s anniversary, Allison+Partners will again host its annual Global Day of Giving, which allows employees in every office to take time off from work to learn about the issues in their local communities and work as a team to address those needs. Our 2020 theme supports COVID-19 relief efforts, including writing cards and letters to those impacted by the virus and donating food and toiletries. This focus is captured in the commemorative logo featured above, the winning submission from an employee competition. This year’s beautiful design was created by Niphon (Dui) Appakaran in our Bangkok office.

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With so much happening around us, this year’s volunteer efforts seem more meaningful than ever. It does not take a company of more than 500 to have an impact. However, one person can make a difference. Helping your neighbor, providing someone living on the street with a warm meal, or thanking those who deliver packages, make meals, or stock the grocery store shelves really does have a positive impact.  

Please join us and make a difference in your community this month, whether it’s sharing a story that puts a smile on someone’s face or just letting them know how special they are. In these uncertain times, this is just one simple way we can all help.  

We look forward to our 20th anniversary next year, when we can finally visit those impacted in person, face to face.

SEPTEMBER 3, 2020 //     

Are Offices Gone for Good?

By: Natalie Price 

After the pandemic brought a swift and dramatic shift from a majority working in offices to a majority working remotely, it’s easy to think this trend might continue indefinitely. But anyone who believes the office market is permanently dead due to the COVID-19 pandemic should remember the only thing certain in life is change.  

Big tech companies have made major adjustments to their work policies, USA Today recently reported. For example, Facebook plans for more remote work for its 45,000 employees even when COVID-19 is no longer a threat that requires most of them to work from home. Since the coronavirus disrupted office life, even companies with fewer resources and slower-moving cultures are likely to follow, the article noted. 

"Many companies are learning that their workers are just as or even more productive working from home," Andy Challenger, senior vice president of staffing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, told the paper. 

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But while there are certainly benefits to working remotely, working from home during the pandemic is less advantageous.  

Satisfaction levels from working from home during the pandemic depend greatly on personal situation. Working parents with kids stuck at home who try to balance Wi-Fi usage and dueling conference calls find the situation far more challenging than couples whose kids are grown and out of the house. But it can also be a stressful for two working professionals living in a small apartment not to feel as if they are constantly under each other’s feet. And the sense of isolation and disconnection for single working professionals can also take its toll.  

Bottom line, there is a big difference in being forced to work from home during a pandemic and having the opportunity to work remotely – wherever that might be.  

We believe one of the biggest long-term effects on the workplace and the office market will be a greater emphasis on flexibility. Most companies will likely offer more flexibility on where and when its employees get their work done. Working remotely some days and in the office other days seems a likely scenario. 

Bringing teams together in an office can foster a shared vision, increase creativity, provide training, build culture and togetherness, and sometimes lead to smarter solutions and better results for clients. Our business, like many others, is based on building trust and personal relationships something difficult to do on a Teams or Zoom call. For all the benefits of working remotely, there are times when an office is an invaluable asset. While there will be short term pain in almost every sector of real estate, we believe there will be long-term gain. 

The New York Times recently published a story about China’s early stages of return to normalcy.  

“In Shanghai, restaurants and bars in many neighborhoods are teeming with crowds. In Beijing, thousands of students are heading back to campus for the fall semester.” it saidIn Wuhan, where the coronavirus emerged eight months ago, water parks and night markets are packed elbow to elbow, buzzing like before. 

While the United States and much of the world are still struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic, life in many parts of China has in recent weeks become strikingly normal. Cities have relaxed social distancing rules and mask mandates, and crowds are again filling tourist sites, movie theaters and gyms. 

While it might be months before the U.S. is ready to reopen completely, I find this hopeful. The best advice we can offer our clients is not to make long-term decisions based on COVID-19. 

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help your real estate needs, get in touch at NPrice@allisonpr.com 

Natalie Price is a Senior Vice President with the Real Estate team where she focuses on the entitlement, development and marketing of commercial real estate. 

SEPTEMBER 2, 2020 //     

It's all in a Gesture: Building Brand Loyalty Through Compassion

By: Jessica Peraza

Last year, the Census Bureau reported that for the first time in U.S. history, non-white and Hispanic Americans represented the majority of people under the age of 16 for the first time in U.S. historyThis generation is key for marketers, and brands would be remiss to not pay attention to tomorrow’s younger, more diverse consumer.  

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemiis significantly impacting America’s diverse populations. The CDC reports Black and Hispanic people in the U.S. contract the virus at approximately four times the rate of non-Hispanic white people 

As several recent opinion pieces have pointed out (e.g. Los Angeles TimesCNBCThe New York Times), this is hardly surprisingBlack and Brown communities in America have always faced unique challenges in America, including limited access to quality education and affordable healthcare. These obstacles are critical to understand if brands want to continue to engage with multicultural consumers authentically  

A study conducted by Alma Culture Lab earlier this year showed that Latinos are turning to social media more to share their optimism about COVID-19. So, while in-person interactions have taken a back seat this year, that sense of community is still achievable online. As such, we’re working with our clients to create digital experiences that are less about the product and more about the gesture. 

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We’ve created mailers that evoke positive reactions, executed virtual campaigns that bring people together and even sent simple emails with the question, “How can we help?” Though not product-driven, these actions go a long way – especially among some multicultural influencers who view their followers as their community and their Instagram feed as their platform for social good.  

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that compassion goes a long way. Efforts that go beyond the transactional relationship are key for fostering lifelong loyalty. And while brand marketers are ultimately working to drive sales, building brand affinity can be just as – if not more – valuable.  

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with community and media relations strategies, get in touch at jessica.peraza@allisonpr.com 

Jessica Peraza is an account director at Allison+Partners in the Phoenix office. She focuses on community and media relations strategies for consumer clients and specializes in reaching Latino audiences. 

 

 

AUGUST 27, 2020 //     

Leading a Virtual Workforce Through 2020: What Matters Most

San Francisco Team Zoom Meeting

By: Meghan Curtis

Leadership in the time of COVID-19, a monumental social justice movement, a divisive election year, an economic downturn and all while remote from my 45 team members in San Francisco and 500 colleagues around the globe?

I’m sure I’m not the first to say that these past months will give the Harvard Business Review enough new leadership content for years to come. And that executive leadership course I’d been pondering? I think 2020 has given me enough case studies, new skillsets and growth opportunities that I can hold off on that (for now).  

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In all seriousness, this moment in time does afford us an opportunity to reflect on leadership in new ways and examine what our teams need most from those who lead now and in the future. As I recently put aside the daily to-dos and pondered my leadership journey of late, I had so many thoughts. Too many thoughts, in fact, as this is a topic I think about every single day and night. How do I best support and lead the San Francisco office, my colleagues and my clients? Like many leaders before me, I decided to seek input to help crystalize my thoughts, speaking to fellow leaders in and out of Allison+Partners, along with a number of my teammates whom I manage day-to-day.

How does one lead a virtual workforce during a pandemic that has no immediate end in sight? Here are four critical characteristics I’ve landed on, with a little help from some friends:

  1. Vulnerability – This one just recently cracked open for me, as well as for many of the leaders I spoke with. When we closed our offices in mid-March and began to weather this storm while working remotely, it felt empowering to stay strong and do my part nearly around-the-clock to keep things afloat and morale up. And that we did! But some 165 days later, it serves no one, especially yourself, if you can’t acknowledge vulnerabilities and truly open up with those you lead. No longer do I start every meeting over Microsoft Teams by getting straight to work. We ask about each other’s kids, partners and pets. We talk about how we feel and really listen when someone shares what they did over the weekend. We open up about our insecurities, like sending kids back to school. I see each of my colleagues and clients for who they really are, in and out of work. They too have gotten a side of me that isn’t afraid to share if I’m trying to solve a unique client challenge or in need of creative ideation support for our twice-weekly office huddles to keep them fresh. I’m certain we’re all better professionals, and people, due to this newfound vulnerability. It’s not only strengthened our relationships, we do our best work because of it.
  2. Transparency – My colleague Courtney Newman wrote about the importance of being transparent to strengthen company culture in late April. Three months later, I’d argue this is more important now than it was then, because we don’t entirely know what next month will bring and it’s OK to acknowledge that. I have spoken with countless colleagues who say they implicitly trust our senior leadership, and ultimately the company, due to our ongoing transparency about the business today and our plans for tomorrow, next month and years to come. This is brought to life with “Ask Anything” questions during a monthly all-agency video call, numerous internal communications forums, our twice-annual Town Hall meetings, the CEO advisory council and my personal “no BS” policy during one-on-one check-ins with team members. This honesty, even when challenging, opens us up to reimagined collective problem solving and has fostered a trust like none I’ve seen in a corporate culture. Our team is deeply invested and supportive of each other – from top to bottom. Further, this transparency carries over to how we work with and treat our clients, the lifeblood to our business.
  3. Availability – A+P has always prioritized access and a direct open line of communication to leadership. Our open door policy has been far more than a talking point used in recruiting – it’s the backbone to our engaged workforce and how we’ve developed countless company initiatives. It’s also something I take incredible personal pride in. It’s more critical with a virtual team to be available to them when in need and to commit to consistent weekly check-ins, even with team members I don’t directly work with every day. Or to proactively reach out to someone in the office just to let them know I’m thinking about them and there if they want to talk. Sometimes this means we connect once my kids are in bed or while I take a walk before sitting down at my laptop for the day. Don’t worry, our colleagues also acknowledge we all have lives outside of work too and do not Teams and text me at all hours. But they know if there is a need, I’ll make the time without hesitation. And while leaders need to be available more than ever to their teams, the oxygen mask metaphor (i.e., you need to put your own oxygen mask on before you can help others) is incredibly relevant for those in leadership right now. I’m endlessly appreciative to work with a leadership team that is quickly there when I too need an ear.
  4. Flexibility – By now, you’ve likely read endless content on the importance of flexibility during the pandemic. As our home and work lives have converged, this newfound flexibility starts at the very top and is modeled by senior leadership so all team members know it’s truly OK for them to set up a work schedule that works for them, their teammates and clients. In March, I heard first-hand from teammates that shutting down the laptop for lunch, an afternoon work-out for “Work Out Wednesday” or at the end of the day was a challenge. And so, I’ve looked to constantly reinforce that every single person is dealing with something unique these days (and it’s not just us working parents) and flexibility is non-negotiable. By taking calls on the way to preschool, while making dinner for my family or joining group work-outs over Zoom during the work day, I hope to empower our team to do the same. Of course, with this flexibility comes a need to often overcommunicate schedules and sometimes “catch up” at odd hours. But I’m incredibly gratified to see my colleagues take advantage of this new flexible work environment while continuing to deliver best-in-class work for our clients and each other.

Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention the simple importance of leading with positivity. While being a transparent and vulnerable confidant, it’s equally important to be buoyant for your teams. I think a sign at my daughter’s school says it best: “When you can’t find the sunshine, be the sunshine!”

I’d love to hear – what is most important to you in leadership these days? And if you are in a leadership position, how have you changed your ways in 2020?

Meghan manages operations for Allison+Partners’ headquarters office in San Francisco. While fostering a collaborative and entrepreneurial environment for staff to thrive, she also oversees strategic public relations campaigns for several consumer brands in travel + tourism, consumer technology, food + beverage and healthcare industries.

 

 

AUGUST 26, 2020 //     

Return to Work Post-Maternity Leave in a Pandemic

By: Tara Chiarell

After a generous 20-week paid maternity leave from Allison+Partners, I am back to work! We welcomed our second daughter on March 19, right as the country was shutting down for COVID-19.   

Heading back to work looks a little different than it did when I left. While we have care for our daughters throughout the day, navigating this new WFH environment and not having the ability to see colleagues in-person is a bit of a transition.   

Last week, working parents across the company provided insights about juggling parenting with work. There were many relatable moments and I was inspired by how accommodating and understanding our company and colleagues have been.    

I’m sharing some insights that are applicable to all of us, not just working parents, during these unprecedented times:  

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  • Grace and Empathy. Regardless if you have a house full of people or live alone, these are tough times. We must give ourselves a break, figuratively and literally. We can’t do it all, this isn’t normal and we miss our old lives, our family and our friends.
  • Empower Others. We are all juggling more than ever. This is an opportunity to empower team members to handle elevated work when you are tied up.
  • Block Your Time. Do this for yourself and your team to communicate when you are and are not available. For parents, that could be to care for the family; for others. that may be a mid-day workout or trip to the grocery store when it’s safer.
  • Walk and Talk. We used to talk about these a lot to get out of the office, and it’s even more important now. You could go days without going outside if you don’t force yourself! We don’t have to do every call on video – move it to a call and walk around the block. Movement and a change of scenery will give you fresh perspective.
  • New W/L Balance. For some who need time during the day to tend to family and household needs, we may send emails before and after work hours. This should not mean others are expected to work those hours as well. We all do what we can to get work done when we can do it. Connect with your team to understand what expectations are and communicate when a reply is needed. We MUST give ourselves some separation between the workday starting and ending. The perception of “well you have nowhere to be,” because many cities are still in limited operations, does not mean employees should be expected to work non-stop.
  • Find Your Escape. We must remember we are human. We need outside experiences to fuel our work and creativity, especially in communications. Give yourself downtime – watch a show/movie, read a book, start a hobby – to help you disconnect and recharge. It will give you something to look forward to at the end of the day. 
  • Mourning. Give yourself time to mourn. Mourn the year of missed birthdays, weddings, baby showers, births, funerals, the high-fives we give each other for a client success or new business win. It’s been a tough year. Acknowledge it with yourself and others.

We are human; we are not robots. We are stressed; we now experience worry and anxiety like never before. We are separated from our support systems  – family and friends. Give yourself some grace. Be empathetic to yourself and others. This is new to all of us. 

Tara Chiarell is the General Manager of the Washington, DC office at Allison+Partners, focused on driving client and employee retention and growth. Coming up on 15 years, spanning two offices at Allison+Partners, Tara leads successful client campaigns across corporate, consumer and professional services.

 

 

AUGUST 25, 2020 //     

Pandemic Sends Us Back to The Future

By: Tracee Larson 

Everything old is new again. This phrase came to mind last week when a local dairy re-started home deliveries. Having been in business since 1916, Portland, Ore.-based Alpenrose Dairy has experienced its fair share of ups and downs in the industry, but the pandemic opened up a new door for it to build up its brand in the area and employ more people as milkmen and milkwomen.

I couldn’t wait to sign up, and my first delivery happened without a hitch. I even received a postcard identifying my milkman by name (Korbin), his hometown (Washougal, Washington), his favorite Alpenrose product (chocolate milk), and a fun fact that his left thumb is double-jointed.

After discovering from relatives that my grandparents also had their milk and dairy products delivered by Alpenrose for more than 20 years starting in the 1940s, I’ve come full circle not only with my milk and cheese, but also with many other products and services that my earlier family members experienced decades earlier – a small, silver lining courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Equipped with the latest technologies and adhering to all the social distancing and sanitation protocols, I and many others have adopted many of the same habits my grandparents held 70 years ago. With an app or a simple internet connection, I have groceries, pet supplies, furniture and personal items all delivered safely to my doorstep.

Expanding past the doorsteps and into a car, I can once again forgo the expensive concession stand at the movie theater and relish my drinks and snacks of choice at the local drive-in, whether it be a location already set up as one or a “pop-up” version that various retailers and property owners have developed during the pandemic.

While today’s drive-in audiences won’t hear the crackle of AM radio-controlled audio (most of today’s drive-ins use FM frequencies for a much-improved theater experience), there’s a true sense of private space drive-ins offer that cannot be found in a regular theater. No risk of sitting in gum or paying $15 for a tub of popcorn. Movie-goers can wear sweats, PJs or whatever feels most comfortable.

Also, slipping an arm around a date now doesn’t bump up against the legs of the person seated directly behind. And depending on the type of vehicle, watching a movie in lounge chairs from the back of a pickup truck or van delivers a new, delightful experience, with an FM transistor radio situated in between so the vehicle’s battery doesn’t drain down.

This brings back so many fond memories of my grandparents piling my cousins and me into the station wagon for a night at the local drive-in, all of us dressed in our pajamas with one favorite candy selection (I was a sucker for the Lik-m-aid/Fun Dips because they lasted longer) and plenty of popcorn. I was fortunate enough to still have a couple of drive-ins around while in high school, with a bunch of us piled into a friend’s Ford pick-up truck with sleeping bags to watch the movie “Red Dawn” when it first premiered, armed with Sony Walkmans tuned into the AM frequency and sharing headphones with our dates.

Another rediscovered experience from the past has been road trips. With airport travel dramatically reduced due to the pandemic and gas prices at affordable levels, what better way to get out of the house (now the epicenter of work, school, and regular life for many Americans) than to pile into the car and hit the open road.

I haven’t owned a car since 2004. But since the pandemic reared its ugly head in March, I’ve driven more than 1,500 miles in rental cars and rediscovered the wonderful sights in the Pacific Northwest. Long drives listening to whatever music strikes my fancy as I maneuver a low-mileage car through mountain roads and historic highways provides a sense of relaxation no airplane or train trip can deliver.

A recent article in The Economist, “Mid-century modern,” expanded on some other activities commonly done in years past (trips to state parks and breaking out those board games that can be played anywhere) that have emerged more popular than ever in a pandemic world. People still hide behind their phones as a way to socially distance themselves and feed their information addiction. But some have started setting aside their technological devices to experience many of the delights and comforts their parents and grandparents did in years past, even as we wear face masks and use plenty of hand sanitizer to stay safe.

The final silver lining to be found, particularly in urban centers, is re-establishing relationships with neighbors. With so many folks now working from home or unemployed due to the pandemic, people now see more of their neighbors, introduce themselves (how many of us in large cities can say we know all of the people living on their block or in their apartment building) and watch out for each other – much like folks did back in the 1950s. We make meals in our Instant Pots to take to neighbors who might have lost jobs, throw together parking lot parties (wearing masks of course) to celebrate the start of a new season, or commiserate outside on properly distanced porches about the possible postponement of professional sport seasons (still holding out for the NFL to start on time.)

Now more than ever, everything old has become new again, as younger generations take pleasure in “new” activities while some of us relive memories of former, less complex times. As the September approaches, it’s time to look up the local drive-in theater features, pop a bunch of corn, throw on the comfy sweats and slippers, and head out for that final taste of a summer from a truly unforgettable year.

But don’t dress too comfy – be sure to visit the concession stand to keep these drive-ins open for many more to experience. Some trends don’t necessarily need to go out-of-style again.

Tracee Larson is an account manager in the Corporate + Public Affairs Practice at Allison+Partners, working with B2B clients across multiple industries and regions. Currently working from home in Portland, Oregon, she’s starting to losing the battle with her cats taking over team calls and video chats.

AUGUST 20, 2020 //     

For Some, Football Is More Than a Game

By: Jacques Couret


Of all the slings and arrows this 
annus horribilis has delivered, the likely cancellation of NFL and NCAA football might sting me the worst. In no way do I argue losing a sport for one season is worse than the pandemic itself, the violence and protests in our cities, or the economic struggles of the day. It’s just that no matter what challenges life and history brought in the past, I could always rely on football as my brief escape from those miseries and concerns. 

Like my fellow native New Orleanians, I grew up Catholic. But the other real passion there on Sundays is Saints football. The Superdome is my cathedral, I worship at the Church of the Holy Pigskin. Starting in 1978, I learned the rituals sitting at the right hand of my father and grandfather.

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To say the Saints stunk back then is a gross understatement. I can’t recall who the Saints played in the first game I saw, but there was something about that shiny gold helmet with the black fleur de lis that just touched something in me and still does. It felt like I always knew those colors and that symbol represented me, my family and the city I love. I loved sitting high up in the terrace and looking at the enormity of the building. I relished sneaking sips of Dixie beer my grandfather offered when my dad got up to go the restroom. I enjoyed playing football with the other kids in the dome’s wide tunnels during halftime. 

The first game I saw at the dome was a loss. I was 5 years old, and I cried in my dad’s Datsun 280Z as he and my grandfather listened to the post-game show on WWL 870-AM radio. My dad occasionally pounded a fist in disgust on the steering wheel during the game recap, and my grandfather turned around, looked at me in the backseat and laughed: “Get used to this, kid!” He was right. In 1980, the team went 1-15, fans began putting paper bags on their heads in the stands and we became “The Ain’ts.” They didn’t improve for years. 

It didn’t matter to me. By then, I was hooked and obsessed like many in the city. The team is as much a part of the city’s rich culture as jazz music, gumbo and partying to legendary excess. It might be the one thing that brings us all together, regardless of race, wealth, gender or any other isms we usually divide ourselves into.  

But when my dad died in 1985, that team became so much more. I began to feel and believe that he was with me in spirit any time I watched a game. Win or lose, I still imagine him cheering or cussing along with me. For three or four hours every Sunday, dad visits and he’s delighted I love the team he loved so much. 

In 1995, I moved to Atlanta – home of the despised archrival Falcons. The sight of red and black and that bird with the cheesy can-opener claw disgusts me like few things in this life. But back then, the internet was still in its infancy and I didn’t yet have the NFL Sunday Ticket. I couldn’t see my team, and I had to call my grandfather in the evening to get a full report. The Saints became my touchstone to home and everything I missed about it. Thanks to satellite TV, I haven’t missed a game since 1998. 

After Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city, the Saints became the rallying point. When the powers that be did the impossible and reopened the dome a year later and the Saints routed the Falcons on Monday Night Football after an inspiring punt block by Steve Gleason, it signaled to us we could achieve anything and bring back our city. Everything was now possible. 

My grandfather died one week before the Saints won their first and only Super Bowl. I talked to him the day he passed. Between sharing serious and lovely things, I admonished him: “Hey, old man! Don’t you go to see Jesus yet! We’ve got a big game this weekend!” I remain convinced  his hand was the divine intervention of the crazy onside kick recovery the Saints executed to take over the game and eventually used to win that glorious championship. I cried tears of joy surrounded by friends in Atlanta. It felt like a lifetime of sticking with a losing proposition finally paid off and that all was right in my world. It felt as if New Orleans was back fully and on the international stage in a positive light.  

Early August is training camp and preseason – a time when my friends and I all truly believe our teams will win it all. Hope springs eternal as the heat of late summer fades into the crisp autumn air.  

This season is supposed to be the last for future Hall of Famer and Saints quarterback Drew Brees. The team is loaded with talent after back-to-back 13-3 seasons that ended in heartbreaking playoff losses aided by poor officiating. This is to be the year the Saints finally get back to the Super Bowl and win to send Brees into retirement with a championship that validates the Saints during his era as one of the best teams of all time. It also happens to be the season my LSU Tigers defend a National Championship after going 15-0 with arguably one of the best college teams of all time. 

I don’t want to know what Saturdays, Sundays and Monday nights in fall look like without football. I’ll miss the anticipation of the weekly matchups. I’ll miss the smack talk among friends and rivals. I’ll miss the beers while glued to the TV feeling like nothing else in the world matters for three or four hours. I will miss seeing my people in Death Valley and the Super Dome. I’ll miss the Purple and Gold and Black and Gold.  

So, I now send up prayers to my dad and grandfather to ask them to put in a good word with the powers that be and ensure we get our beloved games in 2020Just like in the “normal times” that seem like years ago, I want to be in that number when the Saintgo marching in. Who dat! 

Jacques Couret is editorial manager of All Told and works out of Allison+Partners’ Atlanta office, where he boasts the company’s best collection of Star Wars desk toys. 

 

AUGUST 18, 2020 //     

Every Crisis Creates Opportunities, COVID-19’s Impact on Higher Education is No Exception 

By: Scott Pansky + Michael Ares

The abrupt shutdown of college campuses across the country midway through the 2020 spring semester took an unprecedented toll on students, faculty and staff alike. Forced to quickly shift instruction from primarily face-to-face to exclusively online, institutions struggled to deliver an educational experience on par with pre-COVID times. With the broad spectrum of approaches set to roll out this fall – ranging from modified on-campus instruction to completely remote curriculum model – leaders face mounting pressure and high expectations to deliver on the core principles of scholarship, research and professional development. 

Yet, every crisis presents opportunities – opportunities to learn, to pivot, and in some cases to completely overhaul policies, processes and methods. For higher education, these opportunities are particularly promising, offering the potential to remedy issues and inequities that were ripe for change well before the recent impacts of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter movement demands. 

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  • Diversity and Economic Inequality 
The coronavirus pandemic impacted college students unequally along key demographic and racial lines, with those in lower income brackets suffering the most. Whether that was the lack of reliable internet service that denied millions of students access to online instruction, food insecurity issues resulting from the closing of on-campus meal programs, or stay-at-home working mandates that created housing, childcare and a host of other financial challenges, the gap continues to widen. As classes – and in some cases, students – return this fall, colleges have the opportunity to remedy these inequities in access and support, address more diverse sets of needs, and invest in more sustainable initiatives that champion those most affected.  
  • Technology Adoption 

With some exceptions, most colleges were ill-equipped from a technology perspective to easily switch to an online education modelInvestments have since been made in systems, networks, software, curriculum and training for both instructors and students to improve online instruction modelsincluding efforts by colleges still attempting in-person instruction this fall. These investments should continue – and even increase. Online instruction at some level will remain an important delivery model for the foreseeable future, and strong online curriculum can offset fluctuations in on-campus enrollment rates that are increasingly difficult to predict. Investing now will pay off, delaying the inevitable won’t. 

  • Communications 

“Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.” Words to live by in any crisis and particularly applicable to the challenges college communicators face in keeping all stakeholders abreast about circumstances and decisions that change – understandably – daily. Communicating effectively with higher education’s most important target audiences – students, families, faculty, staff, partners and donors – is critical to ensure success in today’s constantly changing landscape. In-person, event-based engagement campaigns are now largely out the window, while social media plays an increasingly important role in reaching key constituents. It is more important than ever to be authentic, responsible and transparent across all delivery and engagement platforms. Those institutions that take a strategic approach to allocating expanded strategic and tactical resources to college communicators and their teams will emerge in a much stronger position than most.  

In the end, recognizing these “lights at the end of the tunnel offers higher education leadership the opportunity to lead at exactly the moment their leadership matters most. 

If you work at a higher ed institution, please feel free to contact Scott atscottp@allisonpr.comor sign up for ourweekly COVID-19 updates. 
 
Scott Pansky is a co-founder of the agency and leads Allison+Partners’ Social Impact group. Scott has extensive experience providing communications and crisis counsel to education, corporate and nonprofit organizations. 

Michael Ares, Principle Owner of MDA Corporate Marketing, LLC, is a Higher Education Consultant providing strategic counsel and market positioning communications services for leading institutions, businesses and executives who lead them.

AUGUST 13, 2020 //     

Want to Do More Than Vote in the 2020? Get Out and Volunteer!

By: Kay Brungs Laud

The 2020 election is less than three months away, and COVID-19 pandemic and social justice movement continue to grip most of the nation. Many questions remain: How will governments and political organizations best support voters, how will election day look and will votes be cast in person or by mail? 

It might seem like one person can’t make a big impact when faced with so much uncertainty, but there are several ways you can get involved to make a difference. However, when you start investigating ways to volunteer, it can often feel even more confusing and challenging as you try to find the right fit. Before you commit to anything, self-evaluate to assess your goals, your comfort level and what you hope to achieve through volunteering. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

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  • How much time can I commit?
  • What are the goals I hope to achieve by volunteering?
  • Do I feel comfortable volunteering in person, or would I prefer to help virtually?
  • Is there a candidate or a specific ballot issue I’m most passionate about?
  • Do I care more about local, state or federal candidates?
  • Am I comfortable talking to potential voters?
  • Am I willing to travel out of my city or state?
  • Would I prefer to support a political party or nonpartisan organizations?

Thinking through and answering these questions should help narrow down the work you’ll be most passionate about supporting. Then, consider the following ways to get involved in this year’s election.

Support Voter Access

As discussed in my last blog, “Feeling Overwhelmed by The Enormity of How to Impact Real Change?,” the ability to cast a ballot is a remarkable privilege and one we must protect to ensure others have access to voting. We need to help expand access and information for people to cast their ballots. One of the ways you can help is by making calls to your governorsecretary of state or the state Board of Elections. Ask them two critical questions:

  1. Is an absentee ballot available so I can vote safely during the public health crisis?
  2. What have they done to ensure safe and broadly accessible elections for all?

Tell these officials you are a constituent and concerned the upcoming elections won’t be conducted in a way that allows all voters to participate. On a federal level, you can call your senator to voice your opinion about the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019. The bill passed the House of Representatives and is now in the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

Work the Polls

If you are comfortable volunteering in person and communicating with voters, consider signing up to be a poll worker. Election workers are essential to ensure our elections are successful, and concerns grow about poll worker shortages this year, as TIME recently reported. Many cities and states need volunteers, especially younger people to volunteer as poll workers for in-person early voting and election day. If you are interested in becoming an election worker at the polls, you can learn more about the requirements through the U.S. Election Assistance Committee. Its website details eligibility requirements and offers tips on how to work with your local election official to get involved.

Register Voters

Is one of your objectives to help get more people vote in November? If so, look for an organization that can set you up with the tools to register family, friends, neighbors and strangers to vote. There are lots of groups to choose from, such as HeadCount, League of Women Voters, When We All Vote or Vote Latino. You can also make sure your friends or family who live abroad or serve in the military overseas are registered to vote and receive an absentee ballot. The U.S. Vote Foundation can help provide all the information they need.

Canvass for a Candidate or an Issue

Are you passionate about a certain candidate or ballot issue and social distancing has you looking for new ways of connecting with people? Then think about reaching out to a candidate’s or a ballot issue’s campaign office to find out how to get involved. Campaigns rely on volunteers and need people to help with their Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts. GOTV activities can range for helping register voters to making calls, to answering questions about the candidate or ballot issue, to making sure people know when, where and how to vote, to putting up signs, to helping with fundraising, and even making meals for the staff and team of volunteers.

There are many other ways you can get involved and support this year’s elections. However, if you don’t have the time or interest to volunteer, please make sure you are registered to vote, have researched the candidates and the issues, and cast your ballot on or before Tuesday, Nov. 3!

Kay Brungs Laud is a senior vice president and works out of Allison+Partners’ Chicago office. Prior to her career in public relations, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she spent several years working on the Hill and was part of two presidential campaigns. She graduated from American University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

AUGUST 12, 2020 //     

Employee Insight Should Inform Employee Communications: Three Things to Consider When Communicating Return-to-Work Plans

By: Brooke Fevrier and Todd Sommers

Like most of my colleagues, I frequently worked remotely – in client conference rooms, airport restaurants, hotel lobbies, the middle seat – but spent most of my time in an Allison+Partners office. As the COVID-19 pandemic transformed A+P into a remote work instant adopter, the senior leadership team saw a need to understand the newfound challenges our roughly 500 global team members faced. To capture these insights, our in-house Research team began fielding short and frequent “pulse surveys” from early March through the beginning of June. They then shared aggregated results and findings with leadership to inform the agency’s approach to remote work policies and communications.

This wasn’t a tool we had available when I worked in-house, and I wanted to see what the Research team learned about this process that could be applied to other companies’ future employee communications. The following are excerpts of a Q&A with A+P Research Analyst Brooke Fevrier, who led the pulse survey process.

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Q. To set the stage, can you share the kinds of questions the Research team asked A+P’ers in our pulse surveys?
 
A. Our main priority was to keep the pulse surveys quick and easy for team members, while digging into the potential emotional factors the pandemic played in their day-to-day workflow. We asked employees to simply tell us how they felt that day, with answer options ranging from extra stormy, a little rainy, mild, partly sunny and finally all sunshine. We asked what communication channels and frequency would be most effective, and about their pre-pandemic life to better understand the level of disruption teams faced. For instance, did they normally work from home, always work in an office or, for some APAC employees, already start returning to the office?
 
Q. And to be clear, these frequent employee check-ins weren’t something we did as a company before the March lockdown. This was a unique challenge with everyone suddenly working from home, and the Research team was tapped to help. What kinds of questions were most useful – asking how people felt, how their lives had changed or open-ended questions?
 
A. That’s right, we didn’t conduct employee pulse surveys prior to March. The A+P Research team is usually focused on developing consumer and B2B surveys to uncover strategic insights for our clients and ensure the agency remains a thought leader. But as Cathy Planchard noted in her recent post on “The Economics of Employee Engagement,” we realized quickly that capturing employee feedback could be a powerful tool to surface insights.
 
The most useful questions were really a combination of all of them, as the data allows us to understand how each question response plays into employees’ likelihood to then respond a particular way to the remaining survey questions. So, how did daily emotions correlate with the positive or negative sentiment expressed in employees’ open-ended feedback? Was the way they felt that day due to overall pandemic anxieties, or was it something our senior leadership could help address? That’s where the data’s strategic value really came through – providing actionable insights that could help improve employees’ work life and ultimately strengthen the agency’s culture.
 
Q. Can you share how the data was used to inform A+P policies? Did this have an impact on internal communications?
 
A. Feedback from these surveys informed a number of our internal initiatives and communications, including weekly CEO updates, short videos from partners, monthly company calls and other one-off communications. We created an internal communications channel to share news, WFH life updates, best practices and lists of cancelled events. By providing company leadership with a multilayered sense of how people were doing across 30 offices, they were able to make data-driven and, importantly, employee-centric decisions. The surveys also gave a clear picture of employees’ comfort levels with returning to the office, which will now be completely voluntary when offices reopen based on employee responses.
 
Q. The range of topics covered changed dramatically over time from March and April shutdowns to the partial reopening of some regions, the Black Lives Matter movement and now the realization this new reality might last for all of 2020. Not every organization has a pulse survey program in place to inform communications. For those organizations, are there any insights you can share from our program that might better inform their future employee communications? 

A. Three areas stand out to me that apply to other organizations. 
First, we noticed was the volume of internal communications increased dramatically in mid-to-late March, and it was just too much information for teams to digest. For companies that plan to adopt new safety procedures, begin bringing people back to the office or introduce new policies, it’s invaluable to understand the channel, timing and frequency needed to ensure employees at all levels understand internal messaging or changes being implemented.

The second challenge will be the lack of a shared experience. Every market is different. New York in April was very different than New York today. Working moms with toddlers at home have a completely different experience than recent college graduates living alone. Many parents did their best to balance homeschooling and conference calls, but it was a major adjustment. You really need to think about the human experience, not just the corporate need to communicate.

Third, feelings about personal safety have also shifted throughout the process, and undoubtedly will continue to do so. Flexibility is a must – companies should be prepared to modify policies at a local level as conditions and overall sentiment change, keeping both employers and employees’ needs at top of mind. 

Our biggest takeaway is that giving employees the opportunity to provide feedback and letting their voices be heard – whether in a pulse survey format or otherwise – has a tremendous ripple effect that results in more engaged employees and, in turn, better client service.

If you’re interested in learning more about how our research team can help you during this time, email us at research@allisonpr.com.

Brooke is a content analyst on the Allison+Partners Research + Insights team, specializing in turning quantitative data patterns into strategic insights and effective communication tactics for clients across all industries.

Todd Sommers is a senior vice president at Allison+Partners, where he leads a team of integrated marketers and brings together multi-disciplinary campaign elements to create compelling programs for clients.

AUGUST 11, 2020 //     

Creating a Successful Foundation for an Analyst Relations Program

By: Ali Donzanti

“We have an announcement coming up, and we need to make sure we pitch the analysts too.”

It wouldn’t be the first time a client has made such a request. But lumping in analyst relations (AR) with media relations is a common, and unfortunate, mistake.

While AR and PR programs both often fall under the “Communications” umbrella, they provide different strategic value to an organization. This means that each program’s development must also be approached differently. AR can make a huge impact if executed correctly – it can make or break business deals, is often the behind-the-scenes brains of many products and solutions and has the power to morph an industry’s direction.

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Kicking off an AR Program

Industry analysts (not to be confused with financial analysts) conduct market research to understand emerging business trends, company offerings, customer pain points and demands. It’s their job to understand as much as possible about their chosen market.

Analysts take on a daunting task and conduct their research in various ways. Their days are broken up between speaking with clients who ask for solution recommendations and/or discussing their pain points, speaking with vendors to understand upcoming solutions and researching content. They frequently conduct research surveys to develop research reports and sometimes test the efficacy of solutions.

You’ve probably heard of Gartner Magic Quadrants and Forrester Waves. These analysts reports compare the strengths and weaknesses of a particular solution within a specific market based upon vendor’s demonstrated vision and ability to execute. What many don’t know is these comprehensive reports take months to research and develop, and long-term relationship building between analyst and vendor is an essential element.

To build a successful AR program, we need to dive deeper into the analysts, content and timing.

Find Your Key Analysts

It’s crucial to find the right analysts who not only cover your space but also have influence in your industry. Many of the big firms, such as Gartner, Forrester and IDC, often carry weight based on reputation. But depending on the industry, a specialized smaller boutique firm might have more influence in your market and ultimately speak directly with the customers you’re trying to reach.

Present the Right Content

This is where we often find confusion between targeting analysts and reporters. The key here is to remember analysts want fact-based information on an ongoing basis, while reporters want news-driven and timely content. Analysts want the details on new solutions – what are its inner workings, how’s it implemented and what’s the adoption rate? 

Decide on Presentation Format

Depending on what you share with an analyst, you should consider different formats, including presenting the information in a briefing (information flows from vendor to analyst) or in an Analyst Flash (similar to a press release but removes “fluffy marketing” content). If you have a subscription to an analyst firm and you ask questions for analyst feedback and insights, this can be in the form of an inquiry (information flows analyst to vendor).

Select Your Spokespeople

You’ll need to have a subject matter expert (SME) who can talk about the details and orchestration behind a solution and can comfortably answer the question, “Why are you doing this?” And this might not be the same people you use for media interviews. This is the perfect opportunity for your SMEs to start building relationships with your key market influencers. One option is to have designated “pairings” of analysts and SMEs to ensure you develop relationships that can be fostered.

Timing is Everything

This is another area where we see confusion between PR and AR. But here’s the difference – reporters receive the final product, while analysts, if consulted correctly, can help shape that final product. Organizations that understand the value of analysis insights involve them in early stages of solution development, frequently produce robust solutions and are in strong positions to be included in key research that (prospective) clients consult before making buying decisions.

Building and establishing a strong AR program takes time and, as suspected, a lot of research. These are the basics to start understanding how to approach an AR program. Stay tuned for upcoming blogs that dive into how to leverage AR within other parts of your business and how to understand the true value appropriately executed AR can bring to an organization.  

If you’d like to learn more about our analyst relations capabilities, get in touch at ali.donzanti@allisonpr.com.

Ali Donzanti is an Account Director in the Corporate + Public Affairs Practice at Allison+Partners. She focuses on external communications for a number of global B2B accounts across a wide variety of industries including emerging tech, cybersecurity, healthcare and more. 

 

AUGUST 6, 2020 //     

Rapid Iteration of Brand: Using a Fast Insights Framework to Remain Essential in a Time of Transformation

By: Paul Sears

Modern life had already transformed the idea of brand. As the pace of change continued to accelerate, consumers became more and more fragmented and storytelling moved further outside the brand’s control. The beachhead of brand loyalty washed into a sea of choice and immediacy. Gone were the days where product and service defined the brand – experience, purpose and social responsibility were the new currency. 

And then COVID-19 happened. We thought we might briefly cocoon in spring and quickly reemerge to a flat curve and a near-normal life. Yet here we are in the heat of summer, still at home, still social distancing and still unsure what back to school will look like for the upcoming school year.  We’ve taken to calling it the “now normal” since it’s clearly here to stay.   

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As the world copes with unprecedented change, brands must prove they are essential if they are to survive. That means being even more dynamic – bringing the future roadmap into the present, innovating product and service delivery, streamlining operations, and inventing new business models.  That means finding faster pathways to customer insights, to stay two steps ahead of emerging customer needs. Throughout these transformations, a brand must also remain true to its core, reaffirming why its customers view it as essential in the first place.

The need to be dynamic creates tension between truth and trajectory. A brand that honors its core truth reinforces its customers’ trust and loyalty. Yet every new product, every new acquisition and every new executive hire hurtle the brand forward along its trajectory. Unchecked, these moves have enough kinetic energy to shift the brand off its center of gravity.

To keep pace with transformation, we must speed up the process of slowing down. To guide effective innovation, brand leaders must pause and answer the fundamental questions – why will customers give us permission to enter this new market and how will we serve customers consistent with our values.  Brand leaders need a finger on the pulse of evolving customer behavior in order to rapidly respond with effective new strategies.  Yet they must also take time to vet those new trajectories through the truth of the brand.  A fast insights framework is needed to speed up the process of reconciling trajectory with truth.

A fast insights framework enables brand leaders to quickly analyze emerging customer trends using real-time data, while also providing clear criteria for brand governance around new innovations. Through AI and automation, customer interviews and ethnographic studies can be analyzed in minutes. Online discussion boards capture customer needs and preferences in near real time. Millions of digital conversations can be parsed to show motivations and barriers along the buying journey.  And a wealth of secondary sources provide macro-trends from ongoing studies.  A modern data toolkit must be at the ready, along with a smart strategy team to interpret the signals into actionable insights.  

Once empowered with insights, brand leaders must then address the fundamental questions that make an innovation effective. Having an established process to quickly align the organization around the why and the how are key.  It’s easy to chase a flashy new initiative, but it’s much more costly to walk it back. And if COVID-19 has taught us anything, what the market needs today will probably change tomorrow. Using a fast insights framework, the brand can quickly assess emerging customer needs, iterate new expressions of the brand, and align trajectory and truth to ensure long-term success.

As we all wait for a treatment or vaccine, a chorus of analysts, journalists and brand leaders chant “there’s no going back.” Many new consumer behaviors created during COVID-19 are here to stay for the long haul. The pandemic will leave its mark upon the world, making it more important than ever for brands to be dynamic – with a fast insights framework that helps them stay essential and stay alive.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with your branding needs, get in touch at paul.sears@allisonpr.com.

Paul Sears is Executive Vice President, Integrated Marketing.  With nearly 20 years in advertising, social media, content and brand strategy, Paul spends most of his time helping clients sharpen their strategic focus – at the brand level or for individual products and campaigns.    

 

JULY 23, 2020 //     

Confronting Racism in Our Homes and in Our Headlines

By: Jessica Peraza

I grew up in a border town that’s 95% Latino, and I’m still trying to figure out if that was a blessing or a curse. 

Ignorance is bliss, but obliviousness is reckless. Fortunately, the Black Lives Matter movement has ignited household dinner-table conversations about racism across America. Last month, I spent an hour on the phone with my grandma talking about racial injustice – a sharp contrast from our usual conversations centered around relatives and sewing projects.

These conversations are crucial, even if uncomfortable at times, to confront racism within our own communities and homes. 

While I don’t normally consume my news in Spanish (hello, biculturalism!), that’s not the case for millions of Latinos, including my grandparents. In fact, Univision Network reaches an average of 5 million Hispanic adult viewers (ages 18-49) per week, out-delivering its English-language broadcast competition by 34%. However, both Univision and its leading competitor, Telemundo, have been called out in recent weeks for perpetuating racial bias in their coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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In June, national political advocacy group Mijente launched a petition urging the two major networks to shift their news programming to allow Spanish-speaking Latinos to better understand anti-Black racism. The group said in a statement that the two networks have “contributed to the Latino community’s skewed and incomplete understanding of the current crisis.”

Unfortunately, an anti-Black narrative has long existed within the Latino community, mainly in the form of microaggressions. Colorism exists among Latinos, and those with fair skin are frequently viewed as “ideal.” And while many national outlets diligently reported the news from the protest scenes across the country, some scrutinized Telemundo and Univision for sensationalizing the relatively smaller percentage of violence and looting that occurred at the same time as the protests, rather than focusing on the majority of peaceful protests and the central message of the movement. Many people also took to Twitter to express their frustrations, urging changes toward unbiased reporting and more inclusive newsrooms. 

Spanish-language news anchor Jorge Ramos recently wrote about the lack of representation of Afro-Latinos in today’s media landscape in The New York Times. He noted that while Afro-Latinos account for 25% of the overall U.S. Latino population, they’re less likely to have a college education and more likely to have lower family incomes. Afro-Latinos often struggle with navigating racist comments from those within their own communities, based not on their culture, but on their skin color or hair texture. 

Neither Univision nor Telemundo have publicly responded to the online petition, which nearly 14,000 people have signed. However, both have continued to cover the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Whether their news coverage was purposely biased or implicitly racist, this moment has inspired many of us to reflect on the type of news we consume and how it might skew our actions. I believe in the positive power of journalism – after all, my job depends on it! And I hope younger generations of Latinos continue to hold news outlets accountable, because there’s no place for racism in our world, let alone our newsrooms.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with community and media relations strategies, get in touch at jessica.peraza@allisonpr.com

Jessica Peraza is an account director at Allison+Partners in the Phoenix office. She focuses on community and media relations strategies for consumer clients and specializes in reaching Latino audiences. 

JULY 22, 2020 //     

The Importance of Informational Interviews

By: Jules Smith

In this current uncertain climate, recruitment has become increasingly difficult for both the candidate and employer. But at Allison+Partners, we decided this would not stop our recruiting efforts.  

While we knew the COVID-19 pandemic would be challenging, we also knew it did not eliminate the ability or the need to conduct informational interviews. Therefore, we decided to continue scheduling informational interviews with candidates and move forward with active outreach.  

Some steps I have taken during this time to keep connected include posting on LinkedIn and reaching out to my network, partnering with various organizations, connecting with graduates and alumni at local universities, and speaking with employee referrals.  

I have always suggested informational interviews with candidates, because you never know what might come out of it. I have hired many candidates over the years after keeping in touch with them even when I had no specific job opportunity to offer. It can be beneficial at any stage of the job search, as you can gain new and exciting insights into an industry you never explored and simultaneously grow your professional network. 

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Informational interviews are also beneficial for the employer. At Allison+Partners, we knew we wanted to be proactive and develop our candidate pool to maximize the potential of a new position at our agency. 

Some helpful hints for candidates planning informational interviews: 

  • Identify potential prospects to reach out to and prepare ahead of time. Research the company, industry and interviewer prior to your meeting. 
  • Be sure to test your video or digital platform before your call.  
  • Feel confident and prepare a summary of who you are and questions prior to the call. Mentally organize the call so you have an introduction and closing, but also be ready to pivot at any time during the conversation. 
  • Follow up after the interview. Touch base with the person you met with by writing a follow-up note. You could also connect on LinkedIn, follow on Twitter and subscribe to the interviewer’s blog. 

The need to recruit talent and hire the best fit for our company remains critical, especially in a time of great change. It is an ideal time to explore different avenues to source diverse talent with varied backgrounds and from different industries. Now is the time to build deeper connections, prioritize diversity and inclusion, and navigate the market for top-tier talent. 

If you or someone you know would like to schedule an informational interview, please reach out to jules@allisonpr.com. I schedule calls weekly and will coordinate a time to connect.

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

Jules Smith is the Vice President, Talent at Allison+Partners based in the New York City office. 

JULY 16, 2020 //     

Physically Distant, Emotionally Together: How Technology Helps Us Maintain Relationships Through a Pandemic

By: AnnMargaret Haines 

Before COVID-19 became a pandemic and states across the U.S. began to shut down, it was incredibly rare for someone in my family group chat of 10 to simply send a text – and connecting on a group video call was unheard of. But once the reality of the pandemic set inour family decided we needed to check in on each otherespecially because my dad and sister have health conditions that put them in the “at-risk” category). So, my mom sent us a Zoom calendar invite for one Sunday afternoon.  

And it was a smash hit. 

Between the 100% attendance rate, abundance of dogs and guest appearance of my nephew in his dinosaur costumewe knew this needed to happen regularly. We immediately changed the calendar invite to a weekly occurrenceand now I feel closer to my family than I have in a long time. I’ve lived on the opposite side of the country from my family for the past five years, so it feels silly it took this long for me to understand the importance of video calls. But I know I’m not alone in this COVID-19 epiphany. 

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As professional communicators, we understand the importance of consistent, clear communication to foster and maintain strong relationships with our clients, the media and colleagues. So why doesn’t that always transfer to our personal lives?  

It feels challenging to keep in touch with friends and loved ones who aren’t in close proximity. But it isn’t. We live in the 21st century, and we have technology at our fingertips to connect with anyone anywhere in the world at any time. So why did it take a pandemic for my family to realize the value of technology to help us stay in touch? 

Besides using Zoom to connect with friends and family, people have found new and creative ways to use their talents to help people come together and stay entertained during this challenging time. My brother-in-law BJthe former head chef at a Michelin star restaurant in Washington, D.C. who now works on opening his own restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, took to Instagram to help his friends and family eat well during quarantine. He started hosting Instagram live cooking classes every Sunday so people could follow along and cook delicious food together – from biscuits with miso honey butter to the perfect fast-food burger. It was such a success, a Columbus paper wrote about his classes and invited more people to attend. Not only has he helped maintain togetherness during quarantine, he’s simultaneously bettered his career by earning free PR and keeping his chef skills sharp.  

It’s incredible to see the new and creative ways individuals and brands have taken advantage of technology and their extra free time to showcase their strengths and bring people together. From dance challenges on TikTok, to virtual events and webinars, there’s so many ways for us to connect with each other virtuallyWhile many are without jobs or traveling to work sites amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of us have technology to thank for helping us stay employed during this time.  

Before Marchmany of us took technology for grantedIt’s important to remember how lucky we are to live in time when we can stay in touch with each other no matter the distance, even during a global pandemic. Even just 3years ago, it would have been a different story.  

We need to continue to harness the power of technology to lessen the negative effects of quarantine so we can continue to stay home, stay safe and combat the spread of COVID-19. 

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with your media relations needs, get in touch at annmargaret@allisonpr.com.

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

AnnMargaret Haines is an assistant account executive based in the Phoenix office. She specializes in writing and media relations for a variety of clients in industries spanning healthcare, education, nonprofit and consumer technology.

JULY 16, 2020 //     

The Secrets Behind Eight Consecutive Wins

Allison+Partners (A+P) China team recently won a series of eight major pitches, a particularly impressive feat under the pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic. Managing Director & Partner of A+P in China Jerry Zhu shares the secrets behind their eight-pitch winning streak.

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Editor: Congratulations on your eight -pitch winning streak! 

Jerry: Thank you. Actually, there is no better way to start the year with so many wins, especially in the face of the pandemic. I am very grateful for the trust our clients have shown in us and the extraordinary effort our teams put in to achieving this. This also proves that A+P has won a seat at the table with the best-in-class and has gained considerable recognition in China.

The clients we won cover a wide range of industries, from B2B to high tech, from agriculture to real estate, from luxury and consumer goods to finance companies, which demonstrates the depth and scope of our service. We also have a good balance between multinational companies to local listed ones.     

The success A+P has achieved in China is a good reflection of our success worldwide. Over the past few years, A+P has grown from a medium-sized PR company to a large, multidisciplinary integrated marketing agency. We have just been named one of only seven “Best PR Companies of the Decade” by industry trade outlet PRovoke, and according to the agency’s rating score, we are also one of the only two PR companies to receive a score of 10/10 score by the same organization for 2020. This year we were also named the “Best Place to Work” among all the large agencies. All of this is thanks to the efforts of all A+Per’s globally.

Editor: In today’s ever-changing PR environment, how do you think we can best get to grips with client needs? 

Jerry: As an agency, you must put yourself in the clients’ shoes and consider their points of view.

There are four main reasons why a client turns to an agency – the need for strategic consulting, looking for fresh ideas, utilizing the agency’ expertise, and seeking unique resources.

Some client’s inhouse team are also veterans in communication, and they may also have a good sense of PR and developed great PR strategies for their companies. However, an agency’s strength lies in its rich professional experiences across several industries and disciplines, and it is an inspiring reference for client to cross check if their strategy is on the right track, or taken all factors into consideration. This is particularly true when it comes to crisis and issue management or government relations.

When there is a difference of opinion between you and your client, you need to have a certain level of flexibility, as there can be aspects that you don’t see as an outside consultant. But this does not mean blindly following the client’s direction, and you shouldn’t immediately concede for the sake of easy business cooperation. Only by having a professional opinion can you show the client the true value of your agency. 

There are also clients that are counting on an agency for fresh ideas. With many years of experience with different clients, the agency is at the forefront of newest and most compelling communication ideas. Therefore, clients can get a better marketing plan and more effective solutions than they can devise on their own.

The third type of client is seeking an agency’s expertise. Even though some clients may have their own ideas for how to meet individual communication needs, they may be unsure of how effective a certain method is or whether their desired results can be reached in this way, so they look to draw from an agency’s experience to answer these questions.       

These cases include creative consumer campaigns, social media viral marketing, design of sophisticated H5 functions or WeChat mini programs, or large-scale offline events. For example, we have met quite a few clients who want to tap our experience in the China International Import Expo (CIIE) as they may participate for the first time and want to avoid possible pitfalls in order to maximize the efficacy of their communications.     

The last kind of clients is seeking resources necessary to effectively implement a plan. To meet this kind of client demand, the agency needs foster relationships with influential organizations and industry insiders, such as associations, key opinion leaders (KOLs), and partners, a network they have often accumulated through previous client work.       

Only when your agency’s capabilities match client demands, can the collaboration be long lasting and mutually beneficial.

Editor: Since clients have a diverse set of requirements, what do you do if your agency’s ability doesn’t match their needs?

Jerry: In the current environment, there is no company that has absolute superiority and is able to take on all cases. An agency mainly aims to combine its direction, staff, and previous experience to build a team that is able to meet market demand and make itself competitive. Therefore, it is only natural that sometimes your experience does not meet some clients’ demands. When this is the case, the most important thing is to build trust. From the time when you first become acquainted with a client, they may provide you with opportunities to build a professional relationship over the period of a year or even a decade.  

When you are awarded with the contract, the client is not only giving you their trust, but also putting their name to your corporate reputation and future. It’s therefore ill-advised to go after a project and break that trust just for the sake of a service fee.    

If you find yourself in this kind of situation, you should politely explain to the client why you may not be a good fit for this project and excuse yourself from the pitch. If possible, you can even introduce the client to another agency that is better able to meet their needs. 

Editor: We, of course, don’t live in a perfect world, and we often hear about fake bids, accompanying bids, and under-the-table deals, how would you judge whether or not you can meet a client’s demands when you receive a request?

Jerry: The first step is to be honest in your own abilities when you receive an RFP. You need to judge whether your capabilities match the client’s needs, but it’s also very important to pay attention to the RFP itself to avoid losing sight of what the requirements are.   

By communicating with the client, you can quickly work out the authenticity and feasibility of the RFP. You can refuse an RFP if the client cannot provide a budget range, a written RFP or a Q&A section, or in the case that they invite six or more agencies for submit the proposal, limit the presentation time to 30 minutes, or have 10 departments that jointly evaluate the bids.

That said, once you decide to accept an RFP, you must be “all-in” to develop the proposal.

Building trust with the client starts at RFP process. At this point, you need to have full confidence in your capabilities and authentication of the RFP. If you have reservations, you won’t be able to provide a convincing, highly-quality plan. Clients will be able to sense it, and when they see a low-quality plan, they will question your agency’s capability and quickly close the door for any future cooperation. It is similar to dating. When you first start seeing someone, you need to be serious about it. You need to go into the relationship with confidence.     

Different clients have their own ways of handling the bidding process. Some clients may give you complete freedom and only want to see the final plan. Other clients may want to follow up with you at every step of the way and ask if you have any questions or issues, wanting to make sure the plan does not deviate from the direction they expect.

Whatever the case may be, as an agency, you should start building a relationship of trust from the very beginning by proactively following up and responding to the client’s queries. Some clients may even make their final decision based on how serious, engaged, and professional an agency behaves in the early stages of interaction.  

The third step is to put together your client’s dream team. 

During the bidding process, you should put together a team whose capabilities are best able to meet the client’s demands. Some agencies focus solely on their internal conditions and requirements. For instance, they may mainly consider which team needs more business or which team has the bandwidth to cover the new work. However, the company should have a flexible mechanism so that the best people for the job can be invited and teamed together to offer the best value for the client.     

This is a great advantage of A+P: we have a flexible mechanism and culture. Allison+Partners has one P&L, which allows us to put the best people on client business no matter which team they belong and which city they are based.              

Finally, you need to understand the clients’ requirements.      

PR and communications are ultimately there to serve the client’s business. You need to be aware of what challenges the clients encounter in their work, how they would like PR to help deal with these challenges, what obstacles they are facing, and what type of communications the company tends towards. You need to be empathic and be able to put yourself in their shoes, and be aware of their concerns; only then can you become the agency that best understands the client. 

To sum it up, whatever the type of client, their reasoning for choosing an agency doesn’t change. They are looking for an agency that understands their industry, provides creativity, has the experience and resources to deliver results, and has a profound passion for the work and an interest in their business. We won this series of pitches because we best met these requirements.

Editor: Thank you for sharing your insight with us. I wish you all the best for the future of Allison+Partners.

Jerry: Thank you.

Jerry Zhu is the Managing Director & Partner of A+P in China.

JULY 8, 2020 //     

What Should My Brand Post on Social? Advice for Crisis Comms and Beyond

By: Cameron Davis-Bean  

First, take a moment today to thank your social media managers  

The past three months have kept them in constant crisis communications mode. They’ve fielded questions and criticisms about your brand they likely never anticipated, and the content strategies they spent hours carefully crafting have been entirely disrupted. On top of any personal stress they might feel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the horrifying deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of police, their eyes remain glued to your feeds. They immerse themselves in a nearly constant swirl of anxiety and outrage, because that’s their job. 

It’s OK to push pause while you refine your strategy 

There is no playbook for social media during a pandemic, and it may be uncomfortable for a brand to address issues like racism, inequality and injustice. In many cases, brands have smartly chosen to temporarily stop posting on social media while they determine the most helpful role they can play. 

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I recommend this approach for a few reasonsIt shows your brand understands that in times of national crisis, people don’t want to hear your marketing pitch. Ialso gives you a chance to examine any content you created before the crisis, and ensure it’s reflective of the helpful, supportive role your brand can take in times of cultural challenge and changeOnce COVID-19 sparked shelter-in-place orders across the country, any content mentioning travel, going out, gathering in large groups or any other activities outside the home became temporarily useless. Furthermore, taking a pause allows you to listen to your audience to better understand what they need from you in that moment. 

Pivoting your social strategy for the new normal 

As we move from crisis communications to a “new normal,” you might struggle with how to adjust your social content strategy to the new reality. That’s OK, and we can help. By following the framework below and revisiting it often, you can plan social content that will drive results for your business while staying sensitive to current events. 

1. Identify and understand your audience 

  • Which audience are you trying to reach? Be specific and develop audience personas if you don’t have them already. Are you targeting new prospects or current customers? What are their demographics?  
  • What does your audience care about right now? What are they posting on their own feeds or in the comment sections of your posts (or your competitors’ posts)? What problem do they have, and how can you help solve them? Social listening insights are key here. 
2. Determine why you’re talking to them 
  • What action do you want your audience to take after seeing your contentDifferent goals will require different messages and content types. Being specific here will help you understand what content you need to create. 
  • Too often brands start with content creation before thinking strategically about why the content is needed.   
3. Choose where you will reach them 
  • Social media is not a monolith, and different audiences gravitate toward different platforms. In simple terms and generally speaking, reaching Gen Z on Facebook is much more difficult than on TikTok, and LinkedIn is a more natural home for B2B content than Instagram.
  • Content requirements also differ by platform, so it’s important to identify your channels at this point in the process. 
4. Create the content 
  • With the preparation work from the previous stages done, you should now have a strong understanding of what kind of message will resonate with your audience and where you should reach them. With that in hand, you can enter the content creation phase with confidence. 
  • Remember not all content has to come from the brand. Sharing user-generated content (with the proper permissions) is an excellent way to show other potential customers what a great product you have while also building pride among your existing customers. Reward your most passionate advocates by amplifying their voices. 
5. Measure the results 
  • After sharing your content, it’s essential to measure how it performed. Examine your engagement rates, link clicks, reach and impressions. Track and measure these at least monthly to understand how your content performed over time and what types of content perform best. 
  • In addition to the quantitative data, be sure to factor the qualitative feedback you receive into this process. Look at the sentiment of the comments you receive – not simply the volume – to ensure your content resonated positively. 

Learnadapt and repeat 

Change is the only constant in social media. By repeating this cycle on a regular basis, you can continue to improve your content with the learnings you generate. Each time you sit down to create new content, do a quick check-in on steps 1-3 above and consider whether you’ve learned anything new that can better inform what you create next. Measure your efforts on a regular basis, and don’t be afraid to make a change when you see something doesn’t work. By leading with listening and consistently crafting content with your audience in mind, you’ll find success over time.  

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with your campaign development and integrated marketing, get in touch at cameron.bean@allisonpr.com.

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Cameron Davis-Bean leads campaign development and execution for integrated marketing programs as an Account Manager at Allison+Partners. He works to find the perfect blend of earned, owned, paid and shared media to drive business results for clients. 

JUNE 29, 2020 //     

Pride is More Than a Month: Supporting the LGBTQ+ Community all Year

By: Andrew Rogers

If you follow any brands on social media, it’s highly likely you’ve noticed them change their logo to one incorporating the rainbow flag. You might have also seen rainbow flags flying outside of government buildings and businesses’ head offices. All of this is to mark Pride month which takes place in June each year to advocate for rights and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community.

Although cities globally hold their Pride events at different points in the year, many fall within June so they line up with the anniversary of the start of the Stonewall Riots in New York, which lasted from June 28th until July 3rd. Stonewall is largely credited as the birth of the modern day Pride movement. What started as riots against police brutality in New York (led mainly by black trans members of the community) would evolve into marches around the world demanding acceptance, visibility and legal protections for LGBTQ+ folks.

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This year will be different due to COVID-19. Most Pride marches have been called off to prevent further spread of the disease, and while there are plenty of fantastic events taking place online, the absence of Pride as a physical presence this year is very strange indeed. It’s a big loss for the community, particularly at a time when lockdowns have hit LGBTQ+ people particularly hard.

Why Pride still matters today

The biggest misconception people outside (and inside) the LGBTQ+ community have about Pride is that it’s a big party. It’s easy to see why. These days many marches feel more like a carnival than a protest. However this ignores the true history and purpose of Pride. Pride started as a riot and has always existed to protest and push for progress and change (and yes, to celebrate the progress we’ve made).

Pride matters today because the LGBTQ+ community still faces big challenges, at home and abroad. It’s still the norm for LGBTQ+ people to be bullied, and too many people still die by suicide. The rights of the trans* and non-binary community are continuously under attack and far from secure. And there are still 70 countries around the world where homosexuality is illegal, and 12 where homosexuality carries the death penalty. There is lots of work to do, and plenty to still protest.

Pride also does not exist within a vacuum. As a community we need to recognise that some parts of our community have made progress, but left other parts behind. The Black Lives Matter movement is just as important in the LGBTQ+ community as it is within wider society, and this year many Pride marches have evolved into Black Trans Lives Matter marches, with more in common with the first Pride marches in the 1970s than with the Pride parties of the last decade.

How brands can be allies

Most members of the LGBTQ+ community want brands to support us. However what is really needed and appreciated is authentic support, rather than virtue signalling. COVID-19 will lay bare this distinction. This year, it will be clearer than ever which brands genuinely supported the LGBTQ+ community, and which were doing so for some free advertising at Pride.

Being a true ally to the community means supporting LGBTQ+ causes when times are tough. If you’re a brand that usually spends big on sponsoring floats in Pride marches, but then pulls all budget out of Pride because marches are cancelled, it becomes pretty clear that this support wasn’t genuine.

The same goes for those rainbow logos. It’s nice when a brand changes its logo to include a rainbow, but what does it actually mean? If it’s not backed up by actions, it’s an empty gesture, and you’ll be called out pretty quick.

Listen to queer voices

Brands who want to authentically support the LGBTQ+ community need to listen to queer voices. The best place to start is with your own workforce, and this is why company Pride groups are so important. Action should be led by members of the LGBTQ+ community, and brands should then leverage their resources and platform to make these voices heard.

Brands should also put queer creators front and centre. Does your brand want to do something that authentically supports the black trans community, for example? Then write the cheques and pay for black trans content creators to help you create campaigns and shape your actions. Doing the right thing usually isn’t free, but building a brand that fights for causes alongside its customers is worth its weight in gold.

Pride is more than just a month

There’s a running joke on social media that as soon as Pride month ends, brands immediately ditch the LGBTQ+ community. It’s all tied up in the idea that brands never really cared, and it was all to sell a few more rainbow T-shirts.

If your brand truly wants to support its LGBTQ+ workforce, advocates, and customers, it needs to do so all year. As someone who volunteers with an LGBTQ+ network helping with brand partnerships, I can tell you we’re always way too busy in June, and never busy enough during the rest of the year. PR and marketing folks love to link activity to specific days and months, but this is one of those cases where you don’t need to wait for June to do something positive for the queer community.

How to support the LGBTQ+ community all year long

When it comes to your brand, here are some simple ways to make sure your support for the LGBTQ+ community is authentic:

  • Make it last after Pride month ends, and explain what you do to support LGBTQ+ people all year. That might be your policies for employees, or the causes you put your weight behind.
  • Build from the ground up, starting with your LGBTQ+ employees. Your Pride group should lead on how your brand can engage with and support their community.
  • Support queer talent, whether that’s with the influencers you engage with or the media you pitch to. Again, don’t stop talking to them at the end of June.
  • Donate time and money to community groups on the ground doing great work. If your brand can’t make an impact directly, work with and empower activists who can.
  • Be ready to defend your position. There will always be trolls on the Internet and those that take issue with a pro-LGBTQ+ position. A true ally needs to stand up and keep re-affirming their support even in the face of criticism.

Pride matters deeply to most members of the LGBTQ+ community, which is why it’s so disappointing when brands see it as a sales or marketing tool. Authentic support is hard, but as consumers make it increasingly clear that they want to buy from brands that align with their values, it’s worth getting right. As Pride month draws to a close in this unusual year, brands have an opportunity to step up and show that even without the party, Pride matters all year.

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Andrew Rogers is an Account Director at Allison+Partners.

 

JUNE 26, 2020 //     

According to Pets, Staying Home Isn’t So Bad.

By: Jessica Peraza 

I’m certain about two things in this pandemic: Masks are critical, and I spend entirely too much time with my dog.  

I adopted Luci last fall exactly three weeks after getting married – for better or worse! Since then, she’s ruined an end table, two pairs of earphones and about seven of my favorite shoes. She’s also kept me company on walks, watched countless episodes of Gilmore Girls on my lap, and unintentionally taken over my Instagram feed. 

Of course, much like a new baby, a puppy or kitten require constant attentionI cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve left Luci alone for five minutes only to come back to a chewed shoe. And while it may be frustrating and stressful in the moment, I tend to forget about her mishaps as soon as she curls up next to me for a nap.   

During the pandemic, people have once again found comfort in the companionship of their furry friends. Many spend more time at home, and shelters across the U.S. have seen record numbers of cat and dog adoptions. In Arizona alone, the Arizona Humane Society reported a decrease in average length of stay for both dogs and cats by nearly 10 days, meaning pets spend less time in a shelter before finding a temporary or permanent home. Unfortunately, shelters also face the potential dilemma of having an influx of pets returned once shelter-in-place is over. 

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Our research team conducted a survey in 2019 for our client Dignity Health that highlighted the health and happiness benefits of pet companionship. The survey of more than 1,000 Americans found 88of pet parents said their pet had helped improve their mental health. Pets can provide the emotional support people may need in times of stress or uncertainty – whether you’re in the hospital recovering from an illness or stuck at home in the middle of a global pandemic. The survey also found:  

  • Pets are good for the soul – 95% of pet parents said their pet made them a happier person.   
  • Pets are good listeners 62% ofpetparents said theirpets are always there to listen to them when faced with a problem – only 38% said the same about their significant other… 
  • Pets make us better people  More than one third (38%) of pet parents said their pet taught them skills that helped them improve their personal relationships.  
  • Pets keep us healthy 81% of pet parents said they felt their petmade them a healthier person. 
  • Pets help us heal  85% of pet parents who had a major health issue said their pet helped them feel better.   

This year’s been ruff (pun absolutely intended), but I am so grateful for Luci. She forces me to go outside for some fresh air when I have a bad day. She gives me an excuse to call my sister twice a day to show her just how cute she is being while doing absolutely nothing. Most importantly, she’s there. Every minute of every day, your pet is your companion, and all they want is for you to give them love (and treats).  

Many of us will eventually return to some form of our previously hectic schedules, and some pet parents may feel like they no longer have time to care for their dog or catMy hope is that foster parents will ultimately give their temporary house guests a fur-ever home. 

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with community and media relations strategies, get in touch at jessica.peraza@allisonpr.com

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click here.

Jessica Peraza is an account director at Allison+Partners in the Phoenix office. She focuses on community and media relations strategies for consumer clients and specializes in reaching Latino audiences. 

JUNE 25, 2020 //     

How to Make an Impact as a Thought Leader Without In-Person Events

By: Rachel Busch


The COVID-19 pandemic has essentially changed industry events as we know them for the remainder of 2020 and the foreseeable future. From full cancellations to conferences going virtual, there’s an opportunity to embrace alternative platforms to raise awareness for executives as thought leaders. Here are some key tactics to promote impactful thought leadership, without in-person events.

Go Digital

Social media is the ideal tool to engage with followers and the larger community. Time spent on social media has steadily increased since mid-March, when the pandemic stay-at-home orders began in the U.S., highlighting the potential influence even one post can make if it's shared with the right audience. Leverage existing thought-provoking blog content with pertinent information to create engaging social posts for your client's followers. 

The value of social media is the conversation doesn't have to end with your followers. Use hashtags to comment on trending news, and join the larger conversation on relevant topics to shape executives as industry leaders on platforms, including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Social listening tools can help determine who drives the trending topics of online conversation, allowing you to give suggestions to your client about when to partake and add value by sharing thoughts with a strong perspective.

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Transform Your Events Strategy

Many large-scale events, including Apple’s WWDC, Web Summit’s Collison Conference, and Cannes Lions, have digitally pivoted. Online events allow people to tune in from anywhere across the globe without travel expenses. According to the Web Summit CEO, digital events have been so successful that the future will consist of hybrid events featuring online and in-person elements. You have a unique opportunity to position clients as thought leaders because they can speak directly to a large audience, compared with in-person conferences. Therefore, you should tailor the client's messaging to resonate with a wider net of people who might be interested in broader trends.

Online events can also help maximize your digital strategy. You can use keynote or panel videos to create easily digestible and shareable clips on Instagram stories and TikTok and reach new audiences that may have not tuned into the event. You can apply the same strategies to company-wide events that were planned for the year and create hybrid elements that enforce social distancing but keep everyone engaged. Consider dynamic online tools to bring people together virtually, such as digital reality for immersive experiences, along with these effective strategies to elevate digital events. 

Build Relationships with New Reporters

Even though the mainstream news cycle changes rapidly and it’s important to be mindful of pitching sensitive topics, trade reporters are interested in receiving the sector-focused perspective and news updates. Take a look at media covering your client's industry and reassess if there are new reporters to introduce yourself to and offer unique commentary with a sector-focused spin.

It’s also important to consider how your client's brand or executives can add value to the business leaders and media at this point. Resist taking advantage of the global pandemic, and ensure you share helpful thoughts that can positively impact a certain industry. If you have the right expertise, now is the optimal time to distribute it to a world and media hungry for meaningful solutions.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with your external communications needs, get in touch at rachel.busch@allisonpr.com.

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Rachel Busch is a Senior Account Executive in the Corporate and Public Affairs practice at the agency. She focuses on external communications and media relations strategies for global technology accounts. 

JUNE 23, 2020 //     

How Black Lives Matter Forced Beauty Brands to Step Up... And How Your Brand Can Take Action to Make a Difference

By: Stephanie Cinque

It is no secret beauty brands have severely lacked diversity in the past. In fact, the industry blamed lack of sales as the reason why darker shades were not regularly a part of product launches in retail. However, with Black shoppers driving 86% of spending in the ethnic beauty market and accounting for $54 million of the $63 million spent, we know this is nothing but an excuse.

Funmi Fetto, Contributing Editor at British Vogue and Beauty Director at OBS Magazine said it perfectly, “... the issue is not really about foundations. It is about representation and equality.”

Beauty brands continue to publicize their solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement through social media to help magnify the voices of Black creators and brands. Giving consumers, enthusiasts, artists and employees what we have asked for – inclusivity in an industry that has consistently fallen short.

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Fixing social injustice in beauty

Sephora, which drew criticism last year for racially profiling Black shoppers, was the first major retailer to sign the 15 Percent Pledge challenge. Its chief merchandising officer explained Sephora’s participation as the “right thing to do for our clients, our industry and for our community.” In addition to stocking 15% of shelf space to Black-owned brands, Sephora Accelerate will now focus on women of color. Sephora Accelerate is a more than half-year-long program dedicated to building a community of innovative female founders in beauty through a business bootcamp, mentorship, and grants and funding. On Demo Day, founders have the opportunity to present their company to industry experts, investors and senior-level Sephora leaders. Sephora continues to follow through with action on social media by featuring the Black entrepreneurs behind the new Black-owned brands they will welcome to its shelves. 

And that’s not all. Shoppers can use their Beauty Insider rewards points to donate to the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), an organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black LGBTQ/SGL people, including people living with HIV/AIDS, with the mission to end racism, homophobia, and LGBTQ/SGL bias and stigma. Recently, Sephora announced its partnership with the National CARES Mentoring Movement and hosted an Instagram live on June 18 for followers to learn more about the organization and how to better support and empower Black children and communities. 

This year, beauty brands across the industry publicly honored Juneteenth (June 19) as a moment to take a stand against racism. Many brands offered their employees the day off, but some took an educational approach.. Glossy.co shared that The Estée Lauder Companies invited Dr. Peniel E. Joseph, a scholar of race, democracy and civil rights, to speak to it about inclusion and diversity in addition to making June 19 a permanent holiday.

Pledge action through donations

Glossier, a millennial favorite that gained rapid popularity through its mission to celebrate natural beauty, in May announced through Instagram its commitment to support the Black community.

“We will be donating $500,000 across organizations focused on combating racial injustice: Black Lives Matter, The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, The Equal Justice Initiative, The Marsha P. Johnson Institute and We The Protesters,” it said.

Glossier also pledged to allocate an additional $500,000 in grants to Black-owned beauty businesses. On June 11, the brand followed through and announced a plan of action for its $500,000 grant initiative, set up to support beauty businesses in various points in their journeys – pre-launch, early-stage and growth-stage. By supporting and amplifying new leaders, Glossier hopes to help change how the world sees beauty. Beautifully done, ladies!

Indie skin-care brand Kinship, launched its “Direct to Community” initiative, where it will support Black entrepreneurs by selecting five Black-owned businesses in beauty and wellness to each receive $1,000 worth of Instagram and Facebook advertising. Not only will the funds help these brands reach a new audience, but Kinship will also provide creative, business and marketing advice.

Several other big-name beauty brands have also shown their support to #BlackLivesMatter through generous donations. On May 31, Beauty Blender donated 100% of its profits to the Equal Justice Initiative and Honest Beauty donated $100,000 to organizations, including the  NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Anastasia Beverly Hills promised $1 million toward the fight against racism, starting with a donation of $100,000 across various organizations. However, brands that pledge donations must follow through with action.

We must understand that for these actions to be effective, they need to be long-term and permanent. Fortunately, the beauty industry has (slowly) begun its transition into an era of inclusivity. But no matter our gender, ethnicity, or race, it is vital we experience it entirely. 

Donations and raising awareness are important. But, how else can your brand stand behind this push for diversity in the beauty industry? A greater presence in stores, expanding product ranges and diversifying influencers are essential.

Here are three ideas to consider when determining an action plan for your beauty brand:

  • Partner with famed makeup artistry schools, such as Make-Up Designory (MUD) and Chic Studios, and raise awareness for Black-owned beauty brands. Aside from providing product in kits, collaborate with Black micro-influencers and offer learning opportunities for future artists to help more students have the opportunity to better learn about and understand Black skin tones and culture. This knowledge will be carried into the future of fashion, bridal and consumer brands when student makeup artists graduate and accelerate their careers.
  • TikTok beauty influencer make-up lines are coming; will your brand be a part of it? According to BrandTotal, YouTube and Instagram continue to lead the way in ad spend from cosmetic brands, such as L’Oreal, Maybelline and Estée Lauder, which have spent almost 50% of budget to try to win over younger consumers with Instagram Ads. Yes, Morphe found incredible success with YouTubers Jaclyn Hill, Jeffree Star and Manny MUA. However, Glossy.co deemed TikTok the platform to keep an eye on as it projected the addicting video app to be responsible for introducing the next wave of beauty brand influencers. In fact, it’s already happened. Shanae and Renae Nel (a.k.a. the Nel Twins) launched Gloss Twins after they gained a following of 1.2 million users through dancing and beauty videos.
  • Hire Black people. If your brand promotes diversity in its advertising and social content, it should recruit a higher percentage of Black professionals to work as creatives, decision-makers and product developers. Inspired by Sharon Chuter’s demand for brands to take action through #PullUpOrShutUp, shape diverse committees in your organization to ensure your brand is held accountable in fighting for the economic opportunities for Black people.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with your content marketing needs, get in touch at stephanie.cinque@allisonpr.com.

Let us stand up for inclusivity through beauty and in life. Together we can make a difference – a beautiful one.

Stephanie has more than five years of experience in the beauty industry as a professional makeup artist and runs a premier bridal business. Passionate about makeup and beauty, she strives to bring confidence to others through enhancing the natural beauty that already exists. Here at Allison+Partners, Stephanie is a content marketing manager who offers an abundance of knowledge in community management and engagement, influencer marketing and social media trends.

 

JUNE 17, 2020 //     

This Isn’t a Moment in Time to Address, This is a Future-Facing Strategy

By: Claudia I. Vargas 

The United States remains in collective shock over the killings of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others. We’ve seen this before – the nation witnesses an atrocity, it erupts in outrage, people and brands express support, then the issue disappears as the news cycle moves on.

But this time just feels different.  

The racial and social justice movements have intersected at this moment in time, creating a siren’s call to dismantle racism in the United States. Society demands change, and we will not back down.

Recently, hundreds of Black advertising professionals signed an open letter demanding urgent action from agency leadership to tackle racism within the industry. Brands have joined the movement, donating and pledging to change and do better.  Industry titans Nike, McDonalds and Target, have all committed to diversifying their workforce.阅读更多


However, words and promises mean nothing if companies forget their pledges after a few months pass.  

This isn’t a campaign to do this month and maybe even next month. Brands need to create long-term, future-facing strategies. Multicultural awareness and marketing must be part of a brand’s permanent strategy.

But the fact remains, brands that go in haphazardly or ham-fistedly can do more harm than good – to themselves and with their audiences. Those who do it well can reap the rewards and make a difference socially. Consumers are 50% more likely to repurchase from a brand and 2.8 times more likely to recommend a brand that uses culturally relevant ads, Marketing Dive noted

Brands must be genuine, take a clear stand and get their messaging right, because the American people easily spot pandering and already harbor a mistrust when brands get political, as The Atlantic reported recently

“…It has never been clearer than right now that brands aren’t your friend, when social media is awash in videos of riots and humans being assaulted, in the middle of a global pandemic,” it said. “American brands have rushed to show where they stand, but it’s still uncertain what they intend to offer – what they can offer – beyond greater awareness of their existence and a vague sense of virtue.”  

Clearly, brands must do more than just talk. They must take real action even though it may feel like a big leap to jump into sensitive topics, such as racism, especially for brands that haven’t addressed the issues before. Yet, many brands don’t realize they already have the know-how. 

Any campaign worth its salt starts with research and finds a golden nugget that consumers can identify with. The same way advertisers know how to differentiate how to speak to a mother versus a CEO or a B2B client versus a B2C is the same logic that should be applied to speaking to various cultures. It’s listening, doing research and learning consumer behavior so messaging and content resonate. But it’s also making sure you have a diverse workforce that brings to the table a deep understanding of the various cultures and how to connect authentically.  

If you toggle between enough brand websites, you’ll notice that in one way or another they all claim to be engrained in their community or a good community partner. But it’s time for them to – pardon the bluntness – put up or shut up. And not just right now. They need to add long-term multicultural campaigns to their strategies moving forward.  

Not only is it the morally right thing for brands to do, it’s the smart business thing to do.  

“Multicultural consumers make up nearly 40% of the U.S. population,” MarTech Advisor reported. “Yet, only 5% of the total advertising and marketing spends is directed toward them.” 

Research shows time and again, consumers want to feel represented and see people just like them. Why do you think we have so many different Barbies now? It’s time for more ads to be part of the solution – representation for all people! So why don’t more brands get on board? 

Sometimes bringing on multicultural extensions to campaigns can feel like an unreachable thing. Yes, it demands more cultural insights, which in turn also demands diverse account leads who can build strategic campaigns that break through. But like everything else going on right now, the worst thing brands can do is nothing. The best thing brands can do is add multicultural campaigns to their long-term strategies. 

At Allison+Partners, our guiding principle is “Insights into action.” It’s how we kick off every campaign. We work closely with our Research + Insights team to understand where our consumers are and their demographics and psychographics. In parallel, we work with our digital team to listen to the conversation online. From all those insights, we learn how to speak to consumers in a way that matters to them and pivot that into actionable campaign messaging and tactics. Then with our Play it Forward offering, we test concepts with a sample of the target audience to ensure our messages are received as intended. The process doesn’t change for our multicultural efforts. In fact, they get an added layer of review.

Our teammates set us apart. We have resources across the globe to represent and add a layer of cultural relevance and cultural insight. Our diversity board is made up of professionals from a variety of cultures with experience working specifically in the multicultural space. We leverage their insights across our work.  

We have colleagues who talk to the Spanish language media almost daily. We have people who work with groups within the Native American community to help push their goals forward. We have teams who put on events with influencers of the African American, Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities. We have teammates who create campaigns in Europe and in Asia, sharing insights we can easily leverage here in the U.S. The work we do for these brands has allowed them to align themselves with these groups, and they have benefited from not only awareness but have become part of those communities.

We feel it’s our responsibility to continue to remind brands of the power of tapping into the multicultural audience, not only from a business perspective but also from a social responsibility perspective. And we plan to leverage our experience to do a better job in the multicultural arena. 

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Claudia Vargas serves as a Director of Integrated Marketing, bringing a wealth of knowledge in strategy and account management. With experience in paid media, brand ambassador programs, content development, multicultural campaigns and social media community management, Claudia leads several integrated client projects for the agency, connecting the dots to drive results. 

 

JUNE 11, 2020 //     

Key Consumer Trends in a Post-COVID World

By: Jill Coomber

It is too early to know every impact of ‘life after lockdown’ – no event in living memory has had such an abrupt and sudden change on the way we work, play, think, finance and consume. So it is vital to focus on the key influences we as consumer marketers must bear in mind. 

According to research by University College London (UCL) its takes 66 days for a new consumer habit to form.  Given that many of us have been in lockdown for at least as long as this, which behaviors stay and which disappear?

Kantar’s Nicki Morely recently summarised this very well.  People will adopt new behaviors when they are easier to maintain, more convenient, more satisfying and more rewarding than previous behaviors. 

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So as well as new behaviors we are also yearning to go back to past behaviors to reassure ourselves that life can indeed go back to ‘normal’.

Whilst this situation is unique, we have lived through past disasters and uncovered useful insights...  A good example of this is the BSE crisis in the UK in the 90s which saw beef sales fall by 40%.  However, within just six months the industry pivoted adding in sourcing and tracing to reassure consumers, and beef sales were back to normal levels. This highlights how entrenched habits, in this case Brits love for beef, are fundamental to our lives and our culture, and they can be difficult to break.

So what trends are we bearing in mind?

A desire to have more fun

Many trendwatchers have identified a pent-up demand for rewards and special treats after this period of forced abstention.  We have witnessed in the last decade a rise in the treat and experience culture.  Many major luxury brands, for example, have tapped into this desire with ranges or tasters at lower price points to satisfy this demand. Think Karl Lagerfield vs H&M and Kate Moss vs Top Shop that inspired many a fashion related collaboration. 

To ensure fun continues – we are seeing brands across consumer categories get a virtual makeover. Sports, virtual experiences, and creative innovations like ‘cocktails to your door’ as growing markets will continue. With a long-term impact on live events and concerts it will be interesting to see how the industry responds.  Certainly, Sony is already predicating a final coming of age for virtual reality.

Thinking forward for trends

Covid has made the consumer pause and think inward – how do I care for myself and my community and what habits do I want to change. Many are rethinking how they travel to work in cities and big towns and how they enhance the quality of life around the home. Not surprisingly perhaps, among the latest trending items are garden furniture, bikes and electric scooters. It will be critical for marketers to not only stay on the pulse, but also anticipate how their products and services can best support the consumer in the near and distant future. 

Supporting our local enterprises

We have also become ultra-aware of the fragility of our economy, businesses, and jobs.  Many local enterprises that we took for granted are now struggling to create a profitable future in a changed world.  Small businesses account for three fifths of employment – they are vital to the economy.  We’re seeing a positive, rising trend on social media to call out and support these local businesses and entrepreneurs who literally won’t survive without our support.  Britain, our small businesses need us!

A rush to comfort brands

There is a need for familiarity in a crisis – comfort food, recognizable brand advertising, brand communities and known CSR-friendly brands. Now people will be even more focused on these and will be specifically looking out for brands who are supporting key workers and the environment.

A good example of finding comfort in what’s familiar – the rise of watching out box sets. We’re seeing consumers reach back into the noughties and nineties for gold standards like The Godfather, Friends, Game of Thrones and Big Bang Theory.

The role of online

There is no doubt the Internet has ‘saved’ many in retail through this period.  There is data everywhere on the superfast growth in mobile payments, contactless delivery, online health services and ecommerce for non-traditional items like furniture. Online sales at Majestic wine, for example, has increased by over 200% year on year. Whilst it’s clear there is a need to focus on the online offer more than ever before, this will be a high-water mark for online shopping.  We will be left with a permanent increase. However, given most consumers already shop omni channel, this is unlikely to change in our new normal. 

Will the office as workplace ever recover?

For those of us who normally work from an office, the sudden and prolonged lockdown has shown what can be achieved remote.  It is an amazing and powerful argument for many companies to rethink.  Twitter, for example, has already announced a permanent shift to homeworking for those who can.  With social distancing measures dictating the short-term –many offices cannot go back to the old normal. And with these measures in place, what is the value of a physical presence?  A more permanent change is likely on the cards for many companies. 

Work-life balance is shifting

For those who can work from home there is a new challenge of creating a good work-life balance. Perhaps the gain in commute time has allowed some to take on new hobbies.  It certainly relieves some of the monotony.  We are seeing a visible growth in hobbies on social media like baking, gardening, painting, drawing, photography, dancing, home cooking, fitness, and gaming.  Where passions have been ignited, we expect these trends to stay. On the other side, people are finding it difficult to step away from their computers – many working much longer hours and starting to feel a sense of burn out.

A new respect for key workers

We see every day a new respect for key workers. Not just those in the health services, but shop workers, refuse collectors, delivery services –everyone who is supporting the household in these challenging times. We might see a shift in brands starting to tap into these groups as the face of their brand vs celebrity tack. Only time will tell.

A new level of care for the environment

Images showing environmental recovery – clearer skies in Hong Kong and Los Angeles, and sheep wandering around towns – continue to go viral. With everyone at home, the environment has benefited, and it is continuing to spark global conversations around the importance of sustainability measures. Will these images inspire a meaningful change in behavior?  The previous recession nurtured a mass acceptance for less ownership and possession, particularly amongst millennials, and out of that came the sharing culture of Uber, AirBnB, Zipcar and others.  Given the complexity of this issue, the jury is out on this one.

Final thoughts

The economy will recover and we will get back – we just do not know the timeframe. It will be dictated in large part by events outside of our control, like a vaccine or a resurgence.  So for now, uncertainly will remain the new normal.  However, based on data from the previous recession, brands that implement a longer-term view, building plans around the right future trends and implementing growth strategies in markets with potential, have the opportunity to come out much stronger than their competitors.  

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Jill Coomber is Managing Director, Integrated Marketing at Allison+Partners.

JUNE 9, 2020 //     

Feeling Overwhelmed by The Enormity of How to Impact Real Change?

Voting is one very real way for your voice to be heard

By: Kay Brungs Laud

We now collectively face a global pandemic, massive economic downturn and racial relations at a tipping point. It can feel overwhelming and make one question their impact on what feel like insurmountable issues. However, there is one very powerful way we can all make a difference –voting. Unfortunately, the right to cast a ballot is a remarkable privilege many too often take for granted.  

The right to vote is what our Founding Fathers fought for and is the cornerstone of our constitutional republic. Even today, many countries around the world do not allow their citizens to vote. In the United States, the right to vote is one that took decades and generations to achieve:

  • In 1789 only 6% of those living in the U.S. could vote; white, property-owning men.
  • In 1868, the 14th Amendment granted the right to vote to all males born or naturalized in the U.S. Two years later, the 15th Amendment prevented states from denying the right to vote on the grounds of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
  • In 1887, Native Americans were granted citizenship only if they disassociated from their tribe.
  • The 19th Amendment passed in 1920, giving women the right to vote for the first time.
  • The Indian Citizenship Act in 1924 granted all Native Americans the right to vote.
  • U.S. citizens living in the District of Columbia were not able to vote in the U.S. presidential election until the 23rd Amendment was passed in 1961.
  • Nearly 100 years after the abolishment of slavery, racial discrimination in voting was prohibited with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • And before 1971, you could only vote if you were 21 years or older.
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With hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans fighting and dying for our right to vote, we owe it to their legacies to honor their great gift by exercising our right to vote. Yet in the last presidential election in 2016, more than 44% of the U.S. voting age population did not cast ballots.

According to the Pew Research Center, voter turnout numbers in the United States are quite low compared with other developed nations; in fact, the U.S. ranked 31 out of the 35 countries in its study. The latest U.S. Census Bureau data recorded roughly 245.5 million Americans aged 18 and above, but only 157.6 million of them were registered to vote. 

Does my vote really make a difference?

We've seen in countless elections – especially over the past two decades – many races are too close to call and every vote must be recounted to determine the winner. In the 2018 midterm elections, six races from the Georgia Governor to the Mississippi Senate to the Arizona Senate were too close to call. I personally served on a presidential election campaign where the state I campaigned in won by less than 2,000 total votes. So I have seen firsthand just how important every vote is.

Why does it matter?

As former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams recently pointed out in a New York Times opinion piece, while Americans might not care about specific politicians, they do care about the impact issues have on their lives. Our local, state, and federal elected officials decide how our tax dollars are spent — how much funding goes toward our schools, what policies we put in place for our criminal justice system, how we protect our environment, who is and is not allowed to get married, among so many other issues.

It is critical to do research on each candidate and understand their policies, views, and how they have supported certain communities and issues in the past. Look at who else supports them and who and what organizations contribute to their campaigns. In addition to candidates, there are often local issues on ballots, so make sure you understand what voting for or against each one really means for your community.

What can you do to make sure your voice is heard in 2020?

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission recommends the following 10 tips to help enhance your voting experience:

  1. Register to vote: Most states require citizens to be registered in order to vote. It takes just a few minutes to register and can be done online here.
  2. Confirm your voter registration status: Once you register to vote, check your status with your state or local elections office several weeks before the last day to register to vote.
  3. Know your polling place location and hours: If you vote at a polling place on Election Day, confirm your polling place location. Know what time your polling place opens and closes. 
  4. Know your State’s voter identification (ID) requirements: Some states require voters to show ID to vote. You can find out what forms of ID your state accepts by contacting your state or local elections office or checking their websites. 
  5. Understand provisional voting: Federal law allows you to cast a provisional ballot in a federal election if your name does not appear on the voter registration record, if you do not have ID or if your eligibility to vote is in question. Your state may provide other reasons for voting by a provisional ballot. Whether a provisional ballot counts depends on if the state can verify your eligibility. Check with your state or local elections office to learn how to tell if your provisional ballot was counted. 
  6. Check the accessibility of your polling place: If you are a voter with minority language needs or with special needs or specific concerns due to a disability, your polling place may offer special assistance. Contact your local elections office for advice, materials in a specific language, information about voting equipment and details on access to the polling place, including parking. 
  7. Consider voting early: Some states allow voting in person before Election Day. Find out if your state has early voting in person or by mail and if so when, where, and how you can vote before Election Day.
  8. Understand absentee voting requirements: Most states allow voters to use an absentee ballot under certain circumstances. Check on the dates and requirements for requesting and returning an absentee ballot before Election Day. Absentee ballots often must be returned or postmarked before the polls close on Election Day. Determine your state’s requirements for returning absentee ballots. 
  9. Learn about military and overseas voting: Special voting procedures may apply if you are in the U.S. military or you are an American citizen living overseas. You may qualify for an absentee ballot by submitting a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). You can learn more through the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
  10. Get more information: For more on these tips and for answers to other questions about the election process, contact your State or local elections office.

As the country still faces great uncertainty about what COVID-19 means for social distancing a week, a month or even a year from now, many wonder how many physical polling locations will be open. And if they are, will it be safe to vote in person? One solution, if your state allows, is to vote by mail. Beginning as early as August, many states will allow voters to request a vote-by-mail ballot. With a greater number of mail in ballots expected this year, you should get your ballot in as soon as possible so there isn’t a glut of ballots needing to be counted on or around the November election date. 

As elections traditionally fall on Tuesdays, one of the main reasons people cite for not voting is being too busy with work and their personal demands. To address this barrier and increase voter participation, a diverse coalition of more than 450 companies came together in the summer 2018 to launch Time To Vote. Allison+Partners is proud to have joined this initiative and is committed to ensuring its employees have a work schedule that allows for time to vote in elections. This movement is a non-partisan effort that demonstrates the power of what the business community can achieve when it works to address some of the most significant issues of our time.

While many of the issues we face as a nation seem insurmountable, remember that you have an amazing opportunity that so many fought hard for you to have: the right to vote.
 
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Kay Brungs Laud is a senior vice president and works out of Allison+Partners’ Chicago office. Prior to starting her career in public relations, she lived and worked in Washington, D.C., where she spent several years working on the Hill and was part of two presidential campaigns. She graduated from American University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

 

JUNE 4, 2020 //     

The Economics of Employee Engagement

By: Cathy Planchard 

While they may not necessarily like it, organizations and their people have adjusted to operating in a pandemic. Working from home has become routine, thanks in part to early communication between employers and employees. They have mostly worked out the kinks.

But as we hit the nearly four-month mark of working from home, the virtual happy hours and blur of video team and client calls, things could begin to crack and unravel right as organizations feel stable enough to start planning for the return of employees to physical offices. And employee engagement and company culture are among the first things that could fray.

The costs of disengagement are staggering. Gallup estimates work disengagement totals 34% of a person’s salary. PRWeek reports the 2020 median salary for a comms pro is $100,000 a year. That means a disengaged, median-salaried PR employee costs their organization $34,000 annually—or more simply, $3,400 for every $10,000 in salary. Consider your total number of employees and their salaries, then do the math!

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Employees not fully engaged as they work from home will also struggle to re-engage when they return to the offices. It will not be the return to normalcy we all crave. The offices and office lives will not be exactly as we left them in March. We can expect split shifts at reduced volumes. Some will also grapple with interruptions over how they deal with taking care of children or elderly parents, adding yet more stress and costs. For example, NBC reported working moms’ coronavirus-related struggles to engage will cost the economy $341 billion. 

As many organizations continue to fight for their economic futures, engagement, flexible workstyles and truly understanding employees’ concerns become even more crucial. You've got to do everything you can to get employees more focused, more productive and more engaged. 

As Sir Richard Branson said famously, “Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your business.” Engaged employees are critical to attracting new customers, keeping customers and providing great service.

Are your employees ready to hit the ground running when the pandemic is over? How can you know for sure? 

Pulse surveys help. They offer a snapshot in time of employee sentiment, which can then be used as a benchmark from which to gauge any changes. Allison+Partners has used pulse surveys during the pandemic to see how employee sentiment has changed within departments and across countries. We were able to track, for example, how employees felt in select markets in Asia as they returned to work in a significant way. We were also able to see how the news cycle of various policy announcements, increases in COVID-19 cases, and even the lifting of restrictions contributed to their mood. In the wake of the horrific and senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, we used surveys to listen to the thoughts and opinions of our employees to determine how to be better as an agency and hold ourselves more accountable.  

These surveys can also bring deeper insights into the things that will either help get back to a more normal state and/or the things that you've got to figure out, address and work around in the months to come. They can identify trending themes within the organization and uncover, for example, the factors required for an employee to feel more comfortable returning to the office or traveling for clients post-pandemic. It’s clearly not one-size-fits-all.

Surveys not only drive insights, but they also reinforce to employees that their opinions matter, driving higher engagement. Establish the cadence for your surveys and keep the questions clear and simple. And make sure you acknowledge the team’s perspective. When you ask someone for their opinion, you have to show you have heard and considered it — even if you don't agree and act upon it in the way that the employee might have wanted.

Our agency prides itself on its culture and the recognition of being a “Best Places to Work” for the past three years by PR Week. Creating that sort of winning culture and engagement requires being dialed into changing employee needs, desires, obstacles, fears and concerns. It’s what drives our internal best practices for engagement and culture and what leads to better retention rates of our team. That’s the real impact from employee surveys.

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Cathy Planchard is global president of All Told, overseeing the company’s content, digital, creative, research and measurement teams. She is an avid traveler, Saints fan and spicy Cajun cook.

JUNE 3, 2020 //     

Four Steps You Can Take to Respond to the Call for Racial Equality

By: Rachel Prude and Demar Anderson  

“Racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it’s up to all of us to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out.”- Michelle Obama   

With American racial tensions at a boiling point, everyone must now take a stand to promote real and transformational change in our communities and break this predictable and counterproductive cycle. Too many times, we’ve seen this pattern emerge: a crime against a black person occurs, the video is leaked, public outrage is voiced, thoughts and prayers are shared, brands show expressions of support and then the issue fades into the background.

But this time, it hit differently.

Watching the modern-day lynching of George Floyd unleashed a torrent of anger and frustration over the decades-long failure to reform police practices and the broader U.S. criminal justice system. It was the nation’s tipping point from cries of outrage and demands for justice to a call for action – holding police departments accountable for their role in terrorizing black neighborhoods and bringing an end to the criminalization of black skin.

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While concern still lingers that these cries will continue to go unheard, the past feelings of hopelessness have now evolved into something more powerful – determination. For people and brands to remain silent means complicity in the acts of racism and the systemic oppression of the black community. The diversity of the protesters also shows it’s not just black people who want and demand this change. 

To drive this transformational change our society yearns for, we need to educate ourselves and take meaningful steps to address the problem so we can work together to identify impactful solutions. 

Here are four steps that you can take now to help work toward racial equality:   

Understand History so it Doesn’t Continue to Repeat Itself:
You can use several resources to illuminate the black experience in America. Do your research, look at the root of the problem – not the reactions to it – and think through ways we can dismantle the ideas and policies that prevent the black community from having fair and equal access.  
Don’t Generalize 
Although we frequently tend to focus on categorizations and target demographics in our line of work, remember African Americans have a wide variety of experiences, backgrounds and ways of thinking. For brands, get to know the culture, media, influencers and other partners on a deeper level to better serve clients.  
 
Don’t Just Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk  
To cut through the noise meaningfully, it’s more important than ever to not just voice support but take action to eradicate racism and make diversity a true priority. In today’s society, people can easily see through disingenuous platitudes and acts. The NFL received major blowback after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released this statement despite the league’s ownership having deliberately stifled Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests against police brutality. Robinhood announced its plans to donate $500,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Glossier will donate $500,000 to six organizations and $500,000 in the form of grants to black-owned beauty businesses. Other brands have offered solutions through purposeful social initiatives that take steps to correct problematic pasts. Some organizations have committed to facing their own shortcomings to contribute to sustainable change. This is what taking action looks like.  

Get Involved  
Do more than post on social media.  Take it a step further.  There are a variety of resources available if you are interested in  joining  the fight for equality, including:  

It’s been nearly 30 years since we saw  the  brutal images of  the LAPD severely beating Rodney King. And  since then,  not much has changed.  Conversations about race are often uncomfortable, but they don't  have to be. If we educate ourselves on the issue, we can identify solutions with the goal of  creating lasting and sustainable change to finally  become  a  country where all Americans can achieve the  American  dream.   

Rachel Prude is an account executive in our Atlanta office. She excels at developing press materials, coordinating media interviews, conducting media and influencer outreach, monitoring social media and compiling research. 

Demar Anderson is our vice president of Marketing and responsible for showcasing the agency's culture, thought leadership and award-winning work. She also spends her time doing pro-bono and volunteer work for non-profits that support human rights issues and is actively involved in this fight to dismantle racism in our country.   

MAY 28, 2020 //     

When the Going Gets Tough, Double Down on (Industry Analyst) Relationships

By: Holly Barnett and Ali Donzanti

There’s a saying among many of us who work with industry analysts for a living – our profession is called Analyst Relations for a reason.

A strategic analyst relations (AR) program has a lot of moving parts and involves a healthy dose of research, strategy, counsel and planning. And a significant percentage of an AR program’s success and business impact is predicated on the strong relationships we build and nurture with individual analysts.

For many of us, face-to-face interactions in the form of advisory days, events and deskside tours are essential elements of an AR program. With this in mind, it’s understandable many organizations worried their AR programs would be at risk when social distancing and travel constraints went into effect. However, we’ve found just the opposite to be true.

Even as cities begin to reopen for business, they’ll likely remain restricted one way or another for the foreseeable future. Here are five simple things you can do right now to make sure you and your teams continue to create and maintain strong analysts relationships without relying on in-person meetings. (Beyond the obvious switch to video conferencing we’ve all become accustom to.)

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  1. Max out inquiry time: Few things help build relationships between subject matter experts and analysts than regular two-way discussions. Most firms call these “inquiry” or “advisory” calls, and they are typically included in firm subscriptions or retainers. If you have access to inquiry, use it to the fullest. If you don’t, be sure to spend even more time than usual researching the analysts you brief and make sure your SMEs do the same. You can still have a meaningful dialog and build strong relationships. (And if you’re an AR person, remember your personal subscriptions also include analyst access. Some of our best insights and strongest relationships have come from calls without an SME on the line.) 
  2. Request make-up 1:1s: Since the outbreak of the pandemic, many analyst firms have cancelled events or pivoted to an online format. Analyst 1:1s are typically offered to event attendees, which can be especially helpful if you want to meet with an analyst who is not part of your subscription to the firm’s services, or if you don’t have a subscription at all. If a cancelled 1:1 is critical to your program, inquire about scheduling a make-up call. We’ve found firms to be accommodating. 
  3. Get a second opinion: Chances are your marketing, sales and other business operations will continue to adjust their roadmaps and messaging to align with the changing times. Remember analyst inquiries can be used for “document reviews,” during which analysts review content and help ensure messaging alignment with market needs and sensitivities. Document reviews send a strong message to analysts that you understand, respect and appreciate their knowledge and expertise while giving them early insight into your company’s approach. Its’ a win-win.
  4. Make it easy: Few things are easy right now. Working with you and your team should be one of them. We should always deliver easily consumed information. But think about how you can do an ever better job. Something as simple as providing a sharable version of speaker notes along with a briefing deck can go a long way for an analyst compiling multiple vendor briefings into a research note. And if you provide customer references for a report, be mindful they may have work-from-home challenges. Be sure customers understand what’s asked of them and be ready to follow up if they fail to respond in a timely manner. Again, things we should always do, but now’s the time to be extra proactive and responsive.
  5. Connect as humans: Before any interaction, remind everyone on the call that analysts are humans first and analysts second. Many have been through the wringer of home schooling, worrying about loved ones, the transition to remote work, and now the added stress of deciding when and how to go back to the office. Take time to ask and really listen to how they are and adjust your approach just as you would a coworker or friend. There will still be plenty of time for the business part of the call.

Over the past few months, many of us have learned lessons and new strategies that will help us live better connected lives. Hopefully that also applies to the work we do to support the companies, clients and analysts we engage with every day. Being mindful of best practices will continue to strengthen analyst relationships and create long-term bonds that positively impact AR’s role to the success of our organizations.

Holly Barnett is a Senior Vice President and Head of Analyst Relations at Allison+Partners. She leads programs that help clients shape perception and drive advocacy with industry analysts who influence buying decisions. 

Ali Donzanti is an Account Manager in the Corporate + Public Affairs Practice at Allison+Partners. She focuses on external communications for a number of global B2B tech accounts across a wide variety of industries, including emerging tech, cybersecurity, healthcare and more.

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MAY 27, 2020 //     

Brick & Mortar Adaptation in Post-Pandemic World

By: Hamilton McCulloh

When the COVID-19 pandemic ends and governments, businesses and individuals determine how best to move forward and reopen parts of our society, one thing is certain: our relationship with real estate, most notably interior environments, will be forever changed.

Homes, office space and retail stores will dramatically evolve over the next few years. In fact, they already have. Human beings adapt, after all, and brick and mortar structures – where we live, work, and shop – will also adapt to reflect our desire to be safe, productive and comfortable in our new shared reality.

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AT HOME

Let’s start with the home, where many of us spend far more time than normal. Given the pandemic’s impact on our daily routines, people are now more likely to work, learn and exercise from home, leading to new interior design trends in the built environment.

Lee Crowder, design gallery and model home branding manager at Taylor Morrison, the nation’s fifth largest homebuilder, said in a recent blog post, “home features driven by the pandemic, such as touchless and automated appliances, easy-to-clean surfaces and healthy home technology are driving design.”

Here are some of her insights: 

  • For those who work or school from home, a study or office may no longer meet a family’s space needs. They should consider work pods in a flexible environment to maximize everyone’s productivity.
  • Many homeowners leverage available technology platforms for collaborative workouts in their home gyms, while adhering to social distancing. Design recommendations for new or converted home-exercise space include wood or vinyl plank flooring, smart TVs for streaming workouts and single-room temperature controls for hot yoga or spin classes.
  • Intuitive kitchens already include touchless faucets. GE also now offers the kitchen hub, allowing users to search recipes, voice-activate oven controls and conveniently mount video screens to cook remotely with friends and family. And easy-to-clean quartz counters and hard flooring are more important than ever before given their low-level porousness.
  • Finally, healthy homes of the future will include air and water filtration systems, exhaust fans with LED lights that can kills germs in bathrooms, and diagnostic technology that reads the family’s body temperature and triggers a notice to a doctor, as needed.

AT WORK

Let’s turn our attention to the office and its interiors, where many of us typically spend the most amount of our time outside of the home. Each office will open slowly over time, based on pre- and post-vaccine factors and local and state health regulations. Even in the long run, some workers may continue to work from home, at least part of the time. But what will the office look like when both essential and non-essential workers do return?

“Our built environment will be under scrutiny for how it impacts our health,” said Matthias Olt, design director of architecture at B+H Architects. “Real estate investors and developers will need to consider how buildings can be designed to promote human health, safety and comfort.” 

He predicts architects and designers will focus, in part, on biophilic design, which promotes natural lighting, open windows, increased ventilation and interior landscaping to create healthier and more productive workplaces. 

For now, offices will have few colleagues at any given time and will feature reconfigured workstations. Common areas like kitchens and conference rooms – not to mention the now-common phone booths – may be closed or dramatically re-designed to ensure separation and safety.

Colliers International Executive Managing Director of Workplace Innovation and Corporate Solutions in the Americas Keith Perske said the pandemic has accelerated the evolution of the office space by five years or more.

Even if more employees plan to work from home some of the time, companies will likely use their current spaces more effectively to allow for social distancing, reversing the characteristics of the modern-day workspace. Organizations will assign shared workstations designed to create more space with higher walls or other barriers installed between cubicles.

The commercial office will evolve to be more dynamic and collaborative, while the home office likely will be more for focused, heads-down work. People have adapted to working apart, but the pandemic has helped us to better appreciate the value of working together.

SHOPPING

Retailers will also be driven to innovate in the post-Covid-19 world. We have added many new terms to our vernacular in recent months and here’s one more: Buy Online Pickup in Store, or BOPIS.  

Many retailers already offered such services as a convenience, or perhaps as a response to Amazon. That said, it will now be critical for retailers of all sizes to plan for BOPIS to remain open in the long run. Expect to see a reallocation of space with more available square footage for inventory, logistics and operations and less for the traditional front-of-the-house customer experience. This also includes considerations for drive-through lanes and dedicated parking stalls for curbside delivery. The ultimate challenge is to design an evolved retail experience that aligns with the store’s existing brand values.

Design is the intersection of art and science. As they say, form follows function. Science will dictate how we collectively and safely emerge from the pandemic with a new appreciation of our surroundings at home, at work and at the store. Designers and architects are already hard at work providing the artistic insight and expression that will lay the foundation for a strong future.

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Allison+Partners’ Real Estate Group amplifies the brands of global developers, brokers, designers, and builders in the built environment through media relations, public affairs, and reputation management.

 

MAY 26, 2020 //     

Newsroom Continuity Planning? How Local News Stations Are Navigating a Global Pandemic

By: Sierra Oshrin

If you’ve worked with a local journalist, or had one come on-site for an interview, your perception of a “glamourous” industry might have been debunked. Newsrooms have long done more with less. Broadcast journalists are no longer confined to simply interviewing and writing the story. Now, they must write, shoot and edit their video, send it back to the newsroom, secure their camera on the tripod, and broadcast a live signal using a small backpack (what’s a live truck?), providing updates from the field as a “one-man-band.”

News stations have learned to be incredibly nimble. But when COVID-19 swept across the globe, local newsrooms found themselves caught in the crossfire. The global public health crisis has highlighted the importance of local news, with viewership rising for many outlets. However, businesses impacted by COVID-19 have been forced to pull their advertising dollars from some newsrooms, resulting in publishers suspending publications and furloughing and laying off employees.

“Our viewership is actually very high right now – people are watching more TV because they don't have much to do,” said Jake, a Cincinnati producer. “However, some businesses that give us money for advertising have slowed paying us, because they have bigger expenses to take care of. It's a domino effect.”

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U.S. businesses have been forced to examine their continuity plans, and the same is true for news stations. Journalists take all necessary precautions by practicing social distancing and wearing masks in public. Some stations have split anchors and producers into “A” and “B” teams and forced all reporters in the field to work remotely. In larger markets, producers have even been fitted with the proper technology to direct the show from home, while weather anchors set up graphics from their living rooms. 

“Our reporters are working from their homes,” said Ryan, a Boise news director. “We are doing most of our interviews using online video. The newsroom is very empty. No one shares cars or gear right now. At the end of the day, everyone is still focused on seeking truth and a crisis only increases the need for it. I have been impressed with our team’s relentless pursuit of truth, despite the challenges.”

As local newsrooms work tirelessly to bring forth critical information to their communities, the newsgathering process has also changed. Email inboxes have become inundated with COVID-related pitches, and there’s less time and resources to capture content in an engaging way.

“Field crews, including reporters and photographers, are not allowed back in the station whatsoever,” said Kelsey, a Las Vegas reporter. “That means it takes a lot longer to download video, it takes a lot longer to send back video, which makes our deadline a lot tighter.”

COVID-19 continues to dominate the news cycle, even as states consider lifting restrictions. And most news directors, anchors, reporters and producers across the country agree one thing matters most when choosing to cover a story: local impact.

Because of this, larger brands may face increased challenges when trying to secure local coverage during this time. Most reporters focus on providing updates from government authorities or local health officials. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives certainly help, but they must be authentic and truly impact local communities.

Brittany, an Albuquerque news anchor, echoes this sentiment.

“There has to be such a heavy focus on a local angle – like this is happening in New Mexico, or this is happening because of a person in New Mexico,” she said. “People are so anxious for everything to reopen and life to go back to normal, unless there is a legitimate cause to run a national story or promotional story, it probably won’t make it. Because what people care about is their kids, their jobs, their community and their health right now.”

But not all is lost for brands looking to gain local coverage in this climate. However, instead of focusing on what the brand does, focus instead on those impacted at the local level. For example, a donation-related announcement is likely to get swept to the side unless it’s a rather substantial amount. But if a brand can connect the journalist with someone on the receiving side of that donation, it makes the story that much more compelling and personal.

“Providing a personal angle such as, ‘studies show cases in children are rising in New Mexico, and here is a family this is happening to,’ will have a much greater chance of receiving coverage,” Brittany said. “Because if you’re just throwing studies, theories and trends at us and we don’t have anyone to talk to about that except for an expert, that’s not a very compelling story.”

Additionally, brands can increase their chance of securing coverage by sharing visuals wherever possible.

“A huge struggle for us has been a lack of video and finding appropriate video for our stories,” Kelsey notes. “So, if you have a client that has good video of whatever the topic is, we will eat that up because it’s been really difficult not being able to go on location and get the video that we need. Any visuals are really helpful.”

It’s uncertain how this work-from-home experiment will continue to impact local newsrooms after the pandemic ends. However, businesses and news stations alike have learned those who remain nimble, authentic and aligned with their purpose will continue to succeed in a post-COVID world.

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

Sierra Oshrin is a former broadcast journalist now serving as a senior account executive in Allison+Partners’ Singapore office. Sierra has reported in Arizona, Washington, D.C. and Idaho as a multimedia journalist, otherwise known as a “one-man-band.”

MAY 21, 2020 //     

Webinar Weary: Elevating Digital Events

By: Cathy Planchard

As the reality of COVID-19 pandemic set in earlier this year, organizations focused immediately on the safety of their people, activated work-from-home mode and planned for the essential shifts of the quarter ahead. They reconsidered how to accomplish their missions and adapted their business models, comforting themselves with the notion they could simply delay their events and product launches to fall when the coronavirus’ grip would surely be over.

But a few months into this new world, we can now see the pivot will need to be even deeper and more prolonged than anyone expected. Things did not go according to plan.

Events postponed to later in 2020 have now become events moved online or just canceled altogether. After considering a move to summer, VMWorld announced plans to go online for the first time. Microsoft decided all of its events will be digital until July 2021. And Cannes Lions will not hold its festival or hand out awards in 2020. With lingering uncertainty, brands understandably don’t want to subject their employees or their customers to possible coronavirus exposure at large events.

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They also know that even during a pandemic, business must continue. Organizations still have to launch their products, and their sales teams still need to demo and sell those products. Trade shows have long been ground zero for lead generation and absolutely critical to the sales funnel. So critical that a third of marketers were spending 20% or more of their budgets on event marketing pre-COVID-19. But for the foreseeable future, those large, in-person events will be off the table – creating an unprecedented opportunity to rethink the ROI of those event budgets.

The easiest solution is to move events and product launches to the digital world. In recent months, many have discovered it’s not as easy as firing up a webcam and connecting with a reliable dial-in number. Not everything translates automatically or easily into the virtual webinar environment. Even if it did, webinar fatigue has set in – no one wants to sit on another conference call staring for hours at the Brady Bunch video boxes. And replicating online the memorable human experiences and the entertainment buzz that comes from live events is difficult.

Marketers still have to get their messages out, they still have to entertain, and they still have to prospect. That means they need to redeploy and reconsider their marketing budgets with the end game in mind. The idea is to reimagine, not replace, the events.

  • Did your organization participate in trade shows to drive leads? Consider more dynamic online environments and tools to demo your products, AR and VR for immersive experiences, online “office hours,” and direct marketing activities.
  • Were you attending (or creating) an event to meet with media, influencers, or top customers? Think through multi-sensory live experiences that can include online and offline elements, digital hubs and curated entertainment in a more intimate environment.
  • Was your intent to meet with media or analysts? Virtual press conferences have become more common, but bolster that with a new strategy for your newsroom that includes more dynamic video and visuals to tell a more compelling story.

In any case, do not underestimate the need for production support. Digital experiences require different skills, tools and thinking to be impactful. Concepting, pre-event logistics, technical direction, building the audience and asset creation are some of the many elements that can make the difference between a curated, professional event worthy of your brand, or one that feels home-grown.

Want to see it in action? Allison+Partners brought an 8-hour livestream Cook-A-Thon to life with client Impossible Foods in support of No Kid Hungry, featuring celebrity chefs like Traci Des Jardins and Eric Warehiem, musicians like Sister, and top-tier talent like Justin Baldoni and Sia. Watch the full stream here.

Need assistance or want to brainstorm your next digital event? We’re here to help, digitalexperiences@allisonpr.com. If you'd like to sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates, click here.

Cathy Planchard is global president of All Told, overseeing the company’s content, digital, creative, research and measurement teams. She is an avid traveler, Saints fan and spicy Cajun cook.

 

MAY 20, 2020 //     

Examining U.S. Immigration Policy in the Age of COVID-19

By: Barbara Laidlaw and Josiah Adams

The human and economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be overstated. Over the past two months, more than 30 million Americans filed for unemployment. Nearly 100,000 Americans have lost their lives, accounting for more than the combined American losses in the Korean, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Now, many look to the future and debate the correct next steps – a somewhat politicized process, and no more so than in the field of immigration policy. 

Under President Donald Trump’s administration, immigration has been a particularly hot-button issue. Increases in deportations, border arrests and visa denials have been pillars of the Department of Homeland Security and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. The concept of protecting American jobs has been the core of the administration’s stance on immigration. The current economic climate brought on by COVID-19 has decimated American jobs and, in turn, led the Trump administration and some members of Congress to target legal immigration as a strategy to reduce competition in the U.S .job market. It is unclear how effective this strategy will be, since we continue to see millions of Americans file for unemployment each week. But support for the strategy grows among lawmakers and in the American public.

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A poll conducted by The University of Michigan and The Washington Post in late April found roughly 65% of Americans supported “temporarily blocking nearly all immigration into the United States during the coronavirus outbreak.” This came on the heels of a Trump administration executive order that placed a 60-day delay on issuing green cards to certain applicants. Although this executive order turned out to be relatively limited in its scope, the administration and members of Congress have worked diligently to extend or expand temporary restrictions on immigration.

On May 7, Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Josh Hawley of Missouri sent a letter to Trump urging his administration to expand the April 22 executive order to include the suspensions of new guest worker visas, all nonimmigrant guest worker visas and the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. Specifically, the letter states that at minimum expanded suspensions should include the H-2B visa (non-agricultural seasonal workers), H-1B visa (specialty occupation workers, and the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program which extends foreign student visas after graduation. Meanwhile, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana recently announced he would be introduce legislation that would extend the current executive order to 60 days after the COVID-19 outbreak is determined to be over with the goal of giving Americans a chance to find jobs in the aftermath of the crisis.

While any type of legislative action in the House or the Senate would take a significant amount of time, the Trump administration remains poised to issue a second proclamation that would effectively ban immigration per these senators’ recommendations. One day after the four senators issued their letter, The Wall Street Journal reported “the president’s immigration advisers are drawing up plans for a coming executive order, expected this month, that would ban the issuance of some new temporary, work-based visas.”

The report named the same visas included in the letter, indicating the administration may feel emboldened to act due to the support of allies in the Senate and among the public. While the report did not reveal the approach the order would take to ban these types of immigration, the possibilities range from an outright ban to the installation of government-backed incentives for businesses to hire American during and after the coronavirus crisis.

The timeline indicates a sweeping ban on additional forms of immigration is around the corner. On May 13, The New York Times reported the Trump administration was moving forward with a plan to extend its coronavirus border restrictions indefinitely – a stark shift from the prior policy that was meant to be an emergency measure during the height of the crisis. Under the new indefinite program, which would be reviewed every 30 days, the policy orders the border closed to immigrants until the director of the CDC says explicitly there is no longer a COVID-19 threat to the American public. Two days later, NBC News reported the Department of Homeland security circulated recommendations for additional restrictions on legal immigration during the pandemic.  

The upshot of this feverish immigration activity – businesses that rely on workers in the United States on temporary work visas or foreign students in the process of extending their visas may need to reevaluate hiring practices because many of these bans could last for more than a year. Of course, this is the objective of many of these policies. But perhaps an unintended consequence is the initial shock to the system could be too great for certain businesses to overcome. This would result in a “lose-lose” wherein these businesses shut their doors permanently and no one, not even an American worker, has an opportunity to seek employment there.

Another consequence of this style of unilateral action is large businesses that rely heavily on visas, like the H-1B visa for tech support positions at Amazon, Google and Microsoft, may view the cost of switching to a more American-centric workforce as too high and simply outsource entire divisions currently in play in the United States. In this case, we are presented with another “lose-lose.”

It’s not only the tech or educational industries that stand to lose if a sweeping and indefinite ban on legal immigration is instituted. The H-2B visa, which is dedicated to seasonal, non-agricultural workers, is critical to America’s hospitality and recreation industries. Some 40% of H-2B visa holders work in landscaping or groundskeeping . Amusement and recreation also rely heavily on the visa. Hospitality workers, like hotel staff, food processors and restaurant workers, are all significant contributors to the H-2B visa as well. Considering these are some of the industries hit hardest by COVID-19 and the summer months are upon us, further disruptions to these industries’ workforces does not appear to be in their best interest.    

Perhaps a 12- to 18-month moratorium on nearly all forms of legal immigration will succeed and force businesses that would otherwise rely on these visas to shift their hiring practices to include some of the more than 30 million Americans who have lost their jobs over the past two months. However, given the economic fallout the United States and the world currently experience and will continue to experience, this result is unlikely.

Immigration is a necessary piece of the U.S. economy. It is a complex network that has strengths and weaknesses, like most of American policy. By making broad, lasting slashes to immigration policy, we risk cutting out the good with the bad and being left with a vacancy that may not be filled in the manner some lawmakers or administration officials suggest. As the COVID-19 crisis continues, we should all be wary of any political action that seeks to capitalize on it.  

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

Barbara Laidlaw brings 25 years of experience developing and running programs that help companies prepare, protect, and defend their brand reputation through global and national events, recalls, litigation, data breaches, regulatory issues and labor disputes.

Josiah Adams works on Allison + Partners’ global risk + issues management team and provides federal, state and local policy insights. 

 

MAY 19, 2020 //     

More Than Just Fun, TikTok Finds A New Meaning

By: Pranav Kumar and Natashia Jaya

By now, you’ve heard about TikTok, the world’s most definitive short-form video platform. Some of you may have asked someone younger in your life to explain what it is or perhaps you jumped right in and tried it yourself because everyone you know is already on it. 

As every teenagers’ platform of choice for creative expression, TikTok has now become the digital companion that keeps everyone around the world  (yes, boomers, millennials and Gen Zs included) inspired, informed and connected despite social distancing. 

With schools and offices in lockdown mode and people ordered to stay home for weeks, consumers have naturally turned to digital and online streaming platforms to keep themselves entertained. But beyond the fun and entertaining videos, TikTok has found a new role during the COVID-19 pandemic – to bring people together more meaningfully. It has pivoted from a  fun app into a platform that supports users around the world in positive and beneficial ways while remaining joyful. 

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As a part of that strategy, TikTok adapted its hashtag challenges into a series of fun and educational programs to provide in a bit of levity while embracing the responsibility we all share to stop the spread of the coronavirus. For example, #StayAtHome is a hashtag challenge that encourages users to showcase how they live through this unprecedented crisis and pass time creatively.  

TikTok has also increasingly become a platform for knowledge-based content. For example, #EduTok on TikTok is particularly relevant now, when online learning is the only option for most people. Whether teaming up with local doctors for thoughtful conversations about how to stay healthy, listening to motivational speakers to share life tips or learning new recipes, #EduTok has helped connect a new generation of creators to audiences thirsty for knowledge. In markets like India, #EduTok has played an even bigger role helping connect communities by spreading digital literacy and skill development even before pandemic. #EduTok is among the most popular content categories in India.   

Joining the battle against the spread of COVID-19 misinformation, TikTok focused the majority of its efforts on providing users with access to accurate information and resources. While this is not the main reason users come to TikTok, the platform understands the important role it plays to ensure the right resources are available to the community. This effort came to life with the World Health Organization (WHO), which partnered with the platform to provide an informational page that answers common questions and busts myths about COVID-19. Equally important, TikTok also heightened its content moderation efforts to curb misinformation within the app and added additional subcategories for users to report, such as misinformation or COVID-19. 

TikTok’s commitment to play its part in the battle against the pandemic also translates into concrete relief for those most affected by the crisis. Bringing the support from online to life, TikTok provides relief funds to support front line medical workers, vulnerable communities, educators and more.  

Brands must adapt while not forgetting about what they stand for. For TikTok, its vision has always been to bring joy and inspire creativity. And while this is a difficult time for the world as a whole, TikTok has been able to shift its narrative from a platform that uplifts and inspires to one that also lends a helping hand – and all while having a ton of fun!

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

Pranav Kumar leads Allison+Partners in India and works closely with its teams to provide client support across corporate reputation, business and brand communications remits. He brings nearly two decades of communications experience predominantly on the agency side a focus on crisis counsel, issues management, c-suite communications advisory and thought leadership. 

Natashia Jaya is an account director in our Singapore office and has more than a decade of experience in PR with a career that spans across the U.S., Indonesia and Singapore. As the regional lead for clients, such as Waze and TikTok, Natashia currently drives APAC-wide communications programs from strategy development to in-markets coordination. She also works on a diverse set of corporate and technology clients.

MAY 14, 2020 //     

Communications in the Recovery Phase: Be Responsible and Honest in the Transition to a Better Tomorrow

By Heike Schubert

Slowly – some say too hastily – European countries including the UK, France and Germany are starting to ease lockdown restrictions.

The ‘Six Phases of the Disruption Life Cycle’ recently outlined by Allison+Partners communications professionals Tom Smith and David Wolf provided a useful guide on the key elements businesses must work through in of a period of crisis. We have just started coming out of the Command Phase (phase three) and are entering into the Recovery Phase (phase four). However, we are doing so tentatively – our governments are closely monitoring infection rates because we really cannot know the impact of eased lockdown measures until they are trialed. As we adjust to the ‘new normal’, minimizing the spread of the virus, protecting people from it and taking care of those unwell will continue to be of the utmost importance.

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In the near future, uncertainty will continue to characterize every aspect of our lives. In the UK, France and Germany, one thing is certain – we know society will be forever changed. COVID-19 has forced us all to slow down and reflect on what is working and what can be improved.

So, what does the ‘new normal’ look like? The discussions have already begun. We need to rethink how we live, work and travel. We need to consider how to better acknowledge the high value of people in health and social care, retail, education and more. And we need to better prioritize our personal lives, families and mental well-being. Perhaps, everything will change. Nothing is off the table right now.

From a communications perspective – we need to balance being cautious with being proactive in positive ways. Companies that are thinking innovatively and looking to solve problems that help people will succeed in generating positive brand awareness that they can carry into the future.

To be an effective communicator in the current environment, we recommend implementing three key steps:

1. Stay supportive – the threat isn’t over yet

Right now, it’s all about seeing the bigger picture and how your organization fits into that.  Ultimately, every group represents a small part of a huge and complex system. It’s all about supporting each other to stay functional as well as working towards one major goal: avoiding the spread of the virus in order to save lives.

So, how can you support this overarching objective? Whether you’re reorganizing a manufacturing site to produce life-saving ventilators or you’re pivoting to sew masks instead of making clothes – decide what it is you will do to show you’re committed to playing your part in helping people during the crisis. In doing so, you will be remembered for the responsible role you have taken in society. It is imperative that companies and organizations not only exist to be successful but also act to do good and develop trust within their community.

2. Don’t brag about success – stay humble

The majority of people, companies and state institutions are currently facing a plethora of challenges, from unemployment to salary cuts, to failing business operations. The states are struggling to stay ahead of the infection wave on one side and are trying to support individuals, companies and organizations on the other in order to minimize disruption to the economy, avoid widespread bankruptcy and mass poverty.

In many European countries, government loan schemes and the existing social security systems are supporting the people to buffer the worst effects. It’s an incredibly difficult time – many small businesses and jobs are reliant on financial assistance for their survival. Therefore, any communication where a company is highlighting how successful they have been under these circumstances is inappropriate. It’s even counterproductive as it labels the successful players as a kind of ‘war profiteer’ – someone who is capitalizing on the pandemic, rather than sharing the burden and supporting others.

No doubt there will be entities that are successful during this time – for instance, companies selling food and groceries or important medical devices. However, it is how these companies are offering and communicating their products and services that will make the difference. For instance, reducing prices, services for the elderly and vulnerable, charitable giving and clear ethical programs will help companies be remembered in a positive way. It is critical that these activities and engagements come from the heart and that companies act authentically and transparently to give people confidence in them.

3. Become part of the better tomorrow

To create a better tomorrow, organizations need to think about how their product, strategy and company culture are perceived now. They need to evaluate their role in the new normal, map out a plan and take action.  

One organization cannot solve every issue, but they can be really good at helping overcome one or two specific challenges close to home. Leaders need to review what products and services they sell and how they can do this better for people, the environment and the world.

If you have something to contribute – become a thought leader and have your say on what we can improve upon. Make sure your insights are valuable in the overall conversation and the aim of your communications is to explain how you are working towards a better tomorrow – not profiteering off the crisis.

The global pandemic is an opportunity to truly think and act globally. Together, we can all be a part of a better tomorrow.

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

 Heike Schubert is a General Manager in our German A+P office.

MAY 10, 2020 //     

Moms, This Mother’s Day Take Time to Love Yourselves The Way Your Children Love You

By Anne Colaiacovo 

This Mother’s Day will look different, just as the past few months have looked different in so many ways. This is an unimaginably difficult time for mothers and all caregivers, second to the moment when we brought our children home from the hospital with little idea of what was to follow.  

As a working mother to a 5- and 7-year-old, I constantly remind myself to keep perspective as the challenges of being mom, wife, substitute teacher, chef, cleaning crew and agency team member become overwhelming. I remind myself this time period won’t last forever! I am sharing what I’ve learned, with the hope this Mother’s Day, above anything else, mothers can take a moment to love ourselves the way our children love us – unconditionally.

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SEE IT THROUGH THEIR EYES

If you asked my kids and me what we remember from each day during this strange period, our answers would definitely not line up! I would tell you about the times we argued, or the time spent catching up on work. They would point to licking the spoon before putting the cookies in the oven or playing on the swings. Kids constantly do what we are unable to do for ourselves – they show us how to revel in the simple moments and cut ourselves a break.

"During this time, I’ve discovered a revolving door of emotions – sensory overload, impostor syndrome and mom guilt, to name a few – that shadows me between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. And while we’re surrounded by professional examples of resiliency every day, I’ve humbly learned from my 7-year old how to stare confusing adversity in the face with the eyes of gratitude. His abundant energy, joyful attitude and unending ability to find simple pleasures in the mundane remind me the greatest teachers often come in the smallest of packages." - Ashley Nasser, senior vice president of client service and operations in Atlanta

BE THERE, AND YES, THAT’S ENOUGH

My working-mom stage began at Allison+Partners. On the cusp of the birth of my first child, our CEO Scott Allison gave me advice that rings true during this challenging time: “Even though you think your kids need you when they’re super little, they will need you even more as they get older.” As much as my family has enjoyed this time together, sharing my own personal frustrations has allowed me to be even more present for my children. They’re confused about what’s going on in the world, why they can’t see their friends, and why Nanna and Poppy wear masks. I admit to them often and openly that I’m confused too. Despite shifting circumstances, my children have always known I will be there for them, inside and outside of quarantine. They come first. I have A+P to thank for creating a flexible work environment that allows me to be there.  

Molly Luby, NYC senior vice president of client services and operations and mother to 3-year-old Emma, agrees totally about rethinking flexibility and acknowledges this experience has given her perspective on how much little moments with family mean. And she continues to keep doing her best to soak up those moments – good, bad and ugly.

THIS ADJUSTMENT HASN’T BROKEN THE SYSTEM

When we return to a post-COVID world, our environments will be different. For our kids, that includes their schools and child-care systems. And for us working parents, that includes our offices. We should celebrate these shifts, as they will bring new opportunities. The restructuring that’s happened with working parents has required a new attitude with both employers and employees, but it hasn’t broken the system. 

Jamie Rismiller, Washington, D.C. senior vice president, has found unexpected changes in this new system, this remote era has forced her to break free from the chains of routine and find new, and better, ways of doing things both personally and professionally.

We still meet deadlines, remain in close contact with clients and correspond with coworkers. But now that we’re rethinking our routines, conversations and workload, I’m hopeful this is just the beginning of rethinking our environments.

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

Anne Colaiacovo is president of North America and is accountable for the financial performance, new business and management of the agency’s 13 U.S. offices. A dynamic and innovative leader, Anne was the agency’s first and youngest female partner, was named one of PRWeek’s “40 Under 40” in 2014, and has earned industry recognition from PRWeek, The Holmes Report, AdAge and the Public Relations Society of America.

 

 

 

MAY 8, 2020 //     

Persevering in a Time of Crisis

By Tracey Cassidy

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

I bought a magnet a while back for a friend with that Winston Churchill statement. It’s a powerful sentiment. And as we embark on week eight of shelter-in-place orders in New York City and the surrounding tri-state area, it’s more relevant than ever.

Prior to this week I’d not taken time to reflect on the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in NYC – a hotbed of the pandemic. Until now, I kept going, kept moving and dealt with what was in front of me, hour by hour, day by day.

We expected March to be a busy month. We had several clients with events planned, but we started to see trepidation from reporters about attending. Then Hearst, Conde Nast and Meredith ordered their staffs to work from home and refrain from attending in-person events. Many at these outlets had staff who attended Milan Fashion Week in February, and rumors spread that some editors may have contracted the coronavirus. Clients quickly canceled events or pivoted online.

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Yet, the actual threat of the coronavirus still felt at bay. Then our Canadian client Shopify shut down all its offices and provided a $1,000 stipend to outfit employees’ home offices. As the general manager of Allison+Partners’ New York office, I started talks with agency partners and senior leadership about the possibility of a work-from-home scenario. We’d already given staff the flexibility to do that or commute to the office during off-peak hours.

Still, the threat didn’t feel imminent. Maybe it was because we were also packing up our office space in Union Square, which we’ve occupied for more than a decade. Despite what was going on around us, the team stayed focused on preparing for our move. Looking back now, I realize it was a distraction and one that maybe we needed.

Once we instituted the mandatory WFH order, it seemed the walls around us began to crumble. You couldn’t escape a day without talking to someone who was directly impacted or knew a family member or friend who was sick with the virus. We all checked in on each other regularly to see if any of us had COVID-19 symptoms. 

My friend is an ER doctor who remains on the frontlines in a New Jersey hospital. When I reached out mid-March to see how he was, I was shocked to hear his hospital, in an affluent area, gravely lacked personal protective equipment (PPE). He told me a story of sending staff to STAPLES to buy sheet protectors and electrical tape to make their own face shields. STAPLES?! My first thought was that’s not a medical supply store – did I hear that right? This is not a third-world country! At that moment, I realized the threat had arrived, it was real and taking victims. And clearly, we were ill-prepared. 

The last eight weeks have been unprecedented, and I realized Churchill was right. The best thing we can do is keep going. I’ve never led during a time of crisis. The last crisis I can recall of this magnitude was 9/11, and I was just starting out in my career and not responsible for managing others. My biggest takeaway is we must find the things that push us to keep going. I’m not a crisis communications person, but this is how I’ve tried to help my team during this crisis:

  • Find the silver linings – the text to my ER doctor friend made me think of him first when a client asked if anyone had contacts at local hospitals because they had PPE they wanted to send. Our client shifted quickly from manufacturing car parts to face shields almost overnight. I connected the client with my friend, and shortly thereafter 1,000 face shields arrived for him and his medical staff. My friend is doing well and continues to show nothing but gratitude.

  • Keep kindness going – sending a client or colleague a compliment via text, chat or email is powerful. It might be the one thing that person needs during a rough day. Shift to compassion instead of criticism, and somehow the outlook magically changes to be a little bit brighter.

  • Acknowledge you’re going to have bad days – I met with my senior team this week and shared that mid-week seems to be when I hit a wall. It’s evitable when you’re juggling so many balls in the air, but being aware of this helps me manage it. Maybe you’ll start to see more virtual happy hours on Tuesday or Wednesday in the New York office.

  • Find comfort in the discomfort – We know this isn’t a typical or comfortable situation for employees or clients, but we’ve collectively found comfort in the uncomfortable and will emerge from this stronger because of what we endured together.

I don’t know what will unfold in the coming months. What I do know is I’m grateful for my position at Allison+Partners and the talented group of people I get to work with every day. Despite being remote, this team is tighter than ever and doing amazing work. And we will keep going no matter what comes our way.

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

Tracey Cassidy is the General Manager of Allison+Partners NYC office, the largest in the network. Tracey brings more than 20 years of experience building brands and safeguarding their reputations.

Follow her on Twitter @TraceyCassidy or LinkedIN.

 

MAY 6, 2020 //     

It’s Now Time to Help Those Who Help Others

By: Scott Pansky

As many respond to the national pandemic by helping food banks, donating PPE supplies, or making financial donations to international and national relief charities, we can’t forget those who make a difference locally.

For the past eight weeks, Allison+Partners has donated services to numerous local nonprofits, including providing senior counsel, helping compose board and donor communications, developing online fundraising strategies, and responding to crisis situations. It’s important to us to offer our expertise and experience.

But we must remember smaller and local nonprofit organizations suffer too. Many have had to furlough staff, cancel events or learn how to change formats. Many do not have funds in the bank to survive the remainder of the year.

Now is the time for us to roll up our sleeves and see what else we can do. For example, I sit on the board of a local YMCA. When Los Angeles closed gyms and fitness centers, the Y had to close its doors to the public. They had been servicing families and seniors, many who were at risk. As a board, we began developing strategies to respond. All of us committed to making additional financial donations; all reached out to a minimum of five contacts to ask for support.

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Yet, we still had to furlough much of the staff. The executive director, one of the most creative men I know, said we could do more. He wanted to be more of first responder. He hosted food drives, blood drives and emergency childcare programs at hospitals for care-giver responders.

The Y has an unused facility. He outreached to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office and volunteered to let the city use it. It is now a facility for regional homeless to shower and have a place to relax. This brought new funds to the Y and allowed us to bring back several team members.

We also discovered those using the showers would put back on their old dirty clothes afterward. To make their experience more valuable, the YMCA hosted a clothing drive in which our donors and volunteers could make a positive difference too. I am so proud to be a part of this local nonprofit.

Here are ways you can help local nonprofit organizations:

  • Offer your skills and services
  • Make in-kind donations of supplies and products
  • Donate cash or gift cards
  • Volunteer from a safe space
  • Call or email friends and family
  • Use social media to post blogs, calls to actions. You have followers, let them know what you care about and what they can do to help

If you’re a nonprofit in need of advice, get in touch at scottp@allisonpr.com or sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates.

Scott Pansky is a co-founder of the agency and leads Allison+Partners’ Social Impact group. Scott has extensive experience providing communications and crisis counsel to nonprofit organizations and developing board + ambassador training programs.

MAY 4, 2020 //     

May the 4th (or Force) Be with You…As We Navigate to Our New Normal

By Jacques Couret

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… we used to shake hands, gather in large groups and have meals together without worry. We went out without masks and latex gloves. It was a more civilized age before the dark times – before the coronavirus.

It’s May the 4th during our long COVID-19 shutdown and lock-in. For the uninitiated, May the 4th – a corny play on the famous “May the Force be with you” heard so many times in the beloved Star Wars movie franchise – is the international day geeks like me celebrate all things Jedi and Sith.

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But on May 4, 2020, we might as well be in a galaxy far, far away. The pandemic has made things feel as if we landed on some alien world where all inhabitants live in fear of an invisible enemy, a “Phantom Menace” of sorts, and have grown leery of physical contact with others. We’ve also grown frustrated and angry as we seem powerless to eradicate the virus or save our economies. To quote the eternally anxious protocol droid C-3PO: “We’re doomed!”

There’s been a great disturbance in the Force, and we are scared. But as Jedi Master Yoda reminds us: "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

During difficult times in my life, I have often turned to Star Wars for entertainment and escape. It never lets me down, particularly “The Empire Strikes Back.” For billions around the world, the saga just has a special way of gripping the imagination, pulling you into a world where anything seems possible and the stresses of real life just melt away. And for Gen Xers like me, Star Wars provides a powerful way to transport back to our childhoods, our simpler and more civilized times. Watching Star Wars movies for the millionth time as an adult is like visiting dear old friends. It’s comforting for the mind and soul.

Star Wars has been a near-constant companion and calling card. And as I have aged, its meaning and importance has evolved along with me. As a youngster, it was about lightsabers and blasters, good and evil, and cool spaceships and aliens. As an adolescent, it became a bit more about the individual characters, a father and a son on opposing sides of the same coin, and the nature of the Force. As an adult, it has also become about spiritual dogma, the arrogance of power, the fragility of democracy, the ugliness of politics and the tragic mistakes well-intentioned people can make. And, of course, the lightsabers!

But always, Star Wars is the hero’s tale. It’s a story of regular, often downtrodden people inspired by hope to overcome the odds, accomplish amazing things, fulfill their destinies and create order and civility out of chaos and war. 

Hope is the constant thread that weaves together the 11 (and counting) Star Wars films and cartoon series. At the end of “Rogue One,” Princess Leia reminds us the captured Death Star plans offer the galaxy “hope.” The first Star Wars movie is called “A New Hope.” In “The Empire Strikes Back,” Luke loses part of his arm, Han Solo is frozen in carbonite and Leia is left holding her battered rebellion barely together by only a thread of hope.

I’ll watch Star Wars tonight to mark May the 4th. Which movie, I haven’t yet decided. But I do know it will take my mind off the things here in my galaxy that stress me. It will mostly make me forget about the hardships COVID-19 has placed upon us all and remind me there is always hope. There will be casualties, there will be tough times, there will be a temptation to believe all is lost — but the good guys always win in the end because they never give into anger, hate and fear. They have hope. And lightsabers! 

As you continue to work from home, homeschool your kids and hope for the best, may the Force be with you!

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Jacques Couret is editorial manager of All Told and works out of Allison+Partners’ Atlanta office, where he boasts the company’s best collection of Star Wars desk toys.

MAY 1, 2020 //     

Pay It Forward and Help the Next Generation

By: Scott Pansky

Now is the time to make a difference in young professionals’ lives, guide them in their careers and help them navigate the great recession we are about to enter. The U.S. recession in 1991 caused by the collapse of the real estate industry seems like yesterday. The job market was down and getting a well-paid job was difficult. I had just graduated from San Diego State University (SDSU), and I remember asking for an informational interview with Dave Nuffer, the CEO of Nuffer, Smith, Tucker and a San Diego PR icon who has since passed.

Dave was a charismatic magnet. He made you laugh, he told great stories and he was the kind of guy you wanted to work for. I was heartbroken as he tore apart my resume and said, “I want to know where you interned, who your clients are and what results you got for them… and, by the way, we aren’t hiring.”

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I made the edits he suggested, and I submitted my new resume to another well-respected agency in town, The Gable Group.  Scott Allison, a newly promoted supervisor there and a fellow SDSU alum, interviewed me. Nearly 30 years later, we are still together.

The mentoring I got from industry leaders, like Dave, Scott, Dr. Glen Broom, Elizabeth Pecsi and Henri Bollinger, helped shape the work I do today. They listened to me when I discussed the areas of work that I enjoyed and to the ones I feared. Their tutelage, patience, guidance and support gave me the confidence to never give up and keep pursuing the things I was passionate about.

For more than 10 years, I have paid it forward and taken the lessons Scott and Dave taught me to help students in their career paths. I cannot count the number of resumes I have edited, or the tips provided, and guest lectures and presentations I have given to students at UCLA, USC, ASU, SDSU, Bucknell University, the Lagrant Foundation, PRSSA and PRSA. 

COVID-19’s economic impact is unknown but will be much worse than past recessions.  As we slowly creep up to more than 30 million people unemployed, I recognize how important it is to give back and help the next generation. It’s not necessarily about providing jobs. It’s about providing counsel in your chosen profession and helping them navigate the uncertain destiny that lies ahead. It’s no longer a conversation about millennials or Gen Z. It’s about life lessons and entering new fields where their skills can be used for jobs that can make a difference.

I can’t express enough how rewarding it is to help students entering the job market. You get to share in their successes and guide them through their lows. You can help empower them to grow and use their passions to learn something new. We need fresh minds, new creative ideas and new experiences to help us grow our companies.

What’s event better? They will remember your help; they will support others and mentor the generation behind them. You can be proud of the impact you have made and the incredible legacy you will leave behind. Don’t miss this opportunity – they need you now!

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Scott Pansky is a co-founder of the agency and leads Allison+Partners’ Social Impact group. Scott has extensive experience providing communications and crisis counsel to nonprofit organizations and developing board + ambassador training programs.
 

APRIL 30, 2020 //     

B2B Lead Gen While Social Distancing

By: Terrance McDermott 

Reactions to the pandemic have all but eliminated in-person contact between B2B sales professionals and prospects, leaving some wondering, “How do I promote my business now?” The looming economic uncertainty also adds the marketing challenge of potentially generating and pursuing prospects who may not even know their true budget authorization or their organization’s near-term needs.

One clear pivot is to focus on strengthening relationships with existing customers. In the best case, perhaps it leads to an upgrade, an upsell or new users within an existing customer organization. At a minimum, it is an effort at customer retention.

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Unlock the Value of Your CRM Data

All organizations should take another look at their CRM database. No matter the sophistication of the marcom tech stack, the CRM system can yield a gold mine of avenues for marketers to pursue. Minimal contact information, even for key daily contacts? Figure out how to add name and phone number. Ask the sales team, search for the e-mail naming convention. If need be, call the main number! Extensive information about various influencers and decision-makers? Email them your most recent industry information. And if you don’t have something recent, create it! Build an infographic, create a survey and share results. Find video of an industry thought leader and share the link. And there is a lot of room in between.

Understand Your Customers

In addition to strengthening relationships, marketers can also seek data. Now is the time to become a LinkedIn expert. Is the LinkedIn insight tag loaded on your website? Add it and begin learning more about the visitors to your website, and a small re-marketing campaign will be a quick addition. From there, you can learn more about the content consumed by the industry you market to. That provides direction for the next piece of content you’ll produce.

An organization with extensive CRM data can use LinkedIn’s matched audience features for an ad campaign that will reach the exact people in the CRM database and others at the company. Then, the current environment presents a perfect opportunity for marketers to declare which other contacts at a current customer can influence upsell or retention. We often work with clients to define the buying group early in the sales cycle, but it is just as relevant for retention or upsell. Determine the title of end-users for your product, understand who may have originally created a vendor search with the assistance of procurement and investigate who within a client organization helps determine “value.” Small marketing campaigns to reach those individuals at an important client will help make them advocates for you – either in the face of a competitor, or for an add-on that will more fully use your product. 

Make a Plan for Growth

Now you have an expanded audience of influencers for whom you can adjust existing content or create something new. By this point, you have built an account-based marketing plan without ever making the declaration. You know the companies who are your current customers, thus similar companies are easier to determine. You know the content those customers consume. You know the titles at those companies who use your product. Now you can fill out your database with added information to strengthen relationships.

Of course, LinkedIn is just a first step, and many marketers already use its capabilities to the fullest. Microsoft, which owns LinkedIn, has slowly expanded opportunities to use LinkedIn profiles outside of LinkedIn itself. You may now be in a position to push further with data vendors who can help build a stronger and updated list, media vendors who can help you target the exact people you want to reach, trade publishers who can burnish your thought-leadership credentials, and other martech providers who can help push you up the learning curve. There’s no shortage of martech vendors.

But the best way to put them to work for you is to first understand your customers, the individual influencers and end-users within customer organizations, and what they need from your product or service. From there, whether you are equipped to go fast or you must go slowly, upgrades and upsells are the clear next steps. 

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Terry McDermott is a digital evangelist with expertise in turning objectives into strategic plans and developing, executing, and measuring demand generation programs. He leverages his background in direct response techniques, including CRM marketing, to develop insights that build lead gen and customer acquisition campaigns. He also creates account-based marketing programs for key prospects, selecting targets via predictive modeling and creating marketing automation campaigns to nurture and score leads. Additionally, McDermott advocates for investments in emerging digital products, technologies and channels, while building and managing teams to generate leads, boost sales and increase awareness.

APRIL 29, 2020 //     

“Houston, We Had a Problem”: Learning From the Apollo 13 Mission.

By Deb McCormick

April 2020 marks 50 years since Apollo 13 returned safely to earth, crashing into the Pacific Ocean after a harrowing adventure in space. The trip brought one life threatening disaster after the next — a story of overcoming massive crisis. But if we look at how Commander James Lovell and his crew faced the adversity, we might apply some of that courage under fire to today’s COVID-19 pandemic.

Apollo 13 launched on April 11, 1970. The spacecraft featured two independent structures joined by a tunnel: orbiter Odyssey and lander Aquarius. The crew lived in Odyssey during the journey to the moon, while lander Aquarius served as the vehicle for the moon landing. It was NASA’s third moon mission and sadly an unsuccessful one. An oxygen tank exploded 56 hours into the mission and forced the crew to abandon their visions of stepping foot on the moon. Lovell uttered those famous words: “Houston, we had a problem,” which Hollywood later changed to “Houston, we have a problem.”

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At the time, Lovell was the world’s most traveled astronaut with three missions and 572 spaceflight hours under his belt. That’s a guy you want leading the charge. The damaged Odyssey craft had Aquarius as a backup, but Aquarius didn’t have a heat shield to survive re-entry to earth. Aquarius also wasn’t supposed to be turned on until the crew was close to the moon. The space was cramped, wet and cold and only designed to support two people on the moon’s surface for two days. Mission control in Houston improvised, and came back with new procedures that enabled three men to be in it for four days.

From a leadership perspective, Lovell did the one thing all great leaders do in times of crisis – He didn’t dwell on the coulda woulda shoulda. I’m sure he mourned it for a sour second and then moved on. He then improvised, using everything he and his crew had to work within those moments and moving one step at a time.

The crew had to balance the challenge of getting home with the challenge of preserving power on Aquarius. After they performed a crucial burn to point the spacecraft back toward Earth, they powered down every nonessential system in the spacecraft. Without a heat source, temperatures dropped to close to freezing. Mission controls teams helped the crew with daily activities and spacecraft manufacturers worked around the clock to support NASA and the astronauts. It took a few villages. The journey home was rough, to say the least. They safely splashed down on April 17. 

The mission name and astronaut patches came from Apollo, the sun god of Greek mythology, represented as the sun with three horses driving his chariot across the surface of the Moon. This symbolizes how the Apollo flights have lit knowledge to all mankind. The Latin phrase “Ex Luna, Scientia” means “From the Moon, Knowledge.”

The astronauts brought back space miles of knowledge, and the event resulted in NASA making some well-needed operational changes.

I think we can all relate to this story. These are uncomfortable times for people and for brands. We’re crammed into places we didn’t expect to be, and we face unknowns.

First, it’s important not to look behind you – that’s in outer space now. Next, remember where there’s uncertainty, find your clarity. Use this time to improvise — by definition that means spontaneously or without preparation. Make something from whatever is available. You might just find your brand is capable of something bigger than what you thought you planned for.

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Deborah McCormick is a Creative Director at Allison+Partners. She has more than 25 years of experience leading strategy and brand initiatives across healthcare, travel + hospitality, consumer, financial and automotive. She believes in meaningful content to drive conversions and spark brand love.

APRIL 28, 2020 //     

Innovative Thinking is Needed to Drive The Auto Industry Forward

By: Marcus Gamo

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the automotive industry in a profound way, forcing the closure of global manufacturing centers, the cancelation of auto shows set to attract millions of visitors and drive sales leads, and the temporary shuttering of dealerships.

These challenges certainly have a direct impact on short-term demand, with analysts predicting a 60% decline in U.S. sales for April and even more aggressive declines across Europe for the month. This challenges automakers and mobility technology companies to revisit priorities and resources with the hope of a V-shaped economic rebound during the second half of 2020.

What we see across a number of industries - including automotive - are innovative ideas and creative solutions to help drive new revenue streams. And, the same will be no different for carmakers, dealerships and brands that champion a direct-to-consumer model made popular by distribution EV makers Tesla and Rivian.

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  • Several carmakers, including Ford, Tesla and Toyota, quickly pivoted resources to address the immediate needs of the healthcare industry, from using resources to manufacture ventilators to large-scale 3D printers to deliver face shields. While these automakers embraced leadership responsibilities at a time of need, this quick pivot demonstrates the ability to reimagine how best to leverage engineering ingenuity to create new revenue.
  • With auto shows postponed or canceled outright, carmakers must revisit plans to develop a wave of buzz for new vehicle launches. To challenge this, VW built a virtual version of its Geneva Auto Show booth (planned for early to mid-March 2020) to help spotlight its priority vehicles for the year. Look for a growing number of automakers to take a similar approach, with top-tier shows in the U.S. greatly impacted this year.
  • With so many already impacted financially by this crisis, consumers will look for new vehicles that offer the most value. For automakers, it’s an opportunity to spotlight sedans (including hybrid sedans), largely overlooked, given the explosive growth of SUVs and light trucks over the past decade.

With so many dealerships only keeping service departments open and available at a time when showrooms have been closed, opportunities have opened for each to look at fresh thinking to deliver solutions for their customers’ mobility needs.  

  • Several dealerships have created mobile service offerings with basic services, such as oil changes and planned maintenance, conducted at a vehicle owner’s home rather than the Not only does this create revenue opportunities at a time when many consumers are unable (or simply cannot) leave their homes, it allows for a greater number of customers to get service at any given time.
  • Dealerships, which often leverage a fleet of courtesy vehicles for consumers who tap their service departments, have the opportunity to reimagine how these vehicles are used. For instance, it’s likely dealerships will step into the carsharing community - similar to approaches championed by Getaround, Zipcar and even traditional car rental brands - and allow access to these courtesy vehicles.
  • And similar to VW creating a virtual auto show booth to help drive demand for new vehicles, dealerships will likely lean into digital content to create virtual vehicle walkarounds and test drives to help augment digital commerce.

One of the hallmarks of the automotive industry is continued innovation, such as technology leveraged to reduce crashes and save lives, advance zero-emission mobility and in-vehicle entertainment. Even in the face of an economic crisis, we should expect continued innovation to drive the auto industry forward.

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As the head of Allison+Partners’ automotive specialty group, Marcus Gamo helps a diversity of brands navigate a new mobility culture and communicate unique visions for mobility’s future and how transportation is consumed through smart communications programs. With more than a decade of automotive and mobility industry experience, he architects strategic campaigns that deliver impactful communication for OEMs across the U.S., a leading technology and 5G chipmaker that powers connected transportation and autonomous cars, and global energy companies that introduce L2 and L3 EV chargers. 

 

APRIL 24, 2020 //     

Great Company Culture is a Two-Way Street

By: Courtney Newman

Some businesses will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis with stronger company cultures, while others will see the ties that bind staff weaken under shelter-in-place orders. The difference will be how well businesses engage their employees in a two-way dialogue. 

Here are five tips to help you build or maintain a strong company culture, whether your staff is working remotely or back in the office.

Establish your cultural roadmap. Collaborate with staff to identify three to five core values that define a successful employee in your company and use them to recruit, onboard, evaluate and celebrate staff. If your company hasn’t developed yours yet, start a conversation with staff about the strengths that help you weather the current crisis and get consensus on the most essential traits to drive the business forward.

Make time for facetime. Regular interaction between your leadership team and employees – via live, interactive town halls and educational events – not only enhances investment in the company’s vision, but also allows you to uncover pain points that impact personnel. With staff quarantined at home, you can maintain this personal touch by hosting virtual town halls, recording video messages from your leadership team and developing a CEO advisory council of staff from various levels, functions and geographies to share their insights on video chat. 

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Be transparent about business challenges. During times of crisis, employees crave honest information about business performance and job security, and leaders who deliver this build trust and loyalty even when the news is bad. Solicit “Ask Me Anything” questions anonymously with an online survey tool like SurveyMonkey and have your CEO address them in an all-hands webinar. Given the ever-evolving nature of the global pandemic, biweekly sessions may be necessary.

Solicit feedback and act on it. It’s also essential to assess staff’s wellbeing and needs to tailor your internal communications and support systems accordingly. Conducting anonymous pulse surveys on a weekly basis will allow you to respond in real time as the crisis evolves. You also need to be explicit about how such input is being used. Neglecting this step is a trust buster and will make staff less likely to chime in and be forthright.

Offer perks that encourage teambuilding. Job satisfaction is enhanced when employees genuinely like each other, so it’s essential to offer perks that encourage them to have fun with each other and the top brass while they’re on the clock. Working remotely puts a damper on social events like running clubs and serving meals to the homeless, but there are many ways to continue the fun in video meetings: group workouts, icebreakers, book clubs, trivia, fitness challenges and home tours in the style of “MTV Cribs,” which offers all-access tours of celebrity homes.

An honest, two-way relationship between leadership and employees will not only foster a strong workplace culture but will also help you uncover great solutions to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and build an army of loyal followers to implement them.

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Partner Courtney Newman leads learning and employee engagement for more than 500 A+Pers in the U.S., Europe and Asia-Pacific. Her A+P career highlight is the agency being a perennial PRWeek Best Places to Work winner.

APRIL 23, 2020 //     

Why Higher Education Needs to Consider Brand Reputation

By: Paul Breton and Lydia Wilbanks

Campuses have shut down. Classroom instruction is completely online for the foreseeable future. Sporting, recruiting and graduation events have been cancelled or postponed. And the lawsuits over tuition and fees have begun.

It’s a make-or-break moment for higher education. In the coming months, university presidents, college deans, development officers and administrators will need to make complex and potentially unpopular decisions that can affect their long-term brand reputations. That’s why now is the optimal time to pivot their communications strategies and engage stakeholders differently.

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Students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni and institutional donors each have myriad questions that need to be carefully messaged and addressed, not least of which include:

  • How and when will campuses reopen and make it actually safe to return?
  • How will online vs. on-campus tuition and fee decisions be managed?
  • How will out-of-state and international student admissions and enrollment be impacted if prospective students are unable to travel and take campus tours?
  • How will virtual, online stewardship keep alumni and donors engaged and connected – and for how long?
  • Are traditional methods of marketing outreach still effective?

Institutions that take decisive action to navigate these concerns creatively, empathetically and transparently will emerge stronger. They will build credibility and goodwill, especially when unpopular decisions become necessary. Schools that hesitate or underestimate the importance of their communications will face a long, uphill road to reputational and financial recovery.  

Here are four important communications initiatives school officials should focus on now to engage students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni and institutional donors to shore up their long-term brand reputations:

Double down on digital

With in-person events and activities no longer viable options, colleges and universities need to shift resources and maximize the full range of digital capabilities to stay connected to their audiences online. Effective use of virtual events, online campus experiences, emotionally engaging videos, email newsletters, search engine marketing, social media influencer engagement and online conversation mining will give university communities the ability to remain visible and relevant during this prolonged time of social distancing.

Keep employees engaged

Now that everyone is working remotely, it’s even more imperative for school officials to increase connections with faculty and staff who are on the front lines with students, parents, donors and other stakeholders. While broad, one-way, top-down updates are customary, schools that rely on these types of communications exclusively will miss out on opportunities for valuable community temperature checks. Instead, communicators need to embrace virtual townhalls, online Q&As, department-wide video conferences, real-time employee surveys and other forms of remote social engagement.

Narrative matters

During times of high anxiety, people want reassurance and empathy from their leaders. They accept that decisions are being made in real time with incomplete and ever-changing information. While stakeholders don’t expect perfection, they do feel entitled to explanations of how and why important decisions are made and what they mean for the future. And they expect sincere contrition and quick corrections when leaders make the wrong call. 

Now more than usual, it’s important to consider how difficult messages are delivered and how they support an overarching brand narrative. Do stakeholders have a reason to trust and believe? Are they inspired? Can they see themselves as valued contributors to how the story gets written – or are they merely pawns in a game over which they have no meaningful control?

Tell stories that inspire

University marketers and fundraisers already appreciate the power of emotional stories about how higher education transforms lives and how researchers make new discoveries. Now is the time to delve even deeper and mine for inspiring stories that showcase the ingenuity and resilience of students, faculty, alumni and staff. 

How did professors come up with innovative ways to engage their students online? Which staff members truly went above and beyond the call of duty? How did the school community rally together to support each other or the community at large? How have alumni stepped up to hire students, establish internships and give back in new and inventive ways? 

These types of stories yearn to be discovered and disseminated.

While higher education faces an uncertain future, communications decisions that institutions make now will have brand reputation implications that endure long after students return and campuses once again safely open their doors.

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Paul Breton is an executive vice president in the Corporate + Public Affairs practice. He counsels executives to communicate effectively and tell memorable stories that result in positive earned media coverage, stronger brand reputation, greater stakeholder engagement and more revenue. He has 20+ years of PR and marketing communications experience and specializes in executive thought leadership, brand storytelling, crisis and issues management, internal communications and employee engagement. His industry experience spans education, technology, financial and professional services, entertainment and healthcare.

Lydia Wilbanks brings more than three decades of consumer and corporate communications experience to Allison+Partners. She specializes in target market analysis, strategic planning and thought leadership. After owning her own award-winning agency, she now focuses on communication counsel and market development for Southeast based organizations.

APRIL 17, 2020 //     

Has COVID-19 Killed Techlash?

By Karyn Barr

Apple and Google announced a game-changing partnership on April 10, and the world took notice. The long-time rivals became allies in the fight against COVID-19, seemingly putting down their gloves to build large-scale contact tracing using their smartphone networks. Words like “bold,” “innovative” and “unprecedented” dominated the related headlines. Inc. magazine even went as far as hailing the tech giants for “building the only realistic way to get out of this shutdown.”

It seems – at least in the immediate wake of the announcement – the partnership is a glimmer of hope emerging in the tech world. Not just in the sense that Apple and Google have provided a potential solution to flatten the curve, but also in the sense that collaboration itself may counteract some of the negativity that plagued large tech companies for much of the past two years.

Could COVID-19 be the unexpected antidote to “techlash”?

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Two years ago, the word “techlash” was born, marring reputations within Silicon Valley and beyond. Big Tech’s integrity was called into question as scrutiny over companies’ ethics, social responsibility and intent skyrocketed toward an all-time high. A wave of negative reactions to tech’s power and influence dominated headlines. And the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Google were pushed into the government spotlight with calls for regulation, data responsibility, privacy and so much more.

As we headed into 2020, America’s trust and patience had begun to disappear. The one-time tech darlings were well on their way to becoming Public Enemy No. 1. come the November election.

Then COVID-19 hit, changing everything we once knew and forcing us to adjust personally and professionally to a new norm. Technology – whether we consciously think about it – has made all our adjusted lives more palatable. We’ve connected with colleagues, teachers, friends and family on a variety of platforms like never before. We’ve relied on fixed and mobile networks to maintain business continuity, tested bandwidth boundaries and proved a work-from-home life, while not desirable for some, is actually feasible and efficient. And we’ve relied on delivery services, telehealth and social networks to provide creature comforts when we’re all on edge.

We cannot deny technology has become our connective tissue. But great power begs for great responsibility. COVID-19 hasn’t changed that.

Apple and Google took an admirable first step with their collaboration. And, yes, it’s initially helping big tech emerge from the shadows of techlash. However, we must see how the partnership plays out. Promising “privacy, transparency and consent are of utmost importance” was appreciated as both companies look to stop the spread of coronavirus. But maintaining that public, socially responsible commitment well-beyond this critical time is where the rubber will meet the road.

After all, this pandemic has potentially permanently changed the way we live. As a result, we now have even higher expectations of technology, its reliability and security, and its impact at a global scale.

COVID-19 hasn’t cured the fundamentals of why techlash emerged in the first place. Techlash was never just about a company being “bad” or “capitalistic.” Instead, it was centered on the actual business decisions tech companies made – decisions that called into question and sometimes egregiously compromised our privacy and security. Even after this pandemic, consumers, governments and businesses will still demand transparency and consent, while debates around greater, more serious regulation will continue.

But what COVID-19 has done – and will continue to do – is trigger tech to be accountable. Thus far, tech companies of all sizes have responded. The glimmers of hope are there. Security measures have tightened. “Tech for good” partnerships have emerged. And some techlash-ed reputations have started to mend.

So maybe, just maybe, the tech world gained a little more perspective – a game-changing perspective that will help define how every company needs to operate to regain brand trust today and well into tomorrow.

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Karyn Barr is Head of B2B Technology at Allison+Partners and primarily counseling clients inside and outside of Silicon Valley on global growth strategies, brand positioning and C-Suite thought leadership programs. A long-time agency veteran, she had led award-winning work across numerous industries, including artificial intelligence, data analytics, additive manufacturing, cybersecurity and more. Karyn resides in the Bay Area where she and her family are rehabbing their 110-year-old home.

 

APRIL 16, 2020 //     

Brands, Your People Need You: Now Is the Time for Social Innovation

By Paul Sears

In a COVID-19 world, brands face a big question – should we launch that new product now, or wait it out?  Uncertainty abounds as marketers must reevaluate the economics and the optics. 

A well-conceived launch can help the bottom line and boost brand reputation, but it must legitimately help. Most importantly, the company must protect the dedicated workers throughout the value chain. During the immediate calamity and the extended recovery that follows, brands have a strategic opportunity to create powerful social innovations to meet new consumer needs in unexpected ways while providing comfort and relief to a world in crisis. 

Consumer behaviors have changed dramatically in the last few weeks. Instead of movies and restaurant meals, millions of families eat together and play board games at home. Instead of commutes with a stop at Starbucks, professionals make their best efforts to remain productive while home-schooling their children. Many others have been displaced and need support just to meet basic needs.

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As the landscape changes rapidly, it will be key for brands to scale up their listening efforts.  Not just to better tailor their marketing messages, but to identify new customer needs that can foster rapid innovation. We help our clients in this key area, combining AI and human analytics that extract signal from millions of digital conversations, allowing them to understand how hearts and minds react to an uncertain world.

Rapidly turning insights into solutions is the next step. Peloton quickly created all-new workouts for families. Craft breweries rapidly stood-up digital storefronts and pivoted taproom-focused business models to delivery and pickup. Alamo Drafthouse now offers ticketed screenings of cult classics on Vimeo. Marketers will have to seize strategic opportunities with the digital infrastructure they already have or use new resources they can quickly add.

Brands will also need to assess if they have credibility to deliver helpful new offerings. For example, Netflix doesn’t have much history in the respiratory mask business. But what if it partnered with Hasbro to deliver virtual board games within the Watch Party environment? Marketing leaders must step back and reassess their product roadmaps to evaluate whether 10-degree shifts, digital extensions or new partnerships can create an unexpected innovation to benefit both society and the business.

A few key questions can prove helpful:

  • Will a new product meet socially-oriented definitions of value in a COVID-19 world?
  • Is the supply chain stable – will consumers have sustainable access?
  • Can you, suppliers and partners protect workers’ health and safety?
  • Can the product be launched authentically, with care and goodwill?

In the midst of a global crisis, it’s easy to overreact and put everything on hold. Yet studies of prior crises and downturns have found the companies that double down on innovation significantly outperform those that make drastic cutbacks. Leaders must assess their portfolios and make immediate pivots. They must ramp up listening to deeply understand changing consumer needs and identify new ways to socially innovate. It’s more important than ever that brands make bold, socially conscious moves to help build a better, stronger and more resilient world.  

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Paul Sears is Executive Vice President, Integrated Marketing.  With nearly 20 years in advertising, social media, content and brand strategy, Paul spends most of his time helping clients sharpen their strategic focus – at the brand level or for individual products and campaigns.    

APRIL 15, 2020 //     

How an Online Community Can Help Your Business Through COVID-19

By Stephanie Cinque

COVID-19 disrupted every aspect of our lives and left many confused and overwhelmed. Companies and organizations have postponed or overhauled conferences and events, employees now work remotely and many businesses that thrive off face-to-face interaction are in crisis mode as social distancing becomes the norm. 

As we are forced to embrace the world of Wi-Fi, virtual interactions and digital communications, online communities can be the answer to maintain internal communications and keep customers engaged at home.

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Allison+Partners’ measurement and analytics team shared the insight that “with physical distancing recommendations in place, there’s a growing ask from consumers for creative ways to entertain family members at home.” Likewise, employees expect their employers to maintain company culture and engage them in a WFH environment. An online community can be an essential tool to connect with both audiences.  

If your business is new to an online community, these best practices will help you create a successful space for your business’ employees, clients or customers to connect. 

Consider your audience needs

A community is not only an effective way to push out communications, but it can provide needed support and guidance for team members or customers. Community managers and administrators are responsible for maintaining that safe space while giving individuals the opportunity to maneuver together through these unique times.

Orangetheory Fitness launched #OrangetheoryAtHome to bring its members “a new workout everyday to keep you strong.” In addition to participating in the workouts, members send in their at-home bloopers and equipment work-arounds to maintain the studio culture at home. Orangetheory features member photos to motivate the community to push toward their afterburn – a signature to the Orangetheory Fitness brand.

The Professional Beauty Association (PBA), the nation’s largest organization of salon professionals, stepped up to support its industry by offering a complimentary preferred membership for licensed professionals and non-licensed salon employees. This community gives access to like-minded industry professionals to lean on one another for support, access to its insurance marketplace and a way to quickly receive industry-specific news and updates. This is especially important as many freelancers, contractors and beauty professionals experience financial hardships during this crisis.

Allison+Partners launched an COVID-19 Resources and Updates microsite and internal community to keep employees informed of company-wide announcements and resources related to this evolving situation. An agency priority remains to ensure employees, clients and communities are safe and healthy. We also launched support forums to encourage sharing work-from-home tips and tricks, photos, client best practices and case studies. Employees use the forums to share photos of pets, creative work from home setups and their new school-aged co-workers. It’s become a needed connection as we all navigate uncertainty and prepare to adjust to a new normal. 

Put collaboration first

For employees, a community can help keep projects organized and moving forward, especially in a virtual environment. Teams can brainstorm best practices and work together to pivot marketing strategies and manage a crisis in real time.  

Try the below tips to manage an effective virtual collaboration group:

  • Create topic communities and resource sharing groups for specific workstreams, deliverables and brands. This will help everyone manage their workloads and stay engaged. 
  • Reward participation through gamification, employee spotlights and content features. 
  • Provide ownership. Give employees responsibility as moderators. By doing so, message threads will be well-organized and aligned with the community guidelines.
  • Launch user-generated newsletters. Incorporate daily or weekly emails summarizing leadership announcements, news updates, relevant discussion threads and link directly back to the community to drive participation. Learn more about the importance of internal communications during a crisis here

Run virtual gatherings

While companies and organizations have cancelled many in-person events, they have created ways to bring their gatherings online. Virtual gatherings are new for many, and an online community can help make the transition easier. 

Brand Innovators, an exclusive community of brand marketers from the world's top brands, is known for gathering regularly for thought leadership conferences and social events. As the world has pivoted to the virtual sphere, it had no choice but to pivot as well. To remain a safe haven and resource for the marketing, adtech and media industries amid the chaos, Brand Innovators launched a virtual livecast series that brings online its community the greatest portions of its physical events, such as compelling keynotes, panel discussions and fireside chats with industry leaders.

Netflix extended its party feature, so friends and families can watch the same content in real time while social distancing. Not only does it give viewers a virtual experience of being part of something and connecting with others simultaneously, it also provides the ability to discuss in real time. 

We all must continue to adapt to a new normal, which involves creating innovative methods of connecting online. By learning from this pandemic’s threat, we can build lasting opportunities for customers, colleagues and businesses alike to inspire and innovate together online. 

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

Stephanie Cinque is a Content Marketing Manager at Allison+Partners and specializes in online community management and building successful engagement strategies for clients. With a passion for social media management, influencer marketing, and the beauty industry, Stephanie works on several integrated projects for the agency. Born and raised in New York, Stephanie currently resides in sunny Arizona. 

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