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JULY 1, 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.

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Go Digital

Social media is the ideal tool to engage with followers and the larger community. According to new research from the British Heart Foundation, 55% of UK adults say they have spent more time on social media since the start of the lockdown. This highlights 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 that 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.

Transform Your Events Strategy

Many large-scale events, including Apple’s WWDC, Infosecurity Europe, 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 maximise 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 sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates, click here.

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 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.

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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.

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.

 

Andrew Rogers is an Account Director at Allison+Partners.

 

JUNE 12, 2020 //     

Reopening: Life after COVID-19 Lockdown

By Andrew Rodgers

It's the end of the beginning, and the start of the new normal, as COVID-19 lockdowns begin to lift across Europe. With different markets opening at different speeds, and different regions and demographics more or less severely affected, how should brands balance the seriousness of an ongoing pandemic, with the cautious optimism of reopening?
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Andrew is joined by Heike Schubert from A+P's Munich office to discuss how brands should start to adapt their communications for the new normal as we start to engage with shops, bars and restaurants again. With Germany a few weeks ahead of the UK in lifting restrictions, what can we learn from the change in consumer behaviour in Germany? And how can brands communicate a crucial message of safety and security to tempt consumers back?




Like our podcast? Why not leave us a review? And don't forget you can always find out more about the team here at Allison+Partners at www.allisonpr.co.uk.


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. 

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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 behaviours stay and which disappear?

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

So as well as new behaviours we are also yearning to go back to past behaviours 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, recognisable brand advertising, brand communities andknown 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, giveniven 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 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 behaviour?  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.  




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

MAY 18, 2020 //     

Why Higher Education Needs to Consider Brand Reputation

By Paul Breton and Lydia Wilbanks

Campuses have shut down. Lectures and seminars are completely online for the foreseeable future. Sporting, recruiting and graduation events have been cancelled or postponed.

It’s a make-or-break moment for higher education. In the coming months, university leaders,  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 university spaces reopen and make it actually safe to return?
  • How will online vs. on-campus learning and fee decisions be managed?
  • How will international student admissions and enrolment 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 maximise 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 important 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 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.

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

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 specialises 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 specialises 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 organisations.

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 realistically cannot know the impact of eased lockdown measures until they are trialled. As we adjust to the ‘new normal’, minimising 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 characterise 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 prioritise 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 organisation 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 functionable 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 reorganising 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 organisations 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 organisations on the other in order to minimise 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 capitilising 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, organisations 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 organisation 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.

 

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

MAY 12, 2020 //     

PODCAST: Product Launches - Go-to-market during COVID-19

Brands are facing a difficult question: Should they launch new products or services during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and how can they do so in an appropriate way? 

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Andrew is joined via Zoom by Jim Selman to discuss how the go-to-market strategy for new product launches works during lockdown, social distancing, and the eventual new normal. How can brands pivot to make the most of existing product launches already planned? How can they bring something new and genuinely useful to the market for the audiences that need them most?

Like our podcast? Why not leave us a review? And don't forget you can always find out more about the team here at Allison+Partners at www.allisonpr.co.uk
MAY 11, 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 employees are working remotely or back in the office.

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Establish the culture you want to see. 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 them. If your company hasn’t developed yours yet, start a conversation with the team about the strengths that help you weather the current crisis and get consensus on the most essential traits to grow the business.

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 find out what is impact personnel. With staff quarantined at home, you can maintain communication 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. 

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 a company-wide webinar. Given the ever-evolving nature of the global pandemic, biweekly sessions may be necessary.

Ask for feedback and act on it. It’s also essential to assess your team’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 can break down trust and will make staff less likely to engage.

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 senior colleagues while they’re on the clock. Working remotely makes it harder for people to bond with each other, but there are many ways to boost happiness at work via video calls: group workouts, quizzes, book clubs, Friday night drinks 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 realise great solutions to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and build a group of motivated volunteers to implement them.

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

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.

MAY 7, 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 authorisation or their organisation’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 organisation. At a minimum, it is an effort at customer retention.

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Unlock the Value of Your CRM Data

All organisations 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 a 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 organisation 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 organisation 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 organisations, 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. 

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

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.

MAY 1, 2020 //     

Three Key Areas B2B Marketers Should Focus Investment and Resource For Our “New Normal”

By Sue Grant 

While certain sectors of the tech market continue to be incredibly busy (i.e. health tech, data analytics, AI and security) others are challenged with significant IT projects that have been put on hold while businesses wait to see what happens on the other side.

But it is fair to say that prior to the pandemic, the B2B tech market had been relatively resilient for some time and had been showing no signs of slowing. There are positive signs that the current situation will not have the same impact as previous tech downturns, such as the dotcom crash of 2000/2001, where it took several years to recover and return to growth.

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Given the industry was robust and strong before we entered this crisis, there is no reason why innovation and tech should not resume once the worst of the pandemic is over, albeit with a pivot in communications and messaging to reflect the “new normal.”

Here are some of our recommendations on navigating the current environment to position your business for success in the “new normal.”

The need for interesting stories is stronger now than ever.

From talking to reporters, though a few are now being furloughed, most titles are carrying on business as usual: it is fundamental that they keep producing interesting content for their audiences.  While there is currently less opportunity to get into the national media with so many pages prioritising COVID-19, trade and specialist titles are actively looking for new material. Trade reporters have shared that they are snowed under with pitches on working from home and security challenges, so make sure the story you are pitching something new – or at minimum a new and fresh perspective. Take a look at what has already been written and take time to think about ‘what’s next,’ – what are going to be the next key issues as we evolve from the current situation. Make sure any PR stories about COVID-19 are not self-promotional, but rather how your technology is making a positive impact during these unprecedented times.

B2B marketing needs to reflect what’s happening to customers and prospects alike.

Many B2B organisations are facing new sales challenges; either because their sales have dropped off dramatically or because of a huge volume of increased demand. Using marketing to combat these problems effectively will enable businesses to look to the future, by deploying short-term sales cycle initiatives to address immediate needs, while not ignoring the long-game plans to ensure business continuity. For example, if your business is making their services free or discounted to help others survive, this should be communicated effectively.

As marketers we should position ourselves as a source of vital information. Guidance on what to do in the short-term to cope with the unusual market conditions as well as guidance on the strategy for the longer-term as we come out the other side. This is not the time to retrench from marketing.

Revisit your messaging.

Do you have a clear brand purpose? If so, then relevant, detailed messaging can evolve from that, but you must be explicitly clear to avoid stakeholder confusion. With your workforce most likely spread across the country – or the globe – it is easy for mixed messaging to slip through the cracks.

But messaging is just the first stage. Tonality is equally as important, as is empathy for all those affected. This is the time for brands to engage customers authentically to maintain trust and brand loyalty. No exaggerations, no hype, just sober, transparent facts about what is being done.

Business must continue, the more we do, the more quickly we can begin to economically recover and come out the other side. However, be sensitive to the situation, no one should be capitalising on a pandemic in an exploitive way.

In reality, the tech sector could ultimately grow as we rise to the occasion and innovate quickly to meet the needs and demands that are placed upon us by this unprecedented situation. Innovation is the mother of invention after all.


Sue Grant is a Managing Director for B2B Tech in the UK office. 

APRIL 29, 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.”

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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”?

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, the world’s trust and patience had begun to disappear. The one-time tech darlings were well on their way to becoming Public Enemy No. 1.

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 will be the most important test.

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.

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

Karyn Barr is Head of B2B Technology at Allison+Partners and primarily counselling 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 27, 2020 //     

The COVID-19 Landscape Through the Eyes of An Influencer

By Lexi Holden

Once more and more countries began to go into enforced lockdown, and the media coverage focused solely on COVID-19, influencers finally realised the pandemic was real and lasting. They started posting their pre-planned sponsored collaborations earlier than previously agreed upon, worried contracts would terminate and their expected source of income would evaporate. Posting agreed-upon pieces of content meant guaranteed payment – perhaps the last for several months.

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While there are plenty of opportunities right now for wine and spirits brands, packaged foods, beauty products, home décor and fitness programmes, other companies are not as lucky. Travel brands and goods, clothing meant to be worn outside the home, restaurants, hotels, anything that gets you off your feet and outside your home – they all struggle. Still, other brands find themselves in the middle. For example, food and alcohol delivery services are at a peak and business booms. Yet, they have no marketing budget to put toward influencer programming because consumer demand is too high and the need to have influencers promote no longer exists.

As a blogger who also specialises in influencer relations at Allison+Partners, the influencer landscape seems in flux. Based on conversations I’ve had with fellow influencers, some said their partnerships are quiet, although a handful of brands still reach out to do exchange partnerships instead of paid partnerships. Others said partnerships have been put on hold until further notice. I’ve had a handful of my partnerships put on hold until later months, with the goal to resume as normal once things improve. On a brighter note, I’ve also had a few partnerships that focus on the “at-home” angle, which shows brands still believe in the influencer industry even during this stressful time.

That said, even in this weird flux, the pandemic won’t drastically change things for all influencers. For example, home products brands will continue influencer marketing and might even put more budget behind their programmes as marketing around COVID-19 quickly becomes a saturated space. But once the pandemic is over, where will influencer marketing stand? Will budgets be the same? Will influencers still be able to effectively influence? Where will marketing needs turn?

At first I was hesitant to post content – both content surrounding my daily life and paid content. I polled my audience to see if anyone disagreed with posting branded content, and about 85% of the people who took the poll said they don’t mind #sponsored content. Of course, I wanted to be mindful of everything going on. But it was nice to receive reassuring messages that noted how Instagram is an outlet that gets people away from the negativity going on in the world and provides happy and positive entertainment.

I have lost count of the number of times a kind follower has told me this is “the content we need right now!” So for me, my goal is to bring positive and humorous content to my channel. Because if I feel like I need that, I am certain others do too.

As a micro influencer, I believe business for micro influencers will stay the same and potentially be more fruitful – brands with a decent budget will want to reach a variety of people across the nation and partner with more influencers, as opposed to one macro influencer. It will vary based on programme goals, but micro influencers – those who people feel like they can relate to more on a personal level – will have ample amounts of opportunities in the coming months. Brands will have a chance to build up their content channels too by using unique pieces of content from their influencer partners.

I sense brands are quiet right now because they are planning their comebacks once things improve and normality returns. For brands that move forward business as usual during the pandemic, they try their best to partner with influencers that make the most sense for them while respecting our new norm.

I have taken this time to re-evaluate my brand goals and plan for the year ahead. What do I want to accomplish and what do my followers want to see the most? People still want to relate to something real. So, I will continue to walk through this new norm with a mindset of being relatable and real.

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

Lexi Holden is a senior account executive at Allison+Partners and the founder of Lex and the City, a blog focusing on city life and style in Chicago and beyond, with a love for fashion, fitness, beauty and travel. Lexi has partnered with brands such as Swarovski, Madewell, Park City Tourism Board and Lyft, among others.

APRIL 22, 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 organisations 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.READ MORE

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’s 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 manoeuvre together through these unique times.

Fitness class provider Frame launched FRAME ONLINE offering instant access to all of its online classes to help members look after their physical and mental health from home. It is also driving up engagement with its community via social media by running Facebook lives and competitions on Instagram.

Another example of a brand that has adapted to COVID-19 well is Pret a Manger. The coffee and fresh food chain has published the recipes to some of its popular products including its dark chocolate chunk cookies and kale & cauliflower macaroni cheese, much to the excitement of its loyal customers.

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 organised 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-organised and aligned with the community guidelines.
  • Launch user-generated newsletters. Incorporate daily or weekly emails summarising 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 organisations 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 specialises 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. 

APRIL 21, 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 re-evaluate 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. 

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Consumer behaviours 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.

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. 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.  

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

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 20, 2020 //     

5 Brand Ambassador Best Practices During COVID-19

By Lucy Arnold and Claudia Vargas 

Allison + Partners’ recent  COVID-19 Trend Report  analysed social media chatter and the earned media landscape to extract context from millions of COVID-19-related conversations. We found emotions have shifted over the past two weeks from fear to frustration as uncertainty grows, supplies become scarce and concrete answers are hard to find. Consumers, influencers and journalists all share an overwhelming need for clarity in an age of rampant misinformation.  

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Wouldn’t we all love a little more clarity? So, what’s the right strategy for engaging with brand ambassadors in times like these - from the big names and recognisable faces you’ve hired, to the broad swath of dedicated brand fans who have stood by you through thick and thin? It’s important to recognise there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution – we must examine each brand ambassador program individually. It might be helpful to share some of the best practices we’ve developed for our clients, as we’ve helped them navigate these troubled waters. 

Here are some guiding principles to engage with your brand ambassadors in this time of uncertainty: 

  • Reach out now. Don’t wait. Let them know the brand cares about their situation 
    Remember that brands are human constructs – they live in consumers’ hearts and minds. Celebrities, influencers and brand ambassadors are all in the same boat right now. They’re adjusting to a “new normal” just like everyone else. Simply reach out to see how people are doing. Ask about their kids or what they’re binge-watching. Share information, links and tools that might be helpful. Talk business later, but let the brand be human first. Brand ambassadors will remain a critical pathway for us to connect with the community, gain insights and maintain support for our brand in the market – but only if we nurture them, support them and keep them informed. Working together, we will not only get through this, but we will create a better world in the process. 

  • Make sure they have enough supplies, including your products 
    Supermarkets are doing double-duty to keep critical essentials in stock, but their hard-working staff struggle to keep up. High streets have closed and may not bounce back. Maybe you are an essential brand and have the ability to directly send your supporters a little product. Or if not an essential item, maybe a little swag could lift spirits. Surprise and delight moments will be an appreciated bright spot. It's an opportunity to reduce anxiety and be supportive to show the brand cares, which will pay dividends in the long run. 

  • Read the room. Listen and engage in dialogue. 
    Social listening and monitoring have never been more important. It’s tricky to positively impact conversation in a meaningful way without seeming self-serving or tone deaf. It depends on the conversation landscape, which changes by the minute. Right now, we see social media challenge after social media challenge – people tagging their friends to do push-ups, people sending photos of their dogs and encouraging their friends to send photos of their pets, Christmas lights to spread joy, sharing workouts and recipes. The need to connect right now during this time of isolation is apparent. Likewise, establishing the same two-way conversations with brand ambassadors is critically important. Our supporters are our eyes and ears and boots on the ground who can help provide us with insight into how to connect. They can help us uncover what keeps consumers up at night and surface unimagined ways the brand can be helpful right now. 

  • Grant even more access - be excessively transparent - “People support a world they helped create.” - Dale Carnegie 
    Providing influencers with more brand access will be important. As mentioned, listening to brand ambassadors to help inform the content strategy could be very impactful. Set up one-on-one virtual meetings with a brand representative and the influencer to talk about product news, initiatives and/or key differentiators. This gives the influencer a sense of being a true partner and insider. Or, host influencer roundtable meetings with a group of partners on conference calls with the brand. Making the brand ambassadors feel as if they are part of a focus group that helps the brand achieve its objectives together will go a long way. But note, it’s still important to get the product in the hands of the brand ambassadors and ask them what kind of content they think their audience will be receptive to engaging with. 

  • We can’t be self-serving right now - we have to help 
    To cut through the noise meaningfully, it’s more important than ever to root influencer or brand ambassador programs in insights and human truths. Aligning to business objectives will never change. Raising awareness has shifted to helping the community – brands must authentically make a difference during this difficult time. 

A great proof point is  Nike’s recent use of brand ambassadors for its 'Play Inside' to 'Play for the World' campaign.  As athletes, its ambassadors know how to train and stay active. So, the ambassadors helped elevate the brand and its “Just Do It” motto, which has always inspired the community to lead and take action. Frankly, we all need to stay active both mentally and physically. The campaign offered Nike’s key messages while contributing to the broader mission of keeping the public safe. “Play for the World” checked all the boxes. 

Striking the right tone is critical. It’s a balance between the brand ambassador's areas of expertise, the brand’s voice and objectives, plus what audiences really need right now.  Influencers can continue to help brands, and now more than ever, brands need to give back. 

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

Lucy Arnold is a Vice President on our Digital team and specialises in creating engaging digital strategies including influencer relations, campaign development and management, community management and paid media. 

Claudia Vargas is a Director of integrated marketing and brings a wealth of knowledge in strategy and account management. With experience in paid media, brand ambassador programmes, content development, multicultural campaigns and social media community management, Claudia leads several integrated projects for the agency connecting the dots to drive results for clients. 

 

APRIL 17, 2020 //     

Taking Leadership in a Global Crisis: The Six Phases of the Disruption Life Cycle

By Tom Smith and David Wolf

Few things are more terrifying to even the most stout-hearted executive than the prospect of waking up and finding their team, department or company is the focus of a major tragedy or scandal. Fortunately, the craft of managing such crises is so well-established and proven that few companies of any size have failed to take at least rudimentary steps to prepare for that occurrence. Business crises, however regrettable, have become so routine that one of the only significant differences to crisis communications over the past 50 years has been that we now live in an environment of immediacy as digital tools and social channels are a part of the media mix.

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Not quite as well understood, however, is something we all face today: how to manage a business during a crisis that affects everyone around the world. The unearned existential threat is just as real as with a scandal or tragedy: the difference is resolution lies as far outside your power as the cause. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb pointed out in his farsighted treatise “The Black Swan,” it is just such events that pose the greatest incipient danger.

Fortunately, while we are unused to facing the consequences of pandemics, the regular cadence of systemic disruptions over the past century have taught us much about keeping the enterprise afloat in the face of a perfect storm. Our study of systemic disruptions and the patterns of business response to them provides a useful framework for understanding the crisis at hand.

In dealing with the disruptions caused by COVID-19, businesses must work through six phases, which we have termed Shock, Orientation, Command, Recovery, Bump and Equilibrium (or “The New Normal.”) Understanding each of those phases, and how and under what circumstances businesses move between and address each, offers us the beginnings of a charted course through and out of them.

SHOCK

Shock describes the phase when the disruption has happened or is in progress. It is characterised by disorientation, a constant lack of sufficient information and an escalating stream of events that threaten to send a business careening out of control. Panic is barely held at bay. Companies either act for the sake of action or are caught in paralysis, unable to respond.

ORIENTATION

This is the first step toward a coherent response – the process of understanding the full potential breadth of the disruption and its potential consequences to the business. During this phase, initial responses get considered and discarded, and they eventually lead to the first concrete steps, often tentative, to begin addressing the disruption.

COMMAND

The process of taking charge of the business in the face of the crisis is Command. The situation still evolves, but company responses become quicker and more assured. And gradually, the company is able to move beyond playing catch-up and start thinking ahead, even as the crisis continues to pinch the company, its people and its customers. For the COVID-19 crisis, this phase will last until the numbers of daily infections have begun to taper off, and then for an additional 28 days after the last significant outbreak. Unlike Shock and Orientation, the business no longer controls the timing of the phase: it can only manage through it and begin laying the groundwork for the next three phases.

RECOVERY

Recovery is the period during which the actual emergency has passed, but either the company, its customers, its supply chain or all of the above have not yet returned to normal operations. This is when a company will be able to assess the damage or in some cases the positive impact to its operating system and begin to adjust to what is likely the new equilibrium for the business. In some cases, this will mean business will remain diminished for some time, necessitating investments in order to enable or speed the process. Businesses that grew during the crisis will now likely return to normal, and adjustments will need to be made.  For both cases, the process will be organic and will show quick progress.

BUMP

At the completion of the recovery, many businesses that experienced significant disruption in demand during the crisis will face its opposite: a sudden and short-term surge in business that represents pent-up demand for its goods or services. While ostensibly a “good problem,” this is an extraordinarily challenging phase. Keeping customers happy while walking the line between meeting the short-term surge and not over-investing in people, plant and equipment requires almost constant adjustment and superior communications with customers, suppliers, the media and employees - sometimes hourly. Indeed, the Bump is a mini-crisis, a sort of aftershock that will again tax the business.

EQUILIBRIUM

Equilibrium describes what many refer to as “the new normal,” a tempo of business sustainable over an extended period of time. For some companies, this will be more business and a larger market. Others will find the shock of the crisis leaves them with a smaller market. This period will require the largest adjustment of all – a recognition that while the crisis is over, the business landscape has been indelibly altered and the company will have to go through jarring adjustments to accommodate that change.

Each of the phases above is its own business continuity challenge, each demanding its own response. Start understanding each of those processes now – if you wait until each phase is underway, you are already behind. The optimal time to begin the effort of planning your way through these stages is during the Command phase, during which the nature of the Recovery, the magnitude of the Bump and the outlines of the Equilibrium will become clear. The sooner you are prepared for each of these, the more likely your business will survive it.

FIRST STEPS

Start by ensuring that your organisation is operating as a high-performing team with all the right players on board, including outside advisors. Make sure everyone on that team understands these phases and their inherent dangers and opportunities and that they share your vision of how to emerge stronger than before the coronavirus unleashed itself on our world. Once you have done that start to ask these questions:

  • Are you using data, analytics, and social listening to understand how your stakeholders are thinking and feeling, and how that is evolving daily?
  • Could you be working more closely with those dealing directly with customers and key stakeholders to understand what they are hearing and what they think?
  • What innovation needs to take place to ensure your organisation is prepared to prosper in the New Normal?

Finally, remember your response may begin with, but cannot be limited to, the matter of your company’s survival and future prosperity, or even monetary donations. Organisations and their leaders will be remembered for how they responded to this crisis and how used their full resources to help resolve it. At some point in the future reporters, employees, new hires, prospects, and customers will all ask, at least implicitly, “what did you do to help?”

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

David Wolf is the managing director of Allison Advisory at Allison+Partners. He brings three decades of experience to his role counselling clients on managing the unique operational, communications and marketing challenges that arise when companies undertake change or address significant challenges in their operating environment.

Tom Smith is a strategic, highly skilled corporate communications professional with a proven 24-plus-year track record of leading and implementing corporate campaign programs. He has led numerous multi-million-dollar global accounts and as president of Allison+Partners' North American corporate practice, he brings deep capability in numerous industries, including financial services, hospitality, professional services, technology, education, healthcare and industrial supply. His specialties include integrated communications, corporate brand positioning, thought leadership, executive visibility, B2B marketing, influencer management, media relations and investor relations.

APRIL 16, 2020 //     

Stuck at Home, but #stillatraveller

By Emily Wilson Sawyer

The future of travel remains unknown. People will travel again, but where, when and how they will travel is a grey area that even fortune tellers can’t predict. But we do know this – the COVID-19 pandemic is not the time for travel brands to sit back and do nothing.

Brands must now lean into their expertise, reinforce the ethos of what they stand for and produce content that provides a warm and comforting hug to the millions of fans and followers stuck at home. For an industry that traditionally relies on its members, loyalty is literally up for grabs with an audience more attentive than ever. And brands that act fast can win in the long haul. Here’s how:

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Be Human

Tap into the real people behind the brand to show the challenges when hotels are closed, airlines aren’t flying and attractions aren’t operating to highlight what your brand is doing to help. Show compassion and give viewers a glimpse behind the curtain. Don’t worry about the polish, but use this time to test, learn and create based on the real-time feedback of those following the journey. Work to build an emotional connection with fans and followers beyond destinations and offerings – on the human level. Those that do, will earn loyalty far beyond point value.

At Your Service

While your actual business remains closed, now is the time to encourage fans to take a metaphorical holiday in their own backyard by supporting local business and helping keep the economy alive. Providing consumers with ideas about how to get away in their own homes will pay off in the long run, especially for hotels that once served as living rooms for their communities.

Purpose is Powerful

Before the crisis, numerous studies demonstrated Gen Z’s preference for brands that contribute to social good and show purpose. With more time than ever to evaluate who we are in the world (well hello there, mindfulness!) and what contributions we can make for the future of the planet, this mindset of aligning with brands that have a shared purpose will extend far beyond the young generation. In this new communications landscape, a common purpose will be essential for survival.

Futuretripping

Urging fans and followers to #DONTCANCELPOSTPONE is one thing. But when the world does open for travel again, companies will need to put their money where their mouths are with competitive deals to ensure that coveted postponed trip is with them. Every travel brand in the world will battle to put heads in beds and butts in seats, so brands that want to break through will need to get creative with offerings and messaging.

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

Emily Wilson Sawyer is a seasoned communications professional with 20 years of experience developing integrated communications strategies and driving creative ideation for clients, including international hotel brands, world-famous chefs, airlines, CPG products, restaurant chains and more. She is known for her creativity and break-through thinking and has been responsible for many large-scale award-winning and results-driving campaigns, including bringing the first food tech product to CES and pairing Hilton Hotels & Resorts with Onion Labs to launch its Hilton Urgent Vacation Care Centre. 

APRIL 15, 2020 //     

What Every Company Must Know During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By David Richeson

The drastic changes the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to every aspect of our lives are obvious to all. But it remains challenging to know exactly how this crisis will affect each industry and company. Previous market and stakeholder research may no longer apply in this new context, as possibilities and priorities have shifted globally. Companies need to know how to handle this new landscape, weighing emotional IQ with an ever-changing set of social norms to conduct profitable business. 

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Every company, brand or organisation needs to know what they should say — and, importantly, how they should say it.

Companies and organisations also need to know what their stakeholders and audiences expect from them. What questions do these stakeholders have? What are their main concerns?

As global priorities shift, how do you pursue your business and communications objectives without striking the wrong tone with your key stakeholder groups?

More than ever, every company, brand or organisation must know:

  • The top COVID-19-related questions your key audiences and stakeholder groups have for your company and industry
  • The relative perception of your company or brand vs. competitors within the context of COVID-19
  • The top positive and negative COVID-19-related discussion topics for your company (or brand) and competitors
  • The top positive and negative COVID-19-related discussion topics in your industry
  • Key communication channels and personas in the conversation
  • Top influencers in the conversation who are driving opinion

Knowledge of the points above is critical to understanding how to move forward within this new global context. Not knowing the key points above is like flying an airplane blind in heavy fog. Data and insight are necessary to navigate safely.

At Allison+Partners, we generate these insights to help our clients effectively and efficiently communicate with their customers and stakeholders.

We helped a national outdoor recreation company understand the most frequently asked COVID-19 related questions and helped them create a Q&A document so they could prepare their hundreds of franchisees with the right answers for local and social media.

We worked with a global communications technology company to help them understand what their customers and stakeholders want from them right now, so they can address the most important topics and make sure they are perceived as a leader in their industry, both internally (with their employees) and externally.

A company, brand or organisation’s reputation can be made or broken during this important time for the world. Clear winners and losers will emerge based upon how they respond to the COVID-19 challenge. But one thing is for sure – Nothing will ever be the same. 

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

David Richeson has more than 20 years of experience in data and insight-driven integrated communications, business strategy, creative writing and technology. He has developed engagement models on the cutting-edge of influence, focused on real-time communications, influencer strategy, micro-moment based marketing and behavioral economics techniques.

APRIL 9, 2020 //     

Creating Content in Quarantine, Hard Truths and Great Opportunities

By Owen Clark

We are in the middle of one of the most frightening, complex and important chapters in modern history. It’s not a narrative landscape for the timid. But for brands with the right mix of courage and execution, there has never been a more important time to tell your story.

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Before we get to the production realities of creating story content in a lockdown environment, it’s important to acknowledge a few key truths. It’s never been more important that everyone in your organisation works off the same proverbial, and sometimes literal, script. And you must take advantage of all the tools at your disposal.

This means being cleared-eyed and diligent about establishing the right tone for your narrative and ensuring you understand what stage of the Disruption Life Cycle we are currently in.

Understanding your audience is also crucial. Quick “pulse surveys” to gauge audience sentiment and an increased reliance on data to inform, measure and adjust your content are critical to avoid coming across as tone deaf within the current landscape. 

Finally, everyone needs to be brutally honest about the work required for good storytelling in these times. Minor tweaks to the same brand narrative you’ve used for the past few years probably isn’t enough to reflect how drastically the world has changed in the past few months. Your company’s vision and values, or even your origin story, are more relevant than ever but will also be pressure tested for their authenticity in ways you’ve never seen before, both internally and externally. 

At a minimum, crafting a good Story Brief that defines style, tone and content and gets buy-in from all stakeholders is essential to creating effective content right now. Even better, brand and story workshops gain extra importance in this climate and can be done easily over video conference.

Having worked with hundreds of execs on storytelling over the past decade, a huge takeaway for me is we all have the biggest blind spots when it comes to our own narrative. Often a CEO will be so proud of a specific talking point they wrote the night before, but truthfully it just sounds like jargon. Then over a lunch break, they will tell an amazing, off-hand story that ends up being the foundation for a truly powerful presentation. We all need feedback and collective discussion to uncover, refine and point ourselves down the right road for effective storytelling – whether that’s personal thought leadership or at a brand level.

Since I’d argue another key element in good content is brevity, I will try to keep the following short. But I think it’s valuable to share a few key insights our team has uncovered in the content projects we’ve undertaken since the pandemic began:

  • The good news is anyone with a smartphone or a laptop has access to a high-quality camera. But that doesn’t mean you can expect them to be good delivering on-camera without help. Emoting without an audience is a difficult skill that requires coaching. As do framing, lighting and audio – which gain extra importance when you can’t use traditional editing tricks like cutting to B-roll. Anyone who gives a testimonial or interview should have access to a remote content and technical director to make sure they look and sound their best.
  • Podcasts are another great content opportunity in the current climate, but they are consistently misunderstood. While technically you can just record a phone call and turn it into a podcast, the landscape is incredibly crowded and your audience will skip to the next thing if they tune in and your audio quality is terrible. Again, the good news is we can use remote applications that allow for localised, high-quality recording and specialised (and affordable) microphones can be shipped to participants. Here again you need experienced engineers and directors to enable everyone to succeed.
  • The rise in video content captured over the past years has created a massive video library that many brands may not even realise they have. For every finished video you create, there are hours of unused footage that hit the cutting room floor. Plus, access to stock video libraries, like Getty, offer a whole other world of visual storytelling. With a skilled editor and creative text treatment, this existing footage can gain amazing new life to move your narrative wherever it needs to go, without sending a crew anywhere.
  • No one knows exactly when we’ll turn the page to the next chapter of this pandemic story, but the last few weeks have certainly illustrated how fast things can change. And it’s important to remember video production is often a four- to six-week process. If you want a top-notch sales video to be done as soon as your teams began ramping back up outreach, you need to work backwards to start that process a month prior. The first few weeks of story development, concepting and storyboarding can all be done remotely and give you a jump-start ahead of the competition.


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Owen Clark is a senior director who leads the Allison+Partners Storytelling Studio and agency Media and Speaker Training offering. A former TV journalist, Owen has been with Allison+Partners for a decade and in that time has coached everyone from global CEOs, to regional non-profit directors (and a couple of rappers) on how to uncover and deliver an impactful story.

APRIL 8, 2020 //     

Helping Companies to Navigate a Changing Commercial Property Landscape

By Richard Kendall

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted most, if not every industry over the past few months, creating a scenario of rising financial stress, retracting employment and diminishing market confidence for companies around the globe. The UK and European property industry hasn’t been immune from the pandemic’s downward pressure on the economy. Many commercial property owners and investors, and the service-based companies supporting these organisations, have found themselves in a wait-and-see mode before making decisions about projects and other business initiatives.   

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To that end, according to economic research consultancy Capital Economics’s March 2020 update, UK commercial property values are expected to fall about 10% this year. Real estate company CBRE’s Potential Impacts of COVID-19 on EMEA Real Estate report remarked that the hotel and retail sectors will be primarily impacted.

Moreover, a recent Investors Chronicle story pointed out that the COVID-19 crisis has put the UK housing market into stasis following the government’s advice to buyers and sellers to delay transactions so as to protect people from the virus. In fact Bloomberg and The Real Deal have noted property sales are on hold across Europe.

By no means is all lost for the real estate industry. First, it’s important to note there are marked differences between today’s economic crisis and the global financial crisis that forever changed the real estate industry some 12 years ago. What we’re experiencing now wasn’t initiated by a real estate event like the housing bubble in 2008. Rather, COVID-19 is a healthcare event that has largely put the global economy on hold until the Coronavirus “curve” can be flattened and significant progress can be made on a working vaccine. Economic fundamentals have recently been strong — for example, EU unemployment was at a record low of 6.5% in February 2020 according to Eurostat data the month before the widespread introduction of COVID-19 containment directives. Many industry experts believe that bodes well for a faster market recovery once COVID-19 is brought under control.

Secondly, market uncertainty always creates opportunities for smart, savvy and proactive companies to take a leadership stake in their markets, whether it’s communicating with their various stakeholders or marketing their brands in an authentic way to strategically position their companies for when the market fully returns.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve worked with our commercial property clients to navigate these unprecedented times with a wide range of communications strategies proving beneficial to their brands:

Crisis Planning + Response – When any crisis hits, the hope is that there’s been some planning in advance to anticipate the potentially negative impacts it will cause a company’s reputation and put in place some strategies that can offset brand risk among key audiences. Our property team has collaborated with companies of every size and type over the past several weeks to help them develop a suite of crisis-related materials, including:

  • Media holding statements
  • Key messaging documents
  • Correspondence with staff and other internal audiences
  • Blogs and other social content
  • Press interview FAQs

Creative Earned Media – Engaging with the media during times of crisis carries a certain risk-reward element, and it’s not always beneficial to proactively pitch media on typical news stories, especially given their all-hands-on-deck approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, real estate trades and business media have increasingly requested non-crisis-related articles about companies with unique stories to tell. There’s a growing sentiment among trade and financial outlets that readers want more coverage of business-as-usual transactions, like this story on a 12 property-strong portfolio acquisition ­­deal in Germany or this article about Belgium-based office developer Immobel which hired JLL and CBRE for its new office tower in Poland.

Strategic Thought Leadership – Crisis situations can often present golden opportunities for companies and their executive leadership to take an authoritative position in their communities on a wide range of issues – helping to build stronger brand loyalty and trust among their key publics. Architect and engineers from BDP achieved coverage in BBC Online for its role helping to convert London’s ExCel exhibition centre into Nightingale Hospital. Its Principal Engineer James Hepburn described how the construction required a unique approach and design to achieve project completion for the scale and in the timeframe required.

One way in which Allison+Partners helps its property clients in this capacity is through surveys and other data collection initiatives. Currently, one international firm has instituted a multi-phased “Work from Home Survey” to gather insights from employees about how their workday has changed during the coronavirus pandemic – information it will share periodically with key target media.

Stakeholder + Community Engagement – The COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting economic retraction, has created a host of problems in the commercial tenant market, with retailers, small businesses, nonprofits and many other users finding it difficult to pay their monthly rents. Many owners have responded positively by establishing rent-deferral programs to ease the pain. This includes Landsec, which is agreeing rent deferrals with many retail and leisure occupiers in the UK, and Hammerson, which has deferred April rental payment for all brands in the Hammerson France flagship portfolio.

 

If you lead a property company in Europe and are looking for help building a stronger communications message during these uncertain times, please contact the Allison+Partners London office at londonteam@allisonpr.com or sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates.
APRIL 3, 2020 //     

The Importance of Internal Comms in a Time of Crisis

By Todd Sommers

Crisis-focused organisations must not forget about their people.

Business conditions under COVID-19 continue to evolve rapidly. With more attention focused on business continuity, it’s easy to forget about internal communications. While employees, partners and customers understand you won’t have all the answers, it’s important to show you’re thinking about them. 

The new twist in today’s environment, compared with previous crises, was the rapid transition to WFH for most workers. Your organisation’s stakeholders are isolated, distracted and stressed.

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This situation will test many companies’ cultures, missions and values as employees lose the kinetic energy the physical office generates. Employers need to provide immediate, frequent and ongoing communications from leadership, and the existing content distribution strategy deserves re-examination as stand-ups and company meetings get cancelled and email volume increases.

As we move from the immediate shock of our current situation, consider communications in the longer-term period of isolation and the eventual return to a new normal. Each chapter of this story needs a fresh approach.

Here are steps to consider as the story evolves:

  • Do your people see and hear regularly from your leadership? And do your leaders communicate in different channels? You might suddenly need a microsite, YouTube channel or digital company meeting. Or, you might need executives to create content on their smartphones where quick edits can add polish.
  • Do you focus your communications on the human element that addresses your employees’ emotions and realities? In a time crunch, talking points might get cut and pasted from one communication to another, but this is something you’d never do in person without context. Keep your humanity front and centre.
  • Are there ways to turn previous office customs into virtual experiences? Recognising birthdays, marking work anniversaries and brainstorms should not stop because your workforce is distributed. In the near-term, Zoom and other virtual services can help. Even after-work drinks have gone virtual.
  • Do you survey your stakeholder community with quick pulse surveys and deeper assessments to get a better understanding of their emotional well-being and professional needs? Don’t assume you know what employees think because there’s no playbook here, and everyone experiences this individually at home. There might be something easy you can do for working parents who now home-school or for individuals who live alone and face severe isolation.
  • Are you planning communications for the new normal? It may be weeks from now, but employees will want assurances it’s safe. The patches built to address today’s issues might need to shift again.
  • Do your people managers have the tools and skills to manage a remote team? Compared with face-to-face meetings, a lot can get lost in email. Make sure your team has the support they need to communicate with employees and help them through this situation.

J.W. Marriott said, “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers and your business will take care of itself.” The hospitality legend knew who had the biggest impact on his organisation – the people on the front lines. 

In this difficult situation, take some time out of your day to care for them.

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

Todd 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.

APRIL 2, 2020 //     

Four Ways for Brands to Succeed After COVID-19

PRWeek

By Brent Diggins 

Prepare now for a strong post-pandemic marketing and communications strategy.

In this tumultuous time, we can agree on two things; there are knowns, and there are unknowns.

In both the pandemic itself and in a post-pandemic business world, unknowns cause panic and anxiety. While the best and brightest minds in medicine throughout the world will solve the healthcare challenge, the best and brightest minds in marketing should work to solve the marketing challenge.

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The questions loom large: Will my funnel dry up? How will customers react? Will we have to reduce spend now and increase it later? What are my quickest times to impact? How can I accelerate deals? How is my brand or company going to rise above the noise? What are my competitors doing?

The questions are endless, but they don't have to remain unanswered. At this time, marketers and communicators should immediately rely on research, insights and optimisation to fuel a strong post-pandemic marketing and communications strategy.

Here are four easy-to-implement, quick-to-conclusion steps marketers can take to formulate a winning post-pandemic plan in what will likely be a hyper-competitive marketplace:

Run a quick marketing mix model (MMM), including time lag, to optimise spend. Once a costly, long-to-insight function, MMM can now produce results in days or weeks. If you haven't run an MMM exercise in a while or never, now is the time. They allow you to discover the channels that produce the most impact so you can allocate funds properly. Brands that know which channels move the needle and move it the quickest will win.

Survey your customers. The pandemic may have permanently or temporarily changed how your customers see your business. Now is the time to learn how they think about your brand, how their purchasing mood may have changed and other insights that can help you formulate a post-pandemic strategy.

Post-pandemic messaging, content and creative testing. Your customer's attitude about your brand, and its place in the world, could very well change in a post-pandemic world. Based on informed insights like customer surveys, you may have to change messaging, content and creative to meet how your customers now think about your industry, brand or product.

Are you going to do it in a bubble? If not, you need to implement testing to ensure you don't miss the mark. Some brands will miss it hard. Don't be one of them.

Improve your industry and competitor insights. Your competitors are up to something and your industry may change, possibly forever. Marketers or communicators that don't monitor their industry and competitors in multiple channels are likely doing their entire organisation a disservice, at best.

A post-pandemic world may be the same, or it may be different. You can't assume either. Therefore, the brands that invest in research, insights and optimisation today will be the ones that accelerate the fastest in a post-pandemic world.

Brent Diggins is managing director of measurement and analytics and can be reached at brent@allisonpr.com.

MARCH 31, 2020 //     

Brands, Don’t Forget Your Charities - They Can Help Too

By Scott Pansky


Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring people together. I can’t think of one bigger than COVID-19. It impacts everyone, whether you represent a company, cause or university. We have not seen anything like this in a century, and its effect on the economy is staggering.  

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Yet, brands continue to step up. They donate cash and supplies to numerous organisations, such as The Trussell Trust and Shelter , as well as to their local food banks and support networks. We have even seen brands change their business models, like Dysonwhich is now pivoting to make ventilators.  

However, many companies are unable to help. They need to help themselves. They need ways to reach their customers when the media is focused on the current news. They need to reach their employees, many of whom are working from home for the first time. They need new ways to keep their teams engaged and motivated.

Charity partnerships can help make a difference. These cause-related relationships are more than transactional – they are about making an authentic difference, positively impacting both consumers and donors. Here are ways that charities can help support a company:

Indirect access to donors and volunteers – Charities have strong and loyal donors and volunteer databases of individuals who support them. Newsletters and emails can be tapped to recognise a company and share its news as a partner.

Webinars, online content, events and conference calls - Charities are using new ways to communicate and reach their supporters. Whether through Zoom and Skype or social media channels, this is an opportunity for brands to provide thought leadership, guidance and support.

Employee engagement  Companies can build partnership with many different types of charities, whether in the arts, youth activities, health and wellness, etc. Most causes have employee engagement programmes. Traditional walks, runs, golf tournaments and raffles are on hold. However, charities can still host virtual events, post video content and provide tips for exercise, mental health and online projects.

Volunteer projects – Employees can still volunteer their time, even if they do so from home. Companies can work with charity partners to create a call to action, empower team members to make a difference… whether that is through a fundraising campaign, sending get well cards to social care homes and youth organisations, or donating gift cards. Brainstorm fun, easy-to-implement things.

Influencer relations – Don’t forget the power of influencers. Many charities, like brands, have celebrity and social influencers who support their causes. They can create campaigns that offer followers and donors positive tips, activities or a fundraising call to action during this critical time. Through a past A+P whitepaper, Powerful Connections, we found those who followed influencers authentically linked to a brand would either donate or volunteer at a much higher rate (33%) than direct mail. 

Remember, your charities are your partners – they are here for you in times of duress just as your companies are there for them!

If you’re a charity or not-for-profit in need of advice on how to navigate these challenging times, get in touch at scottp@allisonpr.com or sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates.



Scott 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.

MARCH 27, 2020 //     

PODCAST: Brand Leadership during the Pandemic - COVID-19

Communication has never been more important as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the world. In just a few weeks, all aspects of the way we live our lives has changed. No surprise then that every aspect of marketing and communications needs to change too. 

Andrew is joined in the London studio by Jill Coomber, Jim Selman and Heike Schubert to discuss brand leadership at a time of global crisis, and how to ensure your brand is putting the health and wellbeing of your customers, and the world, first. Together we pose the question: What will your brand be remembered for when this is all over? 

Like our podcast? Why not leave us a review? Want to know more about how we can support you during COVID-19? Get in touch.

MARCH 27, 2020 //     

Harnessing the Power of the Supermarket Isle During COVID-19

By Cheryl Weissman


Supermarket shelves have been in the news a lot lately. They’ve become the star of countless COVID-19 headlines for good reason. They’re a source of comfort and relief as consumers stock their cupboards and fridges with their favourite foods and drinks to prepare for self-isolation and quarantines. They’re also a source of stress and anxiety when found empty, in disarray and out of fan-favourites or other essentials.

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As a result, the brands and companies behind the products on shelf are in a paramount position. They have a unique and fleeting opportunity to connect with consumers in a way that helps settle and bring them comfort – something much needed during a time when there are more questions than answers.

As brands take advantage of this opportunity to connect with consumers in a new way, it’s critical they tread lightly. There is heightened awareness about how to communicate – and there is a right and wrong way to do it. Following are a few guidelines for brands and communicators to consider as they decide how to engage with consumers during this time.

Give Back. 

Food + beverage brands that have experienced a surge in sales as consumers stock their cupboards can use funds and resources to support those who struggle. Brands that can do their part to give back, must do so with no strings attached. Whether consciously or not, consumers want brands to step up, and being a good corporate citizen during this global pandemic will have a lasting impact on how consumers think about and support brands in the future.  


Continue to Share Brand News, But Be Authentic.

As food + beverage brands rethink their social media tone and content strategy to respect sensitivities, many use these channels to highlight scheduled product launches and find ways to relay their messages in an appropriate manner that is careful, considerate and relevant in today’s challenging environment. Brands looking to introduce new products or SKUs can still do so by leaning into a tone focused on bringing more lightness and brightness to the world, while also responding more directly to the pandemic and acknowledging the current issues the public faces. 

Encourage At-Home Brand Engagement. 

There is a tremendous uptick in sharing creative food dishes families make at home due to widespread social distancing recommendations. This introduces opportunities for food and drink brands to source creative recipes that tap into ingredients many already have at home and can test, create and enjoy. Consider leveraging a network of friendly social influencers who still develop unique content for their channels to help co-create these recipes and push out widely. Or consider taking it a step further and use social listening to identify consumers using your product and send out surprise-and-delight mailers with product to deepen the relationship.

Over-Communicate.
 

Consider leveraging social media to keep consumers up to date on product availability to combat disappointment at the shelf. Use this channel to share where and when product can be found. Or if possible, consider pivoting to direct-to-consumer product deliveries as needed, even if in a limited capacity.

While the COVID-19 situation evolves, consumers will continue to look to the brands they know and love to find comfort during a trying time. If done with a tone of empathy, humanity and understanding, brands can not only strengthen the bonds they have with current brand advocates, they can also connect with new consumers and make them customers for life.  



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

Cheryl Weissman brings 15 years of experience to Allison+Partners’ Consumer Brands practice and leads the agency’s food and beverage specialty. She is responsible for the strategic management of account teams within the category across the agency, supervising client activities, providing counsel and helping some of the world's leading food and beverage brands navigate the ever-changing world of public relations.

MARCH 26, 2020 //     

Three Things to Consider When Moving to a Remote Workforce

By Barbara Laidlaw

Businesses in the UK and around the world are implementing continuity plans that involve employees working remotely. Regardless of how well prepared your business is in making this transition, there are steps you can take to ensure that the day-to-day activities of your company remain as undisrupted as possible.

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Set Clear Expectations and Engage Regularly.

Once the decision has been made to direct your employees to work remotely, increased and effective communication between managers and their employees will be critical to keeping your business running and your employees confident. Make sure to set clear expectations with your team on how you will work together remotely on projects. One way to immediately bolster your internal communications is to require more frequent check-ins. If an employee usually provides a daily report or in-person meeting with their manager, increasing that to two or even three touchpoints can keep everyone on track without adding undue stress to the system. Putting a premium on video conferencing or internal communications programs like Slack or Microsoft Teams is an effective way to make productive remote work more feasible.

Along with circulating business-specific communications materials, companies should also provide their employees with up-to-date information regarding COVID-19, gov.uk and WHO guidelines and company policies. This will improve internal processes because it ensures everyone has access to the same materials. This will also serve to reassure a remote workforce during uncertain times.   


Assess Your Current Internal Communication Strategy.

Your leadership team will also need to make changes in how they perform their day-to-day tasks. During a situation like this, leadership teams may need to communicate with each other, their direct reports and all employees more frequently. This can be done through company-wide emails, conference calls, newsletters or other forms of mass communication. Whatever the platform is for this communication, making sure that employees do not feel like they are in the dark or at risk is key. Leaders should also be aware that this type of sudden change will often times not go smoothly. Some employees will require different accommodations than others, such as technical assistance or special schedules. Working with your employees to develop a work from home plan that actually works for them will reduce disruptions in your business operations.  


Identify Key Metrics to Track for Success.

Leadership teams are already reviewing and updating crisis plans that address an employee, a member of the leadership team or their family members testing positive for COVID-19. This will require increased communication between members of the leadership team and key stakeholders. Ideally, the C-Suite has already reviewed and put in place business continuity plans should an executive fall ill and will be planning messaging for both internal and external stakeholders. Financial impact is no less a consideration during a pandemic than protecting a company’s most important asset – their employees.

In order to ensure success, the leadership team as well as employees will need unfettered access to the tools they use daily in an office setting, including access to all internal databases, customer delivery systems and Human Resources tracking programs. It may be necessary initially to check performance by a group or single employee on a more frequent basis to be able to assess issues before they become ongoing problems. Regular utilisation and performance check-ins must be maintained, and frequent customer and stakeholder check-ins will help measure productivity and ensure success.

There is still much we do not know about the extent of the spread of COVID-19, both in numbers and in timeline. The best practice any businesses’ leadership team can take is to ensure constant and clear communication from the top-down, create contingencies for identified risks and focus on maintaining as normal day-to-day as possible given the fluidity of this situation.




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 programmes that help companies prepare, protect, and defend their brand reputation through global and national events, recalls, litigation, data breaches, regulatory issues and labour disputes

MARCH 9, 2020 //     

You’ve invested in data-driven marketing… but is the team using it truly equipped for success?

By Lizzy Chesters 

As the sheer volume of data creation reaches unmanageable levels, the need for data skills has never been more crucial for businesses. Forrester calculates that between 60 to 73% of all data within an enterprise goes unused for analytics. In its ‘Dynamics of data science skills’ report, The Royal Society revealed demand for UK workers with specialist data skills has more than tripled over the last five years.

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And marketing departments are not immune to this problem. In fact, our latest piece of research found one of the largest obstacles for marketing departments to become more data-driven was the lack of in-house talent with the correct skill set. But with marketing teams’ spending on data and analytics topping the list of investment priorities, according to the Gartner CMO Spend Survey 2019-2020, how can these departments be sure they have the right people in place to actually use this technology to its full potential? Companies must match any investment in technology and data tools with people who have the necessary skills to get the most value from it.

Since marketers often traditionally do not come from a data science background, this can be tricky. But a combination of in-house training and external support can set them on the path to success.

Training the entire team

When investing in any data analytics tool, thorough and ongoing training on its capabilities is imperative. But using and understanding the role of data cannot be left up to one single individual: the entire team must train to get up to speed on the tools the organisation has invested in. The power of data analytics shines through in collaboration. Everyone needs to have at least a basic level of data literacy so they can understand the data they encounter day to day and how it ladders up to the bigger story.

If budget is an issue, one way around it is to identify an individual who is truly enthusiastic about data, effectively an evangelist, who can lead and educate the rest of the team. They can act as the point of call for any questions or difficulties their peers may encounter when getting to grips with new tools. Of course, it is important to reward this person for their contribution, whether that be financially or through company-wide recognition.

That said, companies cannot neglect the soft skills. Setting aside time to educate creatives on the data being collected and what it means will pay dividends when they need to interpret the data to come up with first-rate campaigns driven by insight rather than gut feel.

Attracting the right talent

When seeking the right skills from outside the organisation, many companies fail to hire the right talent because they don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the mix of technical skills and data expertise they need. As a result, they do not use analytics professionals and data scientists to their full potential, wasting their time on activities they are overqualified for.

To avoid this problem, companies need to take more effort when hiring new employees and give additional thought to exactly what skills the role requires. This step is critical and should not be rushed. A company needs to be clear about where and how it can benefit from analytics professionals and data scientists and then be explicit about how it defines success with potential candidates. The first step is to include required data skills in every job description. Secondly, during the interview process, they must thoroughly question candidates about their ability to use data directly linked to the company’s data objectives. This way, every new hire will serve to help cultivate a cohort of data experts, whose knowledge can percolate throughout the organisation and help boost their peers’ skills.  

Leverage your partners

Unfortunately, it can take hefty investment in training new talent and acquiring tools to make any impact on improving data and analytics utilisation. When in a pinch, seeking a third party with the right experience can act as a quick and easy source of expertise to get your data analytics function off the ground. Laying the foundations for great insight and analytics is something our dedicated research and measurement teams do day in, day out.

Ultimately, unused data is a valuable untapped resource that organisations cannot fail to take advantage of. Yet without the right individuals in their midst to make sense of this information, businesses are at risk of pouring money down the drain when investing in cutting-edge data analytics technology. As the volume of data worth analysing multiplies every day, companies simply don’t have time to sit back and wait for a solution. Technology must work hand in hand with talent to ensure the best return on investment, whether it be in-house or through great agency-client collaboration.

To understand other ways your marketing team can get the most value from their data, check out our Turning Data into Marketing Gold research report or drop us an email at DataDetectives@allisonpr.com.

Lizzy Chesters is an Account Director in Allison+Partners' London Office. 

FEBRUARY 20, 2020 //     

Top tips: Scaling your marketing in Europe in 2020

By Jess Docherty

Europe is a thriving home to an array of different cultures, languages and economies, so knowing where and how to focus budgets and resources can be challenging. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t wash. From content localisation to product positioning, each market needs its own finely tuned strategy to successfully drive business performance.   
 

We interviewed some of A+P’s key leaders, with a proven track record of growing companies to success in European markets, for their top tips to grow business in the region in 2020.  

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How do you grow a business in Europe? 

Jill Coomber, Managing Director of Integrated Marketing, Europe  

The key to great growth rests on data and insights. Really understanding the market, the key trends, the hotspots, where the ‘white space’ exists for your offer and insights into your specific audiences and their behaviours are all vital. You can ultimately see how much of a product or service you can sell into a particular geography, at what price point and with what messaging to which variation of your audience. Being able to focus and prioritise driven by this data and insight means you can scale rapidly, and drive ROI more efficiently.  

Plan to scale as rapidly as you can build your team and infrastructure. Team experience is a vital component here. You can either recruit the talent who can bring this knowledge or hire agencies with the right skill sets.  

Understand the power of local language. Working in a single language is often easy whilst focusing on the early adopter and innovator audiences but you reach a ceiling where language is a blocker. Translations and bringing in true localisation into play is an art rather than pure science. Again, experience plays a big part in getting this right: being able to regionalise and localise in an optimum way. Given so many products are in fact experiences nowadays getting omnichannel customer service in local language to resonate is also critical to growth.  

 

How do you stay on top of the trends in Europe?  

Heike Schubert, General Manager, Germany 

My day starts with reading two newspapers every morning, I try my best to always have my eyes and ears open to daily news from politics to culture and sport. Don’t only live in your bubble, everything can spark innovation and ideas – stay curious and don’t just stick to communications or marketing news. I listen out for conversation everywhere, from the grocery store to new podcasts so I can get a rounded understanding of everything from what is driving our economy to what gets people talking.  

In Europe, you have to be aware of cultural backgrounds and societal norms. Self-awareness is key to help you and your business interact with stakeholders in other markets. Take steps to identify your own patterns and understanding while building up your knowledge of other cultural backgrounds. What can seem like small differences in phrasing, meanings and expectations can cause unnecessary damage and confusion. It’s not always about changing how you do things, but it is always about understanding the actual needs and desires of the opposite party. In international communications a key misunderstanding is that you have to adapt or assimilate, but that’s not what helps you in business, it’s about being transparent, authentic without prejudice or judgement of the other party.   

How do you start to build up a network for recruitment and new business in Europe? 

Jim Selman, Partner, Managing Director, UK + Ireland 

My biggest piece of advice is don’t try to switch on talent at short notice but build up a network of entrepreneurial people over time. Investing in your network and building trust in partners and talent allows you to have a surgical understanding of their capabilities, allowing you to work effectively in the region.   

Focus on building trust and camaraderie, and as much as possible be there face to face to get to know their struggles and ambitions. Make sure your connections feel like friends and colleagues even if they aren’t directly part of your organisation, as this will ensure that when things heat up, your extended team will have your back.  

I always remember the Scout Motto: Be Prepared. Even if you don’t need/cannot afford to invest in a particular skill set or service now, be prepared and build up a swiss army knife of options for when the need arises. 

How important is it to stay connected to your brand values as you expand into new territories?  

Cathy Planchard, Global President of Integrated Marketing 

The value that we place on our company's core values is what differentiates us from other large and mid-sized agencies. These values stand the test of time and drive our approach to the business, the brands we align with, who we hire and how we think. It creates the guardrails for a healthy, productive and satisfying employer-employee relationship.    

Keeping culture first is a high priority, but it is no easy feat. It requires a mindset and a commitment by hiring managers and leadership of all levels.  We’ve joked that we have a ‘no jerk’ policy, but we mean it. It can be so easy to look at someone's experience or background and want to make a hire, but if their perspective of how they do the work, how they treat their team, and how they approach client service is not aligned with our organisation’s values, it will cause more long-term harm than good.    

  Every market has a unique perspective and backdrop. As an example, the media landscape is incredibly different in Europe than it is in the US, which impacts how we think about the available channels of communication. But the tenets of what makes for a great story are universal: emotional and rationale resonance and empathy for the audience.  

 

 Be prepared!   

Every European market has its own nuances, behaviours and preferences. Every business is different, but one thing is clear: careful preparation is key. Investing in research and insights, quality localisation, strategic talent and impactful storytelling will set you up for scalable success. 

Jess Docherty is a senior digital account manager in Allison+Partners’ London office.

JANUARY 10, 2020 //     

PODCAST: Turning data into marketing gold

Are you using data effectively in your marketing and communications strategies? To accompany the launch of our new research report "Turning data into marketing gold", The Stream UK is back with an extra special bonus episode.

Andrew is joined in the London studio by Account Director Lizzy Chesters to discuss the results of our recent survey of UK and German marketing managers, as well as how and why data is so key to marketing strategies. If you're worried the data you have is going to waste, this is the episode for you.

Like our podcast? Why not leave us a review? And don't forget you can always find out more about the team here at Allison+Partners at www.allisonpr.co.uk.


JANUARY 10, 2020 //     

6 marketing podcasts you should subscribe to in 2020

By Andrew Rogers

A new year and a new decade have dawned. January is all about self-improvement, whether it’s exercising more, eating more healthily or focusing on mental well-being. All well and good, but what about improvement when it comes to our expertise as communication professionals? In our opinion, the new year is the perfect time to learn something new and level up your communication strategy.

One of the best ways to get easy-to-digest insight and analysis is through podcasts. Make the most of your morning commute or afternoon jog by learning something new. Here are the top six podcasts you should subscribe to in 2020:

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Marketing Week

Anyone working in the field of marketing and communications is already no doubt aware of Marketing Week. But do you tune in to its regular podcast? Each week, Marketing Week’s award-winning editorial team discuss key topics and are joined by some of the most interesting guests across the industry.

Listen on Google Podcasts.

Marketing Over Coffee

Get your weekly fix of marketing news and analysis from marketing experts John Wall and Christopher Penn. At 20 minutes in length, it’s the perfect podcast for learning something new while drinking your morning cup of joe.

Listen on Google Podcasts.

Internet Marketing Podcast

Looking to get the most from your digital and search engine marketing? Listen to the UK’s most popular internet marketing podcast as their hosts share insider tips and practical advice you can bring to your campaigns.

Listen on Google Podcasts.

The GaryVee Audio Experience

Hosted by Vayner Media CEO and public speaker Gary Vaynerchuk, this podcast includes interviews, discussions, keynote experiences and fireside chats. If you want the more personal touch with a mix of advice for entrepreneurs, this is the podcast for you.

Listen on Google Podcasts.

Duct Tape Marketing

One from across The Pond, Duct Tape Marketing is hosted by U.S. small business marketing expert John Jantsch. With interviews from authors, experts and thought leaders, this is a great place to start for smaller businesses kicking off their marketing strategies in 2020.

Listen on Google Podcasts.

The Stream UK

Get all the latest news and analysis from Allison+Partners in London with The Stream UK. We might be biased, but we think this is the best podcast on this list and a must listen in 2020. Not tuned in yet? You can catch up on all Season One below!

 





The Stream Podcast can be downloaded via Spotify and iTunes.

Andrew Rogers is an account director in Allison+Partners’ London office.

JANUARY 9, 2020 //     

Marketing & communications predictions for 2020 from Allison+Partners

By Lizzy Chesters

Reflecting on 2019, a number of trends and new communications platforms emerged that will have a lasting impact on the future of the industry -- the colossal rise of TikTok, growing climate and sustainability concerns, and the proposed removal of the like count on Instagram, to name a few. But as we dust off our crystal ball, what can we expect to see in the PR and Marketing world throughout 2020?

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Push the Podcast

We already see clients recognise the value of podcasts, with some taking the decision to record their own. And with around 7.1 million people in the UK now listening to podcasts each week, according to Ofcom figures, it’s unsurprising that brands want to take advantage of this popular channel.

Google has also recognised this trend. It has already started making podcasts easier to find on the search platform. The company will now surface individual podcast episodes in search results. So, if someone searches for a show about a particular subject, Google will show them potential podcast episodes that match their enquiry. This will only help fuel the popularity of podcasts as a marketing channel next year.

Video on a Wider Scale

In 2020, more organisations will incorporate video into their communication of news announcements. On the mainstream news websites, there is often video content at the top of the page, where the article sits underneath it. We know images have been important for a while. But until now, video has been somewhat neglected. However, the internet is the second most popular platform for news consumption, according to Ofcom, with 66% of UK adults saying they used it for news in 2019. So, it makes sense that businesses will create their own videos to complement their own news stories.

Influencers Get Corporate

Influencers have become an integral part of most consumer campaigns. But in 2020, we will likely see the use of influencers in the B2B space become far more prevalent. B2B influencers are useful for communicating messages on a more personal level and are particularly effective as part of LinkedIn campaigns to help amplify a brand’s messaging and content. They can also be used for endorsing research, attending company events, inviting company spokespeople to be a guest on their podcast, writing blogs for the corporate website or publishing an article for an outlet they regularly write for.

Advance Employee Advocacy

The idea of social purpose and communicating what brands care about has never been more important. In 2020, we will see more of a focus on how brands can use their employees to push that goal. Trust has become more of an issue for employees too. However, problems with company culture now get exposed by news outlets and on social media (take the recent Google protests as an example). To mitigate against staff expressing detrimental opinions on their social channels, brands need to plan to mitigate that through greater employee advocacy.

The Problem of Private Social Platforms

In 2019, brands realised the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are not the be-all and end-all of social media platforms. Young people spend less time publicly broadcasting their lives online and have moved to channels such as WhatsApp group chat to share experiences of a product or brand in smaller private spaces. The challenge: how can marketers measure this? To combat the problem, marketers will need to be smart about the KPIs they want to measure at the outset of a campaign.

Becoming Data-Driven

More data than ever before will be created in 2020. But what is the point in having all this information if it cannot be used effectively? Over the next 12 months, we will see a more concerted effort by marketers to harness the power of data and greater investment in data analytics tools. Fortunately, new research from Allison+Partners - Turing Data into Marketing Gold - found 81% already invest in augmented or advanced analytics. This is in line with global trends. According to the Gartner CMO Spend Survey 2019-2020, data and analytics tops the priority list of investments for the future.

Coming up on the agenda are the Olympics in Japan, presidential elections, the next season of Love Island and more. And these key events are likely to play a key role in campaign planning. As we move through 2020, it will be fascinating to see if any of the aforementioned trends materialise or if any unexpected technologies or industry upsets emerge.


Lizzy Chesters is an account director in Allison+Partners' London office.

DECEMBER 18, 2019 //     

THE STREAM UK PODCAST





The Stream Podcast can be downloaded via Spotify and iTunes.
DECEMBER 6, 2019 //     

PODCAST: 2020 Predictions: Here's to the new roaring '20s!

It's time to crack out the crystal ball and gaze into the future as we make our 2020 predictions. What can we expect from the year ahead in the worlds of PR, marketing and communications? 

Andrew is joined in the London studio by Account Director Lizzy Chesters as they break down what's hot and what's not in marketing for a new year and a new decade. From trust in tech to personal branding, we have everything you need to get set for the new roaring '20s. 

Like our podcast? Why not leave us a review? And don't forget you can always find out more about the team here at Allison+Partners at www.allisonpr.co.uk.

The Stream Podcast can be downloaded via Spotify and iTunes.


NOVEMBER 27, 2019 //     

What will be on Gen Z Christmas lists in 2019?

By Andrew Rogers


Have you noticed something a little different recently? Something about your last trip to the shops? Perhaps it’s something you’ve heard?

If you’ve been shopping this week, chances are you’ve heard the opening jingle bells of Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You while making your purchase. It’s the annual reminder that the Christmas season is now well underway.

However, for anyone looking to buy Christmas presents for their teenage children (or as we marketing people call them, Generation Z), there’s much more that they want for Christmas.

It’s not just parents though that need to understand what makes Generation Z tick this Christmas. It’s also all brands trying to reach a generation that’s more difficult to reach and less brand loyal than ever before.

So, while you deck the halls, here’s our quick guide for brands looking to make the yuletide bright with Generation Z.

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Select brands with the right values

More than any other generation, Gen Z deeply care about the values that brands have. It’s not just enough to have the best product, it’s now vital to also have values that people want to be associated with. This extends to the online space, where brands that fall down can expect (perhaps rightly) to be called out on social media.

For parents (and brands) getting the right gift also means picking the right company behind the brand. It used to be that you just needed to select the brand that was cool. Now you also need to pick the brand that’s woke.

Don’t forget about the environment

Gen Z are increasingly dreaming of a Green Christmas. While other generations might see Christmas as a chance to splurge and over-indulge, younger generations believe that environmental responsibility needs to extend to every day of the year.

Brands should, therefore, avoid anything this Christmas that comes across as needlessly wasteful or unsustainable. Plastic toys in Christmas crackers are increasingly becoming a thing of the past. It’s about time.

Ownership is less important

It’s been true for a while that younger audiences value experiences over physical items. This is even truer when viewed through the frame of sustainability. Many younger shoppers don’t want throwaway presents and would rather opt for digital products, such as music subscriptions or video games. Similarly, experiences (particularly highly shareable ones) will continue to be a hot trend for Christmas shopping.

Brands still matter though

That all being said, most teenagers will still be putting specific brands on their Christmas lists. Having the ‘right’ brand is still a status symbol, particularly in a world where people feel the need to always share. Take for example the VSCO Girl craze. Named after the popular video editing app, the trend requires very specific brands. Fjällräven backpacks, anyone?

Parents and brands alike need to understand Gen Z if they want to get it right this Christmas. Either that or stick to the socks. You can never go wrong with socks.


Andrew Rogers is an account director in Allison+Partners’ London office.

NOVEMBER 22, 2019 //     

Christmas marketing campaigns that nailed the ‘Big Idea’ in 2019. Here’s what we can learn

By Gina Mossey

Successful ‘Big Ideas’ are composed of three fundamental elements – piercing insight, brand connection, and succinct expression. Without these, few integrated marketing campaigns can pierce through the barrage of noise around the festive quarter and be effective. We’ve selected three Christmas campaigns that have cultivated the ‘Big Idea’.

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IKEA


The Piercing Insight

When it comes to hosting over the festive season, we all have those little voices in the back of our heads that tell us our homes aren’t presentable enough. From the chipped mug, the crack in the wall to the living room without any personality, we all fear our homes are just not up to scratch.

The Brand Connection

IKEA believes every home is worthy of a festive gettogether, with a little imagination and some clever IKEA products. The Swedish furniture monolith has also tapped into a bigger cultural trend by using grime legend, MC D Double E.

The Succinct Expression

The Wonderful Everyday.


MCDONALD'S



The Piercing Insight

Kids all over the world leave snacks out for Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve.

The Brand Connection

McDonald’s celebrates the magic of Christmas through the eyes of Ellie, an imaginative little girl, in an advert which illustrates scenes recognised by parents across the country. The fast-food giant also garners lots of PR with the promise of giving out free ‘Reindeer Treats’ to families on Christmas Eve.

The Succinct Expression

McDonald's is back with its 'Reindeer Ready' message – which gives it strong message penetration and allows the marketing team to spend more on the production and execution. Win win!

M&S FOOD



The Piercing Insight

M&S Food provides its customers award-winning quality and innovative food.

The Brand Connection

The delicious M&S Christmas range of food and colleagues are the stars of the show. The Christmas marketing campaign also drives earned media by including M&S Food celebrity panel members Paddy McGuiness and Emma Willis. The duo wanders through a festive market with more than 100 M&S customers and a real school choir from Wales that sings a rework of Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross, the iconic tune behind M&S' 'this is not just any' campaign. Now, where’s my nearest M&S Foodhall?

Succinct Expression

This is not just food; this is M&S Christmas food!

The winning formula for cultivating the ‘Big Idea’ sounds good, but sometimes the light bulb just doesn’t go off. Great ideas are usually the result of a combination of conversations, research, experience – and time. Allison+Partners has designed a ‘Big Ideas Lab’ to help brands connect with culture and creativity that sits in and outside of their organisations. For more information, get in touch with Jill Coomber at LondonOffice@allisonpr.com.


Gina Mossey is an account director in Allison+Partners' London office.

NOVEMBER 21, 2019 //     

PODCAST: Award Winning Campaigns: And the winner is...

What does it mean for a PR or communications campaign to be award winning? And why should we care about awards at all? Thanks to an action packed awards season in the PR world, we've been able to see some amazing campaigns that have brought home the trophies in 2019.

Andrew is joined in the London studio by Account Director Stephanie Libous, part of the UK Dexcom team that recently won big at the PR Week Awards. They discuss some of their favourite campaigns to be recognised, as well as what it means for a campaign to be award winning today. If you're aiming for that trophy in 2020, you should give this a listen.

Like our podcast? Why not leave us a review? And don't forget you can always find out more about the team here at Allison+Partners at www.allisonpr.co.uk.

The Stream Podcast can be downloaded via Spotify and iTunes.


OCTOBER 31, 2019 //     

Brand storytelling with purpose

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

By Gina Mossey

Storytelling has been a key element of marketing since the industry’s inception. But as customers’ expectations of brand stories consistently evolve, the stakes keep getting higher for marketers.

After decades of being advertised to, modern consumers are more sceptical than ever. Gen Z in particular looks for their brands to have real purpose that gives them a reason to exist beyond making money. Nearly 60% said a brand’s association with a good cause is likely to spur a purchase.

Our recent trip to the PRWeek awards highlighted some fantastic examples of companies that think more laterally to find their purpose and the narrative around it: incredibly powerful stories that truly drive action. As the potential for brands to drive real change gets stronger, here are some pointers we’ve picked up along the way.

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Make sure the story is one shared company-wide

Those who will turn out to be the real drivers of your brand purpose are your exec team and your employees. Good causes are emotive. So, the more you can get a sense of the values your entire company strongly believes in, the more heart your narrative will have.

Surveys and focus groups can work wonders here. Including members of the C-suite at key points in the planning phase will mean they are several steps ahead and truly bought into the cause when it hits the airwaves across PESO channels. Workshops work really well in the early stages of bringing stakeholders together to tackle collaborative message development and creative campaign ideation.

All of this will ultimately give an engaging and consistent narrative that will spark connections with customers and make them want to adopt and share it as their own.

Answer the “why”

This question is more important than ever to answer in the early planning stages. Ask yourself why your brand supports this cause. Does it align with your brand mission and values? Not only that, but does it fit with the vision of your leadership team? Is there real potential for your company to make a difference? Do you have the resources to put behind this to make a measurable impact?

If the answer to any of these is “no”, more needs to be put in place to be able to truly drive the initiative forward. Taking a step back to ask yourselves the difficult questions here is invaluable. Don’t be afraid to take inspiration from those who do it well or speak to contacts in other markets to get an outsider’s perspective.

Think earned-first

As an integrated agency with its DNA in earned, we practice what we preach by bringing in the earned media specialists when working with brand purpose. The story needs to be genuine and evocative for the customer, skills that PR professionals have honed for years by working with journalists to build stories that capture imaginations. If a story is powerful enough to captivate your earned media, it’ll be one that flies when it comes to driving action across paid, shared and owned channels.

Think long term

Brands that have great purpose are those that are in it for the long haul. Once you’ve taken the time to find your “white space” – where your company can really make a difference – take the time to think about active, measurable commitments you can make. With so many brands storytelling around purpose, customers are sceptical of “window dressing”. They want something tangible to prove your cause is something you care about and are committed to doing right. Shoot for a long-term initiative or partnership that can evolve over time over one-off charity gigs.

If this year’s awards season is anything to go by, stories around brand purpose are here to stay. Driving real change is a marathon, not a sprint. We can’t wait to see what both market leaders and startups alike manage to achieve in the next 12 months. To hear more musings, predictions, and trends around storytelling and purpose, check out this month’s edition of The Stream podcast here: http://bit.ly/2MOgkUm.

Gina Mossey is an account director in Allison+Partners’ London office.

 

 

 

OCTOBER 25, 2019 //     

PODCAST: Purpose: Keeping it authentic

Do brands need to have a purpose? How can they find it, and importantly make it truly authentic? More than two-thirds of Gen Z consumers will now actively choose brands that have values they want to align themselves with, so it's never been more important to define what your brand's mission is, outside of making money. 

Andrew is joined in the London studio by Account Director Gina Mossey to discuss the best campaigns from the recent PR Week Awards, as well as some thought-provoking pre-dinner speeches. Plus, the two discuss how brands can both make a positive impact on the world and further their communications goals. 

Like our podcast? Why not leave us a review? And don't forget you can always find out more about the team here at Allison+Partners at www.allisonpr.co.uk.


The Stream Podcast can be downloaded via Spotify and iTunes.
OCTOBER 17, 2019 //     

Mental Health: We All Have It

By Emily Spicer

Last week, Allison+Partners hosted a training session in the UK on World Mental Health Day to help raise awareness for mental health issues. During the course led by the MHFA, it was shared that one in four people experience some form of mental health issue in the course of a year.

There is still a stigma associated with mental health, and those suffering are often victims of discrimination, which can lead people to hide their difficulties. This is explored in more detail by the Mental Health Foundation who have said that 38% of Brits fear revealing a mental health problem at work would jeopardise their career. The only effective way of helping break the stigma is by building awareness for the issue and encouraging them to seek support. And the first place this starts is in the workplace. Work is where we tend to spend most of our time, and our colleagues are the people we tend to see the most and who are likely to become our close friends. It makes sense that work should then also be the place where we feel safest.

Programmes that work

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There are many different things that can help with mental wellbeing at work. For example, Supermarket chain Iceland highlights the importance of enjoying a good work-life balance. The retailer looks after employees by providing mental health support for those suffering from work-related stress and offers an Occupational Health Service to provide employees with a fast diagnosis and speedy referrals for treatment.

Barclays encourages staff to tell their own stories through its “This Is Me” campaign, in order to break the culture of silence. They’ve also signed up for “Time to Change,” to support employees facing challenges and normalise mental health issues.

At Allison+Partners, we offer support and resources through platforms like our Employee Assistance Programme, which offers a variation of advice through the confidential free helpline and referrals to mental health specialists who can help with bereavement, financial issues, legal rights, housing, wellbeing, etc. They also have a great app that provides useful articles and discussion pages on a wide range of mental health topics.

Our life insurance provider offers us two confidential helplines, legal issues, and bereavement, but they also offer us four free counselling sessions that can be face-to-face with a professional counsellor. This is a great resource, as professional guidance can be the best tool for recovery but is often one that could cost the individual a lot of money or it can take time to get a referral through the NHS. The sessions are very quick and straightforward to organise, and entirely confidential.

There are so many great resources out there that employees and employers can access. The NHS recently launched its ‘Every Mind Matters’ campaign, which has a short quiz to help you better understand your own mental wellbeing. Other helpful workplace resources include Mind, Mental Health First Aid England, Mental Health At Work and Cruse.

Emily Spicer is an HR advisor in Allison+Partners’ London office.

SEPTEMBER 25, 2019 //     

Building executive visibility the right way

By Sarah Johns 

 

A strong strategy to build executive visibility starts with a good understanding of the current turbulent state of the communications industry.  

As PR professionals, we know how fast our industry changes. In early September, Marie Claire UK announced its decision to cease print publication. It joined a growing club now operating solely online, including NME and Now. But that’s not the full picture, of course. In the B2B market, we’ve seen Incisive Media close IT magazine V3.co.uk, while the commercial finance publication Bridging and Commercial launched in print. And that’s all happened within the span of a year!

In short, PR professionals must be ready for anything, and so do our execs. So, based on the current media landscape, what’s the best course of action?

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Decide how you will be successful 

It may seem obvious, but before embarking on building executive visibility you should re-visit your company strategy, short- and long-term goals, and the audience you want to target. Update your list of top and tier-one media and identify opportunities in the press that best allows you to build visibility in the right places. Achieving a full page of coverage in a national business supplement won’t be easy, especially if you’re not from a FTSE company. But your C-Suite will still expect you to aim high. 

Prepare the executive 

Involve the executive from the start. If they haven’t had much previous experience with the press, it’s vital to get them media trained. Be clear on what you need from them and what they need from you, be it a list of topics they would never want to comment on or access to their calendar to arrange a media briefing at the drop of a hat. Let your executive know they can trust you not to put them forward for opportunities that aren’t quite the right fit for them or aren’t the right audience for their message and be clear about what the right ones would look like. This helps avoid wasting time on the wrong opportunities and maximises time on the right ones.  

Foster a thought leader 

Encourage your spokesperson to build a voice of their own first on owned channels. Whether it’s having them write a blog post once a month or ensuring they regularly post on their LinkedIn profile, having your exec develop content will put your team in a better position to sell them to media. Blogs can be repurposed and placed as bylines, videos of the executive speaking at a company event can be used to pitch the exec for a seat on a roundtable and comments on news articles can be material for an issues hijack. 

Be clear on what not to do 

Bear in mind that to get the best traction, executive content should be unique but on-brand. Remember that saying the same thing as everyone else isn’t going to grab headlines but being too provocative can undermine credibility and land you in trouble. In today’s digital-first world, it only takes one tweet to ruin a reputation that took years to build.  

Done right, building executive visibility can help develop great brand awareness, authority on topics your company wants to be known for and ultimately boost sales. However, executing it seamlessly requires a plan, preparation, and a story. 

 

Sarah Johns is a senior account executive in Allison+Partners’ London office. 

 

SEPTEMBER 25, 2019 //     

The evolution of the communications agency model: Q&A with Scott Allison

By Ellis Reid and Scott Allison

As Allison+Partners turns 18, we sat down with CEO and founder Scott Allison to discuss the evolution of our agency, our offerings and the way we leverage senior leadership for client accounts. 

How has PR changed since the agency started in 2001? 

Scott: The evolution has been dramatic. In 2001, there was a much heavier emphasis on just media relations, generating press releases, media pitching, and placement. Earned media was a key focus. The lanes were much tighter. Now I joke that all the lanes have been taken out of the pool – it’s a mosh-pit where best ideas win, and it doesn’t matter where they come from. 

When we launched the business, there were a few things we wanted to differentiate in. One was how much we embraced media relations and earned media and continue to do so today. We took the view that every agency says they have great media contacts, but that’s not entirely true. We invested in setting up a separate media department, with folks who are heavily engaged in building those media relationships. 

Do you see that the way we use senior leaders’ time has changed? 

Scott: The idea of having a senior strategist on all accounts is a key differentiator for us. In this environment, you can’t get away with a cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all communications programme. It needs some real thought-provoking insight to be successful. And we’re seeing more and more that clients are seeing the value that senior leadership can bring to the table. 

Is the way our clients behave driving this change and ultimately having a fundamental impact on these offerings? 

Scott: It’s a very competitive world; our clients are under a lot of strain to deliver results. The CMO or the chief comms officer is being held accountable for delivering results and making a true measurable impact on the business. The communications function is now seen as so important, these people are reporting directly to the CEO and have tremendous access to the board. It’s a trend that’s absolutely going to keep continuing. Our clients are craving strategy, and they’re also craving navigation through a very tumultuous communications world. This goes hand in hand with having a counterpart on the agency side who is really smart, strategic and has deep industry experience.  

Where do you see the services lie where we can offer the most value with our senior leadership team? 

Scott: One of the areas we continue to thrive in, and an area I personally lead a lot of, is media training – consistently training senior executives to prepare them for media interviews. That’s since evolved into a presentation offering. Many of our clients are doing major TEDtalks or keynote speeches, and we spend a lot of time working with senior executives to help them to get their storytelling down. 

Continuing on from that would be the strategic insight of messaging; how to build a story arc from early on and clearly putting down a communications roadmap.  

Another area is internal comms. We launched a new product last year called Workplace. And we are already working with several clients in the U.S., helping them with their internal communication to position them as fantastic employers. That also goes in issues and crisis management that we also do a lot on. 

So, we offer value on the strategic side at the forefront, prepping and getting clients engaged in moving forward. But you also have the reactive side. There could be a crisis or issues management piece and getting these two sides aligned can sometimes be a challenge. 

In a recent pitch, we presented a strategy using an American football analogy, explaining that you need to build your offense and your defense. And if you get mired in issues management or a crisis, usually the proactive piece completely falls apart. But we talked about an approach where you have both an offense and a defense to make sure the proactive approach never stops no matter what.  

So why is A+P best placed for providing these services over someone in a more traditional consulting role for instance? 

Scott: Being grounded in communications and PR has always given us the opportunity to see different insights for a company. It was then a very natural progression to move into more integrated offerings. Since then, we have continued to expand and invest in the company. 

We bought a film company; they are now doing world-class film production all around the world. We’ve built a research and analytics group from the ground up and invested heavily into those platforms. We’ve brought in creative talent; people that really understand content and are well-versed in the social media aspect. Then we have people who have come from the ad and planning world to ensure we have all the pieces of the puzzle available to our clients.  

There is an incredibly rich diversity of experience within the agency. If you look at a lot of the hires we’ve made over the last two years, a number of them come from the advertising or research sector, which is vastly different from 18 years ago when we were looking at former journalists to form the backbone of the company.  

We also see the global element being extremely important, having local talent all over the world in our 30 offices. We are increasingly going after big global brands. And what we find is once we start working with them and build a trusted relationship, we can grow into other markets. Underwriters Laboratory is a great example of this. We’ve worked with them for almost seven years, and they now work with 20 different offices throughout the A+P network.  

Why should clients choose A+P overtaking these skills in-house? 

Scott: Agencies are incredibly well-positioned because we can deliver this expertise in all the things we have invested in. We have a production company, animation studios in Thailand and a very sophisticated offering in San Francisco. But how do you replicate that in-house? Bringing in a freelance videographer is great, but you won’t be able to deliver what we can deliver. Taking these skills in-house you have a very myopic view. As an outside observer, we see ourselves as someone that has to give very candid, sometimes critical feedback that has to be heard at the highest levels.  

This is a golden era for communications agencies.  

Looking to the next 18 years, what can we expect? 

Scott: 18 years can be a lifetime. The speed of change is being driven by technology as well as how the media landscape has collapsed in many ways and rebuilt itself in other ways. The impact of AI and data analytics and similar areas are going to advance at the speed of sound. It’s going to be difficult for some of the smaller agencies to keep up with this, so we have been investing back in the business to prepare us for these changes.  

For us, we’ll continue to grow. We haven’t even scratched the surface yet. We represent some of the world’s best brands, but it will be up to us and our leadership team to not take our eye off the ball.

We need to focus on what got us here; hiring great people, empowering people to be entrepreneurial and grow their careers and keep an eye on the technology and investments to know what will truly be impactful.  

 

Ellis Reid is a senior account director in Allison+Partners’ London office. 

 

SEPTEMBER 25, 2019 //     

Not prepared? You’re asking for a crisis!

Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

By Jim Selman


As we enter the 50th year of the PRCA here in the UK, we have been reminiscing with industry leaders about what PR was like back in the day and marvelling at how the sector has professionalised over the years. Based on the evolution of the industry, we all have come to expect that crisis preparedness is at the foundation of every reputation strategy. But that is not always the case.

It is common knowledge that a strong reputation can drive value and that a serious crisis can sometimes erase a business altogether. In addition, the prevalence of crises is increasing.  According to the 2018 Deloitte Annual Crisis Survey, 80% of organisations worldwide reported having to mobilise their crisis management teams at least once in the previous two years.

Unexpectedly, another consulting firm found companies can actually come out stronger after a crisis. However, 41% of those companies that came out in a better place allocated budget to crisis management before the crisis hit – and 39% actually saw their revenues grow as a result. Preparedness works. The same survey showed by a margin of nearly 2-to-1, organisations with a response plan in place fared better than those who didn’t. More importantly, those who keep their crisis plans up to date and implement the lessons learned are four times more likely to come out on top.

Years ago, a huge amount of time was often spent drafting and redrafting crisis documents that when finally prepared, would need to be specially bound and carried with both arms using a safety belt to avoid severe back problems. Those huge static documents would then sit on a shelf decaying slowly and only made accessible to a small group of specially trained people. Then when the crisis arose, the team, contact information, and the response were all out of date.

So, what does preparedness look like?

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It needs to be collaborative, exhaustive and always on.

The Deloitte survey showed 21% of companies with board participation in the crisis management plan say the number of crises has declined over the last decade. Among companies without board involvement, only 2% believe this to be true. Senior leadership in any organisation must collaborate in the planning process and be as visible as possible during the crisis itself. As mentioned previously, a crisis is a crucial moment where trust can either be lost, mitigated or even increased depending on how those with the greatest responsibility act in front of their stakeholders. It is not good enough for communicators to have drafted and rehearsed, business leaders also need to feel a level of responsibility in the creation of their crisis response.

In EMEA, Deloitte also found almost 80% of respondents participate in crisis exercises with third parties, examine third parties’ crisis plans or both. Again, the outdated principle that only the communicators inside a client organisation should have visibility to and responsibility for their crisis plan is short-sighted and ineffective. Teams should collaborate both inside and out to plan and test their processes, not simply to ensure a joined-up approach (e.g. throughout the supply chain) but also to get a valuable external opinion.

Crises certainly aren’t a laughing matter. But sometimes there are a few wry smiles in the room when trying to wade through a scenario planning session, discussing every possible awful situation however obscure they may sound at the time. Crises have become more volatile as mass communication has evolved. These days, a relatively small issue can snowball into a massive ongoing nightmare within an hour. Therefore, regardless of what constitutes a “red light” crisis for an organisation, it is important to prepare for EVERYTHING.

Finally, it is important to be always on. This doesn’t mean walking around the office in a tin hat. But wise investment in people and technology allows organisations to regularly train, monitor and analyse to be best prepared. Crisis training is a team sport and should be conducted as such with senior leaders, communicators and other key stakeholders all practicing together.

Organisational strategy, processes, and responses should be kept in digital form and tested several times a year, so they can be easily adjusted and deployed. In a crisis, timing is everything. Training must push everyone involved to work efficiently and ensure monitoring services are up to scratch, always on and plugged into the response process. External monitoring work with human analysis is sometimes overlooked, but it may still be one of the most important tasks undertaken on behalf of an organisation.

The ever-increasing probability of a crisis means readiness is everything. The better prepared an organisation is to take on a crisis, the greater the opportunity is to not only protect its reputation but to rebuild the trust that puts the organisation in a better place.

 

Jim Selman is the UK MD in Allison+Partners’ London office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER 16, 2019 //     

PODCAST: Value Added Services: Featuring special guest Scott Allison

Happy Birthday Allison+Partners! We’re 18 years old today, and to celebrate Andrew is joined by a very special guest in our London studio. Global Chairman, CEO and Founder Scott Allison is here to talk about how the industry has changed over the last two decades, and what impact that has had on the services that we offer our clients.

From speaker training and strategy, to crisis communications and video development, the services that agencies like A+P offer are more diverse than ever before. What does that mean for our clients, and how has the relationship between in-house and agency changed for the better?

Like our podcast? Why not leave us a review? And don't forget you can always find out more about the team here at Allison+Partners at www.allisonpr.co.uk.



The Stream Podcast can be downloaded via Spotify and iTunes.
AUGUST 28, 2019 //     

Not playing around: What was new at Gamescom 2019

Not playing around: What was new at Gamescom 2019

By: Andrew Rogers

If you’re looking for a visual example of just how big the games industry is, look no further than Gamescom. Held in Cologne, Germany, Gamescom is Europe’s biggest video games conference and convention. It’s rivalled only by E3 in Los Angeles and has drawn brands and fans from around the world since 2010.

Gamescom blends business and fun, with a specified “business area” and “entertainment area.” On one side is a relatively traditional looking B2B trade show, while the other side hosts more than 350,000 passionate fans who have come to try out the latest and greatest games and upcoming releases.

As the industry has evolved, so too has Gamescom. Having attended this year’s conference, here are the main trends we saw (in-between playing the latest Pokémon and Zelda games).

Big tech is now big gaming

Big and recognisable brands are everywhere you look at Gamescom. Nintendo, Microsoft and PlayStation all had massive stands, both in the business- and consumer-focused areas of the show. Square Enix also had a noticeably big presence for its upcoming Avengers and Final Fantasy games, as did EA for FIFA 20.

More surprising was the greatly increased muscle of brands traditionally not in the world of gaming. Facebook and Google in particular really upped their footprint – with Google even bringing its own three-story slide!

Of course, this is all in anticipation of both companies launching brand new gaming platforms. In Facebook’s case, it’s the launch of Oculus Quest, which shrinks down powerful VR into a headset with no wired connection. For Google, it’s the launch of cloud-based virtual console Stadia. Big tech is now also big gaming.

And it’s not just new hardware. Both Facebook and Google heavily pushed their streaming and publishing platforms, looking to attract more high profile and aspiring game streamers to their sites and take a bite out of current market leader Twitch.

Missing in action

There were some notable absences from the show too, including the aforementioned Twitch. While in previous years they’ve had stands that dominate the show, this year Twitch’s booth was quite limited. But with so many brands and fans clearly streaming live on Twitch of their own accord anyway, perhaps Twitch doesn’t need a booth to win Gamescom?

Activision and its associated brands, Candy Crush-maker King and World of Warcraft’s Blizzard were also noticeably quiet at the show this year, and world-leading Fortnite barely showed up at all.

We’re ramping up for a much bigger 2020

While 2019’s Gamescom felt big up close and personal, it’s going to seem quiet compared with next year. For all major companies, perhaps with the exception of Nintendo, 2019 is the end of the current console lifecycle. And while there are some big games coming out, market analysts have pointed to a pretty thin line up of blockbuster games this Christmas.

Next year will see the launch of the new PlayStation 5, Microsoft’s new Xbox codenamed Project Scarlett, and the full public release of Google Stadia. The next generation will bring far more power to consoles, allowing for bigger games and deeper experiences. PlayStation may well also update its PlayStation VR kit to maintain its strong position against Facebook’s Oculus.

Even more fans will descend on Cologne to get the latest controllers in their hands and try games that up until now have not been possible without incredibly expensive gaming PCs.

Live content is key

Though not necessarily new for 2019, this year’s Gamescom did underline the importance of generating live content at the show. Almost all the big stands had either a booth for live streaming, or a full stage with presenters broadcasted across Twitch (or similar platforms).

Gamescom is not just a trade show – it’s also a live event, and one where your live content and reveals must compete with other brand attendees. The best stands hosted live competitions, audience participation and even competitive esports matches. It’s no longer enough to just offer a game demo. Brands also need to find the right presenters, activities and run their own week-long, multilingual TV channel.

From B2B stand management and press briefings, to massive consumer stands and live content, Gamescom has always challenged brands to perfect their events communications. Part B2B trade show, part gaming fan convention, Gamescom shows just how intertwined the B2B and B2C worlds are when it comes to video games. And while 2019 was a great year, the next console generation will force brands to take their comms strategy to the next level in 2020.

Andrew Rogers is an account director in Allison+Partners’ London office.

AUGUST 20, 2019 //     

The importance of taking an integrated approach

An interview with Paul Sears, Executive Vice President, Integrated Marketing.

By Jess Docherty

Allison Partners’ integrated marketing expert Paul Sears is spending six months in London to help expand our existing integrated capabilities in the region and foster deeper integration across the network. While he is here, I thought I’d pick his brain on integrated marketing and why it’s crucial for PR and marketing professionals to implement in their overall communications strategies.  

How does Allison+Partners help clients with integrated marketing?

We prefer to approach all our client work from a holistic perspective. Starting with segmentation, targeting and positioning and the classical 4 P’s of marketing we all know and love (product, price, place, promotion). And asking, “Who is the customer, what do they need, and how do I create something (a product, a service, a campaign, a loyalty program) that fulfils that need?”

A truly integrated approach puts the customer in the centre of the room, then looks at how to position the brand or product to be truly helpful to them. Sometimes we’re helping clients develop and name new products, creating brand and product architecture systems, and working with the client to create new or optimise existing distribution channels. And of course, Promotion – the fourth P, that’s a huge part of what we do as an agency. As a full-service marketing communications agency, we spend a great deal of time creating campaigns to launch and sustain awareness, drive consideration and purchase, and create consumer advocacy and referral. Integrated marketing requires a customer-centric approach and several different disciplines working together.

Why is taking an integrated approach important?

Today’s clients face constant pressure to do more with less.  It’s incredibly difficult to manage a diverse roster of agencies. CMO’s need a strong strategic partner that can answer the big questions about what the firm should make and do, and be truly 360-degree in its go-to-market approach. With more than 80 folks globally working on cross-functional marketing, our clients get access to consultative brand and product marketing, as well as campaign execution.  We’re able to have a single point of contact that understands the client’s business goals and the needs of the customer, as well as every channel we’re activating in.

A basic breakdown of approach:

Research and insight
  • A surgeon presented with a patient who has a mystery illness, wouldn’t just start operating immediately – they’d do some x-rays, and try to find the problem. It’s the same with integrated marketing. We don’t want to rush to market based on assumptions. We take time to conduct research and find unexpected ways of looking at the issues, so we can surprise and delight. But like the surgeon, we know the patient needs help right away, so we’re not going to research ourselves out of the window of opportunity. We balance rigor and agility to get going quickly.
Strategy based on insights
  • First, we want to make sure we’re solving the right problem. Then we’ll mine for that unexpected insight. Then take the insight, and build our work around that, and find the best channels to invest in.
Big umbrella ideas
  • When considering the big idea, we look for inspiration everywhere in our organisation and aim to generate a reaction in people that makes them stop and think. We use viewpoints from all corners to build out the umbrella story that fuels the entire program.
Implementation with agile and nimble optimisation
  • Once we have a well-reasoned “why” then we can start to direct the investment and activity into paid, earned, shared or owned channels. We let research and data do the heavy lifting to help in selecting each channel, so we can thoughtfully consider each step in the customer journey.
  • To make the program effective we work hard to connect dispersed teams so that everyone is aware and can learn from every action. If the PR team have landed a great piece of coverage, we want our social teams looking for ways to expand its reach. We want our creative team to create infographics and social objects from it, we want to boost it with paid and get influencers and consumers talking about it.
Measure and adjust
  • With each of the steps above it is important to fail fast and move on. Measurement is about really being able to understand in depth how the consumer ecosystem is engaging with the work. Interrogate the data, interpret the movement and then start to develop a plan to accelerate channels and activities that are working.

What keeps you inspired?

The most important thing for me is continuous learning and development.  I feel like I don’t know what I don’t know. I love doing research projects in entirely new categories, I try to get one or two new academic certifications each year, I stay connected with my professional network, and I read up on thought leadership as much as I can. I think it’s really fun seeing creativity coming to life in innovative tech-driven campaigns like “The Whopper Detour” or bold cultural stances like “Nike’s Dream Crazy.” 

Jess Docherty is a digital account manager in Allison+Partners’ London office.

AUGUST 15, 2019 //     

10 top tips for a tremendous trade show

By Lizzy Chesters

The trade show world can be a daunting one. The variety and sheer number of events make it difficult to decide which are the best to attend. So, what can be done from a public relations perspective to make attending truly worth the spend and help fuel the all-important sales funnel?

Here are the top 10 things to bear in mind.

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  1. Pick the right show: In our latest podcast episode, I mentioned the average price of a B2B trade show is roughly £350 per square meter, and that doesn’t take into account all the marketing material and human resources needed. Before choosing your show, it is crucial to think about your business goals. By considering whether you want to network, gain industry insight or capture new leads, you can whittle down your list. Similarly, looking back at the history of shows, researching the audience and reading previous reviews can help determine whether this is the right show for you. There are loads of event lists and tools, which can also help.
  2. Secure a speaking slot: This is the best way to reach as much of your audience as possible and can help encourage people to visit your company’s stand. To secure that all-important opportunity, pitch a topic at the forefront of your industry to position your firm as a thought leader. And make sure you get in there early – at least eight months prior to the event itself. In addition, you can use that presentation for further PR opportunities after the event itself; turning it into a byline to pitch later, for instance, can be a great way to maximise the content.
  3. Ask to see the media attendee list: Are there any journalists attending whom you want to meet? It is becoming increasingly difficult to get in front of a journalist, so approaching them at a trade show is a great way to start building a relationship that may eventually lead to future coverage. For the more popular shows, journalists’ schedules can get booked up to a month in advance, so plan ahead. If you don’t manage to meet, follow up afterwards with media who couldn’t attend.
  4. Take notes of the keynote themes/topics: Making a note of what your peers discuss is a good starting point for your own thought leadership – what is your opinion? Is it different? And does your company offer a unique solution to any problems currently facing your industry? For larger industry events, consider writing a ‘round-up’ piece, which includes key takeaways and predictions for the year ahead.
  5. Should you launch a new product/service? Be careful here – if you exhibit alongside FTSE 250 companies, your launch will likely get lost. Sometimes it pays off to attend a particularly niche show, where a more targeted audience will hear your voice. Alternatively, undertaking a piece of research, which can support the announcement, is a good way to generate additional interest.
  6. Savvy social: Before, during and after the event, make sure your business tweets about the show. Always use the event hashtag to amplify your content and ensure influential people see it. Make sure to incorporate images into those posts, so they get as much traction as possible. Also, including relevant links to content on the event website is a great way to drive target audiences to your own website. Include your booth number and/or location at the event to drive attendees to your stand.
  7. Speak to your sales team: Do they have any targets attending the event? How can you work together to secure that business? By working together, you are more likely to get that all-important new business lead, which is the ultimate measure of ROI.
  8. Don’t ignore the analysts: If your company is featured in any technical research (such as Gartner or Forrester), trade shows are an excellent way to get in front of the analysts writing those papers. Contacting the analysts beforehand to arrange a briefing to discuss the benefits and uniqueness of what your company offers is a brilliant time-saver.
  9. Influence the influencers: Attend their talks to gain valuable insights. If they make any comments that resonate with your company’s messages, then send them a link to relevant content on your website to try and ignite a relationship with them. It could also be beneficial to undertake a paid relationship with an influencer around an event. This would involve them promoting your organisation’s attendance across their social channels, attending double-headed briefings, support any announcement you might make and be an additional draw to your stand or presentations.
  10. Maximise your mobile: The cameras on smartphones are of an incredibly high quality these days. Buying a cheap phone stand means you immediately have a camera to document the event. It’s easy to create great video just using your mobile. This content can then be used across social, website or podcasts.


Lizzy Chesters is a senior account manager in Allison+Partners’ London office.

AUGUST 14, 2019 //     

PODCAST: Trade shows - It’s more than just a stand

There are a staggering 1.3 million business events of all shapes and sizes held each year in the UK, so it's no wonder the exhibition and trade show sector is worth a massive £19.2bn to the UK economy. But with a generally high cost of entry, companies want to ensure that they make a splash at trade shows they attend and stand out in their industry. So what are the best ways to grab attention, and how can and should trade show activity go beyond the traditional press briefings?

Andrew Rogers is joined in the London studio by Senior Account Manager Lizzy Chesters to give a step-by-step guide on the dos and don'ts of trade shows, including the best ways to interact with the press and how to make sure your brand stands out amongst all the noise.

Like our podcast? Why not leave us a review? And don't forget you can always find out more about the team here at Allison+Partners at www.allisonpr.co.uk.

The Stream Podcast can be downloaded via Spotify and iTunes.

JULY 18, 2019 //     

PODCAST: Diversity and Inclusion - Why diverse teams make for better campaigns

By: Andrew Rogers and Ellis Reid

Do public relations professionals really reflect the general public? Why does it matter that the communications industry be as diverse as the audiences that we’re trying to speak to? And are we doing enough to foster inclusive teams so everyone can be heard? 

Andrew is joined in the London studio by Senior Account Director Ellis Reid to discuss why both diversity and inclusion are important for creating better, more effective campaigns and discuss where the communications industry can and should go from here.

Like our podcast? Why not leave us a review? And don't forget you can always find out more about the team here at Allison+Partners at www.allisonpr.co.uk.

The Stream Podcast can be downloaded via Spotify and iTunes.
JULY 17, 2019 //     

What to do when your content fails

By: Jide Adesesan 

 

As PR professionals, we are great content creators who know what good content looks like. However, every so often, even the best can sometimes produce a dud. So, what do you do when your content fails? 

First, don’t be hard on yourself – it’s difficult to create and develop great content. A lot of time, strategy and effort go into creating a quality research paperblog or video, so we despair when things don’t go our way. Instead, if the content doesn’t meet expectations – i.e. low viewing numbers, click-throughs or download rates – follow one of these steps below to turn it around and get that campaign back on track. 

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What did you miss? 

For your content to work, it must be relevant and timely. The sweet spot is where your audience’s interests and challenges overlap with you and the client’s business objectives. 

Reflect on what you might have missed the first time around. Consider if you have taken the audiences into account: did you misjudge what they want or find important?  

The most common problem when it comes to failing content is misunderstanding the audience and what it takes to coax them into action. 

What’s your content tilt? 

So, you’ve found your sweet spot and understand what your audience wantto read about. Now what?  

It’s time to find out why the original content failed your expectations. Ideally, you want to create a piece of content that can compete with the hundreds of thousands of links on the internet that promise the same thing you are selling.  

Be sure to scan what your competitors say about the topic and find the gap – the tilt – that separates your content and gives it a fighting a chance. For instance, if your content is around the keys to a successful digital transformation, then I’ve got bad news for you, pal! 

Also, think about your headline – you only have one chance to make a good first impression. 

Raise visibility 

Help your customers find you by investing in content distribution. There are a number of cost-effective channels available, such as social media paid campaigns and email marketing.  

It’s also worth putting in the time to make sure your work is optimised to improve your online visibility. Check out these free SEO tools. Better yet, speak to one of our All Told colleagues to support your effort.  

Manage expectations 

This is the most difficult aspect of correcting failing contentand it’s also the most critical. What are you trying to achieve with this piece of content? Are you trying to drive sales or raise awareness? And, can your content really help achieve all these objectives? How do we measure success? 

If you haven’t already, this is when you need to have an honest conversation with your team to discuss what’s gone wrong and how you propose to fix it. But you also need to be forthright about expectations and what the content is likely to deliver. 

What do you do with bad, unengaging content?  

The question of whether to purge any particular piece of work depends on a number of factors – is this content useful to anyone? If I removed it from the website or archive, would anyone miss it? Does it damage the brand?  

We are not perfect and sometimes get it wrong. But the important thing to remember is all is not lost and almost any piece of work is salvageable. Start again with the basics and give your content time to do well.  

 

Jide Adesesan is a senior account executive in Allison+Partners’ London office. 

JULY 17, 2019 //     

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