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MAY 26, 2020 //     

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

By Sierra Oshrin

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Brittany, an Albuquerque news anchor, echoes this sentiment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAY 21, 2020 //     

Webinar Weary: Elevating Digital Events

By: Cathy Planchard

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


MAY 20, 2020 //     

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

By: Barbara Laidlaw and Josiah Adams

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


MAY 19, 2020 //     

More Than Just Fun, TikTok Finds A New Meaning

By: Pranav Kumar and Natashia Jaya

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAY 10, 2020 //     

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

By Anne Colaiacovo 

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

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



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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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




MAY 8, 2020 //     

Persevering in a Time of Crisis

By Tracey Cassidy

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow her on Twitter @TraceyCassidy or LinkedIN.


MAY 6, 2020 //     

It’s Now Time to Help Those Who Help Others

By: Scott Pansky

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Here are ways you can help local nonprofit organizations:

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

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

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

MAY 4, 2020 //     

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

By Jacques Couret

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAY 1, 2020 //     

Pay It Forward and Help the Next Generation

By: Scott Pansky

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

APRIL 30, 2020 //     

B2B Lead Gen While Social Distancing

By: Terrance McDermott 

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

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


Unlock the Value of Your CRM Data

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

Understand Your Customers

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

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

Make a Plan for Growth

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

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

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

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

APRIL 29, 2020 //     

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

By Deb McCormick

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

APRIL 28, 2020 //     

Innovative Thinking is Needed to Drive The Auto Industry Forward

By: Marcus Gamo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


APRIL 24, 2020 //     

Great Company Culture is a Two-Way Street

By: Courtney Newman

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

APRIL 23, 2020 //     

Why Higher Education Needs to Consider Brand Reputation

By: Paul Breton and Lydia Wilbanks

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

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


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

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

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

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

Double down on digital

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

Keep employees engaged

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

Narrative matters

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

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

Tell stories that inspire

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

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

These types of stories yearn to be discovered and disseminated.

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

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

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

APRIL 17, 2020 //     

Has COVID-19 Killed Techlash?

By Karyn Barr

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


APRIL 16, 2020 //     

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

By Paul Sears

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

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

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


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

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

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

A few key questions can prove helpful:

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

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

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

APRIL 15, 2020 //     

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

By Stephanie Cinque

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

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


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

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

Consider your audience needs

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

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

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

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

Put collaboration first

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

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

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

Run virtual gatherings

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

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

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

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

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

APRIL 14, 2020 //     

The COVID-19 Landscape Through the Eyes of An Influencer

By: Lexi Holden

Once states enforced shelter in place and the media focused coverage solely on COVID-19, influencers finally realized 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.


While there are plenty of opportunities right now for wine and spirits brands, packaged foods, beauty products, home décor and fitness programs, 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 specializes 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 programs 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?

Once the nation sheltered in place, I hesitated 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 program 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 reevaluate 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.

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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 13, 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.


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 describes the phase when the disruption has happened or is in progress. It is characterized 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.


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.


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 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.


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 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.


Start by ensuring that your organization 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 organization 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. Organizations 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?”

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David Wolf is the managing director of Allison Advisory at Allison+Partners. He brings three decades of experience to his role counseling 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 10, 2020 //     

A Rabbi and a Priest Walk into a Zoom Conference

By Cathy Planchard

I’ve experienced a lot of firsts this week. Many times, I scratched my head at how surreal all of this seems – the run on paper products, empty grocery shelves and joggers adorned with facemasks.

But this past week set a new bar for the bizarre, as I watched the most holy of weeks for religions worldwide unfold before me through the lens of a TV screen and webcam.READ MORE

We’ve all held way more video conferences in the past three weeks than we ever thought possible. We’ve gotten accustomed to online birthday celebrations, virtual office happy hours and walking our parents and cousins through the process of setting up cameras and mics (with varying degrees of success). But Passover and Easter online?

In a world that desperately craves that which it can’t have – personal touch, reassurance and clarity – we hold on to all the traditions we can, albeit in new ways. Community, family and faith are more important than ever before. And social distancing does not mean spiritual distancing.

Watching the adaptability and creativity of families holding true to tradition and faith has deeply inspired me. Families across the country that normally spend the High Holy Days together held their Seders online. A friend shared how her extended family of 40 that would normally gather in her home instead united by Zoom. And there were other technology assists. Because the Haggadah reading order is often divided among those in attendance, was created especially for this year’s virtual holiday.

My priest and parish were also in on the innovation. Ever heard of a drive-by confession? Imagine my surprise as I drove up to the church, followed the orange cones and confessed from the comfort of my car, while my priest stood a safe distance away. It beats a small, enclosed booth any day.

Easter Sunday Mass will be livestreamed. I’ll watch it from my living room on our biggest TV, dressed up of course. I can only imagine EWTN has seen the highest viewership in its history.

I’ll miss the frilly Easter dresses of our youngest parishioners, the bonnets and barely contained energy (fueled by too many chocolate Easter bunnies). But I fully expect families will continue to adapt, that new traditions will form. Maybe virtual egg hunts will become a thing.

Either way, I’ll scour my social channels and Nextdoor app to share in the Easter fun. And I’ll be buoyed by the fact that in the face of adversity, we adapt. We stay true to our traditions. We get assists from technology. And ultimately, we persevere.

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

APRIL 10, 2020 //     

Real Heroes Do “Whatever It Takes” - Not Just the Ones in the Movies

By: Scott Pansky

“We lost friends. We lost family. We lost a part of ourselves. Today, we have a chance to take it all back. You know your teams, you know your missions. No mistakes. No do-overs. Most of us are going somewhere we know. That doesn’t mean we should know what to expect. Be careful. Look out for each other. This is the fight of our lives. And we are going to win – whatever it takes. Good Luck!”
                           Steve Rogers, Captain America, Avengers Endgame


I am a huge movie fan, and I love the Marvel movies. I have read Captain America comic books for more years than I can remember. Underdog stories are what I cherish most. Whether it was the Avengers against Thanos, Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed, Luke Skywalker against Darth Vader, Rudy fighting his way into one game at the University of Notre Dame, or the kids from “The Bad News Bears” and “The Mighty Ducks” going from the worst to first – no matter what, they always got up.

Today, our first responders have stepped up bravely, as they always do. But who would have thought people many of us might take for granted would become our unsung heroes during this pandemic? These heroes who still go to work, who still get up no matter what! Whether it’s the warehouse workers, packers, delivery drivers, cooks, bakers, grocery store clerks or baggers, these are the brave souls on the front lines every day. Who would have thought of the neighbors and friends who stay home making face masks to give out friends and families or to donate to strangers around the globe? Who would have known companies could change their business models so quickly to make respirators, face shields and surgical gowns needed by medical facilities when these products were unavailable?

What makes a hero? What makes an underdog rise up during a challenge?

Right now, the real heroes are the people who help others at their own risk, who help their peers and do their personal best to make a difference. Perseverance, grit, determination and focus are just words. But getting up every day to help feed people, give them a place to shower, volunteer serving food, sell groceries or assist those who suffer at home or in a hospital – these are the real heroes!

Let’s do more than watch them. Let’s show them your gratitude and appreciation and say “please” and “thank you,” and think about offering them a cup of coffee, a meal or gift card. We can also take the time to write positive Yelp reviews or personal letters to companies showing our appreciation and calling out team members that went out of their way to make us feel comfortable. There are so many ways we can show our appreciation.

Let’s follow their lead! As Cap said, “This IS the fight of our lives. And, we are going to win… whatever it takes… whatever it takes.”  

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

APRIL 10, 2020 //     

Leadership and Solidarity: Leading the Covid-19 Battle in India

By: Pranav Kumar

As we enter the second half of the 21-day lockdown in India with hopes to ‘flatten the curve’ of the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s a good time to examine some marketing and communications undercurrents shaping the new reality in India:


1. Clarity of communications underpins everything: Considering the velocity at which COVID-19 unraveled, this very basic tenet of crisis communications couldn’t be truer than now. Rallying 1.3 billion Indians to stay at home couldn’t have been possible without simple but creative messaging. These included: #JantaCurfew (meaning “people curfew” in Hindi), which served as a precursor to the larger lockdown or pivoting to the No. 21 with a simple rationale – If people didn’t follow the 21-day lockdown, the country could compromise 21 years of its progress. 21 days = 21 years became a compelling call to action from Prime Minster Narendra Modi. 

2. Command and control: We’ve seen some remarkable examples of brands leading by example, from moving beyond the shock of the pandemic, to establishing command and control in their communications and outreach efforts. Proactively communicating service disruptions and mitigation strategies meant that elaborate crisis frameworks and planning were mostly in place (though one couldn’t have predicted a scenario of such magnitude). Airlines, which typically have more crisis contingencies in place, were swift to manage proactive communications, such as India’s largest low-cost carrier IndiGo. The airline moved expediently to establish strong and preemptive communications flow on flight cancellations, eventual suspension of operations and address concerns about refunds from passengers.
Clearly, there will be lots to learn from a scenario-planning and management perspective in future crisis communications workshops.
3. Compassion: Organizations and their leaders need to be visible, authentic, have a guiding purpose to drive forward their businesses and serve the communities where they operate. At this crucial juncture of the lockdown in India, we have seen extraordinary compassion from companies to collect funds and feed the less privileged or those displaced. Notably, restaurant aggregator and food delivery start-up Zomato, with its ‘Zomato Feeding India Initiative’, collected more than $3 million to feed India’s migrant workers. Hotel chains, such as Indian Hotels Company (of Taj fame) Marriott to local operator Lemon Tree, now offer idle inventory as quarantine facilities, accommodating India’s healthcare professionals from the front lines and serving meals to the needy.
We have seen a paradigm shift in corporate social responsibility that will echo in the years to come.
4. PSA’s and marketing: The conversation on hygiene and washing hands to keep COVID-19 at bay has never been more important. Venerable brands Dettol and LifeBuoy have been quick to up the ante on the importance of handwashing and educate people at large. Apart from working with a range of India’s leading influencers, brands in India have leveraged short-form video platform TikTok. Dettol’s hand-wash challenge for example, notched up 8 billion views in just four days on TikTok. Expect more innovation there!
5. Uniting for greater good: It’s important for brands to come together and channelize their efforts for those in need as well as for business continuity. From Uber partnering with local eCommerce platforms Flipkart and Big Basket for delivering essentials to consumer goods major ITC partnering with pizza chain Dominos for deliver supplies – brands in India have clearly set the tone for unprecedented solidarity and care in unison.
6. Misinformation and misperceptions: Exacerbating the pandemic is the continuing streak of misinformation and fake news, which remain persistent problems whether in good times or bad. From alleged COVID-19 cures to rumors about shortages of essential goods and hoarding, the government and communities continue to grapple with this menace. Similarly, brands struggle with misinformation on their products’ safety and whether they’re carriers of the virus from plants in China. This is a significant challenge for communications teams.
7. Communications priorities: #stayathome campaigns are centerstage with brands doing their bits to encourage people to comply with the lockdown. In addition, employee engagement and customer outreach is a top priority, confirmed through a COVID-19 webinar survey by communications industry journal PRovoke in partnership with Asia Pacific Association of Communications Directors (APACD).
As we navigate these challenging times ahead, communications will play a vital role as clients navigate the new normal and manage disruptions in their businesses. As initial conversations around partial lifting of the lockdowns around the world start to begin, it’s important in equal measure, to start thinking of a limited or post-CVOID world to be ready for the ‘new normal’.

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Pranav Kumar leads Allison+Partners in India and works closely with its teams to provide client support across corporate reputation, business and brand communications remits. He brings nearly two decades of communications experience predominantly on the agency side a focus on crisis counsel, issues management, c-suite communications advisory and thought leadership.
APRIL 9, 2020 //     

COVID-19 and the Hispanic Community: What We Can Learn from Rana the Frog

By: Claudia Vargas

Fear, worry and stress know no cultural borders in this global pandemic. In this incredibly challenging time, brands have a key role to play to help support consumers from all communities to navigate a sea of change. Hispanic reactions to COVID-19 on social media can offer insight for brands looking to bring some much-needed comfort to this important group. Some Hispanic consumers have jokingly mourned the death of “Rana” the frog.  Injured Hispanic children learn the frog rhyme when they need comfort: “Sana, sana, colita de rana. Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana.” The translation, “heal, heal little frog tail. If you don’t heal today, you’ll heal tomorrow.” Think of it as a twist upon the old “kiss it and make it better.”


he dead frog message underscores this community’s virus concerns: if the coronavirus can kill the healing frog, then we are in deep trouble! There’s a lesson in there for marketers willing to listen and learn from the culture. 

Despite the regular application of gallows humor, Hispanic communities feel the COVID-19 stress a bit more intensely than others. As a group, they are more likely (50%) than Americans as whole (34%) to see the Coronavirus as a serious threat to their health, finances and community, a new Pew Research Center report shows 

Hispanics are also concerned about missing vital information due to the delay in language translation. The lifesaving information is sometimes translated as a general overview and is not verbatim from official COVID-19 briefingsThese fears of being misinformed and unprepared, combined with larger families who often live together, has motivated many Hispanic Americans to stockpile food and supplies more than any other ethnicity. 

There’s opportunity for brands to address the Hispanic community’s concerns and offer them real help, sympathy and relief from their fears. 

With financial turmoil on the horizon, brands can show they care by providing meaningful support to local Hispanic communities. This includes sharing Spanish-language information about local organizations offering assistance and providing coupon codes and other discounts that can lighten the burden of feeding and caring for multifamily homes. 

Demand for information in Spanish will only rise throughout this pandemic. Think of the many missed opportunities by not simply translating information into the second-most spoken language in the U.S. Brands must do their parts to share information in Spanish to help the communities across the nation stay in the know. The appreciation for that consideration, respect and kindness will endure long after the quarantines and social distancing disappear. 

Beyond just the frog, social chatter also suggests Hispanics use humor to share ways to keep their families healthy and provide each other tips to avoid getting sick. Brands themselves can use an empathetic and funny tone to get their messages out to the community, but they should not lose sight of the serious nature of the virus and its impact. 

Hispanics continue to be heavier users of social networks than other groups. More than half of the group uses WhatsApp to stay connected. And Hispanic audiences tend to be brand loyalists, with 75% talking with friends and family about positive experiences they have had with a brand. However, they can be just as vocal in spreading dissatisfaction with a brand – 65% of Hispanic Americans are not shy to discuss negative experiences or interactions, according to a Mintel report on Hispanic attitudes towards advertising. So, striking the right tone and interaction is more important than ever. 

Brands can use the right cues to convert Hispanics into brand advocates who spread positive messages. Being connected to the core of the Hispanic culture, brands have the opportunity to show and help the community to stay connected virtually. 

When searching for entertainment and information, the nation’s Hispanics are most likely to watch digital videoA Mintel study on digital trends published in May 2019 showed Hispanics also over-index for household ownership of technology products often found in family rooms. And they add streaming media capabilities through smart TVs, streaming media players and UHD TVs. That means content created for connected families will resonate even more strongly now as the population practices social distancing and stays home.  

As Americans, we all face the challenges the coronavirus presents while hoping we can return to normalcy as soon as possible. Brands that can understand the Hispanic community, its concerns and its behaviors during this crisis, and who can communicate effectively and empathetically, will endear themselves to the community and have a much greater positive impact.  

Isn’t it amazing what a frog can teach us? 

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

APRIL 9, 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 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 guardrails to conduct profitable business.

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


Companies and organizations 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 organization 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 organization’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. 

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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 8, 2020 //     

Cementing Brand Love in A Sea of White Hats

By: Lisa Rosenberg

The marketing industry has talked a lot about brand purpose over the last few years. This has largely been driven by millennials changing consumer and employee expectations. While they didn’t invent brand purpose, they certainly helped usher it into the mainstream. Today, Gen Z ensures it’s here to stay. 

During this pandemic, we have seen brands step up, do good and deliver beyond their purposes. Many have helped others, whether it be their own employees, the customers they serve, the communities in which they operate or on an even broader scale. Many have donated equipment, expertise, money and more to help those impacted by this crisis.


While each contribution is critically important, it’s the early movers – the companies that rallied to make a difference quickly – that should not only be recognized for the good they have done but for inspiring others to follow suit. Consumers will remember these brands when this is all over, especially those that jumped in to serve without being asked.

Perhaps it’s because I live in New Rochelle, N.Y., and our schools were among the first to close that Eric Yuan’s move to make Zoom free to K-12 teachers has stuck with me. I remember an interview where he talked about this not being a time to think about sales, and I was impressed with the company’s commitment to doing good at the early stage of the outbreak. While the Zoom platform has some security issues currently being addressed, what I hope people will remember is the company didn’t wait for things to be perfect. Rather, it sprang into action and did what it believed would have the most meaningful and positive impact on children and families.

Then there was LVMH, which went from manufacturing perfume to producing hand sanitizer in 72 hours. The speed at which the company moved to meet a societal need was both impressive and well-publicized. Other companies, including many distilleries, also shifted their manufacturing to help meet this increased need. We also saw similar efforts from the fashion world, with everyone from indie designer Christian Siriano to Gucci, The Gap and Burberry jumping in to sew gowns, masks and other personal protective equipment.

With travel at a virtual standstill, hospitality is one of the hardest hit sectors. The Four Seasons in NYC had already closed to the public when Ty Warner, chairman of the hotel's corporate owner, heard N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plea during one of his press conferences and felt there was no other option but to do whatever he and his company could to help. The luxury hotel now houses medical personnel for free.

A white hat has long been a mark or symbol of goodness. Today, we see a lot of brands wear white hats. Amid the COVID crisis, companies the world over have rallied to make a difference. Those that do will emerge post-pandemic stronger than ever. 

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Lisa Rosenberg is a partner and president of Consumer Brands at Allison+Partners. She has more than 30 years of experience leading brand initiatives across the beauty + personal care, CPG, Food + Beverage, Automotive, Travel + Hospitality, Consumer Health + Wellness, Luxury Goods and Retail sectors and has been a hands-on force for many successful brand journeys.

APRIL 8, 2020 //     

5 Brand Ambassador Best Practices During COVID-19

By: Lucy Arnold and Claudia Vargas

Allison + Partners’ recent COVID-19 Trend Report analyzed social media chatter and the earned media landscape to extract context from millions of COVID-19-related conversations. We’ve 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. 

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 recognizable 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 recognize 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, 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
    Grocery stores are doing double-duty to keep critical essentials in stock, but their hard-working staff struggle to keep up. Malls 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 two cents 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 specializes 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 programs, 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 7, 2020 //     

Stuck at Home, but #stillatraveler

By Emily Wilson Sawyer

The future of travel remains unknown. People will travel again, but where, when and how they will travel is a gray 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:


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 vacation 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.


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 Center. 


APRIL 7, 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.

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 organization 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 learnings 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 localized, high-quality recording and specialized (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 realize 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 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 killer 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.

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

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 6, 2020 //     

Helping Companies to Navigate a Changing Commercial Real Estate Landscape

By: Richard Kendall

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted most 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 commercial real estate industry hasn’t been immune from the pandemic’s downward pressure on the economy. Many real estate owners and investors, and the service-based companies supporting these organizations, have found themselves in a wait-and-see mode before making decisions about projects and other business initiatives.   

To that end, according to a recent Bisnow story on data collected by independent research and advisory firm Green Street Advisors, real estate investment trust shares have decreased by 34% since mid-February, while office high-rises have experienced a 10% decrease in overall value across global markets. The same story notes unsurprisingly the retail sector has been among the most negatively impacted product types across the world’s commercial real estate portfolio.


Moreover, a Globestreet story from early April predicts the COVID-19 crisis could put further stress on an already severe housing shortage across the U.S. — especially for subsidized and affordable market-rate apartment homes. Many new projects, particularly those that haven’t yet gone vertical, have been put on hold, potentially for several months, until there’s more certainty in the financial and consumer markets.

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 Great Recession 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. Just a few months ago, our economic fundamentals were strong — with record-low unemployment, robust investment and rapid absorption — and 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 real estate 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 Real Estate Team has collaborated with real estate 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 recent acquisition deal brokered by Colliers International or corporate profiles of companies like GIS International, global, full-service real estate firm with a collaborative approach to complex property development. 

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. One way in which Allison+Partners helps its real estate clients in this capacity is through surveys and other data collection initiatives. Currently, one international real estate 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. Another global real estate company, B+H Architects, recently provided third-party quotes for a trade story that shows how technology has supported its design-from-home activities on major commercial development projects. And international architecture firm Perkins & Will has taken a leadership role in consulting hospitals and other clients on the future of the healthcare environment in light of today’s coronavirus crisis. 

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 Vulcan Inc., which announced last week it will not collect rent from 40 commercial tenants impacted by the crisis, across 30 real estate assets. Orange County, Calif.-based Irvine Co. also announced recently it will offer financial assistance to residential tenants experiencing coronavirus-related layoffs or losses to professional income.

If you lead a real estate company looking for help building a stronger communications message during these uncertain times, please contact me at or sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates. 

Richard Kendall is a partner and managing director of Allison+Partners’ Real Estate Group. He has more than 30 years of experience consulting organizations in the built environment on a range of branding, marketing, PR and crisis communications initiatives. 

APRIL 3, 2020 //     

Gratitude and Perspective Can Nourish You Through COVID-19

By Jacques Couret

I learned how to make a roux in 1989. That summer, I asked my Mémère to teach me everything she knew about Creole New Orleans cooking. An outstanding cook and loving grandmother, she specialized in all the classics – gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya, you name it. Understand that where I am from, making a roux is as important to living a Godly and decent life as learning to walk or graduating from college. Food is a blessed sacrament, not just a utilitarian necessity. My lifelong passion for cooking, grocery shopping for the best ingredients and eating well comes from that culture and my grandmother. 

After nearly three weeks without a visit to the grocery, I ventured out early this morning to restock my pantry and fridge. What used to be something I looked forward to now felt like dread. The fear of being around others or touching anything contaminated with the coronavirus upset my stomach. A queue of a couple dozen or so shoppers all standing ridiculously far apart kept guard facing the automatic front doors. That isn’t normal. I lined up as the queue began to move after a guard opened Publix for business.


I imagined the things I needed most – bread, in particular – and headed to the far side of the store first to get a loaf or two before they vanished. As I stood between the long shelf of bread to my right and the sprawling produce department to my left, my nightmare began. I saw a large, empty space where the onions used to be, and I felt a sense of anger, panic and disbelief rolling into one unsettling emotion. Nearby, more empty spaces where bell pepper and celery should be. How the hell am I supposed to cook anything without onions, bell pepper and celery? The Trinity!

In that moment, my plans to make gumbo, red beans and rice or jambalaya evaporated. The dishes I grew up with and always turned to for comfort and when I needed to stretch a buck would now be impossible. Imagine New York without pizza or bagels, Philadelphia without cheesesteaks, Boston without clam chowder or San Francisco without sourdough bread or Dungeness crab. Culinary tragedy!

I continued to the meat department – no chicken, no beef and no sausage. Bye-bye jambalaya, bucatini with meat sauce and pretty much every recipe I usually make during any given week. I “settled” on turkey breast cutlets, ground bison and ground lamb. I’m fantastic in a kitchen. I know I’ll make something delicious out of these proteins. My belly will certainly be full. But it’s just not the same. These days, few things are.

America’s Southern culture is one where we look a stranger in the eye as we pass and say hello or share a smile. We make friends with strangers in the checkout line, because that’s what our mommas and Mémères did. Our hearts are warm like our weather, and we do insist upon being polite and kind as much as possible. If you wear your favorite SEC school’s logo when out during football season, you expect and welcome the likeminded, and similarly dressed, strangers to high-five you and give an old school cheer. You also expect and welcome others in rivals’ apparel to give you some “clean, old-fashioned hate,” as they say in Georgia. 

But at the store today, there was little eye contact, chatter or warmth, and there were no SEC cheers despite my LSU sweatshirt. Instead, there was stress, anxiety and a desire to get in and out as quickly as possible without catching COVID-19. There may not be any SEC football, or any other type of football, this year. And there certainly won’t be gumbo on my stove any time soon. It all broke my spirit when I thought about this while putting groceries into the car.

I tried to sort out my emotions as I drove home. Those damn empty shelves! I thought about growing up during the Cold War, all those images of Soviet Bloc countries on the nightly TV news. The rationing and endless lines of severe-looking babushkas and old men in heavy coats and ushankas hoping to get toilet paper. Lines for toilet paper! Toilet paper! Can you believe that?! 

The quarter-empty store I saw is nothing compared with the misery people behind the Iron Curtain endured and what today’s citizens of Venezuela, North Korea or Cuba continue to suffer. But this is America – the Norman Rockwell painting promised us “Freedom from Want” in 1943! Where’s my toilet paper?

I wondered what my Mémère and Pépère would have thought about the current pandemic. They grew up during the Great Depression and never wasted a scrap of anything forever after. She dealt with rationing stateside, while he fought the Japanese Empire in the Pacific. They reared two boys on a meager budget after that. To them, whining was unacceptable. It was OK to feel stressed or to worry, but then you had to do something about it or “fermes la bouche!” It’s something I continue to struggle with as I, and we, work from home and wonder when, and if, our “normal” lives will ever return. COVID-19 World – there are moments of despair and there are moments of joy. 

Before I got home, some final thoughts crossed my mind – gratitude and perspective. As an American, I, and perhaps some of you, got used to having everything anyone could possibly want on-demand 24/7. I, and perhaps some of you, grew up believing in this land of plenty, that we are indeed blessed, will never run out of anything and should be immensely thankful. There’s even a holiday every late November devoted exclusively to that concept – and over-eating, football and booze.

But I, and perhaps some of you too, have clearly taken a lot for granted. It’s hard not to. We got spoiled. How I’d now gladly fight an hour of traffic twice a day to get to the office and see my colleagues. Some people no longer have jobs. How I’d now gladly run an errand even when tired and browse the merchandise without fear of touching and contracting a potentially deadly illness. Some people cannot afford to buy whatever they want, whenever they want it. How I’d now gladly go to the gym even when feeling lazy. Some people aren’t healthy enough to even stand.

Gratitude and perspective – maybe the bison étouffée can become a real thing? 

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

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

APRIL 3, 2020 //     

10 COVID-19 Revelations: Insights From the Front Lines in China

By Jerry Zhu

As millions headed home for the Chinese New Year in late January, Jerry Zhu, partner and GM of Allison+Partners' China operation braced himself for what had the potential to be the most challenging time in his more than 25-year professional experience. With his teams in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu now back in the office, albeit on a staggered schedule and mandated distancing, he shares some of his insights from this experience.

This piece has been translated from the original, previously published Chinese version.


In March 2015, Bill Gates said in a TED speech that our greatest current threat is a large-scale pandemic, not a nuclear war. The challenge we face is not that our defense system is not strong enough, but that we actually do not have one.

This speech, delivered five years ago, showed great foresight.

When we witnessed the Ebola outbreak in Africa, we may have rationalized it as far away from home. When we heard about the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the Zika virus and avian influenza, we also dismissed them as having no impact on us. Although we in China experienced the SARS epidemic 17 years ago, memories of the events have already become distant and indifference set in as many chose to forget.

Because of this forgetfulness and indifference, our epidemic prevention system was caught unprepared and overwhelmed when COVID-19 broke out.

Past experiences, if not forgotten, can serve as an important a guide for the future. Although we remain in the midst of the pandemic, which grows worse globally, it has already provided many lessons and experiences worth pondering.

Listen to science and experts

Medicine and epidemic prevention are highly specialized scientific fields. Listening to the opinions of experts and professionals is absolutely paramount to avoid arriving at incorrect conclusions and making uninformed decisions.

Trust is key

At critical moments, people will trust the authorities only if all operations are transparent. A pandemic does not cause panic and confusion – a lack of trust does.

Crisis awareness

It is foolish to believe bad things will never come to us; a certain level of vigilance is important. Many companies have their crisis management systems in place, and the same should be true for epidemic prevention. 

Prepare emergency plans

No one can foresee a crisis, and no one can make all the right judgments at the very beginning. As the Chinese saying goes, "You need to bear 10 years of hard work to enjoy your one minute on the stage." Although each crisis is unique, there are also similarities in their history, their impact and in the response measures taken against them. Therefore, we must take full advantage of “peacetime” to mobilize the strength of all parties and brainstorm emergency plans. 


The emergency plan will not work if it is only on paper. Just like the military, if you do not train or practice during peacetime, you will be unprepared for active combat on the battlefield.

Respect the power of public opinion

In the age of social media, the dissemination of information is quick and convenient, which is both a virtue and a curse. Although public opinion may sometimes seem extreme, it can also serve as a means to monitor the effectiveness of governmental operations. We can only guide public opinion – we cannot stop it.

Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked. We need to create a new system rather than sticking to set specifications for the selection and supervision of officials, so the top talent can assume important positions and form a stronger team.

Mobilize all forces to join hands

In the face of crisis, it is neither realistic nor efficient to take on everything alone. The related organizations may not only lack of expertise, but also perform well due to self-interest and intention to hold the power. 

Learning from experience can prevent the recurrence of crises

The epidemic will come to an end sooner or later. But when it is over, if we only praise the achievements, we lose the important opportunity for reflection the disaster has given us.

A confident China should accept both enthusiastic praise and be able to withstand sincere criticism, and the same is true of other governments around the world.

Always be optimistic

No matter how grim the situation seems, Chinese people are always kind and hardworking. We are not short of brave and dedicated experts, media personnel, medical workers and civil servants at every level who are willing to take the lead.

This is true for countries and even more so for businesses. Any enterprise may face crises, both in operations and communication.

For example, during this outbreak we have seen the educational institutions with online teaching capabilities are not only able to withstand the crisis, but are becoming bigger and stronger. However, the institutions that only have offline capabilities have been hit hard. This is a risk and crisis in business operations.

Just as we need strong epidemic-prevention measures, enterprises ought to create their own comprehensive crisis management system. They need to prepare by implementing measures, such as establishing crisis management teams, conducting simulation exercises, preparing crisis plans and organizing training speakers. Only in this way can we be methodical in resolving a crisis, withstand any difficulties that may arise and create a brand that can last centuries.

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

Jerry Zhu is a partner with the agency and oversees business operations, growth and client service for all of China, fostering expansion throughout Asia Pacific and around the world. He is a recognized expert in corporate communications, with experience in crisis management, public affairs, B2B and technology.

APRIL 2, 2020 //     

We Cannot Forget Native Americans During These Troubled Times

By: Scott Pansky

The number of deaths and those impacted by COVID-19 rises every day. Our media, whether online or off, gives us staggering statistics, political posturing and counsel on personal hygiene and social distancing. They report on celebrities and sports figures who have gotten the virus, and offer stories of hope – kids helping seniors, restaurants serving meals to first responders and donations of products and services.

Yet, they ignore or forget numerous audiences, including Native Americans. Allison+Partners works with numerous nonprofit organizations of different sizes that impact millions of people around the globe. And, we also represent smaller organizations that serve niche audiences, including Partnership with Native Americans (PWNA), whom we have represented for more than six years.


PWNA provides goods and services to its Native American partners to support programs in and meet needs of tribal communities. These partners identify what kinds of distributions and services would best make an impact on community members. PWNA supports its self-determined goals by delivering supplies to help address basic day-to-day needs for immediate relief and offering support for capacity building, like nutrition and leadership training or emergency preparedness planning.

Now, more than ever, there is a shortage of healthy food, safe drinking water, healthcare and retail services to sustain these remote reservation communities. The Elders now find the shelves empty of their most basic supplies. With the lack of pubic transportation and access to full-service grocery stores, PWNA serves as a first responder and essential link in the Native American community’s supply chain. 

My family and I had the chance to spend a day on the Navajo Reservation a few years ago. There, we packaged supplies, such as water, blankets and food, and then we hand-delivered these and a hot meal to the Elders who could not make it down to the PWNA-supported community center. We saw up-close, these grateful and wonderful people who were so appreciative of our help and a conversation. Our family was changed by this experience, and we understand how others can stand up to make a difference today. 

The media is not covering the Native American story! The reservations need basic supplies, including food, water, baby formula, toilet paper, sanitizer and other essentials, to get through the COVID-19 pandemic. I encourage you to learn more about PWNA and the issues Native Americans face today. Don’t ever forget!

If you’re a nonprofit in need of advice on how to navigate these challenging times, get in touch at or sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates. 

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

APRIL 1, 2020 //     

The Importance of Internal Comms in a Time of Crisis

By: Todd Sommers

Crisis-focused organizations 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 organization’s stakeholders are isolated, distracted and stressed.

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 reexamination as standups and townhalls 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 townhall. Or, you might need executives to create content on their cell phones 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 center.
  • Are there ways to turn previous office customs into virtual experiences? Recognizing 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 happy hours 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 homeschool 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 organization – 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 Sommers is a senior vice president at Allison+Partners, where he leads a team of integrated marketers and brings together multi-disciplinary campaign elements to create compelling programs for clients.

MARCH 31, 2020 //     

Four Ways for Brands to Succeed After COVID-19

PRWeekPrepare 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.

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 optimization 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 modeling, including time lag, to optimize 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 organization 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 optimization 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

MARCH 26, 2020 //     

$2 Trillion in Economic Stimulus: What It Is And What it Means to You

By: Barbara Laidlaw with Josiah Adams

Following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s announcement early March 26 that the Senate finalized a deal outlining a $2 trillion stimulus package, Americans still wondered what it means for themselves, their businesses and the country as a whole.

The largest stimulus package in history includes provisions that seek to support individuals, hospitals, and small and large businesses. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will vote on the bill March 28 and, “It will pass. It will pass with strong bipartisan support.” While the full details of the nearly 900-page stimulus package are not yet clear, a few items have generated a substantial amount of interest among lawmakers, businesses and citizens.


The stimulus package includes a massive $58 billion bailout for the airline industry, with some strings attached. Companies that receive a portion of these funds will be unable to lay off any of their workforce until the fall and will be barred from engaging in stock buybacks until one year after they stop receiving assistance.

The stimulus package also restricts its recipients’ executive compensation and bonuses. While the airline industry will receive a substantial amount of these funds, some $500 billion in total has been allocated for larger industries. This amount has already generated some pushback from progressive Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who called for more worker protections. While this could threaten the chances of the bill passing via unanimous consent, like it did in the Senate, it will have little impact on the overall House vote. In her press conference, Pelosi addressed these concerns, asserting the democrats had “performed jujitsu” on the bill to increase workforce protections and limit corporate handouts.

One of the core pieces of this bill assistance to small businesses. It dedicates $367 billion in loans to businesses with fewer than 500 employees that pledge to retain their workforce during the COVID-19 crisis. The loan period will begin once the bill is signed into law and would last until June 30, 2020. It remains unclear what percentage of these loans will ultimately be forgiven, effectively turning them into grants. At this time, widespread loan forgiveness appears unlikely.

Payroll-tax relief provisions are another critical piece of this stimulus for small to midsize business. Those that continue to employ their workers throughout the crisis will be eligible for tax credits and deferments on payroll taxes for 2020. Some 50% of these deferred taxes would be paid off in 2021, while the remaining 50% would be paid in 2022. Maintaining employment at the small business level is at the core of these allocated funds, but the limited amount of tax and loan forgiveness may deter certain businesses from accepting the aid to keep their workforces intact.

At the individual level, the stimulus package dedicates direct payments of $1,200 to most individuals making up to $75,000 a year or $2,400 to couples making up to $150,000 a year. It also grants $500 per child. The amount decreases at an unspecified rate after the $75,000 threshold and cuts off at $99,000. While this piece of the stimulus has generated a great deal of attention over the past few weeks, these checks will take some time to hit bank accounts. Eligible Americans with direct-deposit bank account information on file with the IRS (roughly 70 million) will see payments “within a few weeks of the bill being signed into law.”

Along with these payments, unemployment insurance has been expanded by 13 weeks and will include four months of “enhanced” benefits, which amounts to an additional $600 per week. Additional individual relief includes suspending federal student loan payments through Sept. 30 without interest accrual and requiring group health plans and insurance providers to cover the costs of preventative COVID-19 services.

Business leaders and individuals should be cautious about this historic stimulus package. Details about implementation and management remain unknown. And even after President Donald Trump signs it into law, it will be a considerable period before you, your business or your communities see real dollar figure relief. This waiting period is absolutely critical on a personal and professional level, and we recommend exercising extreme prudence in the coming weeks and months.

Above all else, we all must continue adhering to all CDC and local guidelines to help expedite our fight against this virus. The true stimulus will come when we have demonstrated control over COVID-19. The sooner we can reach that point, the better for our personal and economic health and well-being.  

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

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

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

MARCH 26, 2020 //     

Keeping Mentally and Physically Well While WFH

By: Ashleigh Butson

It’s Monday morning and day seven of self-isolation. Your alarm goes off and you quickly hit snooze. You lie there and remember your HR department has told you to stick to the same routine you would if it was a normal workday. That suggestion is great, but not realistic.

Let’s be honest, it’s not a normal day – not even close. Your routine now involves figuring out how to use your coffee machine because Suzy from your local Starbucks won’t be able to make your favorite morning concoction. You now homeschool your children, take conference calls from your kitchen table and blare CNN in the background. You decided today is the day you will start one of the 20 different workout apps you downloaded over the weekend. You must be ready when someone tags you in the push-up challenge on Instagram. This is your new routine, and it’s hard.


As an HR professional, it’s difficult not to worry about your staff during this time. I find myself trying to come up a with one solution that fits all, but unfortunately there is no one perfect answer.  What I can do, is provide guidance on everyone’s new normal and how to manage through this unfamiliar stress.

Absolutely have a routine, but know it won’t be the same as your normal one. Set alarms for meals and breaks, carve out time for your family, a facetime call with your loved ones and, of course, your workout at home. Companies will need to be flexible for all employees. Give parents time to teach science, and give the employees who live in the 450-square-foot Manhattan flat a break from their tiny space. With the proper communication within a team, this uncomfortable living will soon feel comfortable.

As for communication, there is no time like the present to overdo it. Employees want to hear from everyone, including leaders. Employers can eliminate employee stress with daily calls and emails. Nothing is more comforting than waking up to an email from your CEO letting everyone know they are thinking of them and their families. Communicate your new routine to your team. Let them know you will be unavailable from 10 a.m.-11 a.m., that way you won’t be interrupted in the middle of your fourth-grade reading lesson. I also encourage virtual meetings and happy hours with your teams. It’s important to continue to celebrate the culture you worked so hard to develop. Seeing a familiar face after a long day of managing work, the news, and two pots of mediocre coffee will generate some normality and calm.

Although much of the population has taken a liking to the at-home workouts, they aren’t for everyone. It’s still critical to give our brains and bodies healthy attention. Whether it’s an e-book, or a real book, a podcast, meditation app, a puzzle, Jenga with your 5-year old or a trip to the dog park, detaching from the business and having some self-care is important. A social media cleanse in the evening is suggested. Staying off your phone at night will allow for a less stressful evening and more restful sleep. I promise you, everyone’s stories and latest TikTok videos will still be there for your viewing pleasure in the morning. 

Lastly, it’s time to be kind to each other. Take the time to say thank you, say sorry if an apology is needed, acknowledge the employees who worked over the weekend or send an email to see how your peers are doing across the country. Remember that no one is in this alone, and the slightest effort will make this time feel less lonely. Gratitude is proven to boost mental health and can do miracles for our new normal. Be a part of someone’s journey to getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. It’s time for us to be grateful for what we have and the people around us.

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

 Ashleigh Buston is the Global Chief Talent Officer at Allison + Partners. Her main focus is on building up our people, culture and finding ways to enhance the employee life cycle.

MARCH 25, 2020 //     

CPG Brands: Harnessing the Power of the Grocery Store Aisle During COVID-19

By: Cheryl Weissman

Grocery store 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 pantries and refrigerators with their favorite foods and drinks to prepare for mandated sheltering in place and quarantines. They’re also a source of stress and anxiety when found empty, in disarray and out of fan-favorites or other essentials.


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. CPG food + beverage brands that have experienced a surge in sales as consumers stock their pantries 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 24, 2020 //     

Brands, Don’t Forget Your Nonprofits - 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 educational institute. We have not seen anything like this in a century, and its effect on the economy is staggering.  

Yet, brands continue to step up. They donate cash and supplies to numerous organizations, such as Meals on Wheels, No Kid Hungry and Feeding America, as well as to their local food banks. We have even seen brands change their business models, like GM and Tesla, which now 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.

Nonprofit 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 – Nonprofits have strong and loyal donors and volunteer databases of individuals who support them. Newsletters and emails can be tapped to recognize a company and share its news as a partner.
  • Webinars, online content, events and conference calls - Nonprofits 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 build partnership with many different types charities, whether in the arts, youth activities, health and wellness, etc. Most causes have employee engagement programs. Traditional walks, runs, golf tournaments and galas 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, but they can do it 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 senior centers and youth organizations, 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. 

Lastly, Percent Pledge (a current client) can also help employers connect employees to nonprofits in a remote-friendly way. Their easy-to-use technology helps employees donate to any nonprofits the company supports, then keeps those employees engaged with personalized impact reports. Remember, your charities are your partners; now they can help you engage newly remote teams while you help them during this time of increased need!

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 nonprofit in need of advice on how to navigate these challenging times, get in touch at or sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates.

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


MARCH 13, 2020 //     

Coronavirus Impact: How Nonprofits Can Stay True to Their Mission during These Challenging Times

By: Scott Pansky

The world hasn’t witnessed anything like COVID-19 in years. Each county, state and city has handled this pandemic differently in almost every case. But what is not different is the impact the virus will have on nonprofit organizations that depend on special events, trainings and volunteerism. 


With major conferences, sporting events, movies and concerts canceled and or postponed, universities closing their doors, employers increasing telework, and cities restricting public gatherings to less than 250 people, nonprofits must now evaluate their assets and prioritize how they plan to use and raise their funds.

I met recently with a charity whose operating budget was less than $500,000 and that depends on coordinating public events and training. Its operating budget will go dry in less than a year if it cannot host its events. This will be a huge challenge.

Thinking about this more deeply, and taking into account the survival for many, I wondered what advice I could offer. What can nonprofits do to keep their lights on? They could ask for federal dollars or foundation grants, but hundreds of thousands of charities out there will try to do the same thing. So, I started considering a charity’s own foundation – its aha moment for “being” – and I came up with the following thoughts:

  • If your charity has a solid reason for being and you focus on your mission, don’t turn away. Just fight harder.
  • Getting mainstream media will be a challenge, so talk to your base. These are your loyal followers and volunteers, people who care about your mission and its survival. Don’t hide from them – share with them what is happening and whether you need support.
  • Do you have authentic relationships with your existing corporate and grant makers? These folks are invested in your organization. You can’t expect them to come to the table with a lot more, but can you talk with them about staying with you and helping with in-kind donations and related services your organization might need. Vice versa, if they have issues, is there something your charity can do to help?

Your long-term relationships are like family. It’s not about Giving Tuesday once a year. It’s about authentic, responsible and transparent (ART) relationships that in times like this bring together your supporters. Talk with them, use your social media, and use existing direct mail outreach strategies, flyers and newsletters. It’s OK to still pick up your phone or host a video call and talk with people. If you don’t believe in your mission or highlight what is needed to survive, it will disappear. It is here for a reason. Fight for it, and never give up. Roll up your sleeves, lean on your board, advisors and staff – this is a battle you do not have to fight alone.  

Update: As a result of this post, Scott was invited by the Center for Nonprofits to share his insights to a group of over 200 nonprofits partners. You can see a recording of the webinar here.

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

If you’re a nonprofit in need of advice on how to navigate these challenging times, get in touch at

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

MARCH 11, 2020 //     

Managing a Remote Workforce

By: Barbara Laidlaw

Three Things to Consider When Moving to a Remote Workforce 

An increasing number of businesses in the United States and around the world have begun to seriously consider, and in some cases have already had to implement, 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.


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, CDC 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 utilization 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 programs that help companies prepare, protect, and defend their brand reputation through global and national events, recalls, litigation, data breaches, regulatory issues and labor disputes.

FEBRUARY 17, 2020 //     

The needle in a haystack - how to find the right micro-influencer

Reach is not everything. In the meantime, many companies have recognized the value of micro-influencers for their own brand. While this influencer type cannot come up with seven-digit follower numbers, it scores with its reputation in a special, often very niche community and with impressive engagement rates.READ MORE

Reach is not everything. In the meantime, many companies have recognized the value of micro-influencers for their own brand. While this influencer type cannot come up with seven-digit follower numbers, it scores with its reputation in a special, often very niche community and with impressive engagement rates.

Exactly this authenticity and the closeness to the followers make micro influencers very valuable partners. Because in our information society, personal recommendations from friends are still the most important influencing factor for consumers when making a purchase decision - and micro-influencers are most likely to establish this personal relationship with their audience.     

But how do you find a micro influencer? Often these are in very narrow thematic areas and do not stand out in the crowd as much as well-known mega-influencers. Therefore, identifying a suitable partner is often like looking for a needle in a haystack. We present different starting points for the search.

Preparation is everything

Set a clear goal for the planned influencer campaign before you begin the actual search. Whether the sales figures for a product or the share of voice should be increased - the influencer must match the hoped-for result. The budget available and the appropriate metrics to measure the success of the project must also be defined in advance.

1. For starters: manual searches on search engines and social media

To begin with, search through common search engines using relevant keywords. When searching, first look for influencer lists that are created by blogs or online media on specific topics. It is often possible to identify other possible partners by looking at the influencers' social media channels - because there is usually lively interaction, especially in narrowly defined specialist areas.

In addition, the search for relevant hashtags on social media can already provide initial results and by subscribing to these keywords, you are always up to date on new developments.

2. Smart search: use tools and databases

Manual and therefore time-consuming searches on social media and search engines provide an initial overview and serve to define the most important requirements for an influencer. If you now know exactly what you are looking for, databases and search tools help you to comb all of the influencers in question using exactly these criteria. For example, the HYPR and Tagger applications offer valuable insights.

Depending on the functionality of the tool, you can filter not only the subject area but also the social media platform, reach, target group and location. The latter category can be extremely useful when planning events. 

Don't blindly rely on the information provided by automated applications when calculating reach and engagement. Because this data can sometimes be very volatile and outdated.

3. Offline suchen: Networking, networking, networking

Finally, it can pay off to take unconventional paths and continue your search offline. You should also think about where suitable partners could be found. For example, are there events or trade fairs where you can make interesting contacts?

If an exciting campaign is planned and if there are appropriate monetary incentives to participate, the posting of posters in relevant locations such as universities can help to reach the right target group.  

No matter what topic a partner is looking for, it is always worth keeping your eyes and ears open. Maybe the right micro-influencer is already part of your wider circle of acquaintances.

How do brands manage to build successful relationships with influencers? How can you measure the success of influencer campaigns? And what changes is the influencer landscape currently undergoing? Further information and studies on these topics can be found here .

FEBRUARY 5, 2020 //     

50 sustainability tips for zero waste in the office

Climate protection, sustainability, living free of plastics - the buzzwords for a better world are becoming increasingly popular. But even on a large scale, responsible use of natural resources is becoming increasingly prevalent. Cities call out the climate emergency and not only draw attention to the topic, they also set specific goals. Whole countries forbid plastic bags, whole continents forbid one-way plastic, and people all over the world demonstrate against climate change.

But we all know: just talking doesn't help. Change begins on a small scale: at home and at work


Climate protection, sustainability, living free of plastics - the buzzwords for a better world are becoming increasingly popular. But even on a large scale, responsible use of natural resources is becoming increasingly prevalent. Cities call out the climate emergency and not only draw attention to the topic, they also set specific goals. Whole countries forbid plastic bags, whole continents forbid one-way plastic, and people all over the world demonstrate against climate change.

But we all know: just talking doesn't help. Change begins on a small scale: at home and at work.

What does zero waste mean anyway?

Zero waste does not mean that from now on no more waste can be produced. Rather, it is about keeping the amount of waste as low as possible and conserving valuable resources. This applies to individual behavior in your own household, but also in the office or at work.

Here are some ideas on how to make everyday work more sustainable and resource-efficient, for example. We have already implemented some things at Allison + Partners, but we still have some room for improvement.

        The way to work

  1. The way to work becomes more environmentally friendly on foot, by bike or skateboard, even if you only cover part of the way.
  2. If you live further away or have customer appointments in the area, you should stick to public transport and use the bus or train.
  3. Some superiors promote a sustainable way to work (e.g. with job tickets for public transport) - just ask!
  4. For other business trips, it is a good idea to also see the train as the first option when choosing the means of transport. It is a good alternative to an airplane, especially on domestic routes.

    The desk

  5. Did you know that there are staplers without staples? You can easily staple up to 10 sheets together.
  6. Instead of highlighters (these often contain harmful ingredients and are made of plastic), you can also use colored pencil markers or refillable water-based fiber pens.
  7. Refillable pens (fountain pens, pens, etc.) are a good way to conserve resources.
  8. Erasers are made of natural rubber as an alternative to the usual rubber-like plastic mass.
  9. Recycled paper hardly differs from newly produced paper and is more sustainable. You can also print / write on both sides of paper. In addition, notes do not have to be handwritten, but can also be noted online, in various apps or programs.
  10. Anyone who prints (internal) prints in Eco mode ensures that the printer cartridge lasts longer.

    The office kitchen

  11. How about meal prep or freshly cooked instead of food-to-go? This not only saves packaging waste, but also saves your wallet.
  12. Reusable to-go containers are worth an investment - for example, we have office boxes in which you can pack the rest of your lunch.
  13. If you cook together with your colleagues, you can buy large packs and save packaging.
  14. Fruit deliveries are a welcome icing on the cake in our everyday agency work. Every Monday at Allison + Partners in Munich there is a large basket of fresh, unpacked organic fruit.
  15. If you rely on coffee beans or powder instead of capsule or pad coffee, you avoid a large amount of waste that can often not be recycled.
  16. Sugar and milk can be provided fresh and not individually packaged - even in meetings.
  17. Much resources are used for meat production, so it is worth reducing meat dishes and paying attention to organic quality. There are four vegetarians and one vegan on our team who set a good example.
  18. We do not use water from plastic bottles and use a water bubbler to make the necessary "blubbs".
  19. Cloth napkins not only look nicer than the paper version, they are also more sustainable.

    The cleaning

  20. Vinegar, soda, citric acid and, if necessary, baking soda or core soap - you don't need a separate cleaning agent for every corner. With these five basic ingredients you can put together all the necessary cleaning agents.
  21. Washing up works perfectly with washable rags, no disposable kitchen towels are required. In addition, there are flushing brushes, where you can easily replace the brush head as soon as it has had its day.
  22. Another big issue is waste separation: in large offices everything ends up in the same bucket. A system for separating plastic, paper, organic, residual and glass / can waste is not that difficult to implement. Some waste can also be collected for a good cause, such as for organizations like Terracycle or Blechwech .

    Mail delivery

  23. Envelopes can be reused as long as you comply with the GDPR and make the name of the original sender unrecognizable. With a note on the envelope such as "for the sake of the environment", it is usually not understood as a low appreciation.
  24. Shredded paper can be ideally used as an alternative to bubble wrap as packaging material. Of course, this is only possible with a GDPR-compliant shredder.
  25. If you use envelopes without a window, professional disposal is easier for the recipient.
  26. Self-moistening stamps contain less pollutants than self-adhesive stamps.

    The power supply

  27. There are energy-saving functions for almost all devices, while the rest can be fitted with time switches that completely separate the device from the circuit. But even without a timer, the devices should not be switched to standby mode in the evening, but switched off.
  28. Archives require data server storage capacity, so you should delete old mails regularly or archive them offline if necessary.
  29. A darker screen background consumes less power than a lighter one. Programs can often be changed easily.
  30. Sustainability is also important when choosing a search engine: Ecosia, for example, plants a tree for every search query.
  31. Rechargeable batteries can be used for battery-operated devices to avoid waste.
  32. LED lighting uses less electricity than halogen lamps or even classic incandescent lamps. The exchange is also worthwhile because of their longer lifespan.
  33. When nobody is in the room: lights off, heating off, windows closed!
  34. If you use the stairs instead of the elevator, you save energy on the one hand - on the other hand you do something for your fitness.
  35. For hot summer days: fans require less energy than air conditioning.

    The purchase

  36. It is better to rarely make large purchases than to buy small quantities more often. In addition, local and regional products often have the smaller carbon footprint.
  37. If you don't want to do without the convenient delivery service, you should choose a single supplier who can supply all the products you need. There are also sustainable mail order companies like Memo or Manomeer .
  38. Second-hand is the way to keep mountains of garbage small. Ebay classifieds is a real treasure trove - and up-cycling can give the office a very individual touch.

    The sanitary area

  39. Wherever possible, you should avoid hot water or use instantaneous water heaters that only produce hot water when it is really needed.
  40. According to studies, solid soap is just as hygienic as liquid soap, but it requires less chemical resources - and less packaging.
  41. What applies to serviettes is also true for towels: washing instead of throwing away saves garbage.
  42. By the way, toilet paper made from recycled paper is also available in satisfactory quality.

    The meeting

  43. An energy-efficient projector saves electricity and is therefore very valuable from an ecological perspective.
  44. A magnetic whiteboard can be written on again and again and is generally preferable to flipchart or pinboard paper.
  45. Handouts via PDF are a good alternative to paper documents.

    The business trip

  46. The A du O: One should first consider whether the trip can not be replaced by a video conference.
  47. The CO2 consumed for the arrival and departure can be  offset through projects such as Atmosfair .
  48. Anyone who spends the necessary nights in organic hotels is also doing good, because these hotels pay particular attention to sustainability.

    The company event

  49. The activities for company outings should be taken very deliberately: archery instead of paintball, trampoline park instead of karting, museum visit instead of art workshop. This means that fewer resources are used, such as paint, fuel or electricity.
  50. Decoration and information stands can be used for trade fair appearances, which can be reused at other trade fairs. Anyone who pays attention to timeless formulations on brochures and print material can use them in the long term.

Our concrete result:

In our self-assessment, we found that we are already implementing 27 of these 50 best practices, especially in the kitchen. However, there is still a lot to do. Next we want to devote more attention to the topic of power supply.

OCTOBER 25, 2019 //     

PRovoke19 Recap: Day Two

By: Tara Chiarell

The second day of The Holmes Report’s PRovoke19 reinforced topics discussed on day one with in-depth conversations around the evolving role of communications, the importance of authenticity and the power in an ignited audience. Here are more insights from the two-day inspirational, thought-provoking conference with professionals from around the world.


Evolving Role of Communications

CCO, CMO, CRO, CIO, CTO – never before has the C-Suite been so deeply involved in the communications process and budget discussions. Part of this is because as practitioners become more integrated, so do our clients. Given the role tech plays in how we measure success, more comms departments report to CIOs and CTOs. But even more so, as we contemplate a possible recession on the horizon, CFOs and CROs now play a larger role in budget allocations.

We heard directly from a CFO (at a PR conference?!) about his concerns and how he pushes his comms and marketing teams to tie results back to business goals and show how they drive business/sales impact. They want more than awareness metrices, impressions, site click throughs; they want to see deeper ROI -- how do marketing teams drive conversion and purchase.

This is something we have struggled with as an industry. Not just because PR traditionally hasn’t been set up to have that direct sales impact, but navigating the channels inside our client organizations to get those metrics can be challenging. While there is more scrutiny than ever before on PR to justify dollars spent and resulting impact, the consensus remains it is the channel to invest; and budgets have risen as more traditional marketing activities, such as blended content, now reside in PR.

Brand Purpose + Authenticity

Authenticity was discussed again, but in relation to brand purpose. In the politically driven world we live in today, brands face immense pressure to take a stand on everything from gun violence and the travel ban to sustainability. While many CEOs and employees may feel personally passionate about an issue, it’s imperative to take a step back and really think about how this ties to our core business and our employees.

We heard from long-time IKEA CEO Lars Petersson, who ran the company through the lens of its motto “What’s good for people is good for IKEA.” This helped filter out and prioritize campaign efforts, weigh the benefits and fallout of taking risks, and remove inherent personal bias. Under his tenure, sustainability was a core focus, because Ikea uses 1% of the world’s wood and cotton in products; this was a natural tie to the business.

Lars also took a quick, strong stance against the travel ban in an employee letter because of his personal beliefs and how this would affect IKEA employees around the globe. The letter was leaked and created controversy around the brand. But in the end, he felt it was the right thing to stand up for his employees globally and for human rights.

March for Our Lives

The day ended in a powerful talk with three of the women who lead the March for Our Lives movement. They spoke about the communications strategy at inception and how it has evolved in the past 20 months.

  • Audience Platform: The students, who range in age from 14-18, understood the key to reaching your audience is to talk to them on channels where they are already active. This is an audience that grew up online and knows how to activate a base by communicating through Twitter and social media to share how they felt and knows where they can control the narrative. Social media is organic to this age group, so they used it to rally an audience that traditionally is not vocal around political issues.
  • Diversity: Self-proclaimed, the group was far from diverse at inception. But in listening to criticism, learning the history and larger issues of gun violence and who it affects, and wanting this to be more than about them, they took active steps to make the organization and effort as diverse as the issue itself. “You can’t cure one without the other.” Without evolving the effort to include voices of those who have been affected by gun violence for decades, they never would have had the impact they’ve achieved.
  • The Power of Silence: This group taught all communicators the power of staying silent as they led a moment of silence at a march in Washington, D.C. featuring 800,000 supporters – silence for as long as the rampage in Florida. All too often, we have an urge to say something, defend ourselves, our brand. But sometimes, silence says a lot more.

Tara Chiarell is the general manager of Allison+Partners’ Washington, D.C. office.

OCTOBER 23, 2019 //     

PRovoke19 Day One

By: Tara Chiarell 

Attending PRovoke19 was like bringing an integrated campaign to life -- the agenda spanned a variety of topics from measurement, media and influencers to leadership, diversity and culture.

While it would be impossible to capture every valuable insight from day one, there were several key themes that resonated:



Inclusion: Inclusiveness and participation by everyone is key to building a strong culture that supports diversity efforts. Creating an environment where different ideas and opinions can be shared is key to success. Without this foundation, diversity initiatives will not resonate or be successful.

Empathy. We must have empathy -- for oneself and for each other. Practice empathy for yourself and you will be happier, more engaged and more productive. This practice will also become a catalyst for empathy for others. Learn where others come from, what motivates them, what paralyzes them. Helping others self-actualize will drive team productivity and engagement.

Mirroring. Brands today are focused on reaching diverse external audiences. However, to achieve success, you must have a project team that mirrors your target audience. Sometimes you need to go outside your organization to find key perspectives who will take your idea from good to great.


Reliability. According to Elena Botelho of ghSMART, the most important behavior for a leader to demonstrate is reliability. This should shine through in every day activities from being on time to resisting the urge to overpromise. Many leaders struggle with the latter because they want to do-it-all and are driven to deliver results. Reliability is a mindset; habits of reliability need to be practiced; and leaders must surround themselves with people who can help them stay on track. Integrity is paramount, if leaders can’t live up to what they say, employees, partners and stakeholders will have trouble trusting them.

Authenticity. Balancing the idea of what a leader should be and who you are as a person is an antiquated mindset. Employees need to trust their leaders and feel connected to them through authentic interactions and conversations. Leaders who are true to themselves rather than playing a role, are more likely to motivate employees and drive business results. Leaders should set the example -- hold themselves and employees accountable and challenge other leaders to arrive at the best outcome.


Customization. Measurement requires a custom strategy for each company, brand and campaign. While the measurement will differ for each, the approach is the same. We must understand what the business goals are before we can understand how our campaign will impact business results. As we know, we must move beyond impressions. We must focus on how our activity and investment will move the needle for the business. As marketing and comms professionals, we must understand the metrics the C-Suite is focused on in order to showcase value.

Accountability. Marketers, internal and external, have a responsibility to manage spending responsibly. When requesting budget, we must challenge ourselves to answer the following questions:

  1. How much money are you requesting and why?
  2. What is the business impact of spending those dollars?
  3. Convince me why we should spend here instead of another idea?
  4. Is there something we should stop doing and move resources around?

MarComm has a great opportunity to educate brands about investing in Demand channels to drive revenue, provided we can show why and impact.

Stay tuned for more insights out of Day 2!

Tara Chiarell is the general manager of Allison+Partners’ Washington, D.C. office.

AGENCY NEWS // OCTOBER 14, 2019 //     

How Gen Z Impacts Urban Mobility

By Marcus Gamo

A short time ago, the auto industry viewed millennials as the lost generation. Automakers expected car sales to plummet and prepared for change. But that didn’t happen. Instead, millennials delayed their adoption of cars until they started getting married, having children and discovering the suburbs.

Simultaneously, the growth of the smart mobility movement with the introduction of rideshare, car share, e-bikes, high-speed rail, scooters and automaker-backed subscription models have transformed how we define transportation. This dramatic change has birthed a mobility culture. The “me” foundation of car culture – where a car takes “me,” how it makes “me” feel about myself and how it represents my values – has been replaced by a “we” perspective.

OCTOBER 3, 2019 //     

Don't Lose Your Head in a Crisis

By: Marcel Goldstein

What fascinates me most about a crisis is that it reveals a lot about human psychology. I personally don’t believe you can navigate a crisis effectively if you don’t take stock of the human emotions bubbling up around you during one. The crisis within the crisis — of people reacting to the events — often determines the effectiveness of business decisions and outcomes.

Psychologists have observed that when people feel under attack, it generates a fight-or-flight response. I believe when a business is threatened by outsiders, it simulates the same survival instincts our ancestors felt when their tribe was in the presence of a predatory animal.

Along with a crisis communications plan, I also believe you need an accompanying “psychology plan.” This should establish how you will handle the different reactions to a crisis that could either impede development of a thoughtful communications approach or skew the approach and steer your organization into greater trouble.


Put this lens on any recent crisis response you have witnessed. How often do you hear complaints nobody within an organization took responsibility for a crisis or the CEO left the response to a spokesperson or non-executive? This is the flight mentality in action. Lower-level employees often embrace the U.S. Secret Service mindset to “take the bullet.” Calls to “protect the CEO” and allow him or her to stay out of the “line of fire” are common. Meanwhile, a CEO with a flight mentality is comfortable staying out of plain sight.   

Alternatively, many organizations also fail to hear the cries of their critics and suit up for battle — the fight response. Organizational responses to crises commonly involve a variety of fight responses, including shifting blame to clients, partners or consumers, attacking critics for their perceived unreasonableness, accusing outsiders of lacking smarts or sufficient knowledge, or dismissing critics by defending their actions in only a legal context.

Notice how prevalent violence metaphors are in these situations. It is not a coincidence. When the tribe is attacked, it is a declaration of war. Or, so it seems. During a crisis, key leaders meet in a “war room” or “safe room.” While some of this is to preserve confidentiality and enable rapid decision-making, an “under-siege” psychological element is also very much at play and affects decision-making.

While an organizational crisis tests the best of us, I don’t think an organization under criticism can win by succumbing to human instincts of fight or flight. Those natural-instinct urges to flee or stand and fight must be resisted. While these instincts saved many lives in the wild, they don’t work well in our complex civilizations. A successful crisis counselor will have both a strategy to manage those psychological tendencies and the credibility to help guide key leaders to an approach that seeks a positive outcome for all stakeholders involved in a crisis.

Marcel Goldstein is an EVP in Allison+Partners corporate practice. 

SEPTEMBER 17, 2019 //     

Attention CEOs: The Digital Privacy Clock is Set for Midnight on New Year’s Day

Credit: caprivacy.orgBy: David Baum and David Wolf

As goes California, so goes the nation

The digital privacy tsunami is coming at last to the United States and, unsurprisingly, the wave will break first on the West Coast.

On Jan. 1, 2020, California will implement The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Under the law, any company that does business in California must reveal upon a resident’s request what personal information they have collected about any California resident. What is more, Californians will have legal grounds to require businesses and data brokers to cease the sale of that information and demand they delete it.

California has an outsized impact on U.S. law and policy for a range of reasons. Taken as a country, the state would boast the world's fifth-largest economy. Its concentration of entertainment, media and technology companies make it a cultural and business bellwether. California’s progressive voter base has also made it America’s policy proving-ground on issues ranging from workers’ rights to tax law to the environment. Indeed, in state capitals across the U.S., agencies and legislators have taken notice and lawmakers have begun drafting CCPA-inspired legislation.


But perhaps the greatest reason for the Golden State’s impact on business is its population. One out of nine Americans now call the state home. Most of the world's Fortune 1000 companies, along with more than 3 million small- and medium-sized businesses, interact daily with California residents. With online commerce accounting for a growing portion of consumer spending, at least a million other small businesses sell into the state every year.

For these reasons, a major change in California law concerns most U.S. businesses, particularly as CCPA appears to be the beginning of a groundswell. As ironic as it might be that the end of the internet’s “Wild West Era” should come from the cradle of the technology revolution, it is perhaps also fitting. 

How did we get here, and what should organizations think about with just a few months until the curtain rises on this new era of data transparency?

GDPR: The first data protection soldiers on the beach

The European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) took effect on May 25, 2018. The law’s aim was both simple and, in the libertarian spirit that infused the Internet Revolution, laudable: to give each individual control over who collects their personal data and how that data gets used. Businesses that handle personal data would be required to inform consumers if they capture their information and to put into place safeguards to protect that data from unauthorized use.

The GDPR also comes with strong, practical and meaningful enforcement guidelines. Noncompliance can result in fines and penalties that would be material to the affected companies’ financial results and well-being. ­In just one recent example, the French data protection authority fined Google approximately $57 million (the highest fine to date) for violating the GDPR.

Today, many experts consider the GDPR to be the strongest data protection law in the world. And its passage despite the challenges of legislating across the entire EU is an inspiration to legislators previously stymied in their efforts to protect consumers. Inspired by the GDPR and frustrated with the pace of regulation at the federal level, California’s lawmakers took notice of GDPR and then did what Californians normally do: they innovated, built upon the core of GDPR and created a law that could be effective and withstand the rigors of the litigious U.S. regulatory environment.

Digital transformation has a cost

Recognizing the threat of the CCPA’s enactment and seeing an opportunity for innovation, the barons of Tech Capitalism have responded, starting the adjustment process to this new business and geopolitical reality.

In August, the Business Roundtable pledged to run their organizations with the interest of all stakeholders as a priority, not just shareholder value. A driving force behind this pledge from CEOs from some of the nation’s largest companies is the increased scrutiny of how companies handle personal data.

Sensing strong consumer support for the CCPA and similar initiatives, major players across a broad swath of sectors ranging from large banks to retail have already started the compliance process for Jan. 1. An open question remains: Are the majority of non-technology organizations as ready?

Conventional belief holds that the first company caught in CCPA’s enforcement net will be a “big tech company,” and enforcement officials will be tempted to make an example of a large firm. Yet, there is a chance one of the first targets will be a smaller non-tech organization.

A common chestnut in this era of digital transformation is “every company is a tech company, but they might not know it yet.” Nearly every business organization, regardless of size, is undergoing some form of digital transformation for survival or competitive advantage. The common deployment of “digital transformation platforms” for late-stage tech adopters is the use of e-commerce, CRM marketing, online purchases, cybersecurity, cloud adoption and social sales engagement. These are now considered common business practices for “non-tech” companies.

In the race to transform, many CIOs and CTOs have, often unwittingly, left privacy concerns behind other, more pressing imperatives. While this is understandable, and to this point has not been a costly decision, CCPA changes the calculus and starts a clock for each company. It is now no longer a question of “if” but of “when” a company will find itself called upon to account for its privacy practices.

With less than six months until the law is enacted, all companies and organizations operating in California or with the need to think about:

  • Conducting a complete audit of all customer engagement software
  • Close coordination between IT, sales, legal and marketing
  • Coordinating with all partners and third parties that operate within the sales cycle
  • Consulting with and informing stakeholders at all steps in the process
  • Understanding the monetary and reputational risks of noncompliance
  • Review of reputation management process and procedures

David Baum is a senior vice president in Allison+Partners’ Corporate practice. David Wolf is the managing director of Allison Advisory, a management consultancy focused on building lasting competitive advantage for its clients by helping them understand, manage, meet, and ultimately exceed stakeholder expectations throughout the enterprise. This is the first in an ongoing series about data collection and privacy.

AUGUST 22, 2019 //     

Doing Business in China

China is going to be a part of your business whether you like it or not. David Wolf, managing director of Allison Advisory, shares how we help the C-Suite set up their businesses for success in China. 

AUGUST 7, 2019 //     

Five lessons from five years of growth

By: Serina Tan

If someone had asked me five years ago, “Will you still be with Allison+Partners in 2019?,” I probably would have responded, “Unlikely.”

Let me explain. Before Allison+Partners, my longest tenure at any job was a mere two and a half years. So, five years seemed like an eternity. Not to mention, I started the Singapore office from the ground up. I started with literally nothing – no signage, no office, no chairs and desks, no other colleagues. It was difficult and almost impossible to imagine how things might look in a year, let alone five.


However, I’m grateful to have had a few secret weapons. I won our first retainer, had a vision to build something special, had plenty of fire in my belly, and, most importantly, had nothing to lose. It was an interesting combination that fortunately led to much success. 

As we celebrate our fifth anniversary with our growing team, here are five lessons I’ve learned along the way: 

  1. Visualisation is key. I set out with the vision of building a close-knit team committed to delivering only best-in-class work. It was meant to be an experiment, but it has since become a reality. I’m proud to say the team we have now is the best version of Allison+Partners Singapore we’ve ever had. If we can dream it, we can do it.
  2. Setting high standards is a competitive edge. It pays off. As an upstart a few years ago, we worked our socks off on a massive competitive pitch and ended up beating more than 15 other more established agencies to win a prestigious account. We surprised ourselves and made competitors who never heard of us sit up in bewilderment. Over the years, most of the business we won has been by word-of-mouth referrals from existing or previous clients who trust us to deliver high-quality results. 
  3. Progress is better than perfection. Many people who have worked closely with me in the past would call me a perfectionist. But during the course of this journey, I’ve learned nobody and nothing is perfect in this world. If we try to get something to be perfect, we will never get there. So, instead of beating ourselves up over life’s imperfections, let’s strive for continuous improvement and celebrate the successes along the way.
  4. Make data-informed decisions, but always trust your gut. Do your research and analyze the situation. But eventually, trust your instincts when making a decision – even if it could be unpopular. Being confident in yourself and your decision-making skills instils trust within your team, which is a key factor to success. 
  5. Best-selling author and psychiatrist Scott Peck said in his book, The Road Less Travelled, “To grow in any dimension, pain as well as joy will be the reward.” I remember how when we were just a three-person team in 2014, I stayed up until 2 a.m. for a few consecutive nights with a bad bout of food poisoning to work on a new business proposal. I felt miserable and wished we had a larger and more experienced team. Guess what – we did eventually win the pitch, and this client remains with Allison+Partners today. There will always be obstacles, doubters, mistakes and setbacks along the way. But with hard work, belief in yourself and perseverance, there is no limit to what we can achieve.

Over the past five years, we’ve built a community – not just an office. We are a community of individuals, guided by company values but influenced by their own unique perspectives and experiences. There is a sense of purpose where we hold one another accountable for our shared success.

I come to work smiling every day, looking forward to the diverse perspectives and interactions with our colleagues from Singapore and all over the world. I know this is a work family that I can trust and rely on. Regardless of the ups and downs one would typically experience in a family, I know we will still have each other’s backs at the end of the day. This makes work all the more enjoyable, enabling us to always strive to be the best versions of ourselves.

Someone asked me last week what my best career moment was. Without a doubt, it was my decision to join Allison+Partners five years ago.

Serina Tan is managing director of Asia-Pacific. 

JULY 23, 2019 //     

The Stream Podcast Episode 5: Why Pride is More Than a Month

Credit: CNN.comBy: Owen Clark

No, you don’t need to double-check your calendar. It’s July, and we are doing a podcast about Pride. The reason – while outward displays of support for Pride from brands big and small have exploded, many companies still literally and figuratively put their rainbow flags away when public sentiment shifts to other causes come July. 


So we are extending that discussion, asking what are brands doing right when it comes to supporting LGBTQ issues? What do they need to do better? What lessons can we all learn from those within the community about how their experience is different now then at other points in the past?

To answer these questions, we turned to four colleagues who bring the unique perspectives of being both veteran marketers and members of the LGBTQ community. Their stories will touch you, and their insights will make you think differently about a complex but vitally important issue that impacts everyone.

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

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