Posts in Category: Public Relations

Stipe Design Joins Forces with Allison Development Group


We’re thrilled to announce that Derek Stipe, of Stipe Design, has officially joined Allison Development Group as our Creative Director and key member of the leadership team. Working alongside Erica, these two will be charting a course for future growth, and delivering more awesome to more people.

Many of you already know Derek Stipe (as accurately represented in the photo). He’s an amazing graphic designer, musician, dad to two cool boys, and husband to a most amazing woman. ūüôā

Derek has been serving up creative design to clients since 2009. We’ve been lucky enough to have him as our designer extraordinaire for almost two years, but not as an official ADG staffer.

Trust us, we secretly had plans to make him “one of us” one day. That day has come! To learn more about Derek, visit Our Team page, and stay tuned for more exciting updates to come!

The Pros & Cons of a Virtual Conference for Community Engagement

Last month, ADG blazed the trail with Henderson County’s first-ever Virtual Conference, which coincided with a live event for Speak Out 2014. We brought together non-profit groups and childcare professionals from around Henderson County to discuss issues facing children in our area and brainstorm ideas to help them. At the end, we were exhausted, mentally drained, and satisfied that we had brought something new and successful to deliver results to our client. Now that it’s further behind us and we have some time to reflect, Erica has some thoughts on the pros/cons of putting on a Virtual Conference (VC), and what you should consider before doing one of your own:

An example of an exhibitor "booth" at the Speak Out Virtual Conference

An example of an exhibitor “booth” at the Speak Out Virtual Conference


  • The VC works well for a regional campaign, multi-state or even international network of people who want to gather around a topic and do so over a period of time, rather than gather together physically in a location.
  • A VC can be a great branding and messaging tool, as was the case with Speak Out 2014: delivering a broad message with multiple touch points and subjects, to a diverse audience.
  • The cost for attendees is minimal, other than their time, it’s simply logging on with internet access and enjoying an array of educational opportunities or options. It was also much cheaper to put on a Virtual Conference compared to putting on a live conference.

What to Learn From the New Chipotle Ad

I want you to think about two different scenarios. In both scenarios we have a parent trying to convince their child to brush their teeth.

Scenario #1: A parent explains to their son the reasons why brushing their teeth is healthier. They do this over, and over again. When that doesn’t work, they yell whenever they catch the child trying to avoid brushing their teeth. And yet they’re still frustrated when, after weeks of cajoling, the act of brushing his teeth is not a formed habit.

Scenario #2: Another parent reads a story to her daughter at bedtime. The main character is everything this child wants to be: well-liked, talented, smart, AND she just so happens to brushes her teeth regularly. There are other kids in the story, kids who get in trouble or aren’t as well-liked, and as you might imagine…don’t brush their teeth. Her daughter loves hearing the story, and wants to be just like the main character.

Now, who do you think is having more success instilling life-long teeth brushing?

Don’t Tell Me What to Do. Tell Me a Story.

You might be thinking this type of persuasion only works in children, but kids aren’t the only ones who want to be guided to a conclusion rather than forced there. They also aren’t alone in wanting to feel that they’re part of a group, specifically, the “right” group. Chipotle knows this. Qdoba, Moe’s, Baja Fresh, and many others are all competing to be the best Mexican burrito chain. They all boast fresh ingredients and healthy options, but with their new marketing add, Chipotle is heads and tails above the rest when it comes to communicating that message. Check it out below:

Video Link

This add captures what is so often missed in marketing: consumers do not want you to tell them what to buy, they want you to tell them a story. They don’t want you to rattle off a list of why your product or service is so much better than the others, they want to feel that your product is the better choice.

A synopsis of the ad:

In a dystopian fantasy world, all food production is controlled by fictional industrial giant Crow Foods. Scarecrows have been displaced from their traditional role of protecting food, and are now servants to the crows and their evil plans to dominate the food system. Dreaming of something better, a lone scarecrow sets out to provide an alternative to the unsustainable processed food from the factory.

Chipotle is barely mentioned in the ad. With the exception of a brief glimpse of a tortilla, there are no beauty shots of burritos or tacos for the entire commercial. In fact, the ad isn’t even for Chipotle’s restaurants, but for a new game. And yet, anyone with a soul is going to feel connected to Chipotle by the end of the 3-minute video. Chipotle’s message is clear: all those other restaurants encourage unnatural, factory farmed ingredients that promote an unhealthy culture, but WE are the kinder, natural choice. This is conveyed without the use of words or a list of facts.

The lesson to take is that although you might be able to rattle off acts and logical reasons that your product or service is better, the real way to attract customers is to connect to them on a deeper level. You have to reach beyond their mind and engage their emotions as well.

Know your customer. Tell them a story they want to hear.

Before You Endorse Me, At Least Get to Know Me

LinkedIn Centipede Participants in the 2010 ING Bay to Breakers

At the risk of sounding ungrateful here, please, for the love of all things genuine, stop endorsing me on LinkedIn for things you’ve never seen or heard me do!

I know. That’s going to get me just what I asked for, right? All of a sudden my endorsements for skills that I should possess are going to take a nose dive. I’m fine with that. You know why? Because unless you’ve seen me do it, been the benefactor of the results produced by my work, or heard me speak, then don’t endorse me.

Moving from Message Makers to Mission Keepers

Macostones Megaphone

This morning, as always, I woke to NPR. In and out of sleep mode I happened to catch this wonderful story with publicist Marvin Levy, Steven Spielberg’s #1 marketer, message maker and above all else, his mission keeper. What I loved about this story, was not so much the fun publicity nuggets the interviewer was trying to pull from Levy, but more the role that Levy (80 something wonder and still going strong) continues to fiercely embody…even today.

Levy knows and understands his client, in this case Steven Spielberg, better than most. He gets the mission that is Spielberg and he makes sure that he guards it and doesn’t throw it under the next trendy bus rolling through town.

The Mission Keeper Role Isn’t for Everyone

I often marvel at the role that our firm plays with our clients. For our long term, strategic accounts, we go well beyond the role of “message maker” to one of mission keeper. We become a member of their advisory team. We make sure we know what makes their business tick and what keeps it strong; we make sure we know their true mission.

Then? We set about guarding their mission.  This approach is not for everyone.

Let me be clear. Understanding and safeguarding the mission of your client, as a marketing firm, should be your goal anyway. Actually doing it in a world where clients come and go and your value based service can be viewed via a commodities lens? That’s tough. That is where the mission keepers stand apart from the message makers.

Not a Yes Man (Woman)

What our clients find when they work with us is that we are not going to be that firm that says “yes” to everything and churns out exactly what they throw at us. We’re thinking about what’s best for their business, based on a thorough exploration and understanding, as we’re also identifying what messages will resonate best with their customers and their market.

Sometimes, that goes well and sometimes, well…it’s challenging. We overcome that challenge by demonstrating that we understand the mission and weave it into everything that we do. Trust also helps.

So, no, we’re not a yes man organization. We’re mission keepers. We’ll say no when we think it’s not in the best interest of your business. We’ll offer reasons why and we’ll also provide you with alternatives.

I’d like to think that’s what’s kept Marvin Levy at it for 40 plus years in this business. I’d like to think that’s what will keep us at it as well.

image via Flickr


Going Beyond No to Have you thought about…?

I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve read in the past 24 hours outlining the importance of not hiring “yes men” or in my case, women. The posts continually point to the intrinsic value of having that outside marketing or PR pro who has the hutzpah to say no when the client is really looking for a yes. All good stuff, but come on. Let’s push a little further than that, shall we?

Beyond the No

Perspective: The Critical Business Skill We Need Most

Abstract Perspective Background
Have you ever been told that “you’ve lost all perspective?” Usually right after you’ve been slapped and told to “snap out of it!”?

Often, we need perspective the MOST when we have it the least. Whether it’s in the midst of a client crisis, a PR nightmare, or a personal situation, perspective is a rare commodity to have and often most difficult to obtain when you’re IN IT.

The Curious Case of Perspective Anemia

What I’ve witnessed and experienced lately is a self-imposed lack of perspective. You heard that right. We’re creating situations where we purposefully wall ourselves off to perspective. I see it in the online world of blogging and social media expertise. I see it in situations where so called “leaders in the community” convince those around them that their bad business practices are not abnormal, but rather quite the opposite and to be held up in esteem.

When the blogging and social media experts deem a practice the norm, like “you must blog x times a week, while commenting on a percentage of posts daily, sharing y amount of this type of post,” all while reading the latest social media eBook, it makes me crazy! You know why? Because they’ve walled themselves off to perspective and to the world around them. The folks who follow along are the ones laying the bricks. Together, they’re creating a weaker version of what we could be.

Lest you think this is a rant towards social media experts, it’s not. The same thing occurs in the off line, or “real” world. It’s natural, really. When faced with a difficult situation with an immense amount of public scrutiny or attention, the view of what’s real and what’s not can become skewed. I like to think it’s some sort of fight or flight reaction, but sadly, I’ve seen too often that it’s a creative way to redirect the light.¬† What follows is the recruitment of others to help shine the light elsewhere and off the real problem.¬† Perspective is lost and recreated in order to cover up or downplay the core issues.

A False Sense of Perspective

When you lose perspective, do you know it? I think it’s hard for many of us to know, but it usually comes in the form of confusion over next steps, doubt in our approaches and confrontation that previously didn’t exist.¬† How do you handle it?

For many of us, we seek out “support” from those that we know will offer sympathy and not a shot of real perspective a la a Moonstruck slap in the face.¬† Why? Because it feels better that way. It builds up our wall of warped perspective even more and makes us feel all cozy.¬† Unfortunately, it only hurts us in the long run.

Time and Switzerland

I’ve been in a few situations lately where only time could provide the much needed perspective to get me into a solid frame of mind. I’ve also witnessed a few situations lately where a good ol’ shot of honesty and outside objectivity is the cure for what ails us.

What I’ve decided to do from now on is to a) give it time and/or b) go to Switzerland.

With time, you’re able to truly gain valuable perspective because you grow and learn from it along the way. The trick is to recognize that you’re going to give yourself time and in the interim, just put your head down and move forward without further casualty.

Obviously, while nice in theory, I don’t advise physically going to Switzerland. What I do recommend is this: seek counsel from a truly neutral party not intimately tied to a situation and not likely to choose sides.

You know the kind…the one who won’t immediately sit down and join you in a ‘b!tch’ session about the other party or parties. Often, we seek out those who will reinforce our view of the world. What I want are those folks who make me question it.¬† What I want and need is someone who is objective and can dole out the tough love you need to ‘snap out of it’ and move on.

I find that giving a situation time works well in the real world, and that Switzerland should be visited more often in the online world. Seriously. Seek out a mentor not as engrossed in your online world and ask them what makes their business a success. I’ll bet you find some a ha moments in there.

The results of both approaches? Smarter, stronger leaders for smarter, stronger businesses.

Abstract image via Flickr.

Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD!

Shout Hole

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE politics. I really do. I liked it so much that when I went off to school, that was the degree I chose…twice.¬† I grew up watching my grandparents entertain, support and work for gubernatorial, senatorial and presidential candidates; I thought it was how everyone lived. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find that my business even works on a campaign or two from time to time.

I’ll bet very few of you knew that, did you?

You know why? Because I don’t promulgate the Facebook or Twitter streams, or my blog, with political views. I know many people do. Good for them. But for me, in the business that I’m in, the only views I need to share are those that help my clients do a better job or enhance their bottom line. Period. Well, that and some cute kid photos and stories, but even then, there’s a business relevancy to it.¬†

In Life and Business, Just Do the Right Thing

SDB Inspection 70Ok, Jayme Soulati has goaded me into another post. Dangit. I have a gazillion things to do today, a pitch for new biz at noon, a press release to write…but here I sit, writing a post. In a hurry, no less.

Why? Because I feel compelled to do it. I am so sick of reading about the ridiculousness that is the world these days and wonder why people don’t just DO THE RIGHT THING.

In business and in life, it’s not that hard. Strike that. It must be hard, or more people would do the right thing more often. I have three specific examples that have really “gotten my goat” lately. One, is painfully obvious, but the others may not be. ¬†Do add your own in the comments below so I won’t feel like I’ve just had a moment.¬†

The Elephant in the Room: Tackling Persistently Bad Public Speaking Skills

Ladies and gents, please. Listen up. This is important.


I want you to be taken seriously when you speak to people. Whether you’re presenting at a committee meeting, one on one with your boss, or as a key note speaker at a major conference, I need you to read and really take these points to heart.

Trust me. You’ll thank me for it.

Here’s the deal. I am about to present to a group of regional planning groups and non-profits from across the nation on clearly conveying their message. ¬†As I prepare, I reflect on really great presentations that I’ve had the privilege of witnessing.

I of course also think of those that I’ve been forced to not only sit through, but endure. There’s a HUGE difference. ¬†You know what I’m talking about. ¬†Rather than suffer however, I make notes, lots of notes, on what NOT to do as a speaker. The result? This blog post.

At first, I thought this might be a woman-centric post. Women who present, or something like that.  When I thought about it for a bit, I realized that there are just as many men who make bad presentations as there are women. So, here we go. All of you who have been tasked with presenting information to others, this is for you.

Step One: Make it Count

I make a commitment to bring my best self and my best presence to each and every talk I do – even if it’s a committee meeting or a one-on-one informal pitch. You just never know when you’ll get those opportunities. ¬†That someone, make that¬†everyone that you’re speaking to is giving you time and hopefully, their attention. ¬†Make it count.

  • Practice your speech or presentation, for goodness sake. Just putting it together isn’t enough. You must actually do a dry run – out loud, not in your head!
  • You don’t have to dress like you’re meeting the Queen, but I’m still a believer that jeans don’t cut it. Look like you care and your listeners will as well – no matter how cool you, or they, are.
  • Arrive in the zone and in the moment – don’t be thinking about everything else on your plate. Be present.

Step Two: Own It

My goal is to make sure my audience listens, finds me compelling, confident, and knowledgeable about my topic. Unfortunately, even though that may be the goal for others as well, I find that some speakers will in fact do everything they can to discredit themselves.

From tone, to posture, to choice of words, you can either leave the audience wondering how the heck you’ve made it this far in life, or, have them glued to your every word and figuring out how to budget for your services in the future.

  • Avoid low tones.¬†Be up beat – get jazzed up about what you’re talking about. If you aren’t excited, who is?
  • If you are going to sit to do your presentation (with the exception of a panel discussion), you may as well remain in the audience.¬†Stand Up.
  • Please stop saying these self-deprecating words and phrases: ¬†sort of, kind of, I guess, you know?¬†Speak with confidence. You don’t need to ask permission if they know what you’re trying to say, nor should you discount what you’re saying by adding in a ‘sort of’ or ‘kind of think’ phrase.
  • Avoid ending your sentences by carrying them up into the air – as if you’re asking if what you’re saying is ok. If you’ve done the work on the front end and only talking about what you know to be true or have experienced, there’s no need to check in with the audience to make sure it’s appropriate.

Step Three: Tell us a Story Three Different Ways

As the presenter of your topic, you know where you want to take us on this journey. It is entirely up to you to get us there. Use storytelling, text and key images to do it.

  • Guide the audience towards your points.¬†Begin with your key points and end with them. ¬†You’ll keep everyone, including yourself, on task.
  • Tell us a story;¬†don’t read your slides.
  • If you are using power point (and believe me, we ALL do), don’t cram it full of text. Highlight the BIG ideas¬†and leave the rest up to your story telling ability.
  • If you must put text – more than a few bullets – please note the most important items you want the audience to know and avoid saying, “I’m not going to read all of this for you”¬†and then do it anyway.
  • Use images!¬†There are a world of free images out there. My favorite site is Flickr, and thanks to Shelly Kramer, I now use Compfight to find the best images from the Creative Commons image library on Flickr. (read that post today!)

Most important of all, with anything really, ENJOY it. I know for many folks, that’s nearly impossible when it comes to public speaking. I happen to think it’s because they are not using some of these tips. I also understand it might not be their thing.

That’s ok. I believe anyone can be coached into making a good presentation – and that practice really does make perfect.

Let me know what you do to break bad public speaking habits, or any tips you’d like to add to this list.

Image via Flickr.