Today Everything PR News had a key discussion with one America’s top public relations executives, Scott Allison, Founder, President, and CEO of Allison & Partners. This firm, as much as any we have seen, has grown by leaps and bounds the past few years. Since its founding in 2001, Allison’s San Francisco now has offices across the US from New York to Seattle, North to South.
The Golden Age and Astraea
For those not aware too, Scott Allison is a rugged competitor. In reading about Scott I discovered that he has/had an interesting stress relief technique. Not many big time PR execs take their lunch hour to climb into the boxing ring. At least not for “relaxing” benefits. As it turns out, Allison listened to the better part of reason and stopped sparring during lunch. And for his take on PR today? He firmly believes the PR industry has entered what he calls “its golden age” – upbeat, dynamic, and when you get down to it, tough – this is how Allison comes off. But, let’s get down to brass tacks.
EPR – Scott, thanks so much for taking your valuable time to talk to our readers. Allison & Partners has just opened its first overseas office in London. With most international companies tightening their belts, can you elaborate a bit on your expansion?
Scott Allison – The world’s center of gravity is clearly moving from west to east and any brand that is a top player is looking outside the U.S. to succeed and win new market share. In order to be a leading communications partner we must be present in these regions, in smart and strategic ways. Our move to London is a great first step in that direction and the momentum is really just beginning. Our intent is to expand into Asia and South America. We believe our model will play well there – fast, nimble and very entrepreneurial.
EPR – We spoke with another leading communicator on the world stage, Ronn Torossian of 5WPR, just the other day Scott, and if you don’t mind, I would like to ask you a question I asked him. From your position as head of one of the world’s most powerful PR firms, how are social media and digital communications affecting other huge firms?
Scott Allison – I believe the mid to smaller sized firms like us have a clear advantage as our size affords us the speed, agility and ability to innovate required to succeed in today’s environment. It’s very similar to the way the growth of the Internet impacted firms in the mid to late 90s. Eventually, social media will be considered another PR tool that every firm will incorporate into its programs. The result will be that pure digital/social media firms will fade away.
EPR – I noticed that one of Allison & Partners’ more notable clients (at least in hospitality) is Best Western. The brand struck me because I just wrote a story today about their initial expansion into Russia. My question deals with branding and consulting for brands in such competitive markets, like travel. How important is it for the PR of Best Western (for instance) to have feet and eyes on the ground where such expansion exists?
Scott Allison – That presence is critical as brands must be keyed into the cultural cues driving each market. For example, you could not create an imprint in Indonesia today without having a strong mobile digital strategy. This wasn’t the case two years ago. Brands must work collaboratively with partners on the ground in these regions to make things happen. The days of going into international markets and putting up a flag that says “we’re here-be happy” are over.
EPR– The reason for my previous question was to frame another one. Many online and boutique PR agencies (like us, for instance) tout their abilities to perform in the online or digital environment. Do you think clients or potential clients may sometimes have the mis-perception that they do not need so called “brick and mortar” traditional services? The larger question is (and maybe a dumb one) “Do you think traditional communications (hand shaking) will be more or less needed in the years to come?”
Scott Allison – Successful communications companies are much like successful media companies in that they recognize it’s not traditional vs. non-traditional. The approach required is a smart and strategic mix of both that drives the best innovation. In a pre NewsCorp scenario, the WSJ was a great example of a media brand that got it right. They put equal value on the WSJ and WSJ.com to create an unmatched and truly synergistic media experience. I’d like to think that’s the same recipe for success for communications firms, and a description of the path we are taking.
EPR – The recent riots in London have caused a bit of a PR nightmare for the Olympic organizers there, not to mention their security contingent. What kind of message needs to be sent in this situation? What I mean is, is this one of those situations where “transparency” is called for, or is the situation too sensitive? It seems like the public has to be kept tightly in the loop, but at the same time constant reminder seems bad too.
Scott Allison – I think transparency is a good thing, but people really want to feel like someone is in charge and has a handle on the situation. It’s the same problem we face with the financial markets right now as a lack of leadership translates into panic. A year is a long time and the British government will have time to calm people down and restore a sense of leadership.
EPR – In my conversation with Ronn Torossian the other day, we talked about “drawing the line” where accepting clients is concerned. I just read that another high powered PR giant, Qorvis Communications, has been retained by the government of Bahrain. Torossian suggested with a certainty, that most agencies’ line in the sand would stop before Libya’s Gadaffi, but isn’t Bahrain’s situation about as bad? I know you may not want to criticize Qorvis, so maybe the question should be, where is your line?
Scott Allison – We believe successful client partnerships are formed with like-minded clients. That means we are like-minded in our approach to the business, values, morals and standards of excellence. This is the compass we use for our client selection and in our new business process.
EPR – You took up boxing recently Scott. Not exactly your typical relaxation technique (but one that could be rewarding). It is even said, you spar with opponents a lot younger than you are. Can you level with those of our professional readers on this, does that most recent client frustration disappear when you tag the opponent, or when the opponent tags you? (Phil smiles)
Scott Allison – I think all exercise is a great stress reliever. By the way, I don’t spar anymore, too many injuries.
EPR – Also, from what I have heard and read about you Scott, you seem to be fairly competitive and driven. Are you more a believer in philosophies like those of Vince Lombardi types – or perhaps the John Wooden’s of the competitive world. Vince Lombardi seemed more an advocate of will and desire, while Wooden was more grounded in the reality that great talent often prevails. Is it your will that makes you so successful, or are you simply more talented? Which do you admire more in your employees and contemporaries?
Scott Allison – I would lean more towards the Wooden philosophy with a focus on building a cohesive team with a great deal of talent. I am competitive, but that will only take me so far. I need to surround myself with great people, and we’ve been blessed that so many talented and diverse people have joined our team.
EPR – According to the O’Dwyer rankings, your firm is one of the fastest growing in the world, currently situated at number 16 among America’s most financially successful. How important is becoming number 15 for you. For your team? When do you think we can expect this?
Scott Allison – We are certainly pleased with reaching number 15 in our first ten years and have our eye on the top 5 during our next ten. With market circumstances changing in PR as they did in advertising several years ago, with bigger no longer definitively being better, that goal is attainable. The innovations we’re committed to driving into our firm and the industry itself will demonstrate that over time. We believe if you do great work, the growth and revenue will follow.
EPR – I never asked this of any top drawer PR exec before Scott, but it seems like a good question. Can you think of a company, or a person, you would like to represent more than any other? Is there a “Best” company out there?
Scott Allison – There are many great companies out there that we would be honored to work with but one that comes to mind is Square. They are small, nimble and innovative. They have disrupted the course of financial services and the credit card industry with the power of their offering. In other words, they are very like-minded to us, and it would be a thrill to see what we could accomplish together for the benefit of the consumer and to discover what new communications innovations can make possible.
Talent and Leadership Will Get You Anywhere
As you can readily see in this Q & A, Scott Allison is a competitor, tough, and well organized, and like the sparring partner he was facing off against – a bit slippery when he needs to be. I find his answers to be a bit out of the norm intelligent too. I don’t mean other top PR professionals are less intelligent mind you, it’s just that Allison impresses me as a fairly exacting fellow. A good thing in a leader, in my experience – especially in leaders who teach. Ergo, maybe this is why Allison liked John Wooden’s dogma – Wooden was, by far, the greatest teacher among coaches.
Best Western, Sony, L’Oréal, Orbitz, Hasbro, GE Healthcare, and dozens more major companies have at their disposal a valuable tool at their disposal in my humble view. I alluded to Allison’s so called Golden Age of PR, with a mention of Astraea, the Greek deity that presided over that famous age of man. Astraea, for those unfamiliar, was the Greek god of justice. While Allison may not be the hand of justice, its certain an “age” of credibility is overdue – one where leaders will be; “building a cohesive team with a great deal of talent.”
All About Allison+Partners
Allison PR is one of the few firms whose history is intertwined with the beginnings of the Internet. In July of 2001, when the dot-com bubble was at optimum fission. The tech environment of the San Francisco Bay Area was in economic free-fall. Andy Hardie-Brown and Scott Allison went out for a drink at a restaurant on Belden Alley, a common place for commiseration during those uncertain times.
The two discussed the possible futures of their company and grasped for ways to inject new life. The more they drank, the more grandiose their ideas became. Eventually, Andy transcribed their working, fluid discussion on a cocktail napkin. The notes were mostly illegible, but the broad strokes were there. They agreed to create a new firm to surpass the limits of contemporary agencies. Their fundamental premise focused on ethos, to make a positive and singularly entrepreneurial culture, where new professional talent would be free to work as they saw fit, and thrive without the rub of arbitrary office politics. Completing the founding four members were Co-Founder Scott Pansky and the current President, Jonathan Heit.
Allison+Partners has earned recognition in numerous industries since their founding in 2001. They were named The Holmes Report’s “2010 Agency of the Year,” an award for agencies under $25 million in revenue and PRWeek’s “2010 Honorable Mention for Mid-Sized Agency of the Year.” In 2014, The Holmes Report’s annual American SABRE Awards honored Allison+Partners. They received five awards, including Agency of the Year and Midsize Agency of the Year yet again. They also earned three SABRE awards for outstanding client satisfaction, including Product Media Relations/Trade for Samsung.
Major PR Campaigns and Clients
Allison+Partners has an impressive track record. In 2011, the California Travel & Tourism Commission tapped the firm to promote its “Royal Summer” campaign. Grounded in the tagline “Three Days isn’t Enough,” the campaign was designed to spur travel and tourism in California in parallel to the royal couple’s tour of the state. The firm was chosen because of their demonstrated strategic thinking, creativity, and brand understanding.
In 2014, Allison+Partners accepted the ASICS’ challenge of planning the LA Marathon after Toyota dropped out. The firm needed to boost awareness of the event to compete with peers with much greater notoriety. With the clock ticking, the firm came up with fresh concepts appealing to both elite and common athletes before the marathon began. Their strategy as to deploy the talents of PR pros to analyze competition marathons in New York, Boston, Chicago, and others by using marketing materials and news coverage to determine how media had covered previous races. These tactics marathon sponsors used to increase registration, what motivated consistent yearly participation, and the implementation of creative programs developed to generate excitement in viewers’ minds.
Next, the firm trained top-tier media for the race with ASICS’ marathon legend Deena Kastor. To attract new participants they offered half-marathon relays. This helped first-time participants ease into the rigorous experience. Additionally, they worked to get consumers into the marathon mood by integrating common noises (e.g., footsteps, car horns, heartbeats) into their advertising audio. If that wasn’t enough, Allison+Partners amplified the brand voice through social platforms and created a story out of a sponsorship and shoe.
In the end, the firm attracted over 100,000 interacting participants at the Grove, and marketing and advertising efforts raised roughly $405K. Social platforms yielded 585 photos on Instagram with the hashtag #ASICSLA, and another 6,214 photos were uploaded via the hashtag #LAMarathon. In fact, this term was cited as the fourth top trending topic on Twitter on March 17th, the marathon day.
Scott Allison and Partners Case Study
A great case study for the firm is their work with RetailMeNot. Before Allison+Partners got involved, RetailMeNot was seen as just another Groupon knockoff. In order to be seen as the next big IPO by analysts and investors, they needed serious validation. Allison+Partners showed coupons were both cool and easily accessible to the new generation of consumers via RetailMeNot’s user-friendly website. Users could download, print and use a mobile app to use coupons for savings when shopping for thousands of favored retailers.
The company’s revenue leaped 77 percent for repeated years, site visits went up 39 percent, and views through apps increased by 59 percent. RetailMeNot’s first day of trading under the NASDAQ symbol SALE was impressive, rocketing to 32 percent after its initial price of $21 a share. As of today, the IPO made more than 51,035,909 media impressions, including numerous CEO features on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Fox Business, Bloomberg TV, and print and online coverage in publications like Forbes, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Forbes, Fortune, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The New York Times, and many others.