5 Things We Heard at Camp

Eben Gilfenbaum

Powell Tate team members attended Roots Camp earlier this month -- a two-day digital advocacy and fundraising “unconference” where the attendees set the agenda and lead the discussions. It’s an opportunity to hear from a diverse group of online campaigners about what’s working, what’s not, and what’s new.

The digital campaign space has matured to the point where there weren’t any major new breakthroughs on the agenda this year. Instead, many of the sessions we attended focused on refining strategies and tactics to mobilize more people more effectively around the causes they care about. Here are five great examples every organization running a campaign could benefit from:

1. Game the Facebook News Feed

Facebook may have slashed the number of followers organizations can reach without paid promotion, but there are still ways to maximize organic reach. According to a Facebook representative who presented, their algorithm monitors the types of content each user engages with — videos vs. photos vs. links — and populates their News Feed with their preferred types.

Organizations can take advantage of this fact by posting the same content in multiple formats. If you’re promoting a video, for example, post the video natively in Facebook like you would normally, but also create a second post using the link to the page on your website where the video resides. That way you’re maximizing your organic reach by catering to the video lovers and the link lovers among your followers.

2. Don’t Ask People to Tell Their Story

Asking supporters to share their story is a tried and true engagement tactic. But using the word “story” can actually decrease engagement because it can make people feel like you’re asking for a fully articulated beginning, middle, and end. Testing has found that asking supporters to share their “experience” performs better because it’s a word people can identify with more easily and doesn’t need to be presented in a formal structure.

3. Find the Right Amount of Creepy

Digital campaigns collect a trove of useful information about their advocates -- from the issues they care about to when and how they are most likely to take action. Organizations are often hesitant to use this information for fear of coming off as creepy. But like with anything involving communications, it’s all about knowing your audience and framing your ask accordingly.

Telling advocates you’ve noticed they’ve taken several actions around a piece of legislation, and should take action on a related issue can be effective with the right audience. But some people might find it too much like big brother. An alternative approach would be to tell advocates you need dedicated people like them to take action. That way you’ve framed what you know about them in a way that feels relevant and natural without being too forced. 

4. Compel, Don’t Just Tell

Whether you want your audience to write letters to their legislators or share a post with their friends, break-through campaigns rely on more than their call to action to get their message across. What sets a great campaign apart is powerful content that excites, inspires, and compels people to action without even needing to ask. Every time you create a piece of content, ask yourself whether your advocates would take action if you removed the call to action. If the answer is no, you may want to rethink your approach.

5. Go Beyond the Base

Any successful grassroots campaign needs to activate the base. Thanks to the democratization of powerful online targeting tools — from native Facebook targeting to turn-key analytics products that mine national voter files — campaigns can remain lean and efficient while branching out to acquire new supporters beyond their core audience. This is especially important for organizations working on popular issues where competition for the attention of the base can be fierce.

The key to successfully expanding beyond the base is to test content among a number of potential audiences and scale up your efforts for those groups that demonstrate interest at a reasonable cost.

A big thank you to Chris Collier, Michelle Crowson, Katie Lancos, Evan Von Leer, and Megan Wright who gave up their weekend to attend Roots Camp and who contributed to this post.


The Cutest Story Ever Told

Katie Hudson

What happens when the beloved story of Rudolph gets a furry feline twist? Watch multiple kittens brave the winter cold, make headlines, and ultimately deliver holiday joy.

A very big thanks to the Washington Humane Society for making this video possible. After viewing the video, be sure to visit to adopt a character of your own.

From all of us at Powell Tate, we wish you a very happy holiday season. 


Powell, Tate, and Ryan win big at PR News PR People Awards

Carolyn Sofman

This week, our founders, Jody Powell and Sheila Tate, were again honored for their significant contributions to public relations, public affairs and politics -- this time with induction into the PR News Hall of Fame. This recognition comes on the heels of their induction into the Hall of Fame of the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter in September. Together, Jody and Sheila were an unstoppable duo committed to bipartisanship and civility; innovative thinking and exceptional client service; and perhaps most important, teaching and mentorship. Their vision, legacy and influence lives on here at Powell Tate.

We also want to applaud our colleague, Tim Ryan, who PR News named Public Affairs/Government Communicator of the Year for his work in leading the integrated, multi-media marketing and communications campaign to launch the Health Insurance Marketplace at He developed and managed a campaign that helped educate, engage and motivate more than 8 million uninsured Americans to find health care coverage.

Heartfelt congratulations to Jody (and his family), Sheila and Tim and thank you to PR News for recognizing their significant and lasting contributions to the communications profession.


Higher Education in the New Congress, Part II: Prospects for Progress

With the change in control of the Senate and Senator Lamar Alexander taking over at the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the prospects for progress, or for bipartisan accord, on higher education in the 114th Congress seem mixed. On the one hand, Sen. Alexander is highly knowledgeable about higher education and is respected within the sector, as well as having a reputation for bipartisan collaboration when need be. On the other hand, his staunch opposition to “government regulation” sets the scene for confrontation with the Obama administration over the President’s agenda to link federal student aid to college affordability and employment outcomes – even though the Administration may ultimately be able to proceed on these initiatives without Congressional agreement.

What does this mean for the various stakeholders in higher education?

  • Leaders of higher education institutions who oppose new “rankings” – who are probably in the majority – can take heart from the strengthened role of their new majority ally in the Senate
  • For-profit higher education leaders may have mixed prospects: Senator Alexander is anti-regulation but he has criticized the for-profit sector for poor programs
  • Data providers and companies promoting better student outcomes will find more support for the benefits they promise as opposed to highlighting data privacy issues

Overall, the higher education sector can expect to be the subject of intense political debate in the next Congress. There could be bipartisan accord on the objective of student outcomes; but there will probably be partisan disaccord on any new regulations to help achieve this. The cost and access crisis for higher education will continue and probably sharpen: we could see some dramatic responses from the new Republican leadership as well as from the Administration. The reputation and relative position of colleges, universities and other higher education providers across North America will be under scrutiny and competitive pressure as never before.


Higher Education in the New Congress, Part I

Photo by Alberto G.

The central, overarching problem facing higher education in the U.S. is its ever-rising cost. In the past, the wondrous diversity of American higher education seemed to set us apart from other countries, continue to promote the social opportunity underlying the American promise and add to our attraction as the global destination for students everywhere. Much of that vision seems empty today: private colleges are mostly beyond the reach of all but the wealthy, for-profit colleges are under attack for adding to debt without bringing employment and public universities – the education bedrock of the American dream – are constantly struggling with reduced funding from their state legislatures.

The Obama administration and Congress have been wrestling with these challenges – above all access and affordability – and the incoming Republican leadership will certainly give them priority attention. The spotlight will be on the Chairman-elect of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). No one can claim that the new Chairman is unfamiliar with the topic: after serving as Governor of Tennessee, he was President of the University of Tennessee (1988–1991), and U.S. Secretary of Education (1991–1993). Generally considered a political moderate, Sen. Alexander has broadly supported attempts to promote efficiencies, simplify regulation and improve outcomes from higher ed.

Senator Alexander can be expected to oppose some of the high-profile initiatives on costs and affordability already launched by the Obama administration, including:

  • A college ratings plan – a U.S. News & World Report-type ranking compiled by the government – based on data on graduation rates, earnings and debt;
  • A new regulation linking federal student aid to a threshold of debt to earnings for graduates of for-profit institutions.

Alexander and the Republican majority support:

  • Rolling back regulations, including redundancies identified by the ongoing Task Force on Government Regulation in Higher Education;
  • “Starting from scratch" on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act;
  • Reducing the overall number of student aid programs;
  • Reducing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from 100 questions to just two: student household size and family income;
  • Proposing a budget containing $90 billion worth of cuts to the Pell program; and
  • Competency-based education reforms.

Tomorrow, we’ll examine what the change in Senate leadership is likely to mean for various stakeholders in higher education.


The Power of Patients:  Speaking Up and Sparking Change in Health Care

Michelle Baker

Pregnant with her first child, Melissa Thomason faced an emergency delivery. After kissing her newborn son goodbye she was immediately medivaced to another hospital for open-heart surgery. She faced many long, grueling months in the hospital then recuperating at home and was haunted by nightmares about her many surgeries. Rather than withdrawing after her experience, Melissa faced her fears directly and headed back into the hospital – this time as a patient advocate determined to speak up about ways care could be improved and made more compassionate.

Other patients around the country are also tackling complex, tough issues in health care, and sometimes in the aftermath of tremendous, heart-wrenching loss. Helen Haskell founded Mothers Against Medical Errors and worked with providers after her young son died due to an adverse drug event and failure to rescue. Rosie Bartel worked directly with a hospital to introduce a new hand-washing program after a staph infection forced her to have her leg amputated. Alicia Cole spent two months at the hospital including one in the ICU due to hospital acquired infections. After an extended recovery she worked with hospitals and the state government to pass and implement key infection prevention legislation in California.

Until recently, after experiencing medical harm, patients often felt they had no choice but to line up with teams of attorneys to be vindicated and heard. Today, patients, families, physicians, nurses and hospital administrators candidly talk about how to improve care. Consequently, patient advocates are literally helping change the way health care is delivered in our country.

Patients have facilitated the extension of 24/7 visiting hours in the ICU, implemented bedside shift huddles where family members are directly involved in care decisions, crafted restraint-use limitation policies for patients with dementia and specified communications protocols for non-English speaking caregivers. And, increasingly, hospitals are formalizing roles for patients as they establish patient and family advisory councils and involve patients and family members on key committees and boards.

Patients and families are walking the halls of hospitals and working in partnership with medical staff to improve care. They are reaching into their communities, offering support and insights to others struggling with medical issues. And they are connecting around the country through webinars, blogs and social media to share best practices and coordinate efforts.

At Powell Tate and Weber Shandwick, we are thankful for the opportunity to support the network of patients whose courage, compassion and tenacity has contributed to the great work of the Partnership for Patients campaign and other medical quality initiatives across the country.

We’ve learned much in our collaborations to showcase best practices in patient and family engagement and foster national momentum to drive better quality of care nationwide.

These health care heroes – patients, families and providers – are truly making a difference for others in need of safe, effective and compassionate care. 



4 Tips for Defense Companies in the New Congress: Everything old is new again

Greg McCarthy

As one defense policy expert told us after the Congressional election, in the world of defense, “Everything old is new again.”

While congressional leadership on defense policy will change – Senator John McCain of Arizona will become the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas is expected to secure the support needed to become the next House Armed Services Committee chairman– automatic spending cuts to the defense budget remain the “boot on the throat of the Pentagon.” And there appears to be little hope that any faction in Congress will organize the votes to reverse the cuts.

A few pieces of advice for defense companies based on our experience in past years’ battles:

Do Not Listen to Anyone Who Tells You it is Between Your Company and “The Customer”: The government customer has lost control of their budget and cannot be relied upon to save your program. Every fight– whether you are the incumbent or challenger – requires a comprehensive and integrated public campaign that involves Congress, the media and grassroots engagement.

Engage the Media: Implement a coordinated and sustained campaign to explain the benefits of the program to defense, congressional and regional media. Messages conveying the strategic, tactical, political and economic benefits of a program, and the consequences of its elimination, should be developed for each set of media based on their interests.

Activate Grassroots: Remind members of Congress of the economic benefits of the program that reach manufacturing and workers around the country who contribute parts and services to the program and that will be detrimentally impacted by its elimination. Activate – at the parochial level and in Washington – those partners to educate their members of Congress on the importance of the program to the economy of their district.

Support the Customer: While an industry’s military customer can make the case for the benefits of the program to the warfighter, they are often limited in their contact with members of Congress who have specific oversight authority. Companies can provide support by using multiple communications platforms and media channels to explain to a wide group of influential members of Congress the technological, strategic and tactical advantages of their products and services.

Things will probably get worse before they get better. Commit to fight with all assets available or resolve to potentially lose business.


The Era of Engagement: Keeping Your Lights On?

Adam Dolin

Photo by Michael W. May

The electric utility industry is evolving. With potential service disruptions lurking like volatile energy prices and natural disasters, utilities are accelerating their search to become more resilient in the face of these challenges. One tactic that has become increasingly popular is called demand response.

Imagine saving 20 dollars on your monthly energy bill just by using your large appliances at different times of day, recommended to you in an email by your utility company. With demand response, this is becoming reality.

Demand response acknowledges the notion that both utilities and customers can maximize their financial returns by ensuring that transmission and generation infrastructure is not overburdened by too many users at the same time; running your laundry when everyone is watching the Big Game is more costly for both parties.

According to Gene Rodrigues, a vice president and demand side strategies expert at the consulting firm ICF International, utilities will continue to improve upon the ways in which they “operate with their customers.”

The $297 billion dollar utility industry has entered the Era of Engagement. By communicating more effectively with their customers, utility companies ensure a clearer pathway to a more efficient and sustainable business model in the face of potential market disruptions. The reality is that companies that continue to look for ways to work with their customers to the benefit of both sides will establish competitive advantages within their respective sectors. 


The Long and Short of Social Media Relations

John Files and Amanda Koons

Digital newsrooms are searching for new readers, clicks, shares, likes. In this ever-changing ecosystem, public relations professionals can play a central role as convener: connecting media, informed sources, engaged influencers with story ideas, fresh content, engaging data and information – and perhaps most important, driving traffic to articles, commentary and other news segments.

Social media channels can foster this dynamic exchange; they offer seemingly endless possibilities for aligning our jobs with those in media – ease and immediacy of content sharing, greater use of multimedia assets and the ability to reach larger audiences. And, to be sure, they can be an effective tool for directly engaging journalists. But before you start tweeting pitch ideas at every reporter you follow, consider these basic tips:

  • Build your own brand.
    • A concise and compelling profile can make the difference between being followed and being ignored. To bolster your personal reputation and, ultimately, to give your pitches credibility, your channel should reflect your expertise and insights. Show your wit and personality, but establish yourself as a professional who values genuine relationships and serving as a valuable resource.
  • Research first, outreach second.
    • Everyone reviews reporters’ coverage before sending an email pitch. Likewise, social media can teach us a lot about reporters and their interests. Check out their recent posts and look for interactions with other PR professionals. Most important, read their profile bios – they often describe their background; signal what they care about; and highlight other experience. Use this information to your advantage.
  • Heavy on Twitter, light on Facebook.
    • Many journalists (perhaps most) have active professional profiles on Twitter – they engage with sources, other media and share breaking news and promote stories. Facebook, however, continues to be more commonly used as a social network for friends. That means – in general – if you don’t know a journalist personally, do not friend them on Facebook or spam them on this platform with pitches. (If you have personal relationships with journalists, Facebook can clearly be an effective way to stay engaged and to help foster connections; see #4.)
  • Focus on relationships.
    • Engage journalists on social media before pitching them. Read their posts. Comment and share their articles. Retweet and offer your opinion on issues relevant to their beats or industries and issues they cover. Sustaining a dialogue can be as beneficial as an outright pitch. Remember: media relations is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • After the pitch, follow up.
    • Journalists receive so many @ mentions per day that following up with them is critical. If a journalist has written an article based on your pitch, thank them via social media to cultivate your relationship for future outreach. But don’t stop there. You can help drive traffic to their content – consider using paid budget to support stories by promoting them on owned channels as well as other news and content channels through syndication tools such as Outbrain. 

The bottom line: Social media can be an effective tool for establishing relationships and for pitching journalists. But, at the core, these channels are for building and growing networks. A recent Harvard Business review article found that about 65 percent of writers said they thought it was important for PR and media specialists to establish a personal connection before pitching. Look beyond the pitch toward long-term relationships.


Why PR Is A Pitch: Part 2

Bob Brody

Be pithy. Check. Pinpoint your target. Check. Stick with facts. Check.

Okay, but what else do we do on behalf of clients to make sure our pitch letters sing a tune a reporter will like hearing? After writing thousands of pitch letters for hundreds of clients over the decades, I have plenty of ideas on the subject. But here, to get you started, are three quick tips:

Revise. However good you may believe your first draft turned out to be, however much you’re convinced that you really nailed it, it can still be made much better. So do it again, at least once more. You’ll see.

Get a second opinion. No matter how brilliant your pitch notes, colleagues and clients alike can – and indeed should – get the chance to weigh in on potential improvements. Nobody’s perfect.

Be a serial pitcher. The pitch letter you e-mail to a reporter may miss the mark – as in fail to draw a response – for reasons that have little or nothing to do with its quality. Quite conceivably you caught the reporter facing a hot deadline that day. Shoot over a follow-up pitch, provided – and this is key – you’re adding something extra, such as another data point or further detail about a trend observed. Piggyback that second note on the first, with the second note referring to the first, and the subject line indicating “the sequel” or “follow-up” or “part 2,” so the reporter can see the progression. My limit is three such notes. Sometimes this drumbeat establishes seriousness of intent and ultimately achieves enough critical mass to pay off. Yes, a reporter may say after a second or third note, your client is definitely onto something here.


Why PR Is A Pitch: Part 1

Bob Brody

Among the many tactics public relations professionals deploy on behalf of clients is the pitch letter. And in the ideal scenario, a pitch letter e-mailed to a newspaper reporter or TV producer translates directly into news coverage favorable to said clients.

But getting the job done right – well enough to deliver the right results – is hardly easy. A survey recently highlighted in the Harvard Business Review shows as much. It looked at obstacles the pitch letter typically encounters, plus offered clues to achieving success.

To wit, only 11% of the 500-plus digital publishers surveyed “often” wrote a story based on a pitch letter, with 45% doing so “sometimes” and 37% “rarely.” No big surprise there, though. After all, the publishers polled are pitched a lot – at least 20 times a day for 40%, 50 times a day for 11% and more than 100 times a day – wow! – for 8.4%. And most reporters do no more than one to two stories a day.

How to break through this firewall? The survey, conducted by, a digital marketing agency, lends some guidance – and, with it, a welcome dose of hope. The perfect pitch should contain at least one of three elements: 39% of reporters prefer “exclusive research,” 27% “breaking news” and 15% “emotional stories. Pitch notes should also be short: 45% want fewer than 100 words, 43% want fewer than 200 and only 12% want as many as 300.

The survey touches on other valuable points, too. The findings recommend developing personal connections with the media members approached; using newsy, headline-like subject lines; and ensuring that pitch letters are free of grammar and spelling errors. The research even advises about the best time of day to e-mail a pitch.

My take on all this: in a word, Amen. I’m a big believer in the pitch letter. If the pitch letter ran for office, I would vote for it. Over the decades, I’ve written thousands of pitch letters for hundreds of clients. A fair percentage have led to media hits, whether in The New York Times or the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin (circulation 21,000).

Tomorrow, based on my own experience, I’ll suggest my own three quick tips about the pitch letter.


Top 5 Communications Tips From the Campaign Trail

Julie Heinrich

For some of us, election season brings back a flood of memories. We see TV ads, speeches, op-eds, yard signs and debates, and it brings us back to our own personal experiences on the campaign trail. Campaign communications are rigorous and demanding, a type of communications boot camp with all-or-nothing results. 

What can our corporate, nonprofit, foundation and, particularly our executive clients, learn from this experience? I consulted my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, to share their wisdom from years of campaign communications:

Get personal, be authentic

No matter what you think about politics, elections demonstrate the power of storytelling. As an executive, be willing to expose your personal side. Your personal stories are the gift you provide your audience in exchange for their attention. Find an opportunity to connect, share your passions and life experiences and how they relate to your work. Maybe you have a child with a disability? Perhaps you’re a weekend bee keeper? Making a personal connection builds trust. For example, Richard Branson is a top Influencer on LinkedIn, and his personal stories touch everything he writes.

Vision rules

Have you heard the standard campaign 3-step plan speech? Did Martin Luther King share his 3-step plan for combating injustice? He did not. Instead, his words were poetic, evocative and inspirational. In a word – visionary. The best campaigners learn not to talk about policies, but about the impact of policies, on the local economy, on personal freedoms, and on people’s day-to-day lives. Great ideas must have both a rational AND strong emotional appeal. As conveyed in the book Made to Stick, “sticky” memorable ideas must also be unexpected, concrete, and credible.

Just keep repeating

Candidates quickly realize the value of repetition. It feels a little strange in the beginning, repeating oneself over and over and over. But just because the candidate and the staff have heard the same message 5 times a day for weeks, doesn’t mean the target audience has taken it in. For staff and the candidate, a campaign may feel like the center of the universe, but it is a very small universe. The same can be said of business, nonprofit and foundation campaigns. Find new and interesting ways to say it, but just keep repeating.

Go local

The old adage remains true: all politics is local. The best campaigners learn to use local expressions, make local references, even enjoy local foods. Many organizations aim for national attention, devaluing local or regional coverage. However, local markets are sometimes significantly easier to target, when compared to an abundantly crowded national media market. And keep this in mind: local and state newspapers are often a direct link to lawmakers at all levels. Going local can elevate your voice among lawmakers, targeted customers, and supporters in that region.

One shot

There are no Wednesdays in political campaigns; it’s only Tuesday that matters. On a campaign, everything leads to one day. After that, no amount of communication, amplification, contextualization, proper framing or better preparation will make a bit of difference. There can be real value in applying this maxim to private sector communications as well. Certain business plans are already built to crescendo, whether that crescendo happens over the course of one day, one week, or one quarter. Think of a new product launch, for example. Every communication is aimed at spurring consumers to action, and garnering a positive buzz online and in the media. After launch day, every press release, post, tweet or pin is less and less relevant. Going all-in on communications efforts that build to a single moment not only helps crystalize your planning and execution, it can lead to powerful results.

Special thanks to Paul Pimentel, Crystal Benton and Joe Shoemaker. Between the four of us, we have 52 years (wow!) on the campaign trail, having worked local, state, congressional and presidential efforts. 


PRSA International Conference with a Beltway Twist

Julie Lane

Recently, thousands of communications professionals from across different sectors and industries convened in our nation’s capital for the annual Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) International Conference – “Leading the Way: A Fearless Future for PR.” Over the course of three days, participants were challenged to identify trends, techniques and technologies in public relations and discuss how the industry continues to evolve.

The venue for this year’s meeting – Washington, D.C. – was particularly relevant in light of the upcoming November elections. Many conversations in the sessions and the hallways had a certain Beltway twist, which was nicely complemented by a lively keynote from NBC’s “Meet the Press” host, Chuck Todd.

Through the course of the conference, one resounding theme rose to the top: how to break through the ever-increasing noise to get our message heard, especially among policymakers and policy influencers.

According to research presented by David Rehr, Ph.D., professor at the Graduate School of Policy Management at The George Washington University, there’s more competition than ever before for time and attention from members of Congress and staffers who receive an average of 134 emails a day.

This, of course, is a well-known challenge, but the solution is not static. In today’s rapidly evolving communications landscape, what worked yesterday may not work today and almost certainly won’t work tomorrow.

So how do you cut through the clutter? Panelists Jeffrey Davis, Senior Vice President of Media Relations at AARP, and Byron Tau, Reporter at Politico, led an audience discussion with the following takeaways:

  • Mobilize your membership and/or employees on issues within their own communities. They can be your most valuable assets and enable you to use an approach that resonates.
  • Leverage your business partners to validate messages with policymakers and reinforce that your issue is important to multiple stakeholders.
  • “Local” is key so target your outreach and messages accordingly. Show policymakers – and reporters – why the issue matters to their constituents and they’ll be more receptive to what you have to say.
  • Don’t be a “one-hit wonder.” Instead build a sustained strategy that creates momentum over time.
  • Build relationships. Take a reporter to coffee. Learn more about what they’re working on and what they’re interested in, then tailor your pitches or “asks” accordingly.
  • Social media has become the “water cooler” of Washington and the source of information for many reporters. Keep that in mind as you’re building your media outreach approach.

As PR professionals, we cherish opportunities to meet with others in our field, whether it’s to discuss the latest trends in our business or navigate through challenges we see in our daily work. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) International Conference in Washington gave us this opportunity and provided a number of actionable insights to shape communications strategies and activities moving forward. 


Turning the Tide on U.S. Civility Deficit

Pam Jenkins

Americans have become all too familiar with bad behavior – from the nation’s roadways and sports arenas to political campaigns and corporate boardrooms. Now, according to a new national survey, the pervasiveness of society’s incivility is driving some action among an influential consumer and voter segment: Millennials.

Their responses to incivility range from the extreme – defending a victim, quitting a job or moving residences – to the more common: changing shopping and buying patterns and writing letters of complaint.

The survey, the fifth installment of Civility in America, was conducted by KRC Research in partnership with Powell Tate. It found that Americans of all ages are more likely to do nothing in the face of incivility rather than confront it. But one-third of Millennials (33 percent) said they took a proactive measure the last time they experienced incivility, a rate significantly higher than Gen Xers (22 percent) and Boomers (18 percent). Millennials, for example, were most likely to have defended a victim of incivility (16 percent).

Of Millennials — generally defined as those between ages 18 and 33 — the survey also found:

  • Forty-five percent say they have ended a friendship or other relationship because of uncivil behavior;
  • Forty-four percent say they have either stopped buying from a company or advised others not to buy from one (44 percent) because of uncivil treatment by a company representative;
  • Twenty-seven percent have quit a job because their workplace was uncivil;
  • About one-quarter (24 percent) say they have stopped attending professional or college sporting events because of uncivil behavior on the field or in the crowd;
  • One in six (16 percent) have moved because of uncivil neighbors.

Overall, the survey underscores a U.S. civility deficit. Roughly two-thirds of citizens believe that the nation has a major civility problem; seven in 10 believe that civility has eroded over the past few years; and just one in eight think it will get better anytime soon. Still, Millennials may see the glass partially-full: nearly one in four Millennials (23 percent) – two to four times the percentage of other generations – believe civility will improve. 

The Internet, government and politics rank as the top causes of incivility among all generations. About seven in 10 Americans agree that the Internet, including comments associated with online news articles and social media, encourage uncivil behavior. Millennials, the heaviest users of social media, are significantly more likely than other generations to consider the medium uncivil and to have experienced cyberbullying; they overwhelming identify social media in general and individual social networks such as Facebook and Twitter as hotbeds of incivility.

Perceptions of incivility in politics run deep and across party lines and generations. Democrats, Republicans and Independents of all ages agree that government officials behave uncivilly. Politicians are seen as the number one cause of the erosion of civility in America. Further, respondents said incivility in our government is harming our future (85 percent); preventing action on important issues (79 percent); and will not improve until government leaders begin to act more civilly (74 percent).

This study prompts a key question, then: Can the tide be turned on incivility or is the damage to our society and political system irreparable? Millennials are the leaders of tomorrow and their optimism should give us hope. The power to shape the future of American civil discourse lies in their hands – time will tell. 


The Fizz Factor: Managing Brands in Higher Education

When Powell Tate/Weber Shandwick decided to grow our global education practice – especially higher education – we were convinced that universities now have to be as intentional in protecting, sustaining and enhancing their reputation as any corporation. We knew that today, universities face international competition just as multinational corporations do. They compete globally for the best students, the best faculty, the best managers.

The “World 100” Universities Conference held this month at the University of Michigan’s famed Ann Arbor campus saw our conviction fully vindicated. Top universities from around the world – which in the realm of global university rankings generally means the English-speaking world – addressed a reputational agenda focused on “Transformation: Where World-Class Universities Have to Change to Survive."

The heads of communications and marketing from some of the leading universities in the U.S. – from Boston University to UT Austin; in the UK – from the LSE to Oxford; in Australia – from Melbourne to Monash; and from other leaders from Ireland and Denmark to Korea and Hong Kong – came to share their ideas and gather new insights from their colleagues and competitors. There were some innovative projects:

  • The most striking new branding came from Australia’s Adelaide, where an almost poetic imagery centered on light – illumination as the metaphor for learning and human progress, reflecting Australia’s Southern Star – played on a theme of “Seek the Light” in various emanations;
  • Michigan solved the branding dilemma of universities with famous sports teams and programs by simply adopting the golden “M” of its famous football and sports heroes as the university’s overall symbol;
  • Chicago embraced its distinctively academic reputation by a compelling new mantra unashamedly positioning the university as an “Intellectual Destination” – a nice sense of journey and goal conjured from the “Destination” theme;
  • Oxford (my alma mater, so I have to mention them) showed how they reached out to potential supporters and donors without the usual focus on alumni, which at least until recently has not been much of a UK tradition.

However much their Presidents and Chancellors profess to loath these lists, participants acknowledged that global rankings were never far from their thoughts. I was billed as drawing on my background heading Coca-Cola’s corporate reputation as “Creating the Fizz Factor: Reputational Lessons from Coca-Cola and the Corporate World Applied to Higher Education.” In my presentation, I deconstructed the top global rankings and divided their components into “perception” factors – susceptible to influence by communicators – and “performance” elements, more the province of Provosts and the academic leadership.

I also shared a couple of new online resources useful to university leaders.

  • LinkedIn has brilliantly leveraged its vast professional data base and created its own university guide out of all the personal information we LinkedIn users dutifully provide. Would-be college applicants now just have to type in what they want to study; where (including individual corporations) they want to work and live – and out comes a list of universities they should go to.
  • For my Coca-Cola time the University of Georgia (predictably) would have been good; but for my dream job writing for The New Yorker the University of Iowa surprisingly equaled the obvious Ivy League suspects. Give it a try!
  • Meanwhile, UNESCO has done something useful: it has a database graphically illustrating the flows of students in and out of every country. Some fascinating results: in Russia most incoming students come from Belarus and Kazakhstan, but outgoing Russian students prefer Germany or – hopefully this will survive our supposed new Cold war – the USA...
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