Powell Tate Founders Inducted Into Hall of Fame

Brian Wommack

Powell Tate President Pam Jenkins (left), Sheila Tate (center) and Public Affairs President Ranny Cooper. Photo by Danny Wein.

Last night, the Public Relations Society of America enshrined two legends into its Capitol Chapter Hall of Fame. Many Powell Taters past and present were there to honor Jody Powell and Sheila Tate and to celebrate their many accomplishments.

When Jody and Sheila founded Powell Tate, they brought a great deal of experience at the highest levels of our profession. I believe that experience gave them the confidence to do things a little bit differently.

To begin with, they clearly had some very different ideas about politics. You could barely find two individuals more loyal to their respective political parties and candidates. Jody had been with President Carter since he was a candidate for governor of Georgia. Sheila served Nancy Reagan in the White House and President George H.W. Bush during his 1988 campaign. When they founded Powell Tate, they did not sweep aside their political beliefs – they were actually always front and center. But while they held their views passionately, they also modeled civility – the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. At the time, theirs was the only bi-partisan public affairs shop, and to this day, Powell Tate continues to be a destination for serious communicators from both parties.

I can still remember my first meetings with Jody and Sheila. I had come from the very hierarchal world of law and lobbying, where most of my ideas filtered up through the team, ultimately to reach the senior partner in charge, often formally briefed in memos. I was surprised and not a little intimidated when Jody and Sheila invited me to meetings and wanted to hear what I thought about our clients’ issues and problems. They built teams with diverse views and backgrounds, and they wanted to hear from everyone. Because of that cross-functional approach, I believe we came up with better solutions for our clients.

Although they were both at the top of their game, and well recognized throughout the profession, Jody and Sheila never took themselves too seriously. There was always a playful and fun spirit that infused our work. There would be innocent all-staff emails that Jody or Sheila would make a funny comment on, and they’d just take off from there. One time, a series of emails almost took on the character of a serial soap opera, with different staff adding on a new chapter here and there – and Jody and Sheila would have everyone in stitches with their witty contributions. That they could be so serious about and devoted to their clients’ causes and show their lighter sides so readily always seemed to be a part of their formula for success.

They were also unfailingly loyal. I can’t count the number of times a staffer would be facing a hardship – health, financial, relationship, substance abuse – where Jody and Sheila did whatever it took to help them. They just thought it came with the territory as our leaders, because for them, people always came first.

And when someone came to them with a new career opportunity, they always saw that for what it truly is: a vindication that others had also seen talent and promise in those they’d taken under their wing. They’d send the person off with their blessings and good wishes – and usually keep in close touch – both because that’s how they are, and because it was smart business. I can’t count the number of times those relationships have helped us. It certainly has made for a tight-knit group of accomplished alumni who look after each other and still get together frequently.

Hearing from and seeing so many alumni at the celebration last night was a great thrill. There are literally hundreds of us around town and around the world who have learned at Jody and Sheila’s hands – and who owe them such a debt. Thanks, Jody and Sheila, for teaching us and shaping us into the professionals we are, and for founding Powell Tate, which continues to grow and thrive on the solid foundation you built. And thanks to the PRSA’s National Capital Chapter for giving them a well-deserved place in its Hall of Fame.


The Missing Piece in Digital Political Advocacy

Michael Connery

Photo by Keith Ivey

Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen the rise of a very particular type of mass-political participation enabled by digital technology. Some deride it as slacktivism/clicktivism, while others consider it a vital tool in the digital advocate toolbox and the first step in building a ladder of engagement that organizations can build over time.

Whichever side you are on in that debate, it’s hard to see how these tools have delivered on a more aspirational version of American democracy.

This is why I was skeptical when I read that Sean Parker (of Napster and Facebook fame), with the help of some big names in tech and politics, is ramping up to launch Brigade?—?a startup with $9 million in the bank and a deep bench of civic tech heavy hitters —to “restore you, the voter, to the center of our democracy.” Count me as one of many people rooting for Brigade to succeed. But right now I wouldn’t bet on it. Not because they lack experience, resources, or anything so obvious. Rather, like so many of the talented civic-minded entrepreneurs before them, Brigade is too narrowly focused on a mature market and an audience that already has too many similar tools at their disposal.

In our rush to “empower” people through digital tools, we’ve forgotten that a real digital revolution in democracy requires more than arming citizens with tools for action. We need to invest as much effort into equipping our leaders and the people who run our government day-to-day with the tools to listen and respond to the feedback of citizens as we have building up our own capacity to shout at our leaders.

If you can stick with me for a few minutes of civic tech wonkery, I’ll explain why in this essay:

Better Listening Through Civic Technology

It’s a long one, but I hope you’ll give it a read.


Taking the Scary Out

by Nicole Arens and Rachael Susaneck

Motivating behavior change is a key challenge for public health communicators, especially when we want our audience to take an uncomfortable medical test that could lead to bad news. In this work, we often ask a crucial question: Does negative messaging work, and if so, does it change behavior temporarily or alter it long term?

A number of recent campaigns have used negative messaging, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Tips from Former Smokers Campaign and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Anti-Obesity PSA. While it seems logical that highlighting the negative consequences of unhealthy habits would inspire action, recent research says otherwise.

A 2014 study by economist Josh Tasoff and associate professor Ananda Ganguly concluded that instead of moving people toward action, negative messages may actually increase test aversion creating an “ostrich effect,” where people choose to stick their heads in the sand to avoid the scary information. The study found that telling people about the nasty outcome of failing to treat Herpes Simplex Virus (2) led to a threefold increase in the number of patients who refused a blood test as compared to those who were not explicitly informed. “Scaring people more about the implications [of a potential medical problem] may scare them away from getting tested,” Tasoff says.

For health communicators, reframing messages to focus on benefits has its advantages. For example, we have been working with the CDC to build a public health campaign called Know More Hepatitis, which increases awareness of and testing for Hepatitis C. In our focus group testing, it was clear that our target audience of baby boomers was not interested in recalling the past behaviors that led to their infection. However, they were interested in learning about the prevalence of Hepatitis C in their baby boomer birth year cohort (those born from 1945 -1965) and in receiving key information about the virus. From this research, our campaign leverages positive, benefit-focused messaging to provide those at higher risk for having Hepatitis C with the knowledge to make their own informed decisions and with the encouragement to talk with their doctor about testing. The messaging highlights the benefits of maintaining good health, the routineness of the simple blood test for Hepatitis C and the availability of treatments that can save lives.

While we don’t have data to link Hepatitis C screenings with our campaign, we can assess the broad interest in our messages. Our campaign video targeting boomers is the third-most-watched video on the CDC’s YouTube Channel, and we’ve tracked more than 8,000 PSA airings on television and 9,000 on radio. Altogether, the campaign has generated more than a billion impressions – evidence that baby boomers are interested in health messages that eschew the fear factor. 


Health Beat: A Happier, Healthier Powell Tate

MP Gay

One of the reasons Powell Tate is frequently recognized as one of the best places to work is a culture of camaraderie among our fantastic Washington, D.C. team. While we love to celebrate one another’s great work with rooftop happy hours or enjoy performances by our house band, we recently realized that we had been lacking in the health and wellness department.

Powell Tate is full of fitness fanatics and a group of us quickly banded together to propose a Summer Shape-Up to kick off a new program, Health Beat, which promotes a healthy work-life balance and helps improve the quality and enjoyment of our work. Two months in, we’ve started a softball team (the Tater Trots!), organized a weekly running group, held a nutrition workshop, created a materials corner in the kitchen full of fitness magazines and healthy cookbooks for staff to share and instituted a weekly eNewsletter with health tips and profiles of inspirational staff wellness stories. We’re making healthier choices, too – like ordering Chop’t instead of pizza for our monthly staff lunch.

Because many of us have a passion for healthy competition, we also implemented a step challenge where we broke the office into teams and used Powell Tate pedometers to track our weekly steps. The challenge encouraged us to not only walk more but also to get up and interact directly with our colleagues instead of sending an email or picking up the phone.

At the end of July, the Step Step Revolution team of Anita Sharma, Lesley Fulop, Lindsay Shiff, Maggie McEvoy, Rachel Ryan and Sarah Braswell won the grand prize and bragging rights to the Golden Shoe trophy by walking a total of 1,831,645 steps (roughly 950 miles), which is just 100 miles shy of walking to our Miami office. In total, the office tracked a total of 18,773,353 steps (9,386 miles) and is feeling more active and motivated to be at its best each and every day.

Stay tuned to hear how our Summer Shape-Up wraps up and what we’ve got on tap for the fall. Hint: it includes yoga!


Being Heard Requires More Than Volume

Crystal Benton


United States Capitol by Wally Gobetz

From think tanks and interest groups to trade associations and lobbyists, the Capitol landscape is crowded with diverse, competing voices. Getting the attention of a member of Congress and his or her staff requires more than just shouting the loudest; it requires knowing what and whom Congress listens to and using these realities to your advantage.

1. Show and tell

Hill staff and Washington media are barraged with information. The most comprehensively researched information doesn’t equate to the most readers and the most compelling data doesn’t lead the story. Busy Congressional staff and reporters have to prioritize what matters, so make your message relevant and show through stories and people -- don't just tell through data. Tailoring the message to demonstrate its relevance to a hot issue in Congress, its impact on constituents, or a personal interest of the representative is the first step. Proving out your assertions and data by weaving in a real constituent story is the key to showing the impact and will help your voice go further.

2. Avoid Beltway media congestion, go local

While congressional staffers’ attention may be drawn in dozens of different directions at once, the old adage remains true: all politics is local. When an issue makes an impact locally, it compels staff -- and ultimately members -- to take a closer look. By targeting the less competitive local news market in a policymaker’s home state or district, we make sure that our clients’ issues are on the radars of key officials. Local and state newspapers are often a direct line to lawmakers. Going local can not only help you cut the line, it can elevate your voice when you get there.

3. The packaging matters

If you want your message to become a representative’s talking point, pre-package it. Making your content digestible by keeping the message simple, understandable, and reusable does the work of the press staff for them – and they’ll thank you for it. Presenting your materials in formats that are particularly useful and shareable, such as infographics or fact sheets, increases the likelihood that it will be opened and looked at again.


Africa Rising: Lions are on the Roar

Jim Meszaros

President Obama is hosting Heads of State from across Africa at a two-day summit in Washington on August 5-6. It’s the first time the U.S. Government has brought together the leaders of this emerging continent to explore ways to promote trade, investment, governance and other shared interests.

Africa’s rise is a global game-changer that can, if sustained, usher in a new generation of global economic growth. Over the past decade, six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world were African, and the region’s “lion” economies outpaced those of East Asia’s “tigers” over this period. Reforms to address conflict and corruption and promote greater economic and social inclusion are still badly needed, but governance is improving, strong civil societies are emerging and opportunity is outweighing risk for many business investors.

Africa possesses the world’s fastest growing middle class population – 90 million people have household incomes above $5,000. By mid-century, the African Development Bank predicts the number of middle-class Africans will grow to 1 billion – 42% of the predicted population. This is one reason why foreign investment in Africa is rising, moving beyond the extraction sector to include agriculture, technology, consumer goods and infrastructure. This economic diversification mirrors the trend experienced earlier in Latin America and East Asia.

This week I had the opportunity to meet with a group of young African entrepreneurs participating in a U.S. government-sponsored fellowship program in Washington. Their ideas and plans for creating or expanding businesses in healthcare, technology, ecotourism, agribusiness and other sectors across Africa were impressive. Even more remarkable was their excitement for the future, their eagerness to learn from and partner with Americans and the optimism they have to shape their own, and their continent’s, destiny. 


Embracing CSR for the Good of Community and Company

Abby Horn


Advisory Board Company employees volunteer for Earth Day 2013.

Powell Tate has had the pleasure of working with The Advisory Board Company (ABC) – a for-profit technology, research and consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. – for the past three and a half years. This is a company that so strongly values corporate social responsibility (CSR) that in 2013, Robert Musslewhite, CEO, challenged each of the company’s more than 2,700 employees to become involved in community service efforts. 

As a result of this push, 100 percent of ABC employees participated in community service – a rare milestone for a company of its size.

But how does a company support a 100 percent community service participation rate, and what impact does it have on organizational performance?

The company made it easy for employees to serve their communities. A dedicated team continually engaged with nonprofits, worked with department representatives to alert employees of service opportunities and organized team activities.

The average American company allows 29 hours of paid time off each year to volunteer, according to the Points of Light Corporate Institute. ABC gives each employee up to 120 hours per year of paid time off to volunteer – four times what the average company provides. As a result, in 2013, employees contributed more than 32,000 volunteer hours to more than 500 community organizations, creating $1.7 million in monetized impact. They built houses for the poor, cared for the homeless, led literacy programs and participated in pro bono projects where they put their unique professional skills and expertise to work for not-for-profit organizations.

ABC presents service as an opportunity for skill building, even though only 14 percent of companies do skills-based volunteering, according to Deloitte research. The organization’s leadership encourages employees to play to their professional strengths and personal interests when selecting and participating in service activities. Employees take their analytical, consulting and design/development talents to nonprofit organizations, many of which, like ABC, focus on health care and higher education issues.

Finally, ABC places a significant focus on company culture. ABC even includes service ethics in its criteria for hiring and the bi-annual performance review process, where they assess employees’ “spirit of generosity” alongside quality, productivity, leadership and other attributes.

ABC found that employees are more engaged than ever in the company’s work and mission. This is particularly true of employees who participate in pro bono work, with more than two-thirds reporting enhanced skills as a result. And employees who joined a pro bono project were 42 percent more likely to be promoted than non-participating peers.

I encourage you to check out Robert Musslewhite’s op-ed on community impact in Fast Company and an interview with Graham McLaughlin, Director of Community Impact at ABC, featured in National Journal’s "The Next America." You can also check out why Points of Light awarded ABC its 2014 Corporate Engagement Award of Excellence.


Powell Tate:  One of the Best Places to Work in DC

Karen Oliver

The Washington Post is far more than a newspaper these days. Like many news organizations it is expanding into new ventures. One of its latest efforts is defining the top workplaces in the nation’s capital. 

It’s no surprise to me that the Post recently recognized Powell Tate as one of the area’s Top Workplaces. Having been in Washington since President Bill Clinton was first elected, I’ve worked in a few offices and I know a great one when I’ve found it. 

The Washington Post named Powell Tate as a Top Workplace based on the results of an employee survey about a wide range of topics, including the quality of leadership, benefits and office perks, work-life balance issues and more. This isn’t this the first time Powell Tate has been recognized as one of the best places to work. PR News and Washington Business Journal have also recognized Powell Tate in this regard.

To me, the culture and the people are what set Powell Tate apart. We pride ourselves on being a place for engaged thinkers and doers in the nation’s capital. This dates back to when Jody Powell, former press secretary to President Jimmy Carter, and Sheila Tate, former press secretary to First Lady Nancy Reagan, came together to launch a unique bipartisan communications agency.

Their vision for Powell Tate went beyond political diversity, approaching Powell Tate’s recruitment, hiring and culture with a commitment to diversity in all its forms. The values that Jody and Sheila held dear and instilled in Powell Tate’s earlier years are still true today: bipartisanship, civility and respect, diversity, creativity, empowerment, humor and a laser-like focus on the needs of our clients. In keeping with this approach, we are serious about our work but also don’t take ourselves too seriously.

When it comes to that work, we have an amazing array of clients, ranging from global non-profits and government agencies to some of the world’s biggest companies and some of Washington’s most influential trade associations.

While I love the work and the culture, what really makes a difference for me are the people. Our staff is an interesting mix of smart, creative and funny individuals who are passionate about doing great work and supporting important causes. That’s what keeps me excited about coming to work every day.

I’m proud to be at Powell Tate with its unique legacy, but what I really like is the bright future ahead. The best is yet to come. 


Getting to Know Pam Jenkins

Greg McCarthy

Pam Jenkins was profiled in Capitol Communicator’s interview series with leading communications professionals in the mid-Atlantic region. In the "Up Close and Personal" interview, Pam provides her insights on the transformation of Powell Tate into Washington’s premier public affairs firm, professional development and her own personal role models.

Here's a clip from the article:

"Pam, tell us a bit about your job:
As the president of Powell Tate, a division of Weber Shandwick, I am responsible for the agency’s reputation and growth. For the past 25 years, I’ve specialized in healthcare communications and continue to counsel corporate, nonprofit and government clients in the healthcare arena. I also am responsible for Weber Shandwick’s Baltimore and Atlanta offices.

Are you involved in any other organizations - professional or non-profit - and, if so, which one(s)?
I’m a member of the PRSA-NCC chapter, a member of Washington Women in Public Relations, a member of the Council of PR Firms, I'm on the Board of Directors of Maryland Rush, and I’m senior communications and advocacy strategist with Shatterproof, which is a national organization dedicated to ending addiction.

What are the thing/things you are most proud of?
Leading the transformation of Powell Tate into Washington’s premier public affairs firm and recognized best place to work while raising three terrific girls."

Read the rest here.


Whatchya gonna do when rebranding runs wild on you

Rebranding your organization’s image, product or persona can drive significant results in revitalizing and expanding your brand’s full potential. Let’s take a look at how a successful rebranding campaign built a multi-billion dollar industry: professional wrestling. 

Do you remember the professional wrestlers named Super Destroyer, Terry Boulder, or Sterling Golden? Probably not. What about Hulk Hogan? Yes! Well, they are all the same person.
Prior to becoming the iconic personality who would ultimately help build the wrestling industry, Terry Bollea – Hogan’s real name – went through a major rebranding makeover. 

Here are a few tips or lessons learned from Hulkamania that will ensure your rebranding effort is successful:

  • Keep it simple. Your brand or product name should be easily recognizable and should resemble its core function. According to a 2011 article in Forbes Magazine, when Terry Bollea appeared on a TV talk show with Lou Ferrigno – aka The Incredible Hulk – World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) CEO Vince McMahon noticed that Bollea was actually bigger than Ferrigno. From that day forward, Terry Bollea was rebranded as the “Hulk.”
  • Cater to your audience. When considering a rebranding initiative, you should start by asking these questions: Who are your current customers or base supporters? How will your rebranding efforts affect them? Will rebranding allow you to target new audiences and expand your customer or your support base? Wonder where the last name “Hogan” came from? In his autobiography, My Life Outside the Ring, Bollea states that Vince McMahon wanted a wrestling personality with an Irish name to expand his fan base to reach the Irish-American demographic, which comprised 20 percent of the country’s population.
  • Research, research and more research. Before considering rebranding, you need to understand the playing field, know what is top of mind for consumers and recognize how rebranding could position the organization to remain relevant and grow. The rebranding of Hulk Hogan launched in the 1980s, when President Reagan was giving the country a daily dose of American patriotism and populism. To capitalize on the current mindset of the country, the WWE positioned Hulk Hogan as the all-American hero with his iconic theme song, Real American.
  • Messaging is king. To build on your brand image and explain your new or revitalized direction, refreshing your key messages is a must. Hogan’s rebranded trademark motto, “Train, take your vitamins, say your prayers,” positioned the Hulkster as a role model for kids and helped reach a younger new audience. As a result, the WWE dramatically grew its fan base and Hogan was named the most-requested celebrity of the 1980s for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, a child-focused charity.

In conclusion, rebranding can be a powerful tool to reclaim victory in a brand’s real-life wrestling ring. Changing a color or a logo is probably not going to make a meaningful impact. To breathe new life into your brand, follow the path of the Hulkster and focus on research, audience targeting, message refinement and content strategy. 


Is Education Really the Ticket to Economic Prosperity?

Rachel Ryan

Last week, Powell Tate attended National Journal’s roundtable, The Next America: Pathways to Success, which emphasized education as a means of lifting more Americans into the middle class.

As one of the participants on the event’s Higher Education Panel noted, “There was a time in the U.S. that we thought a high school degree was a ticket to the middle class. That’s just not true anymore.”

With a whopping 40 percent of recent college graduates unemployed, it’s also hard to make the case that a college degree is today’s ticket to the middle class. But there’s no question that, with a college degree, your chances of ascending the ladder to economic prosperity are much higher than if you are without one. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those with just a high school diploma had a 6.5 percent unemployment rate in May 2014, whereas their peers with a bachelor’s or higher had half of that – 3.2 percent unemployment.

So, if lack of education is the main problem, all we have to do is get more kids to college, which will propel them into the middle class, right?

Not so fast.

As another panelist noted, “the cost of a college education is prohibitive.”

Indeed. Tuition rates are sky high and they’re only climbing higher. Today’s graduates might have the requisite undergraduate diploma, but many also have the crippling debt that comes with that little piece of paper. So crippling is the debt that an increasing number of college graduates put off buying a home, saving for retirement or even getting hitched. Not to mention, when they graduate, jobs are scarce, so there’s no money to pay off these loans in the first place.

Many think high unemployment rates for recent graduates are a result of simple supply-demand economics: there are more college graduates than there are jobs.


As Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, and Marlene Seltzer, the chief executive of Jobs for the Future, noted in their Politico op-ed, “Closing the Skills Gap,” nearly 11 million Americans are unemployed. Yet, at the same time, 4 million jobs sit unfilled.

“The skills gap is real,” agreed Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who also addressed the Next America audience.

Sen. Scott offered apprenticeship as a possible remedy; establish partnerships with local employers and community colleges (with the assumed goal of eventually partnering with four-year institutions as well) so that students can “earn while they learn.” This remedy sounds a lot like the highly successful institutionalized apprenticeship model in Western Europe, whereby students are able to study while also learning the real world skills necessary to move up the employability ladder.

According to a 2013 report from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Germany and Austria have a youth unemployment rate of 7.4 and 8.1 percent, respectively – the lowest youth unemployment rates in the industrialized world. The U.S., by comparison, has a youth unemployment rate of 15.2 percent… and it’s growing.

As noted in the Peterson Institute report, the reason Germany and Austria can boast of having the world’s least lazy group of 20-somethings is, in part, due to their long-standing and well-developed apprenticeship programs that fold right into the state’s education system. In brief, students pursue apprenticeships which consist of (1) on-the-job training provided by firms and (2) classroom instruction imparted by schools. Apprenticeships last two to four years, depending on the profession, and are followed by a final exam. In Germany, 59 percent of apprentices are then employed by the firm that trained them.

Back home, laying the foundation for the next American middle class is certainly complex, and policymakers, students and employers alike are all desperate for viable solutions. But one thing is certain: public policy must address the widening education, skills and unemployment gaps that are choking economic growth.

In the words of one panelist, “These [gaps] were created by public policy and must be fixed by public policy.” 


The new U.S.-Russia freeze: Why we should keep engaging

Michael Stopford

Last week at the U.S. Senate, you could hear some very diverse voices on the current freeze in U.S.-Russia relations during the 2014 World Russia Forum. These voices included:

  • Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak claiming that U.S.-Russia trade was still only a fraction - "minuscule" - compared with its potential; 
  • Opposition leader Leonid Gozman reminding everyone that no matter their views of Putin, the President had overwhelming support inside Russia;
  • Alaska Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell pointing out that U.S.-Russia cooperation on the Arctic was critical to his state; and
  • Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie recalling that he had pulled off a big innovation and investment conference with Russia in his state, despite the State Department pulling out.

As a speaker in this forum, I urged engagement on common challenges – e.g. the fight against terrorism – drawing on my NATO experience running the Alliance’s communications and its Science Cooperation program.

Naturally, we communicators prefer Engagement to Endgame, don’t we – at Weber Shandwick we are “engaging, always.” Not an easy task always to balance principle – human rights, democracy – with practical cooperation and commerce. Still, Winston Churchill – hardly a renowned pacifist – said “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war,” if you recall – so let’s keep exploring the opportunities for dialog and engagement in the mutual interest.


Why Stakeholders Matter (or The Ballad of Eric Cantor)

Joe Shoemaker


Lately, every political pundit with access to a laptop or teleprompter has hit the streets with their pet theory on why House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary challenge to an unknown, underfunded newcomer.

The models “explaining” Cantor’s defeat are legion: he wasn’t conservative enough for his district; he represented status quo in a year of change; the issue of immigration proved toxic; there was skullduggery at the ballot box; yada, yada . . . thousands of words, hundreds of articles and little consensus.

The truth is simpler. And it applies not only to politicians; it should serve as a cautionary tale for the private sector – industries and individual companies alike (especially if they, like Mr. Cantor, are leaders).

I can sum up the whole Cantor thing in 8 words: HE WASN’T ENGAGED WITH THE RIGHT STAKEHOLDERS. PERIOD.

Though it was less than 75 miles away from his Capitol office, Cantor didn’t travel back to his district much. He was focused on an important part of his job – being a good leader for his party in Congress. He spent long hours engaging his House colleagues to negotiate bills, amendments and proposals. That meant staying in DC. And when he did go home, he didn’t interact in ways that positioned him well with constituents. There’s a big difference between going to the local TV station for an interview, and going to a community fish fry and working the crowd.

Reporters seldom tell you they don’t like what you’re doing, or how their aunt can’t find a job, or she isn’t getting her veteran’s benefits. Voters do. All the time. No public officeholder likes being taken to task – it takes time, energy and a thick skin – but that’s how the system works. Voters didn’t think Cantor was listening to them, and rather than continuing to listen to him, they paid attention to someone else.

But that’s not why David Brat won. He didn’t win. Eric Cantor lost. Brat was just the alternative.

That’s why I work with as many clients as possible to help them understand and communicate with their stakeholders (even those who disagree). I’ve told virtually every client I’ve worked with the same things:

1. Look at the forest from the ground up, not just at the tallest trees. When it comes to understanding stakeholders, nothing is more fundamental than an audit of the players that affect a particular business. Fans and critics. Customers and activists. Too often companies define the stakeholder universe as the same ten customer groups, suppliers/vendors or opinion leaders that they’ve dealt with for years. That list is about as valuable as last week’s movie listings. It can lock you into a cycle of activities that may not get you anywhere with your current stakeholders. Refresh. Refocus. Be objective and thorough and you might discover new opportunities – and uncover new challenges before it’s too late.

2. Find out what matters to others and be active in those areas. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Think about the last time you were dragged to an event – dinner, ballgame or ballet – by a friend or loved one and it turned out to be less painful than predicted. In fact, it may even have been, (gasp!) fun. Enjoyable or not in the short-term, it was probably beneficial in the long run. That holds true for stakeholders too. Understand what matters and motivates them, then find ways to be relevant and active in those areas. You don’t have to agree, but even when stakeholder communications require significant effort, it seldom goes to waste.

3. Give others a reason to work with you, not against you. Think playground. Nobody wants to play with the kid who won’t share the ball, bullies others or doesn’t deal squarely. How you engage with allies and critics – through both public and private communications channels – can set a tone of cooperation (or at least coexistence). Common ground doesn’t mean retreat or capitulation. Sometimes it just means emphasizing areas of overlap rather than disagreement.

You’re only as strong as the relationships you build. Taking time to foster the right stakeholder relations can help any politician, business leader or organization ensure they have a base of supporters to tap when they most need help. And that they’re not blindsided by a competitor who is forging those bonds. 


The Musical Trance of PTO

Eric Hoffman

I didn’t know what to expect when I entered Powell Tate’s Events Center for the band PTO’s first indoor gig ever last Friday night. Relieved of client responsibilities for the week, this reviewer was amped up for a great show and PTO more than lived up to its billing. 

PTO, made up of four current and former Powell Taters, offered up a soulful sojourn through the decades. PTO lead singer Dan Jacobs’s rendition of “Purple Haze” made the incredibly tricked-out stage seem more like a 1970’s trip than the really cool PR agency happy hour I was attending. Jacobs’s depth as a singer revealed itself on Mumford and Sons’ “Little Lion Man.” When Jacobs crooned “but it was not your fault but mine,” the audience marveled at his ability to manage up.

Bassist Peter Carson – who boldly invited his wife and 15-year-old daughter to hear him sing, “Can't catch me cause the rabbit done died….” – got the crowd revved up when he led the band on a romp through Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion.” Carson moved to rhythm guitar for the number showing adept musical diversity for a relative newcomer to rock’s stage.

Juxtaposing the newness of Carson’s beat was the grizzled shredding of lead guitarist Chris “Bruiser” Grimm. Grimm’s musical roots emerge throughout many of PTO’s numbers reminding me a bit of John Cale during VU’s days as Warhol’s house band. Grimm’s lead guitar guided concert-goers through a rock-of-ages 14-song set that showed amazing diversity.

PTO’s defining feature might be the tightness of the band’s music. For guys with stellar communications careers, their transitions were flawless. Much of that credit is due to drummer and former health policy team member, Matt “Wojo” Wojkun. Wojo’s solo transition from “Sunshine” to “Don’t Look Back” mesmerized and captivated the sold-out crowd enjoying Ben’s Chili Bowl half smokes and tasty beer.

But it was when PTO broke into the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right” that you knew an anthem video must have been in the making. The band was kickin’. The crowd was rockin’. And it was only 6:30 on a Friday.


The Power of Partnerships

Emil Hill

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley and Sgt. 1st Class Jason Manella appeared on Fox & Friends to launch the P3I initiative and celebrate the Army Reserve’s birthday.


As strategic communicators, we accept a challenge and then use every tool in our toolbox to achieve success. One of the most effective tools we have is to find supportive partners. Strong partnerships can turn headwinds into tailwinds, and help bring success more firmly within reach.

This year, Powell Tate was presented with this challenge: help the Army Reserve launch and promote a signature platform with businesses, nonprofits, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Reserve’s Private Public Partnership Initiative (P3i) is a way for the organization to work with private partners on projects that are mutually beneficial to soldiers and companies, and ultimately to the nation. The program was in its infancy and largely untested, so our challenge was to help the Army Reserve communicate P3i’s benefits and recent success so that mass audiences would understand and target partner organizations would consider engaging.

Together, Powell Tate and the Army Reserve chose to focus on two key areas as the primary vision of the program: 

1) Employ soldiers by pairing them with civilian companies; and
2) Help soldiers refine their already sharp skills by partnering with global companies and NGOs for unique training missions that could benefit soldiers, partner organizations, and in many cases, developing nations.

To maximize exposure for our story, we rolled out P3i on the Army Reserve’s birthday (April 23rd). We partnered with three organizations – Hiring Our Heroes, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce and the Council on Foreign Relations – and collaborated with them to convene forums that highlighted the value of P3i directly to important audiences.

By linking the campaign to the Army Reserve’s birthday, we extended the reach of the campaign through traditional media, including a broadcast segment on Fox & Friends, and engagement on the Army Reserve’s Facebook and Twitter channels. As a sign of the campaign’s success, the Chief of the Army Reserve’s Office has been inundated by companies—large and small—who are interested in supporting the initiative. Through the power of partnerships, we not only took P3i across the finish line, we also set a firm foundation for the ongoing success of the program.

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