Is An Interest In Conflict A Conflict Of Interest?

Bob Brody

Flickr Creative Commons photo by familymwr

The front page of Saturday’s New York Times served to remind me all over again about the essential ingredient in almost every news story. The irony here is that most organizations, in crafting a media strategy to tout a product or service or cause, often avoid that very element, acting almost as if it’s non-existent.

The common denominator I’m talking about here is conflict. 

That recent newspaper front page abounded with conflict. 

  • The settling of the lawsuit over the BP oil spill. 
  • President Obama supporting the law student badmouthed by Rush Limbaugh.
  • An analysis of why American soldiers in Afghanistan burned copies of the Koran.
  • Two former business partners turned rivals.
  • A court case about a gay student apparently driven to suicide.

It is the savvy organization that, looking to tell a story, will acknowledge the presence of conflict. The executive fired from his first job who went on to become a CEO. The product that became a blockbuster only after umpteen failed experiments. The engineering concept that the previous board of directors rejected. The unknown, unheralded basketball player who came off the bench to ignite a winning streak and thrilled the world. 

Years ago, a high school teacher showed us the classic movie “Citizen Kane” in class. Early on is a shot of a murky palatial mansion as seen through high metal gates. “Do you know what those gates represent?” the teacher asked us. None of the students answered. “Conflict,” he said.

At the time, because at 16 I already knew everything you could possibly know, I dismissed the answer as pat. Now I recognize the statement as valid – and key to a story properly told.
Virtually every story of merit is a good-news-bad-news scenario. Every success story can be a success story in the first place only because of obstacles overcome and problems solved. 

We’ve adopted this practice with our own clients. Teenagers daily drop out of school, but here comes the U.S. Army with a program to keep kids in school. Baby Boomers are at risk of coming down with hepatitis C, but the Department of Health and Human Services urges us to get screened. 

In strategic communications, the element of conflict is a reality that should never be sidestepped. Rather, it should be embraced. Only then can your story unleash the force known as the truth. 


What’s your timeline for adding Facebook Timeline?

David Leavitt

Facebook has announced big changes to brand pages, which affect every organization, association, company and nonprofit on Facebook. This means that brands (more than ever) now need to be storytellers – not marketers – on Facebook, as the timeline format turns the Facebook page into a true storytelling canvas.

Do you have a plan in place?

Brand pages can now showcase the entire history of their brand, dating back long before Facebook’s creation and featuring important moments in brand history. A great example is the New York Times timeline, which now features facts and information about the newspaper going back to its founding in 1851.

In the new format, if you want to post something important you don’t have to worry about it being buried in other comments on their page.

As my colleague Lauren Melcher points out, Facebook pages will no longer display content in a purely chronological order. Administrators can choose which posts take two columns instead of just one. In addition, the new setup allows brands to pin a post to the top of a brand page and hide other posts. This gives brands much more control over their Facebook page content layout and messaging.

Meanwhile, instead of posting complaints and questions directly on a Facebook page, visitors now have the option to message the administrators directly. Administrators reply directly to answer questions and minimize the number of negative posts on their own pages.

As you can see, these are big changes. All brand pages will migrate to the new format on March 30 whether they’re ready or not. Make sure your organization isn’t left behind.


The Future of Content Marketing: Standing Out in a Crowd

Colin Moffett

Photo by Jackie Danicki, used with permission

We’ve known content is king for some time now, but the kingdom is getting increasingly complicated.

According to Altimeter Group’s recent report, organizations must “think and function as publishers, producers — and often — as community managers.” This is causing disruption within organizations, not only because of the demands inherent in publishing, but also the creativity involved in breaking through in a crowded marketplace.

In a recent Forbes post, our own Chris Perry challenges brands to come up with “original ideas that go beyond republishing content you have on the shelf.” Not just any content will do given the increasing pressure to meet the demands of our discerning audiences. We have to get more creative.

In order to help us meet these expectations, here are three trends to keep in mind:

• Multidimensional Storytelling
Look beyond linear storytelling (such as a single video with one entry and exit point) as a way to fight for attention and increase the time people spend engaging with our content. We should embrace our users who are increasingly used to interacting with content in more tactile ways thanks to touch-and-gesture devices. Content that combines the best in video, animation, data photography and sound can create visceral experiences that capture and compel our audiences. Bear 71 and Welcome to Pine Point are two great examples of how multidimensional storytelling can come to life.

• Persona-Based Content
Move away from one-size-fits-all content model. As the Web becomes more targeted and personalized, content should follow suit. Create content with the audience personas in mind and then serve out tailored content based on what we know about the user. Whether through paid syndication programs or site user habits, we need to create unique content based on users instead of blindly blanketing everyone in the same way. For example, the video ad company MixPo allows you to tailor your video assets through personalization and targeting without creating multiple assets.

• Real-World Content
Use the physical environment as a part of the story. While QR codes have shown limitations, we should not ignore what TrendWatching calls “Point & Know.” The devices we carry enable us to connect what our eyes are seeing with the vast knowledge and interactions of the digital world. And if Google, and its Google Goggles, has its way we won’t even have to reach into our pocket or purse to bring this virtual reality to life

As we wrestle with the daunting task of scaling content marketing programs that reach and engage our audiences, we can’t forget to create amazing content that meets their needs and desires as well. No doubt technology will keep getting more immersive and allow us to find richer ways of telling our stories.


From bylines to Twitter handles

Julie Tarallo

Powell Tate is happy to invite you to a March 13 breakfast and panel discussion on how leading journalists navigate the changing media landscape.

If you can make it, please register to attend this free event.


  • Gloria Borger, Chief Political Analyst, CNN
  • Paul Brandus, Founder and CEO, "West Wing Report"
  • Howard Fineman, Editorial Director, AOL Huffington Post Media Group and Analyst, NBC/MSNBC
  • Charlie Mahtesian, National Politics Editor, POLITICO
  • Ylan Q. Mui, Financial and Retail Reporter, The Washington Post


  • Sally Squires, Senior Vice President, Powell Tate, former nationally-syndicated columnist and reporter, The Washington Post


  • Tuesday, March 13, 8-9 a.m.


  • Powell Tate, 733 10th NW, Washington, DC, 20001.


Nonprofits & Branding: The Way Forward

Paul Massey

Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone, writing in the spring 2012 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, offer a fresh look at the strategic role of branding in the nonprofit sector.  They introduce a compelling conceptual framework called Nonprofit Brand IDEA and illustrate how nonprofit leaders can build and manage a strong brand.  They make a persuasive case for why branding should be a core strategic focus at nonprofit organizations, and not solely a communications consideration.  And, they address common points of skepticism around nonprofit branding as well as highlight nonprofit leaders’ insights on its unique value.   

It’ll be no surprise here that our team sees strong branding as a vital part of successful nonprofit organizations.  Strong brands position organizations to communicate who they are, what they do, and why it matters – in authentic, emotionally relevant and meaningful terms – and yield increased capacity to achieve organizational outcomes, such as mobilizing advocates, enlisting new allies or generating broader support from the corporate sector.  Strong brands can guide and inform organizational decision-making.

A strong brand can also create a virtuous circle, or what Kylander and Stone call the “Role of Brand Cycle,” where a strong brand leads to enhanced capacity, which leads to stronger outcomes, which in turn strengthens the brand.  

The Nonprofit Brand IDEA framework is grounded in four principles: integrity, democracy, ethics and affinity. 

Brand integrity refers to how an organization’s internal identity aligns with outside perceptions. 

Brand democracy refers to the idea that internal and external stakeholders are empowered to express the brand.

Brand ethics means that the brand truly represents the organization’s core values. 

Brand affinity means that the brand cooperates and coexists with partners and allies.  

Above all, the model prompts thoughtful questions and synthesizes great advice and counsel in one comprehensive article – a perfect starting point for nonprofits grappling with the role of branding in their organization’s work.   


5 Sources for Keeping Up with International News

Jim Meszaros

Last week, my colleagues Greg McCarthy and Crystal Benton put together a list of must-reads on defense news sources. This week, I’d like to share my favorite sources of international news across various mediums.

READ the beyondbrics blog written by Financial Times reporters around the world. It’s great for short news items on economic, investment and business trends in emerging markets. You can sign up to have it delivered to your e-mail every morning.

FOLLOW Foreign Policy’s blogs, The Cable and Passport. The Cable’s Josh Rogin provides timely insights into U.S. foreign policy and national security issues, while FP’s editors offer commentary on a variety of international political, economic and security issues.

SUBSCRIBE to Stratfor, a subscription-based global intelligence service, with real-time analysis of events around the world, excellent special reports, and founder George Friedman’s thoughtful Geopolitical Weekly column. You can customize how much or how little analysis you want to receive (and pay for) daily.

SIGN-UP to get excellent economic and business global forecasting from The Economist Intelligence Unit. A good source for regional and country data, as well as trade, commodities, global risk and exchange rates forecasts.

WATCH Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square program on CNN, which features interviews with newsmakers on current international issues. It’s now available for download on iTunes if you miss the Sunday broadcast.



Do you remember the first time you saw your name in print?

Lance Morgan

Some decades ago, Sports Illustrated ran a small advertisement for itself and for magazines in general. As an aspiring journalist (I told you it was some decades ago), I kept the glossy page of text in my wallet for a long time. I don't remember the exact words, and the page is long gone from my wallet. But it began something like this:

"Woody Johnson, WoodyJohnson, woodyjohnson. Do you remember the first time you saw your name in print and how it made you feel?"

The magazine was making a simple point about seeing your name in a publication – written down in permanent printed recognition of accomplishment or achievement.

I think about the ad often these days because of the success of the new media and what it portends for the future of communications. Truth to tell, I have no idea what it portends about our future. But I know what it says about us.

All people have opinions about pretty much everything. Until recently, we voiced [sic] those ideas to each other almost always individually. And once we spoke [sic] our piece, it was gone; lost in the atmosphere.

Today, thanks to social media, we can communicate simultaneously to dozens, hundreds or maybe even thousands of our friends and followers. How we communicate is vastly different from the ways we have done in the past.

But what we communicate through the new media is the same. Words. In writing. It’s why so many people get into trouble these days for carelessly flopping around their half-baked thoughts and shoot-from-the-lip musings. Because words matter and writing them down – even in pixilated form – gives them the permanence missing from the spoken word.

Digital media may be taking over the world. And not all words stay written down for ever. (Thank god for small favors.) But it’s good to remember that many, if not most, words live on after they are typed or dictated. To be looked at, laughed at, respected or ridiculed.

Do you remember the first time you saw your name in print?



Innovation in Media – change has only just begun

Jess Dillman

As many of you know, Powell Tate is hosting several sessions for this year’s Social Media Week, and our session on Innovations in Social Media in the Developing World featured a speaker from the Knight Foundation’s International Journalism Fellowships, who told us about the many ways technology is transforming lives and creating better futures for millions of people around the world.

The Knight Foundation is well-known for advancing ideas that promote journalism and innovation in media, and we’d like to continue the conversation we started at social media week by telling you about an annual grant program funded by Knight that supports experiments and ideas that could revolutionize tomorrow’s newsrooms.

Last year, the Knight News Challenge awarded $4.7 million for 16 project ideas developed by organizations standing at the intersection of journalism, innovation, and technology - some of which are the biggest names in their industries (Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, Ushahidi, universities like MIT and UVA) - that have the potential to shape the future of media.

Together these organizations are collaborating, competing, and driving a major transformation that will ultimately shape the way news is reported. Here are a few of the grantees that we thought you should know about:

iWitness by Adaptive Path
Award: $360,000
Ten years ago, reporters were the only people at an event with the capability to broadcast the news live – today – it’s just about everybody. When an outlet sends a camera and a reporter to cover a political uprising, it’s actually a very narrow scope of what else is being transmitted from the ground – where virtually every active participant, protestor, and observer is live-tweeting, live-streaming, facebooking and twitpic’ing the events as they unfold. The iWitness Initiative may be the key to channeling these individual broadcasts – tweets, photos, videos – so that the voice of an event is no longer the single voice of a reporter speaking on its behalf, but the true and collective voices of every person experiencing it directly.

Frontline SMS
Award: $250,000
A lack of communication can be a major barrier for non-profits and other organizations working in developing countries. FrontlineSMS is the first text messaging system created exclusively with this problem in mind – facilitating dialogues between individuals and organizations without the need for the internet. By leveraging basic tools already available to most NGOs — computers and mobile phones — FrontlineSMS enables instantaneous two-way communication on a large scale. The software platform will be expanded through its grant project with Knight to work with community radio stations and other rural journalists to further innovate how underserved countries access and distribute information.

Swiftriver, by Ushahidi
Award: $250,000
As news events unfold, mobile phones and the Internet are flooded with unfiltered information. One of the greatest challenges especially in times of crisis is figuring out how to determine the good information from the bad, the relevant from the irrelevant, the urgent from the non-urgent. Through a new platform called SwiftRiver, Ushahidi aims to verify information by parsing it and evaluating sources to make such floods of information more useful and actionable to those who need it. Working across email, Twitter, web feeds and text messages, the platform will use a combination of techniques to identify trends and evaluate information likely to be credible based on its source. The project builds on Ushahidi’s past efforts to verify the crowdsourced information collected in global crisis scenarios like the Kenyan election crisis in 2008 and the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan.

We encourage you to take a look at each of the grantees on the Knight Foundation’s website, because chances are, you’ll be seeing them soon enough. 


5 Sources for Keeping Up on Defense Industry News

Greg McCarthy

[Also authored by Crystal Benton]

With the ever-changing landscape of the defense industry, keeping up on the important news is more challenging than ever. To help you focus, here are the top defense industry news sources we recommend following to keep informed of the latest developments.

1. Subscribe – Morning Defense Email (Politico): By 7:00 AM Politico’s Charles Hoskinson sends an email to your inbox providing a summary of the top news on defense issues, including the most important industry related news and the stories to watch that day.

2. Follow – Marjorie Censer on Twitter (Washington Post): While you should always read her stories, following her on Twitter is a must to keep up with breaking industry news throughout the day. Plus, we love her Twitter handle: @CommonCenser

3. Watch – “This Week in Defense News with Vago Muradian” on TV: As the website says, each week Vago Muradian, editor of Defense News, “probes the minds of some of the best thinkers in the defense industry.” Set your TIVO to record this show to get keen insights on what is happening in the defense industry or go to the website and watch past episodes. Don’t miss “Vago’s Notebook” for Muradian’s very knowledgeable, weekly analysis of issues impacting the defense industry.

4. Read – Print Edition of Defense News: If you want to know what are (or will be) the hot issues to the defense industry, take the time to flip through Defense News in print each week and pay close attention to who is buying ad space and what the message is. It provides great insights into who has skin in the game.

5. Support – Facebook and Twitter Platforms of Members of Congress Connected to Your Issues: Members of Congress are always important sources of news. Connecting through social media is an easy way to make yourself part of the discussion. Members and their staff appreciate new followers on their social media platforms and you can help them spread their news and they may help you spread yours. Check out the lists of Twitter handles for members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees we created for our client the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition (ACIBC).

Greg McCarthy served Director of Communications to U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), a Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower. Crystal Benton served as Press Secretary to U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and as Deputy Communications Director to his 2008 presidential campaign.


Discussing politics and technology at Social Media Week

David Leavitt

Powell Tate is proud to be hosting four events during Social Media Week.

Today, I want to tell you about two of them in particular that will be held Feb. 14:


Social Politics: How Technology Has Helped Campaigns

The social media landscape has changed drastically since 2008. We'll hear directly from panelists from Google, Twitter and Facebook as they delve into the tools and innovations that candidates and campaigns have utilized as the 2012 campaign heats up.

This discussion will feature:

  • Rob Saliterman - Google

  • Peter Greenberger - Twitter

  • Adam Conner - Facebook

  • Alex Howard - Government 2.0 Correspondent for O’Reilly Media (moderator)

Make sure to register for the event through this link.

Politics and technology: the media's role in the changing landscape

Digital platforms have changed the media landscape forever, but how has it changed the way the media covers politics? We'll ask a panel from Gannet, National Journal, ABC News and Politico as they discuss 2012 election coverage.

This discussion will feature:

  • Laura Cochran - Gannett

  • Rick Klein - ABC News

  • Keach Hagey - Politico

  • Alex Howard - Government 2.0 Correspondent for O’Reilly Media. (moderator)

Make sure to register for the event through this link.

We're really excited to be hosting these events and hope to see you there.


An Opportunity to Bridge the Digital Divide

Jamaal Young

One of the more important benefits of smart phones is that they are helping to bridge the “digital divide” between people who have access to the internet and those low-income Americans—particularly blacks and Latinos—who do not. For foundations that focus on workforce development, community-based organizations providing job training, and African-American and Hispanic-American advocacy groups this presents a great opportunity to collaborate with businesses to recruit, train and employ tech-savvy applicants.

According to the Pew Center, African Americans and Hispanic Americans are using their smart phones—particularly Android phones—to communicate ideas, access information and create content at greater rates than white Americans. As digital technology becomes increasingly more mobile, this would suggest that these communities are well-positioned to bridge the digital divide in a way that might overcome some of the historical challenges to economic success it has presented.

Take for example the unemployment situation, which is significantly higher amongst blacks and Latinos than whites. Right now, it is incredibly difficult to search for a job without access to the internet and perhaps even harder to apply for that job using a smart phone. Imagine if the “map” function on an Apple or Android phone, in addition to listing nearby restaurants, bars and movie theaters, also displayed those businesses looking to hire. People of color would then have greater awareness of employment opportunities in their neighborhoods. The next step would be to design job applications that are smart phone friendly, something that might not be too difficult given the amount of personal data stored on a typical smart phone.

Any organization looking to follow this path would have a strong partner in the federal government, which under the Federal Communications Commission just this month announced plans to expand broadband access and improve digital literacy for low-income Americans. They would also place themselves on the forefront of the kind of techniques any organization must use if it is looking to engage, educate or organize young Americans, who are also using mobile technology at an ever-increasing rate.


Sustainability shows a profit and reaches a tipping point

MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) recently published their annual global executive study and research report: Sustainability Nears a Tipping Point. Each year, they conduct a survey of nearly 3,000 executives asking them about the state of sustainability in their companies.

The results show the tremendous growth and support of sustainability all over the world. And, what is this tipping point they’re talking about? The point at which companies are not only seeing the need for implementing sustainable business practices (to maintain a competitive advantage) but they’re also starting to see the payoff.

This year’s results showed some very interesting trends that cut across industries including energy/utilities, consumer goods, commodities, chemicals and automobiles. A summary of results show that: 

1. Seventy percent of the companies surveyed have included sustainability as part of their management agenda and have no interest in turning back;

2. Two-thirds view sustainability as necessary to being competitive in today’s marketplace; and
3. Many companies are increasing their commitment to sustainability.

Another interesting point is that emerging markets are strengthening their commitment to sustainability. That’s something that global corporations will want to keep in mind as they expand into these rapidly growing markets – not only does sustainability provide you with a competitive edge in the U.S. but it might also help as you grow your business abroad.

Lastly, the report classifies a new category of sustainability “embracers” as Harvesters. These are the companies that prioritize sustainability throughout all levels of the company, integrate sustainability as part of a long-term business strategy, engage external stakeholders including regulators, suppliers, NGOs and citizen groups, and view sustainability as more than a reputation-enhancement strategy; they view sustainability as a way to drive profit and innovation. The question has always been: Is sustainability profitable? The answer, according to the Harvesters: Yes, it is.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the new sustainability tipping point. 


The Empowered Consumer: Will 2012 move from awareness to action?

Jackie Titus

Last week’s NYT iEconomy series has ignited a discussion around one of the most recognized and arguably loved brands of our time. The first article looks at why manufacturing jobs at Apple have gone overseas and are likely to stay there. The second reports on labor conditions inside Foxconn, one of Apple’s primary manufacturing partners.

As I read the second article about reported working conditions for the individuals who made the device I was holding, I began to consider:

What should Apple do?

To be fair, this issue is in no way limited to Apple. Foxconn is a manufacturing partner for several electronics companies bearing household names. However, Apple is a recognized leader in manufacturing and has significant influence. It raises the question of whether Apple has a strategic opportunity to leverage its influence and demand a dramatic change in working conditions.

We are familiar with the transition Wal-Mart has made from a villain to a pioneer in corporate sustainability, and the standards it has implemented among its suppliers.  A reasonable argument is that Apple can and should do the same, but it’s more complicated than that.

At the end of the day, we know Apple is running a business, and arguably the best around at doing just that. In Q1 2012 they sold 37.04M iPhones. This exceeded industry expectations and if the numbers are accurate, @LukeW shared a staggering statistic with the Twittersphere:

“There are more iPhones sold per day (402k) than people born in the world per day (300k)”

With a demand like that, as a business, Apple must supply it. Which leads to my next question…

What should consumers do?

The role of the empowered consumer was one of most exciting things to watch in 2011 and will continue to be in 2012. The rapid adaptation and influence of social platforms continues to grow and the voice of consumers is getting louder.  So, what is the tipping point at which consumers will tell Apple (and the industry at large) that they need to address labor conditions in the supply chain, and move from awareness to action?

Are consumers willing to accept that dramatic changes in manufacturing standards will likely impact availability (slower to market) and cost (likely to increase), and once that happens (assuming quality and service remain the same) are they willing to stick around?


Interested in joining our team?

Paul Massey

Our Social Impact team is growing – and we’d love to hear from you if you share a passion for working with corporations, foundations and nonprofits on social issues.

You’d be based at Powell Tate, one of Washington’s leading strategic communications and public affairs firms, and a division of Weber Shandwick.

Successful candidates will have experience developing and implementing programs to communicate how companies are creating business and social value, and/or working with nonprofits on brand-building, stakeholder outreach and public education campaigns.

Core required skills include strategic counsel of client teams, project management, writing communications plans, conducting media relations, building partnerships and leading social media engagement. Experience working on environmental sustainability issues is a plus.

A sense of humor is a must, as is an ability to navigate a fast-paced environment.

Qualified candidates will have a minimum of 5-10 years of CSR and nonprofit communications experience, preferably in an agency environment.

To apply, please send cover letter, resume and compensation history to, referencing CSR/Nonprofit in the subject line.

Powell Tate is an equal opportunity employer. EEO/AA.M/F/D/V.


We moved!

Pam Jenkins

A new year, a new space, a new perspective on the issues of the day. 

After more than 10 years on 13th Street, Powell Tate has moved to 733 10th St., NW, in the recently constructed, LEED-certified, all-glass Skansa building in the heart of Penn Quarter. 

We open our doors today with expansive, contemporary digs for our accomplished team of thinkers and doers – eager to bring fresh ideas about the issues our clients care about most.

We’re excited about this change – and are already lining up a number of events with newsmakers who will share their insights with our clients, staff and friends. 

Here’s to new beginnings!

See pictures of our new location.

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