posted by Kevin Smith Sep 30,2015 @ 08:00AM

Technology and Your Business - Preparing for Major Changes

Our state and nation’s social problems are nothing new. Thankfully, government, nonprofits and social enterprises have been working to address all manner of public need for years. Their efforts have often been heroic and their scale has been vast. South Carolina now has more than 8,000 organizations committed to the complex societal concerns facing so many of our citizens.

Despite the involvement of so many well-intentioned people and organizations, many issues are getting worse instead of better. Unfortunately, I believe this trend is going to further accelerate, and in a way that will impact your business. Navigating the changes ahead will require an unprecedented sense of organizational purpose and clarity of communication.

The Backdrop

Household income has been basically flat for five decades. The gap between rich and poor has increased dramatically since the 1970s. Meanwhile, multi-generational poverty remains unchecked.

There are victories here and there, and businesses are doing what they can through grants, volunteerism and board service. What is about to be hugely relevant is technology’s impact on our state’s population.

Thus far, technological improvements have had the most substantial impact on those at the top of the economic pyramid. Corporations have been able to harness technology to improve efficiencies and their bottom lines. Take automated airport check-in for example. The airline saves money on personnel and bolsters their bottom-line. This change might not be good for the displaced airline’s employee, but it is good for the shareholder. Nevertheless, the impact is not yet far reaching.

The Reality

More wholesale change is coming. We’re only a few years from vehicles that drive us. What will that mean for the 3.5 million truck drivers in America? Robots will soon be stocking supermarket shelves in addition to checking out our groceries. Diners are using electronic kiosks to place orders at casual dining restaurants. Both blue and white-collar workers will be affected. There is now software drafting legal documents instead of lawyers.

In short order, many low and middle-income jobs are going to be eliminated, and the pace with which these technologies are approaching is quickening. The industrial revolution moved the laborer from the farm to the factory. The knowledge economy moved the worker from the factory to a desk. This time, some believe the next destination will be unemployment.

Former American treasury secretary, Larry Summers, noted that in the 1960s one in 20 men ages 25-54 was unemployed. In ten years, it could be one in seven. So unless you own a Bentley dealership, this is going to impact your business.

The Opportunity

Where there is chaos, there is opportunity. I believe that what will emerge is the creative economy.

In this economy, organizations that thrive will have two things in common:

  1. Purpose: They will have absolute clarity about why they exist and the impact they intend to have on the world around them.
  2. Positioning: They will be able to communicate clearly and succinctly the unmet need they fulfill and how they do so differently.

These concepts are not new, but they will be more essential than ever. Purpose and positioning demand that businesses assess the core business they are in, how they deliver their product or service, and the degree to which they fulfill an unmet need.

If you are in a commodity business that caters to the middle or lower-income customers, the impact will be more substantial. Evaluating your purpose and positioning will prove key to a sustainable business model. Those who identify and address newly unmet needs will lead the creative economy.

Nonprofits will see the need for their services increase while their donor base declines. This will demand more efficient back-office, service and delivery systems, likely leading to mergers. Increased competition for donors will require more intentional marketing and brand positioning. The best communicators will be the most sustainable organizations. In short, the nonprofits will learn to invest in themselves and behave more like for profit businesses.

While few would say they are eager for such changes, they are coming. Preparing your business earlier can only make the path ahead easier. It is time for each of us to up our game.


This post originally appeared as a column in Columbia Regional Business Report.

posted by Courtney Fleming Sep 25,2015 @ 02:47PM

Empathy and the Power of a “Dislike” Button


I had one of those moments last week when you stop and pause and really, really think. I saw multiple posts along the lines of, “Facebook’s Getting a Dislike Button!” Half curious and half-laughingly, I thought to myself, “All the selfie-posters are going to really hate this one.” But after watching the Q&A with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announcing that the tech giant is almost ready to begin testing a “Dislike” button, I couldn’t help but smile.

There are so many times we stumble across heartbreaking posts and tragedies and feel the need to display some indication of support. The “I’m here for you” or the “This was hard to read, but it was worth the read” and even the adorable shelter dogs that pop up on your newsfeed that you can’t help but “like.”

A “like” doesn’t always seem appropriate. We don’t “like” that there are some pretty terrible things happening in the world, or that Buster, the 4-year-old German Shepherd, doesn’t have a forever home.

This soon-to-come button isn’t about disliking selfies or politics, it’s about empathy.

Zuckerberg said it best, “People aren’t looking for an ability to down vote other people’s posts. What they really want is to be able to express empathy. Not every moment is a good moment, right? And if you are sharing something that is sad, whether it’s something in current events like the refugee crisis that touches you or if a family member passed away, then it might not feel comfortable to Like that post.”

An empathy button... I “like” that.

posted by Teresa Coles Sep 23,2015 @ 05:11PM

The social company as bedrock for success

Open any business book or magazine these days, and you’re likely to encounter narrative around the benefits of being a “social” company. In fact, there are no less than 131,960 book results on Amazon under this exact heading.

What's that all about? And how could there possibly be this much fodder around the concept? Corporate social responsibility and the use of social media appear to have grabbed the microphone on this issue, given the prolific conversations in each of these two spaces.


The path of corporate social responsibility

Corporate social responsibility has made its way from a self-regulatory construct for major corporations in the 1960s to an element of the “triple bottom line” in the 1990s. Practices include a wide range of endeavors, from environmental sustainability and product innovation to skills-based employee volunteerism and corporate philanthropy. In 2011, the concept of corporate social responsibility was identified as a driver to creating shared value (CSV) by Michael Porter of Harvard Business School fame. This advanced model seeks to link economic and societal factors through conscious decisions that:

  • Identify unmet human needs.
  • Inform new products and services.
  • Optimize productivity in the value chain.
  • Build economic development clusters.

Social media, the great connector

The skilled use of social media has been credited as a catalyst on a seemingly endless list of strategic corporate objectives: trend and product launches; long-term brand influence; short-term sales; customer service; venture capital; crisis management; recruiting, and many other areas. While there’s no denying the impact of social media on these business imperatives, some thought leaders contend that the deification of social media can sometimes become a crutch for corporate leadership and effective decision-making.

 Which brings us to the third — and I submit, most meaningful — definition of what it means to be a social company.


Social core, social company, social brand

Social companies are those in which culture, products and services are in complete alignment with the organization’s purpose, vision and mission. These corporate beliefs impact everything in the company, starting with internal behavioral systems. For example, employees in social companies behave in a way that is highly collaborative, self-sacrificing and committed to group interests. Employees in companies that are more transactional — as opposed to social — typically are less collaborative and guided by their own self-interests.

The business world has become familiar with the characteristics of social companies through the work of leading authors such as Jim Collins, Seth Godin, Stephen Covey, Terrence Deal and others. They’ve exposed us to the social infrastructure that has defined success for companies such as Amazon, Google, UPS, Hewlett Packard, Southwest Airlines, IKEA, Trader Joe’s and many others. Their research has yielded data that clearly connects social companies to higher performance levels; one study indicates that social companies consistently perform at three times the Standard & Poor’s average.

Social companies achieve this kind of outward, quantifiable success by connecting their cultural expectations to exceptional product and service delivery systems, then bringing those to market through highly authentic brand marketing. There’s no question that the Patagonia brand is a direct reflection of Patagonia, the social company. Newer companies like Warby Parker and Harry’s are bringing fresh interpretations of what it means to be a social company, and their performance is there to back it up.


Size does not make social

Being a social company is in no way restricted to Fortune 500 corporations or national retailers. Any company — no matter the size or type of market — can apply the principles of social business. All it takes is the willingness to stop and consider three important whys:

  • Why your company really exists.
  • Why defining your belief structure is important.
  • Why the way you deliver your product and service is key.

Understanding these three concepts paves the way to an effective internal culture and an external brand that resonates with the market.

I believe American business is on the precipice of creating more value for humankind than ever before. As a marketer, it’s my great pleasure to work with companies that realize this and are building cultural and operational systems that support it. The social company knows its core, nurtures it and demonstrates it in the market. Executed well, success is the only outcome.


This post originally appeared as a column in Columbia Regional Business Report.

posted by Taylor Craig Sep 03,2015 @ 04:34PM

What Public Relations Professionals Actually Do

I declared my major as public relations during my sophomore year of college. Admittedly, at the time I wasn’t quite sure what exactly public relations entailed. Well, surely it involves dealing with people, right? I’m outgoing. I can do that, I thought. Three years, hundreds of writing assignments and a post-grad apprenticeship later, I’m realizing that a lot of people may not understand what public relations is—I know I didn’t. When I say that I work in public relations, I usually get responses like, “So you’re an event planner?” or “That’s cool, my aunt is also in marketing!”

Yes, part of my job is event planning, and digital marketing can go hand-in-hand with public relations to create an integrated campaign. But neither of those things fully describes what public relations professionals do. From the outside, the profession seems confusing. I experienced that confusion myself. I am now in the third month of my public relations apprenticeship at Riggs Partners, and I just finished planning and managing two huge events in two weeks alongside Kelly Davis, our public relations director. Together, these events have given me firsthand insight into what public relations professionals actually do.

1)   Planning – A crucial part of public relations is strategic planning. Planning encompasses almost every other aspect of public relations within itself. Planning for public relations includes research, establishing goals, formulating outreach and response strategies, implementing communications tactics, and evaluation. Public relations professionals must plan for what will happen and what probably won’t happen. In the words of one of my favorite professors, “Nothing just happens—if you are at all related to it, you are responsible for it.”

2)   Writing – In college, my professors always stressed the importance of writing in public relations. It is imperative to be an effective communicator in this profession. A large portion of my time is spent writing news releases, media advisories, story pitches, and social media posts. Proofreading is essential.

3)   Educating – One responsibility of public relations professionals is to educate and engage the public. From an agency perspective, this task varies greatly from client to client. In my experience, educating the public has meant spreading the word about a free service that people may be eligible for, informing people about an upcoming industry conference and encouraging them to register, or simply raising awareness about an important issue in the community. Another quote from that same professor, “In public relations, information is power.”


4)   Media Relations – One way to educate the public is to engage media participation in spreading the word about different issues and events. Part of our job as public relations professionals is to help the media do their jobs well. Media relations is much more than writing a fill-in-the-blank press release and distributing it to as many media outlets as possible. Instead, you must consider the audience you are trying to engage and focus on the media outlets that would be the most in-line with their needs. It is important to provide media with all necessary information and to connect them with the appropriate people for interviews to best tell your story. If you leave media hanging, they’re left to draw their own conclusions—which isn’t beneficial for anyone.

5)   Monitoring – Another large part of public relations is monitoring media coverage. If you sought media coverage of an event or story about your organization, it is important to check the coverage you earned for accuracy. Monitoring allows you to see which aspects were conveyed well and which aspects may not have been, and may teach you what to avoid for next time.

So yes, public relations professionals are event planners. And yes, they can be involved with marketing. But they’re also storytellers, crisis managers, media contacts, writers, researchers, educators, and so much more. As we wrap up a hectic summer, I feel incredibly thankful for the knowledge I’ve gained so far here at Riggs. These three months as a public relations apprentice have given me hands-on experience that has changed how I see public relations as a profession.

And perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned the importance of coffee (for those 4 a.m. news shots).


Kelly and me meeting the TV stations before Dental Access Days at 4 a.m.

posted by Michael Powelson Sep 02,2015 @ 12:23PM

Circa 1995

Three to five years.  That's the current lifespan of the average client/agency relationship. I'm not here to bless, bemoan or belabor this. It is, as we so poignantly say now, what it is.

But it's also a telling lens through which to note a remarkable milestone for one of our most remarkable clients.

Last Friday, First Community Bank celebrated its 20th anniversary. What began in 1995 with two banking offices, has grown into a publicly traded, multi-state entity that tallied more than 800 million dollars in assets last year.


Such growth has been achieved, in large part, by remaining steadfast to core principles. Sound fiscal planning. A commitment to relationships. And most importantly, a focus on, and loyalty to local businesses.

Including this one.

You see, last month also marked our 20th year as First Community's marketing partner. In all that time, they've done more than change the way we think about banking. They've shaped the way we think about business. First Community's insight and inspiration bleeds into just about every other account we work on. For their achievement, we could not be more grateful, nor they more deserving.

To Mike, Robin and the hundreds of other diligent and talented individuals that have made this anniversary possible, we offer the most heartfelt of congratulations.

Here's to you and all the homes, communities and businesses you've made better.

Including this one.


First Community's first ad, circa 1995:
First Community's first ad, circa 1995
Twenty years later:




By the numbers

youtube is 2nd largest search engine