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:

posted by Alexandra Frazier Jul 29,2015 @ 04:09PM

notes from a wordmonger


Note: these are not my hands.

Yesterday, I took a dip into the ether of my web browser history. It's a curious thing, to be curious about what you've been curious about. It's a more curious thing when you can evaluate the shape of your workday interests through the lens of Google search.

In addition to a daily perusal of news articles (I take my morning coffee with a side of current events) and a hundred client-related research queries, there's no shortage of fodder up for interpretation.

Highlights from the past week include atmospheric refraction, fiduciary responsibility, love and ketchup, Mr. Wonderful and the definition of nyctitropism. Predicate adjectives and the merits of "more proud" versus "prouder" make the list, as do balding medieval babies and an exploration into how hot chicken really happened.

Scroll a little farther down the page, and there, sandwiched between the oddities, you'll find no small number of visits to this idiom dictionary. Of all the revealing 500+ word procrastinations in my web history, the dictionary stands out and apart.

As we move into a more human era of branding, it feels only natural to seek out and take inspiration from everyday language's most suggestive turns of phrase. Just witness the longevity of Allstate's "You're in good hands," and you can begin to fathom why idiomatic expression might help bridge the messaging gap between what a brand wants to say and what an audience is willing to hear. And yet, leave it to Virginia Woolf—a woman who surely existed in that easier place before brands—to articulate the potential dangers of this approach.

In Woolf's superb 1937 essay, "Craftsmanship," she espouses that the moment we cherry-pick words from their natural habitats is the moment they lose their human realness and nuance. Worse, she writes, is that when the words become unreal, "we, too, become unreal — specialists, word mongers, phrase finders, not readers."

Phrase finders, not readers. Ouch. But what a perfect reminder that, long after we've tested the weight of a pen in our hands, someone else will have the choice to read or refuse what we've put to paper. All it takes is a trip through our own data-clouded wires to see Woolf's maxim reflected in our histories.

We are readers first.

posted by Michael Powelson Jun 17,2015 @ 02:27PM

More Things That Happen Less

American Pharoah vs. The United States of On Demand


 Victor Espinoza said he knew coming out of the first turn.

 Knew that the hiccup at the gate wouldn’t matter. That the previous 37 years didn’t either. And that American Pharoah would dictate the terms of the next mile-and-a-quarter, fending off all comers with strides that seemed to stretch the lengths of Cadillacs.

 It would take a bit longer for the rest of us to know. But soon we too understood just how transcendent two-and-a-half minutes of flapping silk can be.  Still, as the afterglow smoldered into something more contemplative, many of us came to a different conclusion. Consciously or not, we began to register that the previous 37 years did matter, and that they mattered a great deal.

 On the Monday following the first triple crown since 1978, sports writers and cultural columnists noted just how rare it was to see a unanimous, uncomplicated joy spread from the grandstand, over the airwaves, and into the digital zeitgeist. Blogs dissected the event. Newsfeeds echoed the homestretch replay. And friends-of-friends who wouldn’t know groom from gelding high-fived in the comments sections. A collective fascination had taken hold. One that certainly had something to do with a remarkable animal accomplishing one of the most difficult feats in sports. But one that had everything to do with the 37 years since it happened last.

 In his reliably brilliant way, Charles Pierce used a Grantland column to point out that it wasn’t as much the collection, but the content of those years that struck us so.

 This was something that hadn’t happened since before the Internet, before the Macintosh and the iPod, before companies merged and banks swelled, and before instant communications and the marketing thereof. The thrill was vestigial, at least by the standards of our age of perpetual motion. That’s what kept it pure. That was what kept it free. It was people and it was a horse, both genuine creatures from different parts of creation, beyond naming rights and copyrights, an easier place before brands.

“…an easier place before brands.” As a creative director, I’ll be chewing on that one for a while. Maybe because it’s hard to swallow. But maybe because I like the way it tastes.

 Like everything along the continuum of arts and sciences, I believe marketing can illuminate the human condition. Unlike those other disciplines, however, it has a pitiful track record of doing so. Far too often we are bludgeoned with advertising that stokes our lesser impulses of greed, insecurity, and intellectual laziness. Far too seldom are we enlightened by messages that invoke the better angels — charm, vulnerability, empathy, wit.

 This is why I‘m still savoring the marrow in the bone Pierce picked. We could be doing so much better in this industry. A lighter touch. A kinder eye. A broader focus on what makes us human instead of only what makes us act. The gap between what branding is and what branding could be is immense. Which makes the challenge of narrowing it irresistible.

 And it’s certainly not just branding. It’s technology and culture and the unprecedented acceleration of their love affair. Since 1978, we’ve learned to engineer gratification in ways no one who watched Affirmed win the last triple crown could have imagined. We are now the United States of On Demand.

 Money ball. Free two-day shipping. The complete new season of your favorite show in a single evening.

 These are hardly signs of the apocalypse. And anyone who pretends to not live in an age of unparalleled potential is kidding themselves. But it’s equally delusional to deny that the more you engineer gratification, the less gratifying it becomes.

 I suspect that this is what you really heard when Pharoah rounded the final turn, and the grandstand erupted, and 22 million of the rest of us hollered at our screens like lunatics sprung fresh from the booby hatch. This is what echoed on the blogs and in the replays:  A collective exultation for something that couldn’t be dictated.  Something that wasn’t engineered or even earned, but simply, and most importantly, waited for.

 In a world where I’ve become conditioned to binge watch and put all my chips on the black of big data, I’m increasingly grateful for those truly special, rarest of happenings. The ones that none of us, nor all of us, could ever will into being.

 So along with all the consumer-empowering innovations sure to keep coming down the pike, I’m now hoping for more things that happen less.

 I'm not quite sure what that hope means for brands and the media they use to communicate. But I promise to keep chewing on it.




By the numbers

youtube is 2nd largest search engine