Exciting news! Three senior hires have recently joined the Minneapolis office, deepening our expertise in public affairs and change management.

  • Rachel Zakariasen, former director of change communications for Medtronic, joined as senior vice president, change management and internal communications, United Minds in March.
  • Strategic communications and public affairs veteran Ted Davis, of Davis Communications Management, joined as senior vice president, public affairs in April.
  • Laura Cederberg, former assistant chief of staff to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, joined as vice president, client experience, public affairs in February.

“Rachel, Ted and Laura are savvy communicators and strategists, who are helping us deliver meaningful, high-impact solutions for our clients,” said Lorenz Esguerra, executive vice president and general manager, Minneapolis. “Each has brought a wealth of knowledge and experience in their respective fields, as well as strong ties to the dynamic community in which we live and work. The Twin Cities team is thrilled that they have joined us.”

Throughout her 20-year career, Zakariasen has driven business transformation and change initiatives for some of the world’s most recognized brands, including Nike, WebMD, and several large pharmaceutical and biotech companies. In her previous role at Medtronic, she led change communications for a $3 billion global transformation program. At United Minds, a Weber Shandwick consultancy, Zakariasen will lead change management and internal communications strategy for key accounts, while building the firm’s presence in Minneapolis and the broader Midwest.

Davis brings more than 30 years of experience in communications strategy, advocacy, media relations and public affairs, counseling business and community leaders across the state, including the University of Minnesota, Fairview Health Services and Ramsey County. He has also served as adjunct faculty at the University of Minnesota and Metropolitan State University. In his role at Weber Shandwick, Davis will lead the public affairs practice for Minnesota and the Midwest, providing strategic counsel for key accounts and broadening the firms’ engagement in public affairs.

Over the past decade, Cederberg has demonstrated leadership in C-suite positioning, integrated marketing campaigns and strategic communications, with previous roles at UnitedHealthcare, the Office of Governor Mark Dayton, and EMILY’s List. She was named a national “Next Generation” leadership award finalist by Route Fifty Magazine in 2018. At Weber Shandwick, Cederberg will advise clients on public affairs matters, manage key accounts, and help expand the firm’s public affairs practice in the Midwest.

We’re honored to work with clients doing meaningful work in their communities and industries, and it’s an added bonus when that work is recognized by our peers. This spring, our clients and teams received a variety of national and local awards for their work.

At this year’s PRovoke SABRE awards, we were recognized with our client The Minneapolis Foundation with the SABRE in Executive Leadership for work on the Conversations with Chandra podcast. The series, hosted by SVP of Community Chandra Smith Baker, tackles some of the city’s most challenging problems, from racial disparities and discrimination to policing to equity and equality. The Conversations dive deep into an issue, ask tough questions and prod community participation. Each Conversation comes with a book list to encourage listeners to further explore the topic.

Recent episodes have included conversations with Dr. Yuself Salaam, one of the “Central Park Five” who spent seven years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and Andrea Jenkins, the first African American openly transgender woman elected to public office in the United States.

In just the first months after its launch, more than 2,800 listened to the podcast, leading to a 581% increase in visits to the Minneapolis Foundation’s website, as well as significant increases in social media engagement. The podcast led the Mayor of Minneapolis to request Chandra and the Minneapolis Foundation administer the Justine Damond fund, which was established to honor the memory of Ms. Damond, a Minneapolis resident who was killed by police. If you haven’t listened to this podcast, make sure to learn more and download the episodes wherever you get podcasts.

We also learned that our work with the American College of Surgeons and its Clinical Congress Daily Highlights newsletter was recognized with a National PRSA Bronze Anvil Award for Digital Newsletters. The American College of Surgeons (ACS) – the largest organization of surgeons in the world – hosts an annual scientific conference, Clinical Congress, designed to keep surgeons at the forefront of their field. To showcase in-depth, complex scientific studies presented during the meeting, ACS worked with Weber Shandwick and our Element Scientific Communications team to produce a daily e-newsletter.

In 2019, our onsite editorial team of scientific reporters, a managing editor, a copy editor, a video team produced seven editions of the newsletter with 40 highly complex articles, three feature stories and 27 videos in just three days. The newsletter, which reached more than 70,000 surgeons, achieved a 55% open rate, nearly four times industry average, and a click-through rate of 15.4%. The newsletter was read more than 217,000 times and also received more than 360,000 impressions on LinkedIn with a limited promotion campaign.

On the local level, we were honored with eight Minnesota PRSA Classics awards for our work with the National Pork Board, IEEE and the aforementioned Minneapolis Foundation and American College of Surgeons. The awards included Special Purpose Publications, Content Marketing, Newsletters, Brand Research and Insights and B2B Marketing for the National Pork Board, Multimedia for the American College of Surgeons, Feature, Speech and Public Relations Writing for IEEE and Digital Execution for The Minneapolis Foundation.

Lastly, for the second year in a row, The Star Tribune named our office a Top Work Place in the National Standard group – a recognition we’re all extremely proud of.

Congratulations to our client partners and teams on their impressive and meaningful work!

In 2019, the Weber Shandwick Minneapolis pro bono program wanted to partner with an organization that focused on youth education initiatives that help close the education achievement gap.

We found that partner in Appetite for Change, a North Minneapolis based, non-profit organization whose mission is using food as a tool for building health, wealth, and social change. Through a variety of educational programs, hands-on workshops, employment opportunities and food-based businesses, AFC brings the people of North Minneapolis together to engage with fresh, healthy food, increase wealth and build social connectedness.

When AFC applied for our program, we found that their limited staff time to dedicate to communications presented several related challenges the nonprofit could use our help with.

AFC embodies a plethora of programs, cool work and unique projects, but they struggled to holistically describe what they do. We helped them by putting together a two-part plan.

First, we helped internal advocates tell AFC’s story in a more cohesive and concise way. To do that, we provided input on brand hierarchy, wrote cohesive key messages and trained staff on how to use them, and created a short and simple version of the messages to help youth and program participants become mission ambassadors.

Second, we helped them share their story with the community in a way that increased understanding about and support for their organization. This included new wireframes, copy suggestions for AFC’s website, and a new infographic to better explain how AFC builds a stronger food system for North Minneapolis. We also provided fundraiser support, such as helping to identify a spokesperson and amplify their annual fundraiser event, as well as media relations assistance. Finally, we helped build toolkits and craft efforts AFC staff could carry out once our work with them was done.

To help fulfill its mission, AFC is developing an employment and training program through Breaking Bread Café & Catering for underserved youth in North Minneapolis. In February, Weber Shandwick Minneapolis hired Breaking Bread to provide a monthly staff lunch to our employees. We feasted on a delicious assortment of food: Two types of roasted chicken (signature dry rub and chimichurri-style), quinoa patties with smoked tomato sauce, roasted root veggies, black beans and rice, citrus kale salad and coconut cornbread squares.

It was a great way to celebrate Black History Month and our relationship with AFC!

Newsrooms are shrinking and newspapers are folding. The political environment has become increasingly divisive. These two trends are deeply connected, according to a recent study in the Journal of Communications, and they are dangerous not only for the media and our democracy, but for us as PR professionals.

The divisive nature of politics has resulted in constant and sometimes vicious attacks on the mainstream media that has eroded the public’s trust in the media – to the point where trust in the media is at an all-time low.

Meanwhile, the well-documented economic troubles of newspapers have meant less local political coverage and more dependence on a national media who report on national issues and party politics. When a local newspaper closes its doors or cuts political coverage, political parties have the opportunity to fill that void with their more polarized perspectives. As a result, voters are feeling disconnected from local politics and more likely to vote along party lines, and legislators are more worried about how they are viewed in the national media than how they are viewed by their constituents, according to the new study.

These trends reinforce each other, and that spells trouble for the PR industry. First of all, our value is linked to the third-party credibility of earned media; our industry is at its healthiest when the media is, too. Second, many of our clients feel caught in the middle of our divided society and may feel compelled to take a side. Taking a side can present its own set of PR risks.

For many communities, local newspapers have been where elected officials and candidates for office can communicate their views to voters and where journalists can hold them accountable. In these ways, local news encourages good representation. Less coverage means that voters will be less connected to their communities and their elected officials; this leads to apathy or straight party-line voting, the study says.

As coverage of political issues and candidates is more relegated to the national media, they are likely to focus on whether legislators support or oppose their respective political party lines. As a result, legislators are becoming more attentive to the needs and preferences of their political parties than they are to those of their home districts. Subsequently, the study found that in counties where there is no local news, there is more likely to be straight-ticket, party-line voting than in those counties with local news media.

What can be done? Some media experts suggest experimenting with new models for local news that serve communities, such as the model pioneered by public radio and TV stations with membership donations, public grants and multimedia outlets. Others suggest local governments should create local taxing districts to support local news, such as the way the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District in the Denver metropolitan area levies sales taxes to support cultural organizations. Still others suggest content partnerships (such as with ProPublica), or a wealthy owner (such as Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post and the purchase of the Los Angeles Times by Patrick Soon-Shiong, a local biotech billionaire).

It is not clear yet where the solution will come from, but it is clear what will happen if there is no solution: an increasingly partisan country in which getting our messages out will become increasingly difficult. Meanwhile, corporations are often caught in the crossfire, with increasing public expectation that they will speak out or take a stand on national issues. That means, it’s more important than ever for communications teams to have a pulse on national issues that may impact their organization and be ready to respond.

Employers today have a significant credibility gap. According to a survey conducted by our research division KRC Research, just 19% of employees perceive a strong match between how their employer presents itself externally and what they are personally experiencing as an employee.

Closing this gap makes real business sense. The survey found those who feel a strong alignment between what their employer says and does are more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work (76% vs. 54%), encourage others to buy the company’s product or service (59% vs. 49%) and continue working for the company for at least another year (77% vs. 64%). They’re also more likely to be engaged at their job, putting in greater effort than those who don’t see alignment in the company’s values.

This isn’t just an American problem. Across the globe employees see the miss-match. Just 6% of employees in Japan think their company practices what it preaches, compared to 19% in the United Kingdom, 24% in Canada, 14% in France, 28% in Mexico and 33% in India.

What can employers do to close the gap? According to experts in our United Minds consulting division, employers should:

  • Lead with purpose internally and externally. Encourage diversity and inclusion, have a social purpose and provide employees with the tools and resources to do their job well.
  • Establish strong leadership based on credibility and trust. Respond quickly to a crisis, focus on culture, acknowledge employees and live up to the organization’s vision and values.
  • Ensure employees know the organizations values and goals. Clearly communicate a vision and keep employees informed.

Learn more about how our United Minds consultancy helps organizations manage change and increase employee engagement and see the full survey results here.

In today’s digital environment, brands interact with customers across multiple touch points, on multiple channels and along unique journeys. In fact, customers are increasingly involved in helping co-create the brand experience when they share on social media. Traditional metrics like return on investment no longer capture the variety and breadth of interactions created by today’s marketing activities. Instead, many marketers are turning to a new measure, return on experience (ROX), to better quantify the impact of their activities.

Metrics like return on investment consider revenues and costs, but don’t calculate intangibles created by storytelling, social sharing, event engagement or the multiple other touchpoints that may impact a customer’s purchasing decisions. As a result, too much attention on ROI may lead marketers to prioritize less effective tactics. How should you compare the return of a banner ad campaign to an in-store event if you don’t also calculate the opportunity for social media sharing and customer interaction?

Great customer experience not only makes customers feel appreciated, it results in tangible benefits. Customers are willing to pay an average of 16 percent more for a great experience, according to a PwC survey. And a bad experience will drive them away: nearly a third will leave after one bad experience and 59 percent after several.

A recent PwC report declared, “Experience is everything.” Return on experience helps marketers understand where and why their customers are engaging with the brand. It considers not just sales, but awareness and engagement that can benefit a brand over time. To get started, brands need to understand and map their customer journey, so they can identify and address potential experience gaps.

Increasingly, we find our clients need a customized measurement plan that ladders up to business goals and internal expectations while also demonstrating the value of today’s integrated campaigns. Measurement plans need a fresh look to make sure they effectively capture the results of all marketing activities. Metrics like ROX will help brands weigh the value of interactions with customers – as well as customers’ interactions with each other.

Although it’s not news that the newspaper industry has been shrinking, it is startling to see that decline put into context relative to the public relations industry.

Public relations jobs exceed reporting jobs by 6.4-to-1, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s more than triple the same ratio 20 years ago, when PR jobs outnumbered reporters by 1.9-to-1.

The trend is expected to continue well into the next decade: employment in PR is expected to rise by 9 percent to 282,600 by 2026 from 2016 while newspaper reporter jobs are expected to decline 9 percent to 45,900 over the same period, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

What does this trend mean for public relations?

Not surprisingly, reporters feel besieged by PR specialists. As newsroom jobs shrink, remaining reporters need to cover larger beats – which mean there are fewer reporters for PR specialists to contact. Bloomberg documents that reporters are indeed feeling overwhelmed by pitches, many of which they do not consider newsworthy or relevant to their beats.

Now, more than ever, PR specialists need to get to know the reporter before writing or calling (social media is great for that, as many journalists use Twitter and other social media to create their own personal brand), and make sure the story pitch is relevant, newsworthy and offers substantive interviews.

Shrinking newsrooms also have made PR specialists less reliant on the mainstream media. The evolution of online communications and social media has made it easier for organizations to communicate with target audiences. Organizations have gotten better at telling their own stories through articles, blogs, videos and other content published on their own websites or through social media. The most successful stories are those that are compelling, credible and authentic – and told without marketing fluff or corporate slogans. There are many ways we help clients create and then amplify the impact of these stories.

Although the PR industry has helped to fill the gap left by the shrinking news industry, the troubles of the news industry are not necessarily a boon for the PR industry. In many ways, despite their tensions, the two industries still depend on each other. Plus, our democracy depends on a free and honest press. Journalism’s pain is no gain for PR. Rather, in moving forward, it helps to feel that pain – and ensure pitches are targeted, thoughtful and newsworthy.

The Golden Age of Podcasts, i.e. when it was possible to hear almost anything you want for free, may be ending as an increasing number of top podcasts go behind the paywall.

One of the first big name programs to make the leap is David Axelrod’s Axe Files, featuring a broad selection of media, political and entertainment industry guests in deep, hour-long chats. The show will play exclusively at Luminary, a company backed with $100 million in venture capital funding and dedicated to becoming the “Netflix of podcasting.” Luminary has also pulled in some other big names in the podcasting world, including Malcolm Gladwell, Guy Raz, Leon Neyfakh (“Slow Burn”) and others. If you want to listen to these, even one of them, it’s going to cost $8/month.

It’s understandable why this day has come. Podcasts are following the seemingly inevitable path to monetization when advertising doesn’t cut it. Of course, we saw what happened to the newspaper industry when it was too slow to control access to its product.

Given the marketing dollars projected to move to podcasting in the next few years, it’s important for us as marketers to keep an eye on this.

More than 80 percent of physicians hear about new technology and advances from colleagues, according to a survey by Wolters Kluwer Health. Brands wanting to engage in these peer-to-peer conversations are increasingly establishing relationships with COLs, or connected opinion leaders – the social media savvy physicians who have a strong following among their peers.

While consumer brands regularly partner with influencers, the medical industry has been slower to engage with physicians online. Medical influencers must follow not just FTC advertising rules, but also those set by the FDA. Medical companies are more likely to engage key opinion leaders (KOLs) through more traditional activities like serving on advisory boards or speaking on behalf of a company at industry events.  

COLs present a new opportunity for health and medical companies, because they are more likely to be early adopters in their practices and actively engage in social networks and physician discussion groups.

A 2018 survey by Kantar Media found 17 percent of physicians say they are the most influential person in their practice in purchasing decisions. These opinion-leading docs are using new technologies such as telemedicine and web-connected monitoring tools for their patients, participating in online medical discussion groups and using professional social networks like Sermo and Doximity, according to the survey.

How can you identify these connected doctors? Influential physicians typically see at least 100 patients a week, work in an office-based practice, write a blog and speak at a medical meeting, according to the survey. Most are age 45 or older. COLs are more likely than their peers to participate in industry dinner meetings, meet with sales reps, view promotional videos, read printed or emailed newsletters and read print medical journals.

Our Weber Shandwick team has helped health and medical companies across industry segments reach physician audiences. We’ve found a mix of traditional tactics – like medical meeting participation, media outreach, email or events – and digital tactics is often needed to reach busy physicians. COLs are an increasingly valuable partner, especially as the next generation of physicians spends as much time on Twitter or Sermo as they do at conferences.

This year Weber Shandwick brought back No Boundariesa program that provides a stipend and five extra PTO days to employees to pursue a personally and professionally enriching experience. Katherine Hauser, a member of Minneapolis’ strategy team, was selected for the program. Here is a recap of her experience in her own words:

When applying for the program, I wanted to find something that would feed my brain and soul by combining two of my favorite things: international travel and structured learning (sign me up for a lecture on any topic, any day and I’ll be a happy camper).

I applied to attend a strategic thinking course put on by APG, the authoritative resource for planning and strategy, in London. Needless to say I was beyond thrilled when selected. This workshop, designed specifically for junior to mid-level planners, was the ideal complement to the mentorship and training available at Weber, and an opportunity to network and learn with fellow emerging planners. In addition to the course, I set out to explore as much of London as I could.

I came back from my experience armed with a dozen organizational tools and models to focus inputs and sharpen outputs. However, my No Boundaries adventure also taught me so much more – here’s my top three learnings:

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