Top Picks from Day 2 of the Social Good Summit

Sep 20

Day 2 of the Social Good Summit was also very uplifting and attendees walked away with the clear directive to aim high and use your voice to affect change. Every talk was inspiring, but here are my top picks:

The Summit began with a big salute to the 17 UN Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) who were selected from more than 18,000 nominations. These leaders will work with the Office of the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth to engage young people on the most pressing SDGs. Winners included:

  • Ankit Kawatra, Founder and Chairman of Feeding India, founded Feeding India in 2014 to address two issues at once – hunger and food waste.
  • Trisha Shetty, Founder and CEO of SheSays, a platform to educate, rehabilitate and empower women to take direct action against sexual assault in India.
  • Samir Mezghanni, a Tunisian-Iraqi author of over 100 short stories for children and 14 books focused on advocating for youth empowerment in Tunisia.


Actor Alec Baldwin and activist Patricia Gualinga at the Social Good Summit. Image: Mashable

Actor Alec Baldwin and activist Patricia Gualinga at the Social Good Summit. Image: Mashable

Actor Alec Baldwin spoke with Ecuadorian advocate Patricia Gualinga about the dangers of de-forestation on climate change. Patricia explained that in order to reach our SDGs on climate change, as well as follow the Paris Climate Agreement, we must focus on protecting our forests. Indigenous people from countries such as Ecuador are not receiving enough support from their government to protect against illegal logging and extracting industries, and as a result, carbon will release into the atmosphere at faster rates. Indigenous people don’t want their trees destroyed.

You could hear a pin drop as Vice President Joe Biden delivered a passionate speech on the Cancer Moonshot. He stated, “at no time in history have we had so much power… available to make a difference for so many people.” Biden believes that “we can double the rate of progress towards curing cancer in if we all work together.” So here’s what governments, cancer research centers, drug companies and health care systems around the globe must do:

  • Data sharing and technology: Standardize data and make it easily accessible to researchers around the globe. Example: The Department of Energy will work with Norway to share cervical cancer screening data. Technology systems like IBM Watson can help researchers and clinicians work more efficiently.
  • Redesigning cancer clinical trials: Bring the FDA and the private sector together to design smarter and more efficient clinical trials by modifying the criteria for who can participate and by sharing control groups across studies.
  • Join with other nations to strengthen cancer research and treatment: To that end, Biden announced the creation of regional hubs funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), focusing on the cancers that pose the greatest problems in that region.
  • Continue research on more targeted treatments: Immuno-oncology drugs have significantly advanced the way we treat the most intractable cancers, such as melanoma and lung cancer. These treatments work in ways never imaginable – by boosting immune systems instead of killing healthy cells.


I am looking forward to next year’s Summit and hearing about the amazing progress we have made across a number of critical issues, especially in the areas of global cancer control, antibiotic resistance, gender equality and climate change. Ultimately, almost everything discussed over the course of the Summit is rooted in behavior change programs that work at the individual, community and policy levels.

3 Themes from Day 1 of the Social Good Summit

Sep 19

Social Good Summit logo

I am very excited to be attending the Social Good Summit at the 92nd Street Y. Day One of the Summit–which examines the impact of technology and new media on social good initiatives around the world–focused on the following themes:

  1. To address core problems facing the globe, change must happen at the individual, community, policy and corporate levels.
  2. Steps taken now that result in positive change will ensure our children and grandchildren live better lives.
  3. We cannot see lasting change here in the U.S. unless we all work together to help address issues affecting developing countries around the globe. The U.S. has an obligation to lead the charge; this is no different from how we helped Europe and Japan rebuild after WWII.


Against these themes, experts, thought leaders and entrepreneurs shared the specific ways we can make a difference and reach our Sustainable Development Goals, which in total, are a fundamental promise to save and protect lives around the globe. Here are some highlights:

Addressing Gender Equality Has a Positive Impact on Developing Nations

Societies benefit when women who have access to education, health care and food. However, in order to truly tackle gender equality issues, we must do several things:

  • Ensure there are more women in top government leadership positions. Said UNDP Helen Clark and Former President of Malawi, Joyce Banda: “Women in leadership have to be tougher. We need to roll out the carpet ourselves and kick down the door. And when you get to the top, drop the ladder down for others to follow.”
  • UNF’s Emily Courey spoke about the need to improve access to better data that provides a more complete picture of issues affecting women in developing countries.
  • Jean Case, founder of the Case Foundation, encouraged investment by VCs to fund female entrepreneurs to tackle the most daunting challenges around gender inequality.


Using Technology for the Sake of Humanity

In order to truly seed innovation at a rapid pace, film producer and entrepreneur Mick Ebeling says we must embark on a “Revolution against the absurd.” That means following this simple rule: “Elect to commit and then figure it out.”

In other words, say “yes” to tackling an issue even before you have a solution. That philosophy has already resulted in major breakthroughs. Just recently, Mick lead the creation of an eye writer for an ALS patient who was completely paralyzed and created a 3-D prosthetic for a young boy in Sudan who lost both his arms in a bombing.

Teddy Goff, Chief Digital Strategist for Hillary Clinton, spoke of the importance of storytelling through video. Video shared via social media reveals injustices. The downside: the rapid pace of profiling injustices fuels feelings of slowness to address society’s greatest problems.

Launching behavior change programs that spark a global movement can turn the tide around key issues affecting developing nations, including climate change and antibiotic resistance.

We heard the head of the GAVI Alliance, Dr. Seth Berkley, discuss how fighting anti-microbial resistance (aka the emergence of super bugs) – requires the collaboration of policy makers, people, pharmaceutical companies and physicians on the proper use of antibiotics to treat infections. Otherwise bugs will continue “to have sex” at a crazy pace.

According to Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy for El Nino and Climate, we need a global movement not for climate change, but for climate justice. This means elevating climate change as a social issue because it must occur in a way where land rights are respected and gender equality is ensured.

More to come! On today’s agenda Vice President Joe Biden, Alec Baldwin and Jane Goodall.


How the World Wins When Presidents Survive Disease

Sep 15

As Barack Obama’s presidency comes to an end, there’s a lot of discussion about legacy and predictions about how he’ll be remembered. It has me thinking about how we remember the other men who have held that high office. Those who are considered our top presidents have profound epitaphs, but their contributions to public health barely make it onto their Wikipedia pages.

Mount Rushmore

What if more U.S. presidents were remembered for their contributions to public health?

Our first president, George Washington, was the incredibly skilled commander of the Continental Army, he was the first to sign the U.S. Constitution, and he was unanimously elected president in the country’s first two elections.

Well before all of that, when Washington was 19 years old, he contracted smallpox. He survived the disease, which killed 1 of 3 people who were infected, and lived with its characteristic facial scarring for the rest of his life.

Whatever lessons Washington may have learned from this experience, perhaps the most valuable was the lesson that because he had been infected with and survived smallpox, he wouldn’t be at risk of getting it in the future. He was immune, like all the others who had survived the disease.

He had to act on that lesson as a military leader. The formation of the Continental Army itself was the first time that so many men from across the colonies came together in one place (since people didn’t usually travel much then), so it was a natural breeding ground for disease. In some ways, it was the first, albeit accidental, laboratory for public health in the U.S.

Whenever there was an outbreak or a situation in which smallpox might be a factor, Washington would send in soldiers that had already endured the disease to avoid an outbreak among his troops. It was an effective strategy, but Washington knew that variolation (a method of immunizing with a mild form of the disease) was far better—especially as it was believed that the British were using smallpox as a form of biological warfare.

There was a lot of skepticism and objection to the practice of vaccination in Washington’s day. But he pressed forward, saying: “Necessity not only authorizes but seems to require the measure, for should the disorder infect the Army . . . we should have more to dread from it, than from the Sword of the Enemy.”

Washington had to resist the desire to inoculate all the troops at once because he knew that he couldn’t survive the war with all of his men sidelined for the month necessary to recuperate. Instead, he instituted a controversial system where new recruits would be inoculated with smallpox immediately upon enlistment. As a result, soldiers would contract the milder form of the disease at the same time that they were being outfitted with uniforms and weapons. Soldiers would consequently be completely healed, inoculated, and supplied by the time they left to join the army.

By the end of 1777, nearly 40,000 troops had been inoculated, and the smallpox infection rate among soldiers dropped from 17 to one percent. Washington showed the soldiers and people of his time that the best way to avoid diseases like smallpox was vaccination.

It took more than 200 years after Washington’s contributions, but in 1979 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global eradication of smallpox. It is one of only two infectious diseases that has been eradicated globally—the other is rinderpest, a cattle-borne disease eradicated in 2011.

Nearly 150 years after Washington was in office, Franklin Delano Roosevelt established his own legacy: he ended Prohibition, pulled the country out of the Great Depression, and bolstered Allied Forces during World War II.

FDR also had polio, which he contracted at age 39 in 1921.

As president, FDR founded the organization that eventually became the March of Dimes. Donations to the March of Dimes funded research seeking a cure for the disease and laid the foundation for Jonas Salk’s successful development and implementation of a vaccine against the virus in 1952. Polio was declared eradicated in the United States in 1979.

Despite this success, polio still hasn’t achieved worldwide elimination. Learning that there were less than 100 cases diagnosed in 2015 might lead you to believe that worldwide eradication is imminent. Frustratingly, it’s not. In a 2011 New York Times article, Don McNeil reported: “Although caseloads are down more than 99 percent since the [global eradication] campaign began in 1985, getting rid of the last 1 percent has been like trying to squeeze Jell-O to death. As the vaccination fist closes in one country, the virus bursts out in another.”

The good news is that we have the diagnostic tools to detect polio and an effective intervention (a vaccine), so in theory it’s possible to eradicate the disease. India is the latest country to have officially stopped transmission of polio—with its last reported case in 2011. Only three countries remain where the disease is endemic—Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria.

So while we’re inundated with stories of email servers and 50 ft. walls this election season, a more important topic of conversation is what type of public health legacy our next president has the opportunity to leave. The reality is that a president doesn’t have to survive disease for the world to win. When our next president leaves office, polio or another disease could be eradicated. I think it’s a worthy and achievable goal.

ColorComm 2016 – Inspiring and Enlightening Time with Women of Color in Communications

Aug 05

Public relations agencies have increasingly been under scrutiny for their lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity at senior management levels. Women of color grapple with these issues on a daily basis—highlighting the reality that all communications professionals must play a role in addressing this problem.

To better understand these dynamics, several members of the Ogilvy Washington Social Change team attended the 2016 ColorComm annual conference and retreat, July 20-22, 2016 in Key Biscayne, FL. ColorComm is the only organization for women of color in communications. Several Fortune 500 companies and communications agencies – both large and small – were represented at this year’s meeting. This year’s theme, “Leading the Way,” focused on matters of importance to women of color in the industry including the lack of women in the C-Suite of PR firms, the impact of social media as it relates to multicultural marketing, financial insights and tips, and intimate talks with some of the most influential women of color in the industry.

Attendees were challenged to: 1. Speak Up 2. Follow Up and 3. Step Up. As Lauren Wesley Wilson, Founder & President of ColorComm described this year’s theme, if you want something in your current role, speak up; follow up with the people you are trying to get in front of; and most importantly, step up, because opportunity does not knock on your timeframe and it may not come around again.

On the first day of the conference, Ogilvy sponsored a panel discussion entitled, “Tapping Into Your Creative Genius,” led by Jennifer Risi, Managing Director, Ogilvy Media Influence; Kathy Baird, Executive Vice President, Ogilvy Content + Social; Lily Eng, Vice President, Technology & Ogilvy Media Influence; and Stacey Ryan-Cornelius, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide Financial Controller. This discussion was a powerful moment to kick off the conference because it set the tone for an open and comfortable forum to discuss social issues.

Other distinguished panelists included motivational speaker Lisa Nichols who was featured in the movie, “The Secret,” which teaches the principles of abundance and attraction. Nichols’ session, “How to Live an Abundant Life,” was enlightening because it normalized our ubiquitous struggle with work-life balance.

In addition, I’m pleased to say that one of the major outcomes from this year’s conference is to create an inter-agency task force led by Lisa Ross, Managing Director at Apco Worldwide, focused on the barriers preventing women and people of color from leading in the C-suite of PR firms. The goal will be to create long-term, sustainable solutions that eliminate barriers and a call for application of those solutions industry wide.

Ogilvy colleagues left this year’s sold-out ColorComm conference inspired and fulfilled by the conversations of change and progress. We are pleased that Ogilvy has made a commitment to making diversity a priority within the company (see Ogilvy’s philosophy on Diversity & Inclusion) and look forward to seeing sustainable changes in the industry in the very near future.

I will close with a Facebook post by Stuart Smith, Global CEO, Ogilvy Public Relations, who commented, “Had great time with friends and colleagues at Colorcomm 2016. Diversity & Inclusion. Right for our people. Right for our clients. Right for our business. Right. Period.”

Please see related ColorComm posts from Ogilvy colleagues, Jen Risi, and Jean-Rene Zetrenne, Chief Talent Officer, Ogilvy & Mather: and comm group photo

Lesson on Infographics from John Snow (no, not that Jon Snow)

Jan 12

Data visualization. Information architecture. Infographic.

These are buzz words in the modern communications environment where the ability to show processes, statistics, and messages in a visually pleasing way has become communications gold. The growth of communications platforms like Facebook and Twitter has driven the value of graphic content, including infographics, which can be shared with the click of a button.

But what makes a good infographic?

In his 1983 book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, data visualization pioneer Edward Tufte says that ‘graphical displays’ should:

  • Show the data;
  • Induce the viewer to think about the substance rather than about methodology, graphic design, the technology of graphic production, or something else;
  • Avoid distorting what the data have to say;
  • Present many numbers in a small space;
  • Make large data sets coherent;
  • Encourage the eye to compare different pieces of data;
  • Reveal the data at several levels of detail, from a broad overview to the fine structure;
  • Serve a reasonably clear purpose: description, exploration, tabulation, or decoration; and
  • Be closely integrated with the statistical and verbal descriptions of a data set.


He also claims that: Graphics reveal data. That’s an important point.

I’ve always appreciated the power of a good infographic, but during a recent trip to London I got a fortuitous lesson on the history of the tool when I was introduced to John Snow.

Way back in the 1850s (when, forget Facebook, the first transatlantic telegraph cable was laid), Snow was a skeptic of the then-dominant theory that diseases such as cholera and bubonic plague were caused by pollution or “bad air.” The germ theory of disease had not yet been developed, so Snow did not understand the mechanism by which the disease was transmitted. He first publicized his theory in an 1849 essay, On the Mode of Communication of Cholera, followed by a more detailed treatise in 1855 incorporating the results of his investigation of the role of the water supply in the Soho epidemic of 1854.

By talking to local residents, he identified the source of the outbreak as the public water pump on Broad Street (now Broadwick Street). Although Snow’s examination of a water sample from the Broad Street pump did not conclusively prove its danger, his studies of the pattern of the disease were convincing enough to persuade local officials to disable the well pump by removing its handle. This action has been commonly credited as ending the outbreak.

Snow later used a dot map to illustrate the cluster of cholera cases around the pump. He also used statistics to illustrate the connection between the quality of the water source and cholera cases—showing that the Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company was taking water from sewage-polluted sections of the Thames and delivering the water to homes, leading to an increased incidence of cholera. Snow’s study was a major event in the history of public health and geography. It is regarded as the founding event of the science of epidemiology.

Cool, huh?

Original map by John Snow showing the clusters of cholera cases in the London epidemic of 1854.

Original map by John Snow showing the clusters of cholera cases in the London epidemic of 1854.

Snow’s Soho infographic was simple, but brilliant. By plotting cholera deaths by household, as well as the location of the water pumps, it truly revealed the data that pinpointed the source of that cholera outbreak and identified the sewage-polluted water system as the carrier of the disease.

What else made it a good infographic? Well, by Tufte’s standards, it encouraged the eye to compare different pieces of data (volume and location of cholera deaths vis-à-vis the local water pumps). Though the map doesn’t convey the population of the area, it does show that the largest cluster of deaths was closest to the Broad Street Pump—and as you get further and further away from the pump, deaths were less frequent. In part as a result of this map, when the next big cholera epidemic threatened London, authorities acknowledged that water was the problem and told residents to boil their water. And that was the last cholera outbreak to hit London.

As a communications professional, I’ve helped produce my fair share of infographics for clients. I’ve seen plenty of excellent ones that tick off most or all of Tufte’s criteria. (Check out a few of the latest recognized in The Best American Infographics 2015, featured on Popular Science.) But I’ve also seen some bad infographics. I won’t call any out here, but these examples generally forsake the data for creativity or vice versa.

For me, Tufte’s guidelines and Snow’s work reinforce the importance of the Ogilvy twin peaks of creativity and effectiveness—a driving philosophy that we strive for creativity in the unique ways in which we help our clients solve their problems while, at the same time, focus relentlessly on our effectiveness so we have undeniable proof that our creativity makes a meaningful difference.

Not every infographic is going to save lives, but we should remember that they indeed can.

London, January 2016. Outside the John Snow pub with the plaque recognizing the location of the Broad Street Pump and John Snow’s discovery of in 1854 that cholera is conveyed by water.

London, January 2016. Outside the John Snow pub with the plaque recognizing the location of the Broad Street Pump and John Snow’s discovery in 1854 that cholera is conveyed by water.

Please note: I borrowed liberally from Wikipedia for the background on John Snow and the Soho cholera outbreak.

You Are What You Tweet

Aug 13

‘Slice of life’ tweets have been some of the most scorned content on the Internet. Who really cares if you’re frying up grass-fed bacon by the pound or binge watching the latest season of House of Cards from your couch? Most of us consider this the custard-like filling of the Twittersphere—lots of calories, little substance.

However, by virtue of sheer volume, these very tweets may be useful for tracking and forecasting health-related behavior if the data can be extracted in an accurate and efficient manner. Increasingly, ‘big data’ innovators are harvesting the 200 billion tweets posted each year to help inform and influence public health efforts in a growing field known as computational health science.

Take the Lexicocalorimeter for example. Researchers at the University of Vermont developed this online, interactive tool to measure the caloric intake and output of Twitter posts by building an extensive list of foods and activities and assigning each a number of calories. The rough ratios of these measures are presented by state to establish a real-time ranking of caloric balance.

Generated by the Lexicocalorimeter, the maps below show which food and activity was most significant for each state at a given point in time. For example, “tomatoes” and “dancing” lead in California while “cake” and “eating” are most popular in Mississippi, the most obese state in the nation. Turns out the tool’s caloric balance data strongly correlates with health stats reported by the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System—the gold standard of behavioral surveillance.

Lexicocalorimeter image

There also have been a number of efforts to use social media to track and predict the magnitude and progress of the flu. During the 2012-2013 flu season, scientists from Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University developed a Twitter tracking system that was 93 percent accurate when compared to national flu data collected by CDC (“National and Local Influenza Surveillance through Twitter: An Analysis of the 2012-2013 Influenza Epidemic”).

Flu twitter graphic

To achieve this level of accuracy, researchers had to create an algorithm that would separate chatter from useful information. For example, one problem with mining Twitter to determine flu incidence is that people aren’t just using the platform to discuss their own exposure or symptoms, but also to discuss the flu in general (especially after relevant news coverage). There are also thousands of tweets that need to be weeded out even though they include relevant terms (e.g., “Bieber fever” or “the cost of gas makes me sick”).

While there are opportunities and challenges to consider, both of these examples indicate that Twitter has the power to track and predict public health issues.

Benefits and Challenges chart

Benefits and challenges associated with using Twitter to inform public health efforts.

We must consider how we can use this information as health communications professionals. For the most part, my day-to-day interaction with Twitter revolves around the content that clients can push out and less on how they can listen and learn from what others are posting. But clearly there is a lot to learn and act upon if we spend more time harnessing the power of Twitter.

To start, we should use this type of data to inform awareness, education, and behavior change efforts by better understanding when and why people are collectively talking about particular public health topics or activities. With insights gleaned from tools like the Lexicocalorimeter, we can design education and outreach efforts with tailored, state-specific health messages; with flu data, we can predict where and when illnesses will spread, providing public health systems with advanced warnings and more time to pull together necessary resources.

Twitter data can also be used to identify misperceptions around health issues, therefore, informing what audiences to target with communications efforts. The Hopkins analysis of flu-related tweets found that a significant number of people were taking antibiotics to treat flu symptoms; however, we know that antibiotics don’t treat the flu, which is a virus. This valuable insight should be used to help inform messaging for flu experts interacting with the media and future antibiotic misuse campaigns.

As communications professionals, we must be nimble, efficient, and constantly innovating to create and refine our outreach strategies. I look forward to following this growing trend as we continue to realize the power of Twitter’s collective voice—even all the content ‘junk food’ that inspires more than the occasional eye roll on my part. Maybe I’ll have more tolerance for it now!

Walking the Fine Line – Fear and Health Communications

Jun 05

Ronald Klain speaking at the Health Conference. (Photo Credit: 1776)

Ronald Klain speaking at the Health Conference. (Photo Credit: 1776)

I had the opportunity to recently attend the Health Conference at 1776’s Challenge Festival. The first part of my day was spent immersed in panel discussions that featured thought leaders whose end goal is to create a healthier world. The second part of my day was spent sitting on the edge of my seat while 20 health-focused start-ups from around the globe pitched their companies to the panel of judges.

Despite the excitement that pumped through me during the Shark Tank-esque portion of the event, my mind would continuously drift back to the “fireside chat” given by Ronald Klain, aka the “Ebola Czar,” whose role is was to keep the bureaucratic gears turning to efficiently and effectively foster solutions to the already raging epidemic.

Throughout his talk, he often underscored the importance of communications in helping control the outbreak. He emphasized how effective communication–both internal and external–helped provide a rapid response, build medical infrastructure, coordinate across government agencies, and manage public fear.

I was particularly interested in the discussion of how communications acts as both a mediator and a (often, unintentional) propagator of fear.

Deborah Kotz effectively summarized this phenomenon in the context of the Ebola crisis in an article she authored for the Boston Globe, “An estimated 36,000 Americans are expected to die of the flu this year, but, if history is any indication, the majority of us will skip the recommended yearly vaccine. We’d likely, however, be lining up around the block to get an Ebola immunization if one was available — even though only one person has died of the infection in this country so far.”

In health communication, we often have to walk the fine line between sharing critical information without sparking irrational concerns. This high-wire act is even more important in the age of social media where misinformation can spread like wildfire. Our challenge of health communicators is to 1) be proactive without inadvertently adding fuel to the fire and 2) As Mr. Klain explained, acknowledge to the public that their fear is normal to an extent, while providing information to mitigate the fears to a realistic level. Communications as a mediator of fear, however, often comes after the fire is already burning bright.

Mr. Klain’s talk affirmed the importance of thinking strategically before conveying health and risk messages to the public. Know your audience, know how to reach them, and perhaps most importantly know how to shift your tone to avoid creating a culture a fear.

New career goal? Become an expert tight rope walker – one that can walk the line between effective behavior change communications without instilling irrational fear in those I am trying to reach (à la homemade hazmat suit).

Environment as a Behavior Shaping Tool

May 26

Our office is moving this summer. We’re not moving far, just a few floors away in our current building. But we are moving big, in that we are transitioning to an “open” floor plan – no offices, no partitions between workstations and (gasp) precious little filing space. My thoughts on the matter fluctuate from excited to terrified within every hour of every day.

To be sure, this change will require me to work very differently from the way I have grown accustomed to working. And, it has gotten me thinking a lot about the influence that our physical environment has on our behaviors.

Admittedly, this is not a new concept. Studies have shown that placing healthy food choices in more prominent, easier-to-access locations increases the consumption of those foods over less healthy alternatives. We have also seen that the explosion of bike shares and protected bike lanes in major cities has motivated more people to use their own power to get around (Washington, DC and New York have doubled biking rates in 4 years).

But, in these examples, personal choice is still there. If I really want a brownie instead of fresh fruit, I can get one with a little extra effort (and guilt). If I don’t want to ride my bike through the city streets, I can walk or take the Metro, or a taxi, or a bus, or my car.

In the case of our office move, however, I don’t have many choices. I can’t choose to keep an office when no offices exist. I can’t choose to keep my hard copy files when no storage space exists. I can’t chose to host meetings or conference calls at my table for convenience because it will disturb those around me. I can choose, however, to embrace this change as a fresh start, a new way to work, an exciting new adventure, and an opportunity to get to know my colleagues even better.

So, with limited choices, it seems that attitudes become even more important. As I consider how I will need to behave differently in our new office environment, my attitudes towards those new behaviors will likely influence them as much as our office set-up will. And, my attitudes will be influenced by social norms, outcome expectations and a whole host of other behavior-shaping influences.

For me, this reinforces the importance of taking a holistic look at every behavior change challenge – and the utility of considering how multiple influences play a role. Yes, our new office environment will cause me to behave differently. But for me to truly embrace those new behaviors and maintain them over time, I’ve also got to believe that those actions will have a tangible benefit (e.g., more collaboration, less paper clutter), that my colleagues will support me, and that I actually can work differently after all these years. Messages, communications initiatives and training workshops related to our move should take these factors into consideration, and, fortunately, most have done so thus far.

Somewhat ironically, planning ahead to working in a “one size desk fits all” office environment has renewed my belief that there is never a “one size fits all” approach to motivating behavior change.

Words of encouragement and open space work tips are most welcome!

Authenticity: An Imperative of Successful CSR

May 21

Authenticity is such a buzz word in PR. We use it all the time: our channels must be authentic — i.e. use earned media and integrated content, vs. paid placements – so our audiences are less skeptical of the content being communicated; we must use authentic voice when talking with our audiences, so they trust us and are more likely to pay attention; spokespeople must have an authentic connection to the issues/products/topics we are communicating about for them to be credible.

I would argue that in the case of authenticity, we use that word or principle frequently, because of how very important it is. And Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one particular area of business where authenticity is especially critical to success.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development defines CSR as “the continuing commitment by business to contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the community and society at large”. Restated simply – or perhaps even oversimplified — CSR is about the ‘good’ a company does.

While CSR has evolved tremendously over the last 10 to 15 years – into a key discipline integrated into many companies’ business strategies and plans, it historically has often operated as a discrete marketing or HR function, in many cases instituted for the purposes of building — or in some cases ‘fixing’ — a company’s reputation.   Corporate reputation issue? Enter a CSR campaign to help distract from that issue or compensate for that issue.   Because of that reason, many are skeptical of companies’ CSR programs.   Are they truly intended to improve the quality of life of employees, their families, and community and society at large? Or are they reputation-band-aids, that are purely to help enhance the company’s reputation with some potential ‘good’ impact as a bi-product?

The scrutiny and skepticism that often surround a company’s CSR efforts are the very reason why authenticity of such programs is demanded and necessary for their success.   Recently, Jennifer Risi, Ogilvy’s Director of Media Influence spoke on a panel entitled “Earning Stories for Good – Big Rewards for Your CSR Program”, and published an op ed on a similar topic. She made the important point that earned media placements that tell a company’s CSR story are often more credible than paid, given the authenticity they bring, helping these stories resonate more with their intended audiences.     I would build on Jen’s point and go even further to suggest that the actual content of the CSR story must focus on the actual good being done, and not lead with or place too much focus on the company doing it. If there is a benefit to the company from the CSR story being told, all the better – but the focus of the story should be on the positive impact being made, with the company making that impact as a supporting point.

CSR that is instituted with the intent to truly have a positive impact is authentic. And authentic CSR is powerful.   It improves lives, strengthens communities, delivers good for society at large. And, ultimately, when CSR is authentic, and delivers the good it has promised, it brings the added benefit of driving company reputation, and even in many cases functioning as a business driver for the company. A win-win for all.

Can marketing campaigns impact our hidden biases?

May 18

Embarrassing story: I was chatting with an acquaintance at a holiday party a few years ago. I had heard him talk before about having a family and raising his son, so I asked if his wife was at the party too. His response: (a large chuckle, and…) My husband couldn’t make it tonight.  While I was mortified, he was good natured about the whole thing.  I had totally made an assumption about him based on my unconscious biases.  This is something we all do.  All the time.  Without realizing it (hence, the unconscious part).  (If you think you are immune, take a few of the Implicit Bias quizzes at or this quiz at Love Has No Labels.)

Unconscious bias, also called hidden bias or implicit bias, is a prejudice we have or an assumption that we make about another person based on common cultural stereotypes, rather than on a thoughtful judgment (  And we apply this unconscious bias across many categories and contexts, such as gender and race, in the workplace and socially. NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof says it well, “Of course, there are die-hard racists and misogynists out there, but the bigger problem seems to be well-meaning people who believe in equal rights yet make decisions that inadvertently transmit both racism and sexism.”

The impact of unconscious bias in hiring and management decisions in the workplace has become a popular topic in the last few years. For example, an analysis by showed that performance reviews differed significantly for men and women, with women receiving more negative personality criticism than men. As many as 20% of large U.S. companies, including companies like Google (and full disclosure, Ogilvy Public Relations), are providing unconscious bias training to their employees, and this percentage could reach 50% in the next five years (The Wall Street Journal, 2014).

One way to overcome unconscious bias is to increase personal awareness of it so we can consciously commit to correcting for it and changing it.  Communications campaigns have the potential to make a huge impact here – opening our eyes to the thoughts we don’t even realize we have.  One example that has really stuck with me since seeing it many months ago is the Always #LikeAGirl campaign.  When this video debuted online (and then aired during the Superbowl), it got people talking about the way we use “like a girl” as an insult without even realizing it.  I personally love this concept, and applaud Always for doing it.  As a mom of a 5-year-old boy, I am already starting to hear what boys do and what girls do, and can see how much this type of bias matters in shaping my son’s view of the world.

Similarly, Similac took on the Mommy Wars with this video a few months back.  Satirically pitting working moms against yoga moms against stay-at-home dads (etc.), this campaign asks parents to stop making assumptions and judging each other based on our life choices and realize that we are all “on the same side”.   Though I kind of wish the dads hadn’t been the first to get to the runaway stroller at the end, the sentiment here about the biases we bring to the table rings true.

From the federally-sponsored What Can You Do? campaign highlighting the talent of people with disabilities in the workforce (check out its Who I Am video) to Tiffany’s inclusion of a gay couple in its Will You? commercial (full disclosure again: this ad was developed by Ogilvy and Mather), communications that flag and challenge our unconscious biases are becoming more common.  Yet the potential to do more in this space seems limitless.

Where else have you seen memorable campaigns that attempt to target unconscious bias?  And where are there opportunities for companies or others to use communications to bring other biases (e.g., age-ism, obesity, veterans in the workforce) to the forefront?