Wednesday, March 30, 2011

30 Years of Helping Associations and Societies

Since it’s our 30th anniversary year, we’re occasionally using this blog to turn the spotlight on ourselves. Today, let me focus it on one of our strongest practice areas – our work with trade associations, professional societies and non-profit coalitions.

Over the years we’ve worked for more than 125 “501(c)” organizations, as we call them, based on their tax code designation – from many of the most influential in the country, like the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to important niche associations like the Envelope Manufacturers Association Foundation and the Healthcare Distribution Management Association, to a wide range of professional and technical societies, such as the American Physical Society, the International Association of Forensic Nurses and the Reserve Officers Association.

Just this year alone our 501(c) clients cover the waterfront – from the Solar Electric Power Association to the Construction Specifications Institute, from the Direct Selling Association to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, from the Snack Food Association to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. They represent important industries and professions, and we are proud to be associated with them.

Our services for them also cover a wide range: marketing and positioning, strategic communications planning, media outreach, speeches and editorial products, graphics and design, social media, crisis management and helping reach decision-makers on key public policy issues. We work hard to understand the communications and marketing challenges facing associations, and to have the capabilities that will help them succeed.

One of our proudest measurements of success with associations is the long-term relationship we have maintained with many of them, despite management changes, industry upheavals and ever-evolving communications technologies. As examples, we have worked for the IEEE Components, Packaging, and Manufacturing Technology Society for a decade, for the National Fenestration Rating Council for 15 years, and for the Edison Electric Institute – off and on, with projects almost every year – since 1981, our very first year in business.

The 501(c) world is a huge one. It includes over ninety thousand 501(c)(6) trade associations and well over a million 501(c)(3) societies. The Washington metropolitan area is the home of most national trade associations, but tens of thousands of other associations and societies operate across the country. We have been fortunate to with leading 501(c) organizations not just in the DC area, but also in over a dozen other states, from Connecticut to California (including Texas, I'm proud to point out). We’ve also been active with the American Society of Association Executives – serving on committees and speaking at conferences – to help us stay on top of the issues facing associations and savvy about their best practices. With 30 years under our belt, we like to think we're succeeding.

- Potomac Communications Group

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Panic and Politics Make Bad Advisors

Congressional Hearing Today With U.S. Department of Energy Sec. Steven Chu

For six long days, the world has watched as Japanese coastal communities, devastated by last Friday's earthquake and resulting tsunami, struggle to restore vital infrastructure for communication, transportation and electricity.  Among the damaged facilities are nuclear energy plants in the Fukushima prefecture. Sensational headlines on major news sites are begging the question: “What if this happened here?” 

The tragedy that has unfolded as a result of this unprecedented series of natural disasters is being overshadowed by the emergency operations underway at these nuclear energy stations.  Broadcast coverage has ranged from informative to absurd.  Nobody is helped by headlines like “Japan Facing Nuclear Nightmare.”

Because of PCG’s long history in the electricity sector, we’ve become the touchpoints for information from many friends and family - folks just looking to make some sense out of the constant coverage. 

The information gap Americans – and people all around the world - are trying to fill to understand the event became clear this morning when our building’s maintenance engineer stopped to ask me and my colleague if we thought the Japanese plants could blow up like a nuclear warhead. We assured him, no. It was evident his question was spurred on by the deluge of news stories predicting the worst.  

For utilities, this represents a big challenge to explain why U.S. plants are safe. So how do you combat this perfect storm of fear and sensationalism? We are encouraging our clients to remember crisis communication principles.

1.     Know your audience and be aware of their concerns, biases and fears. PCG has been providing traditional, online and social media monitoring reports to our clients multiple times throughout the day to ensure no surprises as they develop appropriate responses to an evolving situation.

2.    Avoid discussions of relative risk. Reporters are clamoring to connect the events in Japan with what could happen here. As is often the case, it is impossible to truly compare a plant in the U.S. with a plant on the western shore of Japan. It’s important to talk about what we do know rather than speculating. 

3.    Keep your message simple and positive.  When asked if a plant in the U.S. is safe, it is tempting to provide an answer loaded with detail and technical information. Sometimes, the audience simply needs to hear a simple yes and then one or two quick supporting points why. This is a fast moving situation and a new update comes out every five minutes. These unpredictable changes require spokespeople to constantly take a step back and make sure the messages are well-formed, simple and salient.

Even though the news about Japan will evolve five minutes after this is posted, these crisis principles remain constant.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Future of Nationless Science

Successful communicators are subject matter experts. Staying current on the issues makes us better partners with the technology leaders with whom we work. That's why PCG staff spends a lot of time keeping up on energy-related topics - and we’ve got the air miles to prove it. In the last month, we've attended the annual meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Platts Nuclear Energy Conference, Waste Management Symposia and the Regulatory Information Conference.

Every one of these meetings touched on the global nature of today's energy and environmental challenges. They drew record attendance numbers and attracted international participants. The sessions revealed trends that point to the fact that science today happens beyond national borders. Researchers are working together to investigate shared scientific challenges.

Global networks of scientists, engineers and policy makers are looking for solutions to growing energy demand, threatened food security and dwindling water supplies. Meanwhile, poor student performance in the United States in math and science has recruiters wondering where we will get our next generation of these science professionals. Caroline Wagner offered a fresh perspective on the perceived conflict at the AAAS meeting.

As a panelist, she shared her research findings published in her book, The New Invisible College. The Penn State associate professor of international affairs described how the landscape for research is changing. From 1996 to 2008, Wagner showed that the share of US contributions to scientific publishing had dropped 20 percent. The change was not because the US was less productive. Rather, as populous countries such as India and China invest in research, these countries will outpace American in terms of research paper output.

It's a numbers game that cannot be won by increasing US output. Instead, Wagner made the case for knowledge sharing strategies that would improve the quality of scientific investigation worldwide. We can hope the range of internationally attended conferences we seeing today reflects this trend. Tapping the most knowledgeable experts with the best skills on a topic - wherever they are - could benefit the entire science system as we figure out how to implement global solutions to global problems.