Mission ready: Convincing the U.S. military to adopt artificial intelligence

Mission ready: Convincing the U.S. military to adopt artificial intelligence

Mission ready: Convincing the U.S. military to adopt artificial intelligence

The Challenge
An artificial intelligence (AI) software startup sought to break into the defense sector with a goal of equipping the U.S. armed forces with its predictive software to increase military readiness, which was a key priority for the then U.S. Secretary of Defense. 

However, the company faced steep hurdles: a lack of awareness among public officials about the ability of–and urgent need for–AI to address military readiness; a byzantine and lethargic federal procurement process; and worst of all, the company’s fiercest competitors were already working with the armed services to outfit certain U.S. fleets with predictive software.  

Our Approach
Our multilevel public affairs campaign hinged on influencing the public debate by generating awareness of and support for AI in defense-industry applications with reporters, elected officials and defense policy think tanks and fine-tuning and translating the company’s briefing pitch from “tech talk” to “bureaucrat speak.”  

We devised a three-phase plan, starting with leveraging the company’s board members who had significant national security experience to make the case in the media for how AI can be used to increase military readiness and U.S. competitiveness. Our team pitched the leading defense and tech reporters covering federal policy to source our experts. Our outreach generated significant national news and trade coverage over the course of three months. Having helped to prime the national conversation, we placed company leaders at key roundtable events and thought leadership forums. 

As the dialog around tech-supported military readiness grew, Congressional policy makers began to follow suit, with a series of floor speeches, roundtables, hearings and white papers on the issue.

We partnered with the company’s government affairs team to brief key committees, members and staff on how its expertise could increase the military’s readiness without new equipment procurement, which yielded taxpayer savings and a faster implementation. The Congressional briefings proved successful, in part because Congressional staff were already aware of the issue’s importance and need to act given the wave of media coverage in the months prior, and it netted several congressional champions who urged faster approval of multiple pilots of AI software to increase military readiness. 

Proven Results 
In just three months after initiating our strategy, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded the company with a seven-figure contract to install its AI software on one of the service branch’s vehicle fleets to increase readiness. After the award was made, we worked with defense officials to announce the news in an exclusive in the Washington Post, which generated subsequent national and trade coverage and contributed to additional sales leads. A second branch of the military is now working with the company using its AI to increase readiness on some of its vehicles. 

Securing City of Chicago support for e-scooters

Securing City of Chicago support for e-scooters

Securing City of Chicago support for e-scooters

The Challenge
In mid-2019, the City of Chicago planned a pilot program to test whether e-scooters were a viable transportation option. The City set some of the most restrictive rules for e-scooter operations in the country, including a strict boundary for operating the scooters primarily on the city’s south and west sides in “priority zones.” To complicate matters, the City approved 10 e-scooter operators to participate in the pilot, making for an incredibly competitive market.

Established by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the final week of his last term, the pilot was not warmly welcomed by incoming Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Without the new mayor’s support, the e-scooter share pilot program’s viability was in question before it even began. Similarly, the Chicago public and the media remained dubious at best about e-scooters, having seen disastrous launches in other markets, such as Los Angeles, where images of e-scooters set on fire went viral.

E-scooter company Lime hired Culloton + Bauer Luce to influence the City’s new administration to maintain its pilot program and eventually make the program permanent while positioning the company as a responsible, standout provider in a crowded, competitive field.

Our Approach
CBL devised a three-pronged communications plan to highlight Lime’s safe riding reputation and its compliance with overwhelming support for the city’s equity goals. 

Safety: To break out Lime from the pack of e-scooter providers, CBL focused Lime’s launch day opportunity at the height of media interest to tout the company’s safety academy lessons and free helmet distribution. We also promoted safety events in every ward of the pilot zone in the program’s early weeks to encourage follow-through coverage on Lime’s safety record, and we promoted Lime’s free helmet distribution totals over the course of the pilot at key milestones.

Equity: To emphasize Lime’s commitment to the equity in access to e-scooters, CBL: 

  • Heavily promoted partner events with the nonprofit My Block, My Hood, My City that provided scooters in “equity zone” neighborhoods
  • Released community impact reports and job creation numbers for key neighborhoods with transportation advocacy sites and African American and Hispanic media 
  • Hosted joint events with key aldermen and secured hyper local media coverage

Third-Party Support: CBL garnered third-party support for Lime as a preferred operator and set groundwork for the pilot extension by: 

  • Enlisting key alderman, equity groups and community organizers to signal support for its program via op-eds and letters to City Hall   
  • Releasing poll results and traffic data demonstrating rider/community support for pilot and that scooters were being used as first- and last-mile transportation modes in transportation deserts

Proven Results
The execution of the plan resulted in over 80 media placements, including the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and POLITICO Illinois, and urban planning outlets like CURBED and Streetsblog.  

At the end of the pilot, the city announced it would bring scooters back in spring 2020, and public support for scooters grew over 7% from before launch to after the pilot’s completion. Majority support, including majority support from minority communities, allowed city leaders to pledge to continue piloting the program with a permanent program on the near horizon.

So, Who Wants to Fly United?

So, Who Wants to Fly United?

Steve Hamilton and Andrew Touhy

In what was the airline video shown around the world that generated a grave PR disaster for United Airlines, their response to the crisis only made it worse. Even as this story continues to unfold, PR and crisis management professionals can refer to this case as a blueprint of what not to do.

As could be expected shares in United plummeted shortly after the incident, and the company was met with worldwide criticism on social media.

Following the current customary practice after a crisis, United CEO Oscar Munoz released a statement in response to the incident.

Munoz’s statement, released via United’s corporate Twitter account, was hardly apologetic, drew heightened criticism towards the company, and rolled the incident into what has now been a week’s worth of front page news coverage. The length of this story’s news cycle and the potential long term reputation damage it may cause the company has yet to unfold.

In response to further fallout and criticism of United’s initial statement and management of the incident, Munoz released a second statement offering personal and company-wide accountability and apology for mishandling the incident, written with sentiments that seemingly hope to reverse his initial response.

In what could have otherwise been viewed as a genuine effort to publicly apologize and claim responsibility was only further discredited when the entirety of Munoz’s internal email to United employees was leaked claiming the passenger in question was “disruptive and belligerent.”

As is typically the case in crises situations of this magnitude, there are often few ways to make the situation better, but many ways in which to make it worse. United would have been best advised to internally review the facts of the situation in their entirety, and then consider the consequences and fallout before releasing an initial statement.

Additionally, one must assume that everything put in writing today will be leaked one way or another. Regardless of how genuinely apologetic Munoz may have been in crafting his second statement, his contradictory internal email sunk any hope for public trust. This situation is a mess, and there may not be any other plausible crisis management strategy other than one that sees United take a huge hit to their reputation and wallet, admit complete fault and responsibility for the incident, and publicly communicate how they will implement practices to ensure this never happens again.

New Balance Loses Balance

New Balance Loses Balance

Steve Hamilton and Andrew Touhy

After the tempestuous election, New Balance’s vice president of public affairs, Matthew LeBretton, offered an endorsement to Donald Trump saying, “The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us and frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction.” Though the answer was in response to a question about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, an initiative led by President Barack Obama and opposed by Trump, New Balance was soon met with protests and an endorsement from a neo-Nazi blogger calling New Balance the “official shoes of white people.”

Though not the intent of their original endorsement, their message was muddled and attacked. The company met the turmoil head-on and issued a statement that vehemently separated the brand and its values from the alt-right website, and at the same time reinforced their staunch loyalty to American made products. Lesson learned.CxQ2DexUsAAD5Cn

A Little Less Robotic

A Little Less Robotic

Steve Hamilton – Digital Media Director

In a world of increasing automation, elements of humanity are becoming harder to find. With the increasing use of chatbots, it will become more difficult to separate interpersonal communication from robotic messaging scripts. Occasionally brands, companies and even politicians have the opportunity to present themselves as human, through the use of humor and comedy. 

Done correctly, a funny tweet can help you connect with customers. Humor can make even the most unlikeable of people connect with the general public. President Richard Nixon had a disastrous experience on television in his 1960 contest against President John Kennedy. Nixon famously came across as unkempt and angry. Nixon used a five second appearance on the irreverent and ‘un-presidential’ show Laugh-In, as part of his rebranding effort in the 1968 campaign.

hqdefaultCantankerous presidential candidates don’t come around all that often, but companies frequently step out of their comfort zone on April Fool’s Day. Bands can share a joke with their customer, increase camaraderie, and try to grow an audience. Marketers compete to get on the “best of April Fool’s” lists and get as much free press as they can.

There isn’t a reason humor needs to be steered away from the other 364 days in a year. If you are trying to avoid a staid online reputation, you can and should incorporate a personality in your online communications.

When planning to use humor, you need to be cautious. Mistakes are broadcast even faster than successes on the Internet, and can severely damage your image. Here are some important tips for using humor to effectively promote your brand image:

  1. Stay light hearted: There’s no need to be mean and look like a bully. A little self-deprecating humor is not a bad move, but you don’t want people to think you’re garbage!
  2. Be topical: Comedy after all is about timing. A joke about something that happened several months ago isn’t humorous. Satire shows like the Daily Show, John Oliver, SNL, or even South Park, move quickly and move on to the next topic.
  3. Embrace the target: Don’t overthink it though and let a good opportunity pass you by. Pretty much everyone thought that Red Lobster missed the mark with its feeble response to Beyonce.
  4. Don’t impact the user experience: Learn from Google’s experience this year when they accidentally caused users to not receive reply emails. Even if the prank was funny, people’s lives and jobs were impacted. Joke’s should enhance the user experience, not cause an inconvenience.
  5. Don’t do stupid stuff: If you wouldn’t want your teenager saying it on their social media, you know it is not a good idea. Mayor de Blasio is in hot water over a joke that should have been passed over. Just don’t go there if there is a doubt.

Most importantly though, do not be too afraid or risk averse to try things. Not every tweet is going to go viral (for good or bad). But make sure you are developing a personality with your online brand. “All work and no play,” is real.

Make sure you have process in place to catch something when something goes wrong. After all, we’re trying to be more human, and to err is human.

Have fun, step out of your comfort zone, and make your customers smile.