MediaPost | Andrew Koneschusky

As artificial intelligence and machine learning advance at breakneck speed, almost no other industry has invested in the technologies as heavily and aggressively as automotive manufacturers. With outlays second only to the tech sector, automakers see AI as a fundamental component of transformation across four critical pillars—autonomous driving, connectivity, electrification and shared mobility—with a projected value of $215 billion by 2025.

And though the auto industry has already spent tens of billions of dollars on AI development, a new survey reveals that this massive investment may be subject to previously unforeseen risks to brand reputation. 

A third-quarter 2018 review by a new industry AI Risk Index developed by the Omnicom Public Relations Group reveals poor stakeholder engagement is driving negative sentiment that will have a direct impact on brand reputation if left unaddressed. While automakers rightly focus on improvements in the technology itself, many are overlooking or undervaluing the importance of a communications strategy grounded in data-driven research and seasoned insights, an oversight that could prove to be extremely costly.

Even the most cursory scan of headlines will reveal the risks of researching and developing these technologies in the spotlight, with no communications policy to support them. From the fatalities caused by self-driving vehicles, to concerns about AI’s impact on jobs, data privacy and the economy, the risks span from the individual to the global.

Whether due to a lack of understanding of the stakeholder landscape, insufficient focus on brand perception or lack of expertise required to effectively address the public’s concerns, the auto industry has done a poor job communicating the benefits and managing the risks of AI adoption.

As a result, the industry has created a void which has allowed media, consumers, activists, legislators and other stakeholders to shape the narrative surrounding these billion-dollar investments. And even when auto companies strive to communicate effectively, their messages are often not received by stakeholders as intended.

The AI Risk Index reflects a substantial gap between what is intended and what is perceived by critical stakeholders. The results are stark—especially in the context of substantial investment and many more years of public scrutiny as AI is improved—and reveal a growing crisis of trust.

Though an average of 62% of Americans are familiar with companies in the transportation industry, only 35% have a positive opinion of them (compared to 43% for non-automotive manufacturing and 41% for retail companies) and only 37% trust them (compared to 44% for manufacturing and retail companies).

Even more concerning is that the transportation companies most heavily involved in AI technology drive this sense of distrust, more so than traditional carmakers. That may explain why only three out of eight transportation companies analyzed during the third quarter of 2018 mentioned advancements in AI at all—indicating that auto companies are either communicating poorly or not communicating at all. Avoiding the conversation  will only compromise the opportunity that automakers have to undo negative sentiment and influence neutral perceptions.

Over the next several years, automakers will have to introduce extremely complex, transformative technologies to a public that is deeply skeptical about the innovations themselves, and even more wary of the companies creating them. Only about one-third of Americans think that companies in the transportation industry are visionary (39%), innovative (41%), create more jobs (38%), will use automation to be more efficient (39%), will use AI to be more efficient (36%), care about people’s safety (41%) and can be trusted with their personal data (32%). Just 39% think that AI generally will have a positive impact on companies in the transportation industry.

That is a tough sell for any industry, much less one that has spent nearly a century associating their products with personal freedom and a defining sense of self expression. As AI is further developed for commercial and consumer automotive use, it is critical that automakers close this chasm of engagement. Like any effective communications strategy, this begins with a deep immersion into data-driven research that maps and contextualizes the relationship between carmakers and their stakeholder audiences to identify gaps and misperceptions. And not only must this communications strategy address perceptions of automakers, it must also gauge sentiment around tech companies, and the alignment of the two industries. It is a communications landscape as complex as the technologies they hope to align and deploy.

Over the past several years, a global audience has grown intensely wary of a technology industry that prided itself on moving fast and breaking things. As automakers increasingly partner with tech companies to realize the benefits of their substantial AI investments, they will need a much more intelligent, informed and insightful communications strategy if they hope to persuade consumers to strap themselves into products that are moving fast. Regardless of how much the auto industry believes in it, without consistent, effective stakeholder engagement, AI could remain a risk most drivers aren’t willing to take.

NadiaNadia Kendall is an entrepreneur and designer who uses her creative and artistic strengths as a hobby, career choice, and ultimately a voice. Nadia attends Howard University as a senior, electronic studio art major. Her extracurricular activities include Assistant Designer for the Hiltop, Howard University's Newspaper, designer for Howard University’s Resfest,  VP of Marketing for Alpha Kappa Psi Professional Business Fraternity, and a Multimedia Volunteer for WHBC 96.3 HD3. Nadia has also interned with The White House Historical Association, For our Future Super PAC, Morehouse College, and Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. In addition to her extensive graphic design and social media experience, Nadia owns an apparel line, The Balloon Effect.

Who/what has had the most impact on your academic or professional interests?

In first grade, my teacher made us write narratives and add clipart to accompany the stories. My favorite part was adding the art. That was when I discovered my love for graphic design, and I believe my experience at Howard University has given me the strength to pursue my entreprenuial goals.

What do you look for in an internship experience, and how has this shaped your career goals?

I look for internships that will help build the strongest portfolio possible, so when it’s time for me to look for an actual job my portfolio will be at its fullest potential.  I also look for internships that I will enjoy and learn from.

What are your long-term career goals?

After graduating, I plan on pursuing my entrepreneurial endeavors. I want to design sneakers and streetwear apparel as well as open a chain of shoe stores.In 10 to 20 years, I plan on building recreation centers in under privileged communities that emphasize sports for kids to experience. My last goal is to build an amusement park!

What has surprised you so far about your journey towards your career goals? 

The number and variety of industries I can work in with my major has surprised me the most.

Can you expand on your interest in public relations?

My interest in public relations stems from the fact that I can design for multiple companies and clients.

What comes easiest to you as an intern at CLS Strategies?

I think my ability to come up with design ideas from what’s explained to me is the easiest.

What has been your biggest challenge as an intern at CLS Strategies? How do you address that?

Although it’s easy for me to come up with ideas, they don’t always align with the brand. I made an effort to incorporate the necessary constraints so the message could be communicated effectively.

What is your favorite thing about living in Washington, D.C.?

I enjoy the vibes that my school and the surrounding areas bring. I also appreciate the numerous opportunities.

On our website we ask all of our staff to share three things about themselves. What are three things about yourself that we might not know?

  1. I won a free trip to study in the Galapagos Islands.
  2. I came in 2nd place at my first tennis tournament.
  3. I was the star of a local television commercial.

Elizabeth Barnett is a sophomore at Georgetown University studying Healthcare Management and Policy. Outside the classroom, she is involved with Georgetown University Women in Leadership as a member of the organization’s financial operations board. Elizabeth is passionate about the organization’s mission to empower women driven to succeed in the professional world. Outside of school and work, Elizabeth enjoys spending time with friends, trying new restaurants in the D.C. area, and occasionally traveling home to enjoy the Delaware beaches.

Who/what has had the most impact on your academic or professional interests?

Most recently, Donna Paulson. She is a character in my favorite show, Suits, and although Donna is fictional, her ambition has been a great source of motivation for my own professional interests. A respected and influential leader at her firm, Donna is simultaneously the picture of loyalty and compassion. Her dedication to success is what ultimately shapes her career. Donna is smart and assertive, she makes her voice heard, and I feel as though her character has been an enormous inspiration for me in pursuing a career in the field of business.

What do you look for in an internship experience, and how has this shaped your career goals?

The most valuable component of an internship experience is the opportunity to absorb completely new information – the kind you can’t find in a textbook – and then take it one step further and apply it. Having the chance to work on a team of associates and partners who have ‘been there, done that’ is a unique opportunity that has positively shaped my experience thus far with CLS. In the brief time I have spent researching, reading, and discussing accounts, this internship has steered my career interests in the direction of corporate law and policy, two areas I had never previously considered.

What are your long-term career goals?

I don’t have any specific careers in mind yet, but I’d say my greatest career goals are: driving social-innovation and change through my future work and always feeling stimulated or compelled to continually learn about my field.

What has surprised you so far about your journey towards your career goals? 

Perhaps cliché, but certainly what has surprised me the most thus far on my journey towards my career goals is how significantly they have changed. One year ago, I thought I wanted to be a physician, and now that possibility is nowhere on my radar. I have learned though, that surprising myself is what makes the journey more interesting and will hopefully help build a future career based on my own skills and interests.

Can you expand on your interest in public relations?

My interest in public relations stems from my desire to learn more about how the media shapes the direction in which health care policy moves. Scrolling through the news on my phone each day, I wonder who drives home the impact these stories will have – how and why are the words arranged in such a way that they relay a very specific message? I have grown increasingly interested in how the media shapes public policy by driving public perceptions. With my time with CLS, I have also become more interested in the role public relations plays in litigation as well.

What comes easiest to you as an intern at CLS Strategies?

Multitasking. I enjoy the variety of assignments I’m given and feel as though my sense of organization enables me to tackle more than one project at once. In addition, the constant stream of new information from accounts I am on stimulates my ever-inquisitive self. When there is never a dull moment, I perform my best.

What has been your biggest challenge as an intern at CLS Strategies? How do you address that?

Working part-time can be a great challenge when it means playing a bit of catch-up in the mornings after the days I am not here. It can be overwhelming to open my email and see how much there is to read but prioritizing and making lists to stay on top of things has been helpful.

What is your favorite thing about living in Washington, D.C.?

It seems like everyone is always on the move – D.C. is an active city. I frequent the waterfront path from Georgetown to the monuments and love to see everyone out and about, especially when the weather is nice.

On our website we ask all of our staff to share three things about themselves. What are three things about yourself that we might not know?

  1. I spent this past summer in Italy, studying the intersection of neuroscience and art, specifically Romantic-era portraiture.
  2. I take pride in my knack for organization. People frequently comment about the color coordination of my closet.
  3. I enjoy watercolor painting, and while I was in Italy I painted Tuscan landscapes and sculptures.

July 22, 2018

Federal News Radio | July 20, 2018

Undoubtedly, senior leaders across the federal government and in the private sector will at some point in their career face a crisis. To be sure, a crisis can vary dramatically in terms of size, level of severity and duration, and some may never even become public.

Sometimes, such as what we experienced at Office of Personnel Management, a crisis can touch every facet of your organization. However, while no two crises are the same, from a communications perspective there are common approaches and rules of the road that can be applied.

Gone are the days when a reporter’s deadline would be centered around the evening newscast or morning paper. In the digital age, the deadline is now. Given the range of digital platforms that exist and the speed at which information travels, any individual can start the public conversation instantly. In this reality, failing to communicate effectively and accurately in the early moments of a crisis can undermine an organization’s entire response.

Peace time preparation

Once a crisis happens, you will have little time to think through the people and processes you need to effectively operate. Ask yourself the basic questions now while you have the time and space to answer them. Determine who will be on the initial response team. How will you communicate with each other? Who will speak to the press and other stakeholders? Who are the stakeholders that must be notified and kept in the loop as events unfold? What is your response plan?

This team should include the agency or organization’s senior leadership as well as senior representation from legal, legislative affairs, and communications departments and any related technical experts. All of this will vary based on the nature and seriousness of the incident, but plan for multiple levels of severity. You can always scale down. Answer these questions beforehand and you will be free to focus on the actual challenge in the moment.


Do not be defensive and walled off. At the outset of a public crisis, you won’t have all the answers. But you should say something. Acknowledge that an event has occurred, that the organization is taking steps to respond and that more information will be provided soon.

If an event becomes public, staying silent while you figure out all the details may give the impression that you are not aware of or effectively responding to the situation. It also leaves you out of the conversation and gives the appearance of a lack of sympathy for individuals who may have been affected. In this endeavor, be cautious, and take the time to ensure every piece of information is factual, but do not hide from the conversations.

Beyond the initial moments, as a crisis evolves and moves forward, the stress and strain can force an organization inward. Resist this urge and communicate regularly. In addition, recognize that communicating is a two way street. Establish avenues, both digital and otherwise, to collect feedback and respond to legitimate questions and concerns. For example, at OPM we consistently used the feedback we received via email, phone calls, and social media platforms to regularly update the question and answer section on our website. We also integrated this feedback into a range of other public statements and materials, such as blogs and speeches.


Your customers and/or the public you serve deserve to know what happened and how they may be impacted. Dig into the details of what happened, how it happened, who was impacted and how  to find the ground truth. And then, to the maximum extent possible, release the details and focus on your solutions.

The sooner the details of the crisis are released, the sooner you can focus on the path ahead. A slow trickle of new information regarding the size, scope or impact of the crisis will undercut your ability to talk about your solutions and progress.

For example, months after the breach at OPM, new information was released detailing an additional affected population. While this information was released as soon as it was discovered, it significantly hindered the ability of the agency to focus on the positive work it was doing. The conversation OPM had been building around protecting its systems and providing services to people was dramatically altered, and the agency was forced to spend the next month publicly relitigating the breach and its impact instead of discussing its solutions and progress.

While OPM could not control the timing of the release of this information, per se, the event demonstrates the impact of introducing new details about the incident long after it takes place.

Also, be conscious that as information begins to enter the public domain, false narratives and rumors will start to crop up. Be vigilant in confronting and stopping them before they have a chance to take hold and cause confusion.

Define the narrative, be the change

A crisis has happened. Your job now is to restore faith and confidence in your organization by defining the narrative before it defines you, not to make excuses for why you are where you are. Chart a clear path forward that addresses your shortcomings and, to the extent possible, repairs the damage done to your customers and the public’s trust. Focus on your progress and be forthcoming about your solutions.

Be a visionary for your organization and a thought leader in your industry. Don’t be a defender of the old guard, be the agent of change that uses a crisis to lead your organization through a necessary transformation.

In addition to managing the response to the breach, and improving the technical capabilities at OPM, our Director Beth Cobert became an ambassador for the work we were doing. She would tell anyone who would listen about OPM’s transformation, what we had learned, and the vision we had for the agency moving forward. That paid real dividends, both as we worked to restore the agency’s image, and as we solicited support from our partners across the government.

Digital forward

The conversation will take place on digital and mobile platforms and it will move quickly. This is a fact of life, not a strategic choice. As an organization responds initially and over time, it must focus and rely on digital and mobile platforms. Understanding this fact and embracing this reality offers both opportunities and challenges. From a customer service and transparency perspective, these platforms provide an easy and robust way to collect and disseminate information. The range of digital tools at an organization’s disposal vary greatly in terms of reach, precision, and efficiency. From Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn and beyond, each platform reaches different audiences in different ways and with different speeds and precision.

The effectiveness of these platforms can only be realized if you have the right people in place to harness their capabilities. Digital staff should no longer be considered a “nice to have.” They are a crucial element of any communications team, and organizations should invest in high-quality talent and elevate their importance and standing both on the communications team and across the organization. This is a reality during normal day-to-day operations that becomes increasingly important during a crisis.

Responding to a crisis is stressful, chaotic, and fast-paced, leaving little time to align the people, processes, and strategies necessary to be successful. There is also no set playbook nor silver bullet. But planning ahead and understanding the context of the environment in which you will be functioning will increase your organization’s ability to succeed in what will be a deeply challenging time.

July 13, 2017

The Hill | Mark Feierstein 

As U.S. officials prepare to implement President Trump’s Cuba policy, the rancor over the revised course is masking an emerging bipartisan consensus over American policy toward the island. Despite declaring he was “cancelling” President Obama’s deal with Cuba, Trump’s approach maintains the vast majority of steps the Obama Administration took.

Critics of Obama had protested his efforts to increase American commercial and cultural interaction with Cuba. Hardliners excoriated him for facilitating commerce with and travel to Cuba, removing the country from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, reopening embassies in Washington and Havana, and ending a migration policy that favored Cuban immigrants over those from other countries. Yet, when two of Obama’s most vociferous congressional critics, Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, joined Trump in Miami last month for his Cuba announcement, the Florida Republicans celebrated a policy that enshrines all those steps.

Trump’s limited policy changes, which complicate American travel and limit certain commercial engagement, reflect the growing constituency for engagement with Cuba. White House officials had initially anticipated a groundswell of support to reverse Obama's Cuba moves. But as debate over proposed changes to the policy ensued, officials recognized the strong support to continue the bulk of the previous Administration’s approach and even to go further and lift all trade and travel restrictions.

Polls showed that most Americans, including Republicans and Cuban-Americans, favor normalizing relations with Cuba. Fifty-five Senators supported a bill to eliminate all restrictions on travel to the island the only country where tourist travel by Americans is illegal. Republican Members of Congress lobbied the White House not to restrict trade with Cuba, and the Chamber of Commerce and its member companies advocated for maintaining commercial opportunities for American firms rather than handing over that business to companies from such countries as Russia, China, Spain, or Brazil.

Within the Administration, most policy makers favored a continuation of some form of engagement and did not want to return to a policy of trying to isolate and pressure Cuba which had failed for five decades to produce change on the island. Policy makers valued collaboration with Cuba in combating drug trafficking, protecting the environment, and developing vaccines. They also recognized that re-imposing travel limits to Cuba would hurt the people Trump says he wants to support: independent Cuban entrepreneurs who run restaurants, bed and breakfasts and markets frequented by American travelers.

Trump himself was naturally sympathetic to preserving business opportunities for American companies. Jason Greenblatt, a senior White House official, explored commercial deals in Cuba in his prior position as counsel for the Trump Organization and Trump said privately during the presidential transition that he favored Obama’s commercial opening to the island. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is skeptical of the utility of sanctions, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross also advocated for preserving commercial opportunities in Cuba for American companies.

A substantial rollback, therefore, was not politically or practically feasible. As a Trump administration official conceded, “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle 100 percent.” Nevertheless, Trump kept his campaign pledge to modify U.S. policy toward Cuba, though his announcement featured more harsh rhetoric and political theater than actual substantive change.

To be sure, the Trump Administration rolled back two significant elements of Obama’s policy. First, Americans will no longer be allowed to travel on individualized people-to-people educational itineraries; they will be required to visit on more costly group tours. Second, transactions that “disproportionately benefit” the military, which manages much of the tourist sector, will be prohibited. It’s not surprising the administration settled on those policies to reverse: allowing Americans to develop their own travel itineraries and permitting transactions with military-run entities were initially controversial ideas in the Obama Administration.  

The impact of Trump’s policy revisions, moreover, is likely to be small. Most Americans travel to Cuba on trips that will not be affected by the new rules, and most Cuban hotels are not managed by the military. Further, airlines and cruise ships will continue to carry passengers to Cuba.

Bureaucratic considerations also may limit the impact of Trump’s policy changes. The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control is understaffed, and its efforts are better spent administering sanctions on countries such as North Korea, Russia and Iran than keeping Americans off Cuban beaches and policing which hotels they can stay in.

Thus far, the government of Cuba has reacted to Trump’s announcement with relative restraint, understanding that those in the United States who want to limit engagement represent a minority view, and confident of the significant momentum for greater ties. Cuba's direction in any case will be shaped more by its own transition —  Raul Castro will step down as president in February — than any measures the United States takes.

If economic and political reform advance under a new leader in Cuba, that would give added impetus to the process of normalizing relations between the two countries. Years from now, we might look back at Trump's announcement in Miami not as a step backward in relations between the two countries, but as the point when the divisive debate over U.S. policy toward Cuba finally began to recede.