Blog Archives

We can hardly believe it’s been five years since Justin Smart, or “Trusty Justy” as some call him, joined the Penna Powers team. From his role as Director of Public Involvement to Vice President of Client Services, he has provided our agency with exceptional growth, focus and joy.

Known for his way around a white board, Justin has a knack for communicating with people (particularly those who are fired up) and explaining things clearly while keeping a positive and upbeat attitude. No mountain is too high to climb in his eyes, so long as we have the right team in place and gear to support us.

Between strategizing, planning or managing a crisis, Justin has more meetings than anyone in the agency. And in the off chance he has a break, you’ll probably catch a glimpse of him in his sweater vest at the nearest gas station indulging his craving for a hot dog, which will likely take him an average of 54 minutes to consume. Don’t even get him started on the “best” Mountain Dew in town, he’ll drive however long it takes just to enjoy the perfect ice to bubbly soda ratio.

We’re so proud to call this techie, tenor (ask him about his role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), and father of four, one of our most trustworthy and fearless leaders.

Thank you for all that you do, Justin. We’re honored to celebrate you.

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We may need to invest in another cabinet to showcase our awards because Penna Powers is adding three more trophies to the mix. Our team took home three bronze awards from the 38th Annual Telly Awards, which recognized the best videos across all screens. With over 12,000 entries from all 50 states and five countries, we’re proud to be recognized for our work by the selection committee.

Watch our winning videos:

Utah Zero Fatalities:

“Potty Mouth” – Television

“Slow Pour” – Television

Utah Clean Air Partnership:

“Causes of Inversion” – Online video

The videos were viewed on websites, social media channels, in-banner paid video promotions and in movie theaters.

Thank you to our clients for placing their trust in us to create innovative social change campaigns. While being recognized for our work is rewarding, what’s more important is the behavior change that we are able to accomplish in partnership with our clients.

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Sharpen the AxActors have rehearsals, sports teams have scrimmages and, though this may sound nerdy, communication professionals have pre-meetings.

Abraham Lincoln was attributed to have said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” Pre-meetings are the sharpening time that makes cutting down the tree the easy part. The more time you spend preparing, the more time you save overall and the more buttoned up you look and feel at the “actual” meeting.

Pre-meetings are helpful in a wide array of situations like preparing clients to talk to the media, preparing clients to give presentations and preparing clients to answer questions about sensitive issues accurately to their friends and neighbors. I am going to focus specifically on pre-meetings to prepare multi-disciplinary project teams for public meetings. Here is a helpful process.

1. Hold a meeting with project leadership to discuss objectives, meeting format, roles and messages.

2. Send a meeting outline (including logistics, attendees, roles, audience, messages, visuals, room map and other important information) to the project team before the pre-meeting.

3. Discuss the following at the team pre-meeting:

  • Public meeting objectives – What do we want the meeting to accomplish?
  • Meeting logistics and visuals – Where is it? Where do we park? How do we dress? Who is setting up? What will the room set-up look like? What do the visuals look like?
  • Team member roles – Who will talk to media? Who is the expert on each topic? Who answers what questions? How will we address special needs/ADA? What if someone causes a major disruption?
  • Discuss the audience – What important attendees will be there? Is there a chance media will be there? Are there sensitive issues, past interactions and audience concerns that the team should be aware of?
  • Predict public questions and discuss messaging that addresses them – What are the most important messages? What words and jargon should we avoid?
  • Practice answering questions – What does each person, from each discipline, think will be his/her most frequently asked question? Does the team have input on what the answer should be?

Pre-meetings are where the magic happens except it only looks like magic to those who weren’t at the pre-meeting. So keep sharpening your ax.

What do you do to get ready for a big meeting? Let us know in the comments.


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I’ve been accused of asking for advice and not taking it.

“Why did you even bother asking?” people say. This response always surprised me until I started working with clients on decision-making processes that involve the public.

It turns out that if you don’t explain what you plan to do with input before you ask for it, people assume all different expectations. Some think you will do exactly what they say even if they are the only one with their particular opinion. Some think you will go with the majority of public opinions without considering any other study or analysis. Some assume you won’t do anything with their opinion because you’ve already decided what to do and soliciting input is just a formality.

This is why when our clients need to decide the best way to use land in an environmentally sensitive area or whether to build a new road, we consult the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation to help determine what the public’s role in the decision should be, based on project goals, and what promises we can make to the public at the outset.

The spectrum includes five levels of involvement that increase respectively: inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower. Goals and promises for each level of involvement are listed below.

Goal: Provide the public balanced and objective information to help them understand the project.
We will keep you informed.

Goal: Obtain feedback on analysis, options and/or decisions.
We will keep you informed, listen to and acknowledge your concerns and aspirations, and provide feedback on how your input influenced our decision.

Work directly with the public throughout the communication process to ensure that we consistently consider their concerns and aspirations.
Promise: We will work with you to ensure that your concerns and aspirations are directly reflected in the options we develop and we will provide feedback on how your input influenced our decision.

Goal: Partner with the public in every aspect of the decision making process.
We will look to you for advice and innovation in formulating solutions and we will incorporate your advice and recommendations into our decisions to the maximum extent possible.

Goal: Place final decision-making in the hands of the public.
We will implement what you decide.

Setting the right expectations before anything else helps the public give more relevant input and be more understanding when a decision is made. Relevant public input helps decision makers see additional or hidden considerations, build positive relationships with stakeholders and avoid lawsuits.

Has setting expectations before asking for input helped you in a decision-making process? Let us know about it in the comments.


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PPBH Cares about UCAIR

Contributed by Crystal McMillan

PPBH is passionate about Utah’s air. Through the years we have helped clients like Clear the Air Challenge (competition starting July 1) and TravelWise become strong advocates in spreading the air quality message. And now, we’re fortunate to support another strong voice in the air quality arena: the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR).

UCAIR began as Governor Gary Herbert’s initiative to address air quality issues in Utah. Now the vision has evolved away from a primarily government based organization to a diverse, non-profit partnership created to make it easier for individuals, businesses and communities to make changes to improve Utah’s air.

With PPBH’s wide expertise in communicating air quality issues to the public, we have been enlisted to help with the transition from government initiative to non-profit entity and to be the ongoing communications team for the organization. We started by helping plan and execute a press event to officially announce UCAIR’s nonprofit status and unveil a new vision for the organization (see photos from the event below).

To learn more about UCAIR’s initiatives visit

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Young couple driving a car

Contributed by Lora Stead

With the lasting presence of the sun—finally!—roads are dry, school is out and there is fun to be had. I’m all for enjoying a fabulous summer, so let’s not ruin the season by getting careless on our commute. Consider this: the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day is coined the “100 Deadly Days of Summer.” The reason for the climb in traffic fatalities is not only due to increased traveling, but largely to a lowered sense of danger while on the roads.

Sure, it’s easy to slow down, stay alert and buckle up during Storm Gandolf, but what about on our way to the BBQ Bash O’ The Year with the windows down, our favorite tunes playing and Aunt Betty’s famous watermelon pie getting consumed by the minute? With the emergence of the sunshine, please don’t let your responsibility to be a safe road user evaporate.

33,000 people are dying nationwide every year in traffic crashes and these tragedies can be prevented. So let’s all live it up this summer by paying attention to the road, pulling over when drowsy, designating a sober driver, slowing down and buckling up.

For summer driving tips by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, check out their advisory and interactive resource.

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Zero Fatalites Ambassador Workshops

Contributed by Kyle Kubovchik

As Zero Fatalities grows in Nevada, more schools, local law enforcement agencies and community and business leaders have asked how they can get involved. They got the chance on May 1st in Reno and May 2nd in Las Vegas, during two Zero Fatalities Ambassador Workshops.

Attendees from law enforcement, engineering, emergency services, and education shared successful strategies, heard victim stories, and even conducted media training. The goal of the workshop was to create Zero Fatalities ambassadors who can become part of the Zero Fatalities movement, spreading these key messages in their communities and at their agencies:

  • Don’t drive impaired
  • Always buckle up
  • Focus on the road
  • Stop on red
  • Be pedestrian safe

It’s all about coming together to save lives, and Zero Fatalities is a brand the entire state can rally around. Because when we ask ourselves, “What is an acceptable number of traffic fatalities for your family?” the answer is simple: zero.

Thanks and congratulations to all the new ambassadors!

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driving phone woman

Contributed by Lora Stead

We’ve all seen ’em: drivers weaving in and out of their lanes, running lights and slamming on their brakes because they are distracted. It’s not a new idea that cell phones are among the top driver distractions. In fact, at any given daylight moment, about 660,000 drivers of the 210 million licensed drivers in the US are using cell phones while driving, says NHTSA. Additionally, almost half of all drivers admit to answering phone calls while driving and 1 in 4 drivers place calls while driving.

These statistics, and the 1.6 million crashes caused nationwide every year by drivers using a cell phone, remind us that though texting and driving is illegal for all ages in Utah and 38 other states, driving while using a cell phone in any way is dangerous. In fact, the National Safety Council estimated that 200,000 of the cell-phone-related crashes yearly involve texting and the other 1.4 million are related to other mobile use while driving.

But do you ever talk on a cell phone while driving? Does your spouse? Do you mind if your kids do?

Starting May 14, drivers under eighteen years old in Utah who are caught talking on a cell phone while driving can be pulled over and fined. 35 additional states have restricted all cell phone use by novice drivers and 10 states have banned any age from driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone. For state-specific cell phone laws, click here.

As a member of UDOT’s Zero Fatalities outreach team, I’m interested to know what the public thinks about restrictions for driving while using a cell phone. I can be a better educator by understanding where people stand. So please weigh in: Do you think talking on a cell phone while driving should be illegal for all drivers or just teens?

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