Lessons from the #IceBucketChallenge Keep Coming

I wrote a piece for PR Week last Tuesday (8/19) called “Seven Lessons for Communicators in the #IceBucketChallenge.”

At the time the effort had raised $15 million. Videos of people throwing ice water on their heads had been streaming through my Facebook newsfeed since early August, so I felt like I was weighing in at the tail end of the phenomenon. But now – just a week later – the campaign has raised more than $88 million. EIGHTY-EIGHT MILLION DOLLARS. Wha???! Lessons indeed. I’d say this one has taught us all a thing or two. Stunning.

Ice Bucket Challenge

Bill Gates doing the Ice Bucket Challenge


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Posted August 26th, 2014 in best practices, non-profit public relations, social networking, word of mouth | No Comments »

Let’s put an end to click-bait headlines

It’s no secret that professionals in the online media industry love traffic. Not the road rage, bumper-to-bumper kind of course, but the online traffic that puts a spike in our Google Analytics, proving that our content is getting the visibility we crave.

The hunger for online page views has resulted in the most unfortunate of practices: click-bait headlines. While you may not know the term, you’ve definitely been exposed to these devils while browsing your social media feeds. This week, Facebook announced that an abundance of click-bait headlines (and dissatisfaction with the practice among users) is the reason for the social media giant’s newest algorithm changes.

The term “click-bait” refers to a headline that has the sole purpose of making a large number of internet users click the corresponding link. It’s true that this is the purpose of all headlines, which are crucially important to attract readers. However, click-bait resorts to sensationalizing in order to increase the view counter of the article, which is often written to increase the source’s website traffic. This practice results in higher placements on Facebook’s newsfeed without adding any actual value.

Here are some real examples of click-bait headlines:

  1. “You Won’t Believe The Ridiculous Purchase This Man Just Made. Why? Just, Why?”
  2. “The 3 Biggest Mistakes You’re Making With Your LinkedIn Photo”
  3. “The Surprising Thing That Could Be Killing Your Productivity”

I would be lying if I said these headlines didn’t pique my curiosity, as they most likely did for you. However, while click-bait headlines and this resulting interest may drive website traffic, it can create a bigger problem than low viewer stats. Because of click-bait’s overly exaggerated nature, the headlines are often deceiving. The audience clicks the link expecting a big, even groundbreaking story, only to be immensely disappointed with the ordinary:

  1. “You Won’t Believe The Ridiculous Purchase This Man Just Made. Why? Just, Why?” – An unidentified man bought a carnival-sized teddy bear, and was spotted in a parking lot trying to load it into his car.
  2. “The 3 Biggest Mistakes You’re Making With Your LinkedIn Photo” – Not having a photo is the #1 mistake listed.
  3. “The Surprising Thing That Could Be Killing Your Productivity” – Noise (not too much of a surprise).

As information sources, we shouldn’t have to trick our audience to get them to read our articles. It’s important to establish trust with those who consume the content we produce.

Take the time to write superior content with an accompanying expertly crafted headline. It will speak for itself. Viewers will come, seeking out the expert knowledge you provide, knowing that you are a trusted source because you deliver what you promised. This type of traffic is immeasurably stronger than a huge influx of viewers who come to your site, feel cheated and leave, with increased wariness of your reliability as an information source. The quality of viewers far surpasses the significance of the quantity of viewers.

On a positive note, I am happy to say that Facebook’s algorithm changes are not the first steps taken in the fight to end click-bait. It seems that the practice’s increased annoyance has caused more media outlets to cut down on its use – it was more of a struggle for me to find recent over-the-top examples of click-bait for this blog post than I had anticipated! The industry is picking up on the negative long-term outcomes that this practice brings, hopefully leading to more deception-free readership in the future.

What is one of the most outrageous click-bait headlines you’ve read recently?


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Posted August 26th, 2014 in best practices, communication, public relations industry, writing and grammar | No Comments »

Not every day should be seized

The death of Robin Williams last week prompted a spate of commentary examining the sad news from a multitude of angles. In the midst of the coverage, global PR shop Edelman came under fire for posting a “Carpe Diem“ blog outlining the promotional opportunities the event created (they subsequently posted a brief apology). The Washington Post pop culture blogger Alyssa Rosenberg railed against the “worst public relations pitches“ she received from publicists using Williams’ death as a hook.

A major part of our work involves monitoring the news to uncover areas where our clients could bring valuable perspective to the conversation. When there’s a tragic event in the news, we have to balance the need to highlight a client’s relevant expertise with the profoundly personal nature of the event. What value can our client add to the public discourse?

In the case of last week’s heart-breaking news, I had to walk that fine line because we do have a client with the credentials to participate meaningfully in the discussion. The client’s organization is a non-profit with decades of experience treating the co-occurring disorders that some say had been plaguing Williams. The litmus test for me was whether or not I believed the public would benefit from our client’s expertise relative to reported challenges Williams faced during his life.

In many ways, it’s no different from what we should be doing as PR pros anyway. In every case, we must take care to fully evaluate whether our client can add something meaningful to the dialogue.

That’s where I believe the how-to blog post and misguided pitches crossed the line. They represent everything critics say is wrong about PR – i.e., keep throwing stuff at the wall until something sticks.

I firmly believe that whenever there is a tragedy of this sort, it represents an opportunity to raise awareness in the hope of helping others who may be dealing with similar struggles. But we must not simply position a client for the sake of the exposure; we must be sure we are providing a solid source of assistance to people who are desperate to find answers.


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Posted August 19th, 2014 in best practices, media relations, non-profit public relations, public relations industry, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Facebook musings on eye rollers, SquareWallet and fried chicken

Rosemary saw a thought-provoking post on her News Feed and shared it with us. In the office, we find ourselves discussing issues such as connectivity and the influence of millennials. The note to the team sparked strong feelings and a lively discussion.

Some of the language in the Facebook post below is PG-13.

Jennifer, Victoria and I shared our opinions:


Whether you’re an avid fan of technology or not, it’s certainly here to stay and has transformed our business and our lives. What’s your take?


Posted August 14th, 2014 in interesting experiences | No Comments »

Long live the press release

Back in 1997 at Rubenstein & Associates in NYC, one of my first experiences in agency life was jockeying for a desk near the fax machine. In those days, email wasn’t used to distribute news releases.

While channels for sharing news have changed, the importance of a well-structured news release hasn’t. A PR Week article by Sarah Shearman entitled, “Planning the Evolution of Press Releases,” recently ignited debate among PR pros. Shearman argues that the industry shouldn’t expect the news release to disappear anytime soon. She asserts that releases will “evolve rather than die out.”

I agree and believe that the news release is still a fundamental tool for communicating news. The inverted pyramid structure – with important points addressing the five Ws near the top – and key elements such as the dateline, contact information and boilerplate should stay intact.

Back in the late 90s journalists were the primary readers of news releases.  Today, journalists are still a key audience, but we have to remember that consumers are also reading releases.

Every press release would be better if we strive to:

-Shorten our news: Anyone in PR will tell you a super-long release is not going to fly with time-strapped journalists who typically spend less than 60 seconds scanning your news – whether they have to read more than one page of hard copy or scroll endlessly through a release sent via email or posted online.

-Incorporate more bullet points: Package the news in a format that’s most amenable to journalists. For some RoseComm clients we place the three most important points of the release in bullets at the top.  Then the reader can determine if the release is relevant to them even before they hit the headline.

-Include compelling quotes: I agree with almost everything that Sherman shared in her article except her POV on quotes. We’ve found that trade journalists use quotes from press releases in stories more often than not. The key is to write quotes that are meaningful and not overly promotional.


-Go beyond text:  It’s no longer all about the words.  Photos, graphics and videos should be added whenever possible to further illustrate the story.

I love what Amazon did last year with the launch of its new Kindle Fire. The PR team posted a news release to the website and then disseminated the most compelling and important facts via 14 tweets. Granted, they are Amazon and journalists are waiting to hear their news. Still, they chose an unconventional way to parse out their story to influencers. Although the release still played an important role in the strategy, additional channels were tapped to create anticipation and share the news more broadly.

For companies and brands that may not be as well-established as Amazon, issuing a press release on a newswire is still beneficial. It’s a cost-effective tactic that helps with SEO and indexes your news in online databases. Adding a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest or other social channel to your communications strategy should always be considered as a way to amplify your news and reach your audiences directly. But the news release will live on, as the fundamentals will never fit into 140 characters or less.



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Posted July 31st, 2014 in best practices, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Kickstarter Campaign Blows Up

Crowdfunding sites — like Kickstarter and Indiegogo — are not just a great way to raise money for your idea. They drive social conversation and traditional media coverage. I know more than one entrepreneur who used Kickstarter to drive awareness with fundraising as a “nice to have.”

There’s one campaign that’s blowing up (pun intended) on Kickstarter right now.  Bunch O Balloons is an invention that fills up and automatically ties up to 100 water balloons in less than one minute. Anyone who has ever thrown a summer party for kids knows that filling and tying water balloons is a major pain. I found out about this product from a neighbor of mine. She and I are planning our end of summer block party and dreading the annual filling of the balloons task. That night, I watched the dollars raised go up by the thousands in a span of under an hour. His original goal was $10,000. Right now, he’s raised more than $660,000.

Equally as impressive is the exposure Bunch O Balloons continues to generate. Everyone from the TODAY Show and People to Business Insider and BuzzFeed can’t get enough of this story.

What’s his secret? It’s not that his video is so entertaining that people are compelled to share it. Or that he has some track record that makes everyone want whatever he comes up with next. It’s that his invention solves a very real pain point. It’s simple, but ingenious. And proof that an exceptional product idea is news value.




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Posted July 29th, 2014 in entrepreneurship, social networking, word of mouth | No Comments »

Take and use my press release, please

This week I read about an exchange that made me giggle and cringe in span of about six seconds.

PRNewser featured a story that Jim Romenesko uncovered. Evidently, a PR/marketing person emailed Marilyn Young, an editor at the Jacksonville Daily Record to request credit for content in a story that resembled the press release sent by the agency.

According to the screenshot from Young’s Facebook page via PRNewser, the person currently giving our industry a black eye wrote, “But when you publish our work with your name that is plagiarism.”

Let’s just pause right there.

Isn’t providing helpful content and information to journalists at the very core of what we do?  I for one get really excited when I see copy lifted directly (or tweaked very slightly) from a pitch or press release in a story.  Our job is to get the messaging and language on target. We strive for journalistic style, and if our exact copy makes the cut it means we nailed it. Sometimes the way it’s written is the way it should stay.

PR isn’t an industry for those who want credit for every little line of text they had a hand in placing. I remember being in the grocery store several months after I started dating my boyfriend. He couldn’t grasp why I was so thrilled to see the December issue of Family Circle. I had been waiting six months for a placement that was the result of an in-person briefing with an editor. He immediately asked where my name was on the page. *Head desk* Some people just don’t understand the nature of our industry and that is perfectly acceptable.

But please, if you are playing for our team, learn how to play the game.


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Posted June 26th, 2014 in best practices, communication, media relations, public relations industry | No Comments »

Building Relationships with the Next Generation of Journalists

Working for a PR agency means my cell phone number is widely available. It’s in my email signature. It’s published on news releases that cross the wire and are uploaded to clients’ online pressrooms. While it is great resource for reporters, it also means I get my fair share of random requests, like the few times people called me because they wanted to enroll their child in school. Or the time a woman called, desperate to know if I received her husband’s job application for a trucking position.

Recently, when my phone rang after hours, I fully expected a question that I could not answer. To my surprise, the call was from the executive news editor of a high school newspaper. He was anxious to connect with my client who had administered a playground contest. An essay nominating St. Norbert School in Northbrook, Illinois, highlighted Kyle Caraher, a 17-year-old varsity football player who lost his life in a car accident in the summer of 2012. The touching essay was selected as one of two winners. The editor on the phone was from the Torch, the student-run newspaper of Glenbrook North High School, where Caraher had been a student.

He wanted to schedule an interview to learn more about the contest and why the essay nominating St. Norbert School (where Caraher attended elementary school) was selected as a winner. Knowing my client spokesperson’s time was tight, I asked if he could send me questions via email. The editor said if that was the only option, he could, but that he would prefer to conduct a phone interview. He mentioned his faculty advisors look down on email interviews and they are to be avoided if at all possible.

In that moment I realized it was important to facilitate a phone interview.

So often PR people, reporters and spokespeople are short on time. Is an interview conducted via email the most ideal? No, but it gets the information where it needs to go. But this high school newspaper editor is likely part of the next generation of journalists we’ll be working with – helping him hone his interview skills is important and something I’m happy my client was able to facilitate. Though I’m not convinced we’re going to see more journalists requesting phone interviews vs. email because their resources are squeezed more than ever.It was important for me to show him a PR professional was his ally. After all, he even offered Saturday availability for the interview. If he was willing to go above and beyond for his paper, wasn’t it our job to help?

The editor conducted a thorough interview with my client and we probably weren’t on the phone for much longer than 15-20 minutes. He sent follow-up questions and was responsive all communications. He was a pleasure to work with and his final article was some of the most in-depth coverage the project received.

At RoseComm, we strive to generate results that move the needle for our clients’ businesses. So why was a high school newspaper worth our client’s time? A few reasons: the contest covered was voted on by the public – likely including teachers and students from Glenbrook North High – so showing appreciation for their participation was important. Additionally, parents and school administrators are key audiences for my client.

You can read the young journalist’s work here: Caraher’s dream plays into reality at St. Norbert’s.




Posted June 6th, 2014 in client news, communication, interesting experiences, media relations | No Comments »

Are wearable tech products for kids?

My first grader is an official member of the quantified self movement. Her elementary school randomly selected children to wear activity-tracking watches to assess the outcomes of their physical education program. This is her week.

Measuring fitness biometrics is a topic we know a lot about through our work with Valencell. The company’s PerformTek sensor seamlessly integrates into wearable devices, such as audio earbuds, armbands and wristbands, and connects with smartphone apps people already are using while exercising. It measures more real-time biometric and physiological data than any other fitness monitor with a high degree of accuracy and consistency. It’s currently available through iriverON earbuds as well as Scosche Rhythm armbands, and is coming soon to products from LG, Blaupunkt and others.

There’s plenty of research that suggests these wearable devices motivate adults to live more active lifestyles. I was curious to see how a data-driven awareness of her activity might change my daughter’s behavior.

I came home from work the day she received the watch and she almost knocked me over at the door to show it to me. It’s a Polar product and appears to be measuring activity time through an accelerometer. On the first day, she logged just over an hour and a half of activity. Thanks in part to the NFL’s Play 60 campaign, most parents know children need 60 minutes of activity a day.

Yesterday was day two with the device and she was past her previous day’s time when we sat down to do her homework after dinner. She was determined to hit the two-hour mark before bed. So we did jumping jacks together as she practiced her spelling words for the week. She still had seven minutes to go. After she brushed her teeth, she did karate moves all around her bedroom while I read to her. She got in bed and spent the last few minutes throwing punches until she hit 2:00. The sense of accomplishment created a little more excitement (and sweat) than a 6-year old needs before bed, but it was great to see her celebrate the milestone.

The jury’s still out on whether the enthusiasm will continue. And the line between a healthy awareness and unhealthy obsession may be a thin one I need to watch. But the early results are interesting and encouraging.

Do you think kids are a target market for wearable fitness technology?



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Posted March 12th, 2014 in client news, interesting experiences | No Comments »

Is it too late to retweet Ellen’s selfie?

I have to confess: I wasn’t looking at Twitter during the Oscars. But my husband was and he let me know when the Ellen selfie campaign was building. I instantly made a decision not to participate in the retweet frenzy. I liked that Barack Obama’s “Four more years” tweet held the distinction as the most retweeted tweet. People were genuinely excited that he was re-elected. They didn’t retweet because the POTUS told them to.

Last night I learned Ellen’s effort to get the most retweets on her selfie was actually a brand placement for Samsung, as she was using the company’s phone to take the picture. You might think that fact would make me more resolute about not changing my Twitter behavior simply because a celebrity told me to. On the contrary, I kind of regret not following her instructions like a lemming.

We spend a lot of time at RoseComm talking about how some consumers wear their resistance to advertising like a badge of honor. But we also live in a world where we expect great content for cheap or even free. We worry about how those factors are affecting the quality of both journalism and entertainment.

So if I’d known Ellen’s stunt was in support of a brand that helped put the Oscars on television, I would have been way more likely to retweet it. I believe it’s time to reward the brands who are trying to find clever and authentic ways to engage us without crossing any editorial lines.

Did you retweet Ellen’s selfie? Does Samsung’s involvement change your view on her stunt?


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Posted March 5th, 2014 in social networking | No Comments »