LESSONS FROM THE ALS ICE BUCKET: Keep it simple, visual

Who would have thought freezing water would be so hot?

Thanks to a flash flood of social media videos and news coverage, the ALS ice bucket challenge is something that everyone has seen or at least heard about. Maybe you’ve even been one of the thousands who’ve been soaked.

One of the reasons it’s had so much success – helping to raise $15.6 million in just two weeks for the ALS Association – is because it’s not just something your best friend is doing, it’s also something your favorite celebrity is doing. And we sure love our celebrities.

After a few rich and famous did the ice bucket challenge and challenged their celebrity friends, the ice bucket challenge took on an unstoppable, hurricane-like form. As more and more celebrities quickly began taking part, an interesting thing happened. No longer were they the ones making the ALS ice bucket challenge cool and trendy, it was the ALS ice bucket challenge thrusting famous folks into the spotlight. Those celebrities are improving their own brand.

So why did it work so well? It is simple, has a strong visual hook and – though there is no end date to the campaign – is clearly NOT an “evergreen” news story.  The KISS rule (keep it simple, stupid) applies.

These best practices criteria don’t just apply to social media memes. When pitching a journalist a story, the hook is the big idea that grabs attention. It answers their first question: who cares? However, the pitch better have a 1-2 punch that answers their second question: “why now?”

Good public relations pros are always on the lookout for news pegs and big stories that people are talking about. When those stories hit, here are a few things to think about if the news (or potential publicity stunt) is relevant to your organization:

  1. Is it a sensitive or controversial topic that might lead to backlash? It’s important to evaluate the news story and know when to stay away. But if it’s a fit…
  2. Is there someone available to comment or participate? Journalists are under a deadline and want resources as quickly as possible. Oftentimes, it is first come first served.
  3. Is there a local angle to the story? Just because something appears on national news and everyone is likely aware of it, pursue local media and bring the story closer to home, if possible.
  4. Are there any visual elements that can be incorporated? Media stories are not only more likely to be picked up, but they’re more likely to be consumed by the public. This is especially true of television, but also social media and print.

Take a cue from the Ice Bucket Challenge and make sure your next big idea checks off on all of these points. If you think visual and answer the “Who Cares?/Why Now?” question, your organization could set off the next social media hurricane.