Digital Marketing

5 PR Lessons from the ALS #IceBucketChallenge

It all started a couple of weeks ago. You saw it on your Facebook feed: friends dumping a bucket full of icy water on their heads and then nominating others to do it as well, all for a good cause – ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Then it was two friends on your feed… then five… then seven… then last Friday, it was Mark Zuckerberg.  At this point, you’ve probably done it yourself!

The ALS Ice Bucket challenge is the tidiest social media campaign we’ve seen in a while. It’s beautiful. And, the rules are such that it literally could not exist without social technology.  It has reinvigorated a medium overrun with high profile brands jockeying for likes and comments.

So, how did this campaign go viral, and what can you learn from it?

1) Be Genuine – Here’s the catch, ALS did not actually create this campaign. It started as a challenge to just give to charity in general. It became associated with ALS when it started gaining steam. Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player who was diagnosed with ALS, took the challenge on July 31, and the campaign took off. Because the campaign is completely genuine and has humble grassroots beginnings, it is that much more effective. According to research from Facebook, the post that started it all was from Pete’s personal page:

2) Connect People – Don’t connect with people as a brand, connect them with each other!  The ask is more powerful when it comes from a friend rather than an organization. The key to the ice bucket challenge? Tagging. By tagging friends on Facebook and Twitter, participants call them out in front of their friends, followers and, in some cases, the entire the social universe.

3) Tie in Visuals – What could possibly beat watching your friends pour ice water over their heads? Nothing. The ALS challenge would be nothing without our friendly phones to record them. Encourage visuals during your campaigns, rather than straight tweets or posts. The content you’ll see as a result will be far richer.

4) Know When to Chime in – Once ALS caught wind that this challenge was underway and driving massive donations, I’m sure it was tempting to jump in and make a lot of noise. But, the team was really smart. They saw the organic growth of the movement and just let it continue. They joined the conversation on Twitter, engaging with posts, but they waited until August 14 for their first press release, using it as a way to release their total donations to date, which are astounding. Take a look:

ALS graph
5) Tap a Celebrity – The right influential and social-savvy celebrity can give any campaign the boost it needs. In this case, any celebrity passionate about raising money for ALS is the right fit. From Bill Gates to Jimmy Fallon, celebrities have posted their videos, encouraging their fans to take part in the challenge and spreading even more viral growth.

As of Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, the ALS Association has received $13.3 million in donations compared to $1.7 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to Aug. 17). These donations have come from existing donors and 259,505 new donors to the association.

And so, it’s our turn. Our agency’s president, Mark Raper, challenged EVP Mike Mulvihill over to participate yesterday. Since I wrote this post, I figured I’d be a good sport too. PadillaCRT is donating to ALS, and we’re challenging you to take the #icebucketchallenge and do the same! To donate online, visit:

Mike’s nominees: Lynn Casey (PadillaCRT, CEO), Marc Hirth (Managing Partner, Carlyle Associates) and Hugh Quill (President & CEO, Public Performance Partners)
Rosalie’s nominees: Cheryl Robinson, Ryan Lamont (PadillaCRT Los Angeles) and Laura Petrosky (PadillaCRT Richmond)

About Rosalie Morton:

As an account supervisor, Rosalie leads Padilla clients’ traditional and social media relations initiatives and provides crisis counsel. She has successfully placed speakers at high-profile industry conferences, submitted winning award entries, planned events and media tours, managed social media campaigns, served as editor for client blogs and garnered placements in top-tier traditional and social media. She can often be seen on the third floor of the Richmond office, trying to find her dog, Petey, who has most likely snuck into someone else's office to beg for food.

4 Comments on “5 PR Lessons from the ALS #IceBucketChallenge

  1.  by  Kim Blake

    Great insights, Rosalie! I’ve enjoyed seeing this start out with my Boston friends (which now makes sense given the campaign’s origin) about 10 days ago and it’s gained momentum to the point that it has touched almost everyone that I know. It’s created the kind of excitement and awareness that we saw with breast cancer years ago. I hope that they can maintain a robust fundraising and awareness campaign.

  2.  by  Jeff W

    Thanks Rosalie. Like many of us in PR and marketing, the #IceBucketChallenge has been fascinating to watch. Your thoughts as to why this campaign went viral when so many others don’t were very insightful. It will be interesting to see how other nonprofits try to replicate the success of this campaign, because you know that’s coming. And like with all good things, there are going to be “haters,” so it’s been intriguing to watch the negative posts and complaints about the #IceBucketChallenge start to crop up.

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