ALS and Public Relations Awareness

Over the past few weeks, social media sites have been flooded with videos of peers and celebrities dousing their selves in ice water to promote the ALS Foundation. Although there seem to be different versions of the challenge, the gist seems to be that nominees are required to either donate $100 to the ALS foundation OR have a bucket of ice water poured over your head. You then pass along the challenge to three friends, reminiscent of a 90’s email chain. “SEND THIS TO THREE FRIENDS OR ELSE.”

As a result, annoyed users are beginning to question the practice. The most common argument is that the entire point of dousing yourself with water is to avoid donating the suggested $100.


Despite this, the ALS Foundation has received millions in donations from the campaign. “As of Sunday, the association said it had received $13.3 million in donations since July 29, compared with $1.7 million during the same period last year.” (New York Times) I know that might be a bit confusing, but this entire “ice bucket challenge” is just an extremely successful public relations campaign. Even more interesting, the ALS Foundation doesn’t appear to have started the movement. Originally, the challenge was to donate to an organization of your choice, but along the way the focus shifted to ALS. The gods of communication must have helped them out.

Back to public relations…

There are three main types of objectives in every PR campaign; awareness, acceptance, and action. More ‘obscure’ diseases such as ALS often suffer from lack of awareness. As the ALS Association’s lead fundraiser explained, “It’s very difficult to fundraise because most people have never heard of ALS and its a very complex disease to discuss and explain.” (Washington Post) The goal of this fundraising campaign, unplanned as it is, was primarily to raise awareness for the disease. That’s the first step towards motivating people to donate.

Brilliantly, action is tied into the challenge as well. No one said you have to donate, it’s just a suggestion. If you don’t want to, just douse yourself in cold water, an awesome way to have fun and appear charitable on Facebook. Writing a check is considerably less fun. However, now that you know about ALS and it’s devastating effects, you might feel motivated to donate as well. Obviously, thousands of people have.

As critics point out, you’re actually not all that charitable if you just dump water on your head but it’s engaging, it’s fun, it’s a challenge. A challenge that prompts awareness and action from the public, and ultimately raised $13 million dollars for the ALS Association.

Most companies will not be so lucky in their fundraising endeavors, but take this challenge as a lesson in how to be successful. Research simple ways to engage, entertain, and challenge your stakeholders. If you do it right, your message will echo across social media.

Or, in lieu of researching your audience, just do a PR dance to the communications gods. It’s worth a shot.

Rebecca Martineau


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