How To Smartly Localize The Ice Bucket Challenge


When you first heard about the ice bucket challenge, you secretly wondered “How can I newsjack this story for my business?” didn’t you? You can be honest. It wasn’t until the PR person you enlisted for help informed you that trying to benefit from such a sincere story was “kind of a jerk thing to do” that you dropped the idea altogether.

She’s right: Don’t be a jerk. Take the challenge. Make a donation.

Then—and only then—should you look for ways to “benefit” from the effort.

The ice bucket challenge, which went viral in August, has to date raised over $50 million to help fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder. The challenge works by having an individual dump a bucket of ice/ice water over himself or herself, then challenge at least six others to do the same within the next 24 hours. Those who cannot do it or refuse to do it, must make a donation to the ALS Association.

The sheer genius of the challenge is the multiplier effect—each time a bucket is dumped over someone’s head, no less than six others are tasked with doing the same and/or making a donation. With over a million people taking the challenge already, including numerous celebrities, it’s little wonder the sum raised so far this year has nearly eclipsed the amount brought in for all of 2013: $64 million. It’s also comes as no surprise that the term “ice bucket challenge” has veritably taken over the Internet.

Your business can and should ride this wave.

Using The News To Benefit Your Business

Before the term newsjacking was ever invented, newspaper editors were preaching to reporters about the need to “localize” a story. That is, find a national story that’s broadly significant, then interview local people and/or business owners, who are likely facing similar challenges, experiences, etc., to create newsy article that’s relevant to the local audience.

For example, an editor might see a national story about banks raising fees, then have a reporter interview branch managers of local banks in addition to folks who do business at those banks. A headline for the local story might read something like “Area Residents Feel Pinch As Local Banks Raise Fees.”

You can use the ice bucket challenge to make your own news by placing on your PR hat

You certainly realize that, as a business person, you can never afford to take off your PR/ outreach hat, especially in light of the fact that earned media is a huge driver of online and offline authority, in addition to being a great vehicle for delivering qualified leads to your business.

(Eds note: Let me be clear: I’m not saying you should try to benefit your business on the back of a worthy cause. I am saying, however, you can and should use the news to benefit a worthwhile cause and your business along with it.)

Here’s a few simple tips to get you started:

  • Work with your local chamber of commerce (hopefully, you are a member) to see which businesses would be willing to make a donation to the ice bucket challenge.
  • Once you have an amount—hopefully it’s a significant sum—work with the PR person at your chamber to hammer out the details of a localized ice bucket challenge that takes advantage of your local audience. For example, why not ask local residents to submit videos of their most creative ice bucket dowsing to YouTube, then share it broadly via social media using a special hashtag you agree upon as a group? The video with the most shares wins, and the donation to the ALS Foundation will be made in their honor.
  • Once those details are hammered out, a separate web page can be created on the chamber site, with links to all of the participating businesses.
  • Your business website can create a blog about the contest, in addition to having a details page with links to other national ice bucket challenge events as well.
  • With everything now in place, reach out to the metro editor of your local paper and apprise her of the contest. Make her aware of why local businesses decided to support the effort, how the money will be donated and when, then draw attention to some of the creative videos that have been uploaded online.
  • Make them aware that you have consent-to-contact information from several of the contestants, and that you would be happy to share with them for interviews.
  • It’s likely that you and other business owners will be interviewed, in addition to the contestants.
  • The newspaper gets a great story. You and other business owners get a link and coverage; several local residents get recognition; the community gets positive spotlight; and the ALS Association gets additional funding.

A contest like this, which piggybacks on the overall challenge, is a win-win for everyone. Most important, though, it serves to help a good cause.

The contest itself could take whatever shape you like. The goal is to make it (a) all about the charity, (b) worthwhile to all parties involved and (c) have it meet the threshold of being newsworthy.

What do you think about marrying a local contest to the national challenge?

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