How Self Got it Wrong: A Case Study in PR

Every so often I see things in the media which baffle me. Today it's about handling a PR situation that has now turned into something bigger.

Let me explain:

Self magazine is a health and fitness magazine that is aimed towards women looking to have a healthier, more active lifestyle. It has many subscribers and I am one of them. Recently, the magazine came under attack for having airbrushed the cover of Kelly Clarkson. If this had ended here, then that would be the end of this story. You see, magazines airbrush all the time and in the end, it's no big deal. Everyone knows that the people you see on the cover isn't exactly them. In fitness magazines, you often see more well-defined abs then the person actually has.

Self magazine's editor Lucy Danziger decided to respond to the comments made about 'photoshopping' the picture by making a comment on her blog, which is featured on

Now in any negative PR situation, it is a good idea to respond to the comments being thrown at you. Making a clear and concise statement can often alleviate some of the damage. But it's all about HOW you write/speak your statement. If it has a defensive tone then you are more likely to be attacked.

It's also good to remember not only who you are defending yourself against, but your clients as well. If you admit to things, will they respond in a negative or positive way? What if you attempt to cover things up? Would that be worse or better?

In this situation, it made everything worse. By responding to the criticisms on her blog, she left herself open to criticisms from her clients, many of whom stated that they would not purchase another magazine.

In her blog, Lucy mentions that they only altered the photo to make Kelly look like her personal best, however the accompanying video makes it look more than that. Many of the blog comments state that this must mean that staying true to yourself means to be slimmed down or 'photoshopped'. However the point isn't what was done, but how the situation was handled. Self got on the defensive and now they are making themselves look bad in front of their clients.

Not only that, Lucy states: 'When I ran the marathon five years ago, I was so proud of myself for completing it in under five hours and not walking a single step. But my hips looked big in some of the photos (I was heavier then), so when I wanted to put one of them on the editor's letter in SELF, I asked the art department to shave off a little.'

Rather than coming off as endearing, this comes off as needy and lacking in self-esteem, the very thing Self promotes. She does, however go on to say that today she would run the photo untouched.

Her response to the photoshopping inquiries is actually generating even more news coverage which is impacting the Self brand negatively.

It will be interesting to see if there is any actual fallout from this or if this is just a blip on their radar. I wonder if the subject will continue to be addressed via the blog or in the magazine itself.

What would you do in this situation? Have you ever made a PR incident worse (or better!)?

Writing for the Web-Getting Started

I'm back with a vengeance! Sorry for the lack of posts recently. But don't fear, a steady stream is coming your way! Tomorrow I'm presenting a webinar about writing for the web and wanted to talk briefly about getting started with web writing.

Writing for the web is easier said than done. It’s easy to extol the virtues of great copy, but that much harder to get right down to business. See, writing is something that everyone knows how to do, but everyone doesn’t know how to do it well. So what are some first steps for sitting down and getting it done?

1. Know your Limitations

If you are in charge of writing the web copy, ask yourself this: Are you up to the task? It’s nothing shameful if you aren’t. It’s more important to assess your writing capabilities and determine they aren’t up to snuff then not and go ahead with the writing anyway. Maybe you are good at one type of writing but not the other. Perhaps you can write the technical side of the issue, but not the emotional side? Whatever the case, know your limitations.

2. Secure your Environment

By this I mean, determine which is the ideal environment for creative juices to flow and make sure you have it. If you don’t wish to be disturbed, shut your office door or go somewhere else entirely. If you are interrupted during writing it can break your whole train of thought and leave you frustrated. Then assess what you do as you write. For me, I like to stand up and pace, running my thoughts through my head before I write them on the page. Some people like to listen to music, others like complete silence. Some like to eat as they write, others don’t. Whatever your perfect environment is for writing, try to replicate it.

3. Spit it Out

Staring at a blank piece of paper or a blank computer screen can be daunting. It’s important to get words, any words at all down on paper/computer just to start you off. It doesn’t matter if its gibberish, you just need to start writing to get into the flow. And then the real words will come. I promise!

4. Get an Editor

Get an editor. A good one. One that will show no mercy on your copy. Yes, sometimes it can sting when you receive back a piece of writing with track changes or red lines all over it, but ultimately this will help you create a better piece of content. It’s important to put your ego aside and at least consider the editor’s suggestions, even if you don’t accept them all.
So there are a few tips for getting started. And remember, writing good copy takes time so don’t frustrated if it doesn’t come to you in the first minute. Or hour. Or even day.

Personal Versus Professional

When it comes to social media, a bit of personality goes a long way. When you reveal some details about your life, it allows your audience to be drawn in. However how much is too much?

Balance is the key. Only sharing news/advertising etc doesn't show off your personality or your organization's personality. People give to people not to organizations. So share some news about your personal life or what's going on in the office.


Too much personal information can definitely be a bad thing. I've seen people do things on social media that instantly change my opinion about who they are, from drunken pictures on Facebook to snarky remarks on Twitter.

Remember, that if something is on the 'net, it will remain there for a long time. Perhaps even forever. Let's say you post something but then decide to take it down. What if someone captured a screenshot of that post? Then it's around permanently.

Also, remember that with most social media, everyone can see what you are doing. Yes, there may be privacy measures in place, but don't use them as a crutch. If you don't think it should be posted, don't post it.

Here's an example of a good thing your organization can post:

Had another b-day celebration in the office. Happy 40th to @fakename! She definitely liked all the gag gifts we got her.

And an example of a bad thing:

Just had a bad quarter and lost money. Might have to cut programs now.

Okay, so that is an obvious example of something you don't want to post but there are more subtle versions of this which find its way into social media all the time.

Just like the adage 'Think Before You Speak" you should "Think Before You Type."

Social Media Policies

I presented a webinar last week on Social Media and Donor Engagement and found myself talking alot about social media policies.

I think it's very important to have a social media policy in place, whether it's one page or twenty. A social media policy really helps you define how you are going to engage people on the web. Many nonprofits are afraid of getting on social media because it means that you are no longer in control of the message.

Maybe you aren't, but at least a good set of guidelines will ensure that you can direct the message to where you want it to be.

For example, rather than having to react in surprise to negative comments or views of your organization, guidelines help you handle any negative situation that arises. Since a situation on social media can change by the minute, it's important to have a plan so you can react in an appropriate way.

Some things to add to your policy:
  • Who's speaking on behalf of you? Are they able to respond to crises in a professional and speedy manner?
  • What is your position on certain issues?
  • How do you deal with comment moderation?
  • How much control do you have over someone's personal pages?

A good social media policy in place will ensure that any problems you have in the future can be addressed swiftly and correctly.

The Merging of Design and Content

I've been working on website proposals for several days now and have come to a conclusion. Many people think that design and content are two seperate things and that comes to light on their webpages.

Let me explain.

I believe for a website to properly function, content and design have to work together, not fight against each other. They are the ying and yang, two sizes of a whole and yet I see so many websites where the content appears secondary. It always baffles me during a redesign process when people forget about the content.

How does this appear on a website?

One of the ways it does is through lack of white space. When the design starts to crowd into the content, then there is a problem. There should be enough room for the design AND the content.

Another way is by overdesign. Overdesign is when you have a really great design of a site that overshadows the content. Examples of this include excessive use of flash and more.

Not that content is blame-free either. When you have so much content that it's pushing the design to the edges, then you have a problem. You need to ensure that content and design work together to make the website perfect.

It's definitely easier said then done but it's possible!

Should You Be On Social Media?

At the My Charity Connects conference last week, a lot of the chatter surrounded social media and nonprofits. And the question I got asked the most, especially by small nonprofits, was do I need to be on Twitter/Facebook etc?

Well others suggest jumping into the deep end, I completely disagree.

Yes, Twitter and Facebook et al are great tools, especially for small nonprofits. They allow you to converse with your donors and get your message out to a wider audience.


You need to truly assess whether social media is right for you. Do you have time to be utilizing social media tools everyday? Because if you don't, then it's not worth it.

I'd rather see someone not use Twitter at all rather than be on there for two weeks and then things die off. This gives off a negative impression of your organization, just like old content on a website.

You need to determine whether your audience will respond with these types of tools, and most importantly develop your goals.

If you don't have the time or the audience, look into other communications tools. Just because everyone is on Facebook, doesn't mean you have to be. Pick and choose what social media tools work for you, put together a plan and go for it!

And remember, just because social media is (mostly) free doesn't mean it won't cost your time.

Learn more here: Ten Things a Nonprofit Should Do Before Setting Up Social Media

Budgeting for Social Media

Writing for the Web Presentation

I presented at the My Charity Connects conference yesterday on the topic of Writing for the Web. Here is the powerpoint of my presentation. Audio hopefully will be following:

Maintaining Online Volunteers

I posting a while back about finding and engaging volunteers through social media. But while you may gain volunteers online, is it possible to maintain them online?

I think so. But this has to be done in conjunction with offline connection as well. How do we keep volunteers interested online? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Send a thank you email. A thank you email is nice and personal. You can be specific about what that person achieved. But keep it short so there's a greater chance they will read the whole thing.

2. Give them a shout out. People love recognition and it doesn't take much. Use Twitter or Facebook to say thanks or share what your volunteers have done. This gives them great exposure as well as your organization as well.

3. Create a volunteers group. Use Ning, Facebook, or Yahoo groups to allow volunteers to interact with each other, no matter where they are.

4. Give them a reference on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a great business tool and having a good reference from someone can make all the different. Give them a good quote that they can share with future employers.

5. Post volunteer opportunities online. Use your website and social media tools to spread the word about what opportunities you have available. This way, your volunteers will know what's coming up.

Maintaining volunteers online just takes a few simple things.

Keep them updated,
Share their sucesses
and Say thank you!

Technical Difficulties

Sorry for the lack of blog posts, I've had technical difficulties this week. New blog posts will start on Monday!

Spring Cleaning: Brochure

Time to talk about your brochure. A brochure is easy to forget. You design it once, create lots of copies and then hand them out at events or send them to prospects. But right now I want you to pick up that brochure and really look at it.

Here are some questions to answer:

1.How old is it?
2. Is the information still relevant?
3. Is the information still fresh?
4. Should anything be changed?

If your brochure is older than a year, I would definitely recommend changing it. Why? Because even with a brochure you want to keep the content fresh.

Here's an example: Let's say you are at an event. Prospect #1 visits your booth and takes a brochure. Maybe he looks at your display and chats you up for a bit and then leaves. He takes the brochure with him, reads it but puts it aside and ends up not donating.

Year two of the event rolls around and Prospect #1 visits again, only to be handed the exact same information. With different information, perhaps he would have turned into a donor. With the same information, he will likely get bored and move on.

You can still keep your old brochures. They make excellent supplement materials. But change it up every once in a while.

Tips For Improving Your Brochure

  • Keep everything as timeless as possible. Don't make your brochure go out of date in a month.
  • Be clear and concise. Don't try to cram all your info onto that tiny brochure. Instead, pick the one or two main points you are trying to make and focus on those.
  • Use bullet points to break up the formatting.
  • Use quotes from clients, board members, staff and donors.
  • Include a call to action on the donation form. There isn't usually alot of room, but try to make it work.

What about you? How often do you update your brochure? Answer the poll here: or below.

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Most Popular Posts

Ten Things a Nonprofit Should Do Before Setting Up Social Media

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Getting Your Board on Board with Social Media Part One & Part Two

Budgeting for Social Media Part One & Part Two