10 Years of Volunteering with the Red Cross

When I look back on Hurricane Katrina, so many memories come to mind. Being a Houston native, you immediately recall what it is like to be in a hurricane and its aftermath, and feel for the people affected. For me, Hurricane Katrina was the impetus for becoming an American Red Cross volunteer.

I wanted to do some volunteer work, but it was hard to find an organization that could handle a request of more than an occasional day or less than some time every week. So, I was pleased when the PRSA sent an email to its members looking for volunteers to help with media relations for the Red Cross at its Dallas shelters.

I knew I could do the work; I had been doing it for 15 years as a paid professional. It just seemed like the right opportunity for me, so I signed up for the training as soon as I returned from the US Open in New York City.

The training was held one Sunday morning in Fort Worth. When they learned I lived in Dallas, they shortened my training, gave me a t-shirt that said “Red Cross Volunteer” and sent me on my way to meet Anita Foster at a press conference and to begin my first volunteer shift. (Please note: this is NOT the standard Red Cross training for a Red Cross public affairs official. This was a special circumstance and targeted to people who already knew public relations and media relations. We went through official training when things caliamneesonlmed down.) Anita was the Dallas-area communications director for the Red Cross.

I guess I did OK, Anita asked me to sign up for another shift. This time, I was the sole spokesperson at the Red Cross shelter. Anita was taking her first day off in 21 days. It was terrifying but the media and the other Red Cross volunteers showed me the way. I realized I had a skill that others did not, and the public wanted someone like me to help explain what was happening inside the shelter.

The Red Cross also needed me to tell their story. It was the ideal volunteer opportunity for me. Now, I sign up for two shifts per month (and a few more during disasters) and I always describe my duties as whatever they tell me to do. I can spend my time writing press releases, organizing events, or working with the media at disaster.

I urge all my fellow PR professionals to consider volunteering with your favorite nonprofit. It not only validates the benefits of good public relations, but it also makes you feel good. The impact you could have on a person’s life – or a community — is immeasurable.

To learn more about volunteering for the American Red Cross, go to: http://www.redcross.org/support/volunteer

The Wisdom of the Crowd – or how not to confuse fact with opinion

I attended a webinar of the best practices for using A/B testing. Let’s face it, math is not my area of expertise and I am very skeptical of statistics. Being in marketing for as long as I have, I have the opinion that you can find a statistic to support any fact you want.

Case in point: is this shade of blue better than that shade of blue for my website? If you analyze the question, you realize that this is a question of opinion. There is no empirically correct answer for this. However, you can test the daylights out of this question (yes, someone is making millions off people asking this exact question) and get a statistically “correct” answer. In reality, it is the most liked shade of blue; it is not the “best” blue for your website. And this answer will not drive more people to your website.

So, when is statistical testing, and A/B testing, worthwhile? For two reasons: to find an absolute answer – such as how many marbles are in the jar, or to test a theory. There is a math professor that proves the first reason. He does a test every year to ask his students to guess how many jellybeans are in a jar. The answers span a vast range, but the average is very close, like less than one percent off, from the actual number.

A/B testing and statistical testing is also great for testing a theory. It is great for determining if there a demand in the marketplace for a product. Your theory, as the inventor, is the answer is yes. A/B testing gets abused when people try to use it to determine which headline is best. That is an opinion, and frankly, the percentage for error eliminates any real differential in subtle changes.

The lessons I took from this webinar are:

  • Crowds are great at finding objective truth
  • Test your theory
  • Statistical testing kills creativity and greatness
  • Be bold, go for huge effects not subtle changes
  • Google tested 41 shades of blue before they determined which one to use for the Gmail send button