Making an ask isn’t easy. Most asks go unanswered. Then again, most asks are unartful.

And no, it’s not to say that an artful ask is guaranteed to get you what you want.

But it will give you a much better shot.

I think about “the ask” a lot. My job requires it, whether it’s trying to bring a sponsor on board to enlisting the support of an expert that can be helpful to a client.

But the truth is, most jobs do. We all need others to help us achieve what we set out to do. Knowing how to make “the ask” is often the difference between success and failure in today’s world.

My ask has evolved and I’m sure still has a long way to go. I have had some wonderful teachers along the way, some because they did it so well and others because they did it so badly. I’m sure others have learned from me too, both what and what not to do.

I get a lot of asks. Sometimes more than a dozen in any given week, people who are hoping we can donate services to help them elevate their cause or business. And almost to a person, these people are doing something important. They are truly working to make the world better in some real and demonstrative way.

But many of them have no idea how to make the ask. Some have tried to bully me into helping, others tried shame. And some bark orders promising employment that probably will never come, without any acknowledgment that my investment of time, energy and expertise is worth something now.

But I have learned over time to choose my causes, though we still take on more than we should.  I know that the loudest voice is the room doesn’t always belong to the smartest person. I have come to try and accept that not taking a cause on does not make me a bad person.

And while I can’t make any claim to having perfected my own ask, I can tell you the one thing that I think all good asks have as one who receives  so many the secret ingredient almost no one uses when they are trying to get help from someone:


Most people think of their cause only from their perspective.

You’d be surprised how many people don’t even acknowledge the value of or other demands on the time of the person they need. Their cause is so important to them, and they are often so rushed, they forget their manners and even basic civilities.

That is a big mistake.

Invest the time in the niceties. Remember to ask and not order. Seek to be helpful to them just as you want them to be helpful to you. Respect their efforts, and remember that every minute they give you is a gift. They owe you nothing.

At first your world will feel slower, filled up by the extra thought required to right important emails or building in time to do something small but nice for someone, like sending them an article of interest or even introducing them to someone who could helpful to their causes.

But in time, you will likely come to believe as I have that it is worth the investment of time and energy. People donate to people, be it money or time. And all relationships are about give and take.

When you want to be on the taking side of things, it’s best to think through what you can also give. At the very least, it should be your respect and gratitude. And those two things alone will go far in a world where they are in short supply.

Video is more and more important in this day and age. Video lets you tell your story effectively and evocatively, meaning it will resonate more fully with those you need to reach, including customers and press.

People also remember something they’ve watched much more than something they have simply read – by about 50%.

What kind of video you should shoot can vary with each project and the type of message you are trying to get out. More and more, unique video companies are carving out very specific niches for themselves. Here are two great unique video companies have really defined themsleves uniquely. And both are very good.

My City Lives helps location-based business and organizations tell great stories about themselves and what they do through video. The place and the context is every bit as important to the storytelling as the people, and they do really interesting beautiful work. They also have a mobile app. Check out their “about us” video at the top of the page.

Epipheo Studios does wonderful Explainer Videos. If you haven’t run across that term before, it’s much as you would expect it to mean given the title. An explainer video is a short, often animated video that is meant to explain a harder concept. Their website is a total work of art in itself. They’re not cheap, but they do great work. Here is an example of one of their videos:

How about you? Have you worked with a videographer who has a unique eye or has a really defined mandate? I’d love to hear about them.

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Who DOESN’T need funding for an awesome idea? How about $1000 to get you started.

Sound good?

Then find your local chapter of The Awesome Foundation, and if it doesnt’ exist, create it.

Why, because it’s, well, awesome.

30 people get together every month and raise a total of $1000 which they putin a paper bag. People submit their ideas and one of them is chosen to receive the $1000.

Here is a video from Awesome Toronto’s first winner selection with their first five finalists, one of whom was selected from this pitch session:

What does this have to do with PR? Everything.

PR used to be about press releases and getting journalists to write about you. That’s still part of it. But just a part of it. There is so much more to PR today. The tools are available for anyone to reach the people they need directly, including influencers who can bring others to appreciate your point of view.

And engaging your local chapter of the Awesome Foundation in your project is a great idea.  Members are engaged, dynamic and they want to support and share, well, your awesomness. Even if you don’t win, you may well find new supporters, partners and funders.

People share things they think are awesome through social media. They tell their friends, they want to be part of it, they want to help. And media are always on the look out for awesome ideas to talk about – and getting and awesome foundation grant has the stamp of awesomeness all over it.

The Awesome Foundation isn’t bureacratic, centralized or deeply formal. It’s a good idea that’s spreading. And anyone can be part of it. You too can help shape your city by funding what’s awesome or creating something awesome that others want to support too.

So go ahead. Share your awesome idea with the world. It may just win you $1000.



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Philanthropy and service are being reimagined by a generation that wants to change the world but in their own way. uses the power of online to help teens engage in the issues that matter to them offline.

I spoke to George Weiner from and here is what he had to say about the whole new wave of philanthropy that will ultimately reshape or replace traditional organizations and events as this emerging generation increasingly finds its voice.

And George, a special shout out to you: 11. He knows what I mean.




Young adults, those roughly 30 and under, have not embraced products that were or are mainstays of the lives of their parents and grandparents. They don’t care so much about television, prefer other messaging tools to email, and many don’t have a land line phone.

Every generation picks and chooses what they will carry forward from those who have gone before them. This next generation isn’t content with any kind of one way communication that expects them to be passive audience. And they aren’t just looking for opportunities to comment.

They want to help shape content, direct mandates and essentially be in the boardroom deciding on how products will be created or reimagined to be more relevant to them.

Reimagine CBC is a product of the new collaborative spirit that the next generation brings to their lives, their leisure activities and their work. It is a joint initiative of, a pro-democracy youth group, and, which works to engage, educate and empower citizens to defend and advance their communication interests, values and rights. Full disclosure, I am an advisor to the former and on the board of the latter.

People are vested in that which they create or have helped to shape.

Television viewership is declining and funds to public broadcasting are being slashed left, right and centre. The CBC is seeing severe cuts that have seen them chop overseas bureaus, drastically reduce documentary programing, and cut 2/3 of the live concert budget; studios across the country are also being closed. The cuts will get even deeper over the coming years.

If television is going to survive, particularly public broadcasting, it must reach its next generation of viewers and supporters. That means broadcasters have to reimagine a more collaborative relationship with their audience.

Reimagine CBC is a collective forum to share ideas about public broadcasting and what the CBC means, has meant and can mean to every Canadian, no matter how old. It is a grassroots organization helping to encourage the broadcaster to embrace its audience as an active participant and to better exploit the digital tools and cultures that will let that happen.

It brings together people of all generations, all walks of life and across a range of cultures and ethnicities both online and in the real world, including at this Vancouver event. The common thread running through them is a belief in public broadcasting and in the excellence of CBC, which is celebrated throughout the world for its journalistic integrity, its documentaries and its concert series and recordings.

People value what they have created or co-created. For generations, the CBC has united Canada, telling our stories and acting as our window to the world. In an increasingly digital age, we are surrounded by windows and platforms ready for us to tell our own stories and engage in those of others.

The participatory age is here.  And not just for the CBC.

There are very few businesses that will be able to thrive if they do not move towards greater collaboration with those they serve. The time has come to Reimagine Everything.



Joe Waters runs Selfish Giving and helps non-profits and for-profits create win-win scenarios that raise much needed money for causes while helping businesses better position themselves as cariing entitites within their communities.

Want to know how to attract business to your cause or find the right cause to your business? Watch the video and then be sure to check out Selfish Giving.


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How you make the ask will go a long way in determining if you get what you want or not. It’s one of those things, though, that rarely gets taught in school, even though it’s fundamental to business, particularly in a tough economy.

Most people have to figure out as they go, largely through trial and error. Many leave a trail of burnt bridges behind.

How people make the ask matters to me a lot because I often must make the ask but with even greater frequency, someone makes an ask of me.

In fact, this past week on one day alone, 9 people reached out for free advice, looking for everything from media contacts, ad buy advice to one request for a full donated PR program disguised as “could you please take a quick boo at this.”

Every week, I donate some time to a good cause or person. Even if I were to work full time at nothing but the requests I get to donate free services, I couldn’t possibly accomplish all that I was asked to do on a regular basis. And there are a lot of other folks in the same boat as I am.

If you want your request to get to the top of the heap, here’s what you need to know and do before you make the ask:

1. Make sure in every way possible, you are respectful of the time and talent they give you.

Last year, someone invited me to breakfast to help him prep for a very big meeting. For a couple of hours, I helped him understand what to expect, prepared him for the harder questions, and rehearsed him through points he really needed to make. The bill came, and he sat on his hands waiting for me to pick it up, and then reluctantly kicked in his share. He had also chosen the day, the time and the restaurant. A sports bar. I’m not making this up.

I wish that were an isolated event, but I’ve seen and experienced enough to know that it’s not. I don’t think people mean to be rude but they consistently get a few things wrong:

  • They get locked in their own head about how important their situation or cause is and forget to think about it from the perspective of the person giving of their time.
  • They forget that strategy, planning and execution take time.
  • They forget to value that when you have a skill and can do something more quickly, better or faster than someone who doesn’t have your skill and experience, that doesn’t and shouldn’t diminish your value to them but it should in fact increase it.

People invest in a cause because we believe in it. But for the sake of their sanity, reputations, and even for the profession itself, they will walk away when we are abused.

It’s critical to treat people who give of their time and experience the same way you would treat someone who handed you a big fat wad of cash.

2. Invest in the other person, preferably before you make the ask.

Try being proactively helpful. If you are friends with people on Facebook, repost what is important to them, particulary anything they’re posting for business. Retweet their tweets, perhaps send along an article now and then you think might be of interest, and add them to your Christmas card list.

Build your relationships wherever you can, long before you need to make an ask. If and when you do need their help, it won’t come out of the blue, it will come within the context of a give and take relationship. You will have shown you too know how to be generous, and your relationship isn’t one sided, you doing all the taking.

It’s very jarring to have people you are friends with on social media but who don’t give you the time of day suddenly pop into your email box assuming you’ll drop everything to donate advice and services worth tens of thousands of dollars.

3. Let them know “why them.”

Don’t just ask anyone to help you. Target your asks and let that person know why you’ve chosen them.  Think about what might make it beneficial to them: can you (legitimately) offer that person paid work down the line? By being part of this, can they work with other like minded movers and shakers? Is what you are doing something that will make the world better or contribute to something they care about? Make sure you’ve thought through “why them” or you risk make them feel like you chose them because you’re the only possible source for free labour they know.

Speak knowledgeably about their track record, what they’ve accomplished and why this is a fit for them. Even if it’s a very small contribution of time you are asking for, make sure you let them know your ask is a considered one.

4. If you’ve asked for advice, and they’ve given you something other than what you asked for, there’s probably a reason.

People reach out to me all the time asking me to put them in touch with particular people in the media or asking me to send on materials, pitches and campaigns that aren’t thought through as they need to be. Or they want me to look at the whole of their business or cause and off the top of my head, create a campaign.

When I introduce a person or a cause to a media outlet, I’m essentially endorsing them and the product or idea. It takes time to create a smart campaign and it takes research. It takes understanding the lay of the land really well in order to create something truly newsworthy. The vast majority of people who want me to do them the quick favour of sending something along don’t usually realize how far off the mark their campaigns or materials are.

And often, they demonstrate through their approach and dealings with me that they do not really know how to manage or nurture any kind of relationship I would want to make for them.

If an expert comes back to you with concrete advice (like your press release doesn’t work: here’s what you need to do to fix it), make the changes they’ve given you before coming back and asking them for any more advice. And remember that what you think is a quick ask probably isn’t, particularly if your campaign isn’t in the shape it needs to be to get solid media attention.

5. Take no graciously.

One of the things I hate most in the universe is having to turn down a good cause or person who I know could really use my help but can’t pay. In any given week, however, I get so many requests, I have to say no way more often than I can possibly say yes.

But as Marc Pitman says, a no really means “not right now.”

I watch charities and causes, and I sometimes jump in quietly behind the scenes when I think I can be helfpul. And I’ll keep causes in mind when I hear of opportunities that might be useful. But an awful lot of people cut off their nose to spite their face.

I’ve swapped stories with lots of people who give what they can time wise to as many causes as they can but who have received terrible push back (being hung up on is a common one) when they just have to say no.

I know what it’s like to feel desperation in a cause. Through my volunteer work, I am very close friends with the parents of children who battle aggressive cancers.  I have worked along side them on campaigns where we all desperately tried to raise the funds for the research we hoped would be in time for their children. Too often, their children lose the fight, like Megan McNeil did last year.

As an advocate for a cause, however, your job is to enlist the people you need to your side. Trying to bully someone into a cause never works. You may not get them now, but we remember how people treat us when down the line we see an opportunity to help.

And yes, it may be too late to help with the urgent thing you have now.

But they may well be helpful to you in the future. And someone or an idea may pop into their head that they’ll reach back to you on. I’ve had that happen to me. Someone says they can’t help, and then they’ll meet someone or remember someone who can.

So best advice? Think big picture and always put yourself in the shoes of the person of whom you are making the ask. If you do that, your make the ask success rate will improve.

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Doug Anweiler from Authentic Seacoast Resorts and resort marketing expert talks about the difference between authentic marketing and how to use Social Media to really engage your customers in the experience they can expect from you. He also reminds small business people to not pretend to be bigger than they are. People are looking for real and authentic experiences even in their business dealings, and it’s something smaller businesses can do much more readily than big companies.


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It’s a relatively new concept, so if you’re asking “hey, just what is brand journalism,” you’re not alone.

Brand journalism essentially embeds a journalist (in my view, a former journalist) within a company to help the company tell better stories and create content that adds value to the reader, viewer or listener.

The idea is to create content that meaningfully engages the audience in ways that don’t leave them feeling like someone is trying to sell them something. It is a different kind of content from that which is in a press release, but it is a type of PR content that PR and marketing practitioners manage or create.

A company will hire hire a journalist who is not affiliated with any one news outlet to create the content, relying on their skills to tell more engaging stories and create multi-media content. PR departments get journalism quality stories that look and feel like real journalism.

But they aren’t journalism. And they aren’t because the journalist is on the company’s payroll, which, removes any possibility of any real sense of objectivity.

That’s not to say they aren’t bringing a great many of their journalistic skills to bear. That isn’t to say they aren’t great journalists, maybe even brilliant journalists, but in this role, they are not journalists. They have transitioned to to a new career in PR and marketing.

They are performing a paid service to help certain messages about a brand to resonate within target audiences.That’s not a journalism.

Many will disagree with me, especially those within the PR community who are promoting issues and products that get push back. Hiring a journalist to create their content gives it the aura of a third party endorsement. But it’s in appearance only, and it’s spin, since the creator of the content is on the company’s payroll.

What’s the difference?

Call up a journalist to ask for a correction because he didn’t write the story according to the press release, and there’s a mighty fine chance your story will get killed.

Branded content, I can buy. But not journalism.

Some proponents argue that Brand Journalism is “honest brand storytelling that invites audiences to participate.” Others say it is “honest, informative and engaging.”

The latter describes what PR should have always been. And the first is what it should increasingly be aspiring to in the era in which we live.

Please feel free to check out other Online PR, Public Relations, Journalism, Social Media and Marketing terms.




Jay Baer consults to big companies everywhere, helping them better understand social media and the online space. Jay believes that the human stories about the people you serve make for more compelling content than the standard old messages about you, you, you.

Jay is a public speaker and co-wrote the book The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter, and More Social with Amber Naslund.

In this video, Jay has some helpful advice on how to create content that will help you without wearing you out!

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