Refresh: Roller Coaster Ride For Obsessed Overnight Camp Parents

Since so many of us are clicking “refresh” on summer overnight camp photos, I’ve posted my thoughts and reflections from last year’s camp experience below. This year, I vow not to click “refresh”… as much.

This summer, I sent my daughter to overnight camp for the first time. Two weeks before she was supposed to leave, I was surprised I never heard a word from the camp. What to pack? How
 should I prepare my child? What if she got homesick? Parenting preparation? Kid preparation? I was left to my own devices (uh oh). As a communications professional, I was surprised the camp didn’t send us “how-to tips” such as preparing your child for sleepaway camp or preparing the parents for children to go away. Sure, the packing list was on the site, but I needed a little something more to help guide our child to this new adventure and stage in her life. Left to my own devices, I sent multiple texts to friends, who thankfully, understood my desire to prepare emotionally ahead of time. Camp Communications Tip #1: Text other mothers for support.

I figured out the camp communicates with parents once their children arrive via blog entries and photos. Once the lines of communication opened up, I was surprised at my reaction (aka “obsession”). Each day I went online and searched for photos of my daughter. In the first set of photos, I saw kids from last year greeting each other with a huge hug after they got off the bus. Since this was my daughter’s first year as a camper, I was worried she would feel lost and alone while the other children were hugging their friends from last year. I thought to myself: How was she feeling? Did she know where to go? Who was going to tell her how to get to her cabin? How to unpack?  I didn’t cry when the bus left our neighborhood, but I did cry while reviewing the photos of her arrival.  I was worried. Camp Communications Tip #2: Review the blog – do not obsess. Do not obsess. Do not obsess.

One day later, the camp posted a photo of her with a smile on her face, standing by her cabin. My thoughts ran wild: this is a fake smile. Not a bright smile, just a simple, unsure, I’ll be OK smile. Two days later the Camp Director posted a blog describing that my daughter was on a day trip. My mind raced. Was she having fun? I thought it was amusing that school field trips (15 minutes away) require several forms to be signed before they could go, while camp required none. Camp Communications Tip: Go back to Tip #2.

Each day as I anxiously read the blog and sorted through hundreds of photos, I couldn’t wait until I caught a glimpse of my daughter. Was that her behind the other kids? Was that her in the water? What shirt was she wearing?  The lack of direct communication was very difficult. When our first letter arrived it had about 3-4 sentences: “Dear Mom, Dad & Devin, I’m having a good time. Here are a bunch of addresses I need. Also, I need stamps.” Word on the street is that this was a long letter.  I’ll take it. Any form of communication. Camp Communications Tip #3: Write a lot, but don’t worry about responses.

I worry about many things, but I was still shocked about the roller coaster of emotions each time I read the camp blog, saw the photos and read letters from my daughter. I was truly relieved when I saw several fantastic photos of her big smiling face. By the end of two weeks, I knew she was happy, not from the letters, but I could read her body language. I saw the sparkle in her eyes, emotion on her face, an expression of happiness and clear signs of confidence. She was psyched. She was loving life. She felt free. Camp Communications Tip #4: Body language is everything.

Sure enough, upon pick-up day, I also cried. My husband couldn’t believe it and said, “We are getting her now. There ’s no reason to cry.” I guess it was a huge relief this roller coaster ride ended, AKA, summer camp. And….she had a fantastic time. Turns out, she didn’t want to leave. Camp Communications Tip #5: Let it go.

Below is a photo of my daughter on Day 2 of overnight camp this year. I’m pretty sure she’s in her “happy place.”

Binay Curtis is a communications professional based out of San Francisco, CA. When she’s not helping a company communicate, she can be found at Cross-fit, with her family, online at, or just about any social network.
Avoid Media Mishaps



How do media mishaps take place? Take a look at this video of David Letterman’s Top Media Mishaps and see for yourself the hilarious ramblings of some prominent people and some tips on how to avoid them.  These are fun to watch, but do you wonder, “How the hell could someone say that?”  Personally, I have said things off the cuff and can’t believe that it came out of my mouth after I’ve said it during regular conversations. If you’re in Communications, have you ever sat next to your client and can’t believe what came out of his/her mouth during a meeting with a reporter?  If you’re a reporter, are you just as stunned? Most of my media training clients have a horror story from working with the press.

Mishaps take place when people don’t take the time to practice and prepare for an important interview, presentation or conversation. When executives believe they know everything there is to know about working with the press and don’t need to be trained. I call it “the know-it-all” – we’ve all met that person!

One prominent CEO with a VC backed Internet Company refused to be part of a media training session claiming, “I know everything there is to know about my company. No one has ever asked me a question about my company that I could not answer.” Later the same CEO was in a broadcast studio, lights in his eyes, staring at the camera for a satellite interview, IFB all hooked up and he said to me, “Binay, can we practice before the interview?”

How can we convince executives they need training? My simple gut response is to let them fail. That will definitely convince them they need training and certainly the fastest and most effective way. While I stand by that theory, there are a couple of other ways to bring light onto this subject matter. First, explain to your executive that training for the media is like training for sports. Would you ever play in an important baseball game or the Olympics without intense training? I think not. A media opportunity is your chance to make it great, or, quite simply, to lose the game.

Another idea to add to your arsenal is to conduct an “at-home” session utilizing the iPhone or iPad camera. Record your executive answering a few questions and have them watch it. During this time, the executive will watch the playback and may get the feeling some professional help is in order. Usually we are our own worst critics and once executives see themselves on camera they usually come to terms with their need for a professional training.

At the end of the day, the best way to avoid media mishaps is to practice and prepare.  Below are a few simple tips and tricks to avoid the most common mishaps:

  1. Think before you speak: As you take a look at the CEO of Lululemon, he didn’t have a clear message. He said, “The pants don’t fit everyone.” A public relations professional will tell you to have 3-5 message points, but practicing them out loud is equally as vital. Use your iPhone/iPad camera and practice delivering the message to friends and colleagues. Does it sound ok? How does the message get conveyed if taken out of context? Are you sending the right message utilizing effective verbal and non-verbal skills? How will the public respond? Not well in the Lululemon example.
  2. Know the format: This is especially true for broadcast, however, media is merging now. A blog post can have a video next to it because the reporter may have you answer a few questions and record it. Before you dismiss the importance of broadcast training, consider how much video is becoming integrated into everything online. Master effective delivery across all mediums to truly avoid media mishaps.
  3. Preparation is key: Try to determine each and every possible question before working with a reporter. You don’t need to memorize the answers, but it’s certainly a good way to be caught off-guard, like Former President Bush was in the video example

Whether you go with a professional trainer or just practice on your own, it can be the key to success or failure.  Practice a variety of messages and formats and watch yourself before taking it to the public! Usually, the spokesperson on camera will be his/her own worst critic.

Binay Curtis— Binay Curtis has two decades of experience as a media coach working with celebrities, CEOs, company spokespeople and the financial community. As a top trainer in the Silicon Valley, Curtis has worked with Apple, Fenwick & West, Mozilla, OpenTable, Plum District and Yahoo! At the end of the day, her clients can be heard saying, “Wow, that was really helpful,” despite the fact they didn’t want to do the training in the first place! You can find her on any of your favorite social media networks and at

*This blog has also appeared on The Bulldog Reporter.


Lessons From Dad: Building Business with Conscience

Alan dad


Recently, an article written in the Chicago Reader 23 years ago resurfaced online about the growth of my father’s pharmacy business.  The article highlighted how my dad built his business by trusting customers  living with HIV/AIDS to pay back his local pharmacy so they can receive their medication in a prompt manner.  It emphasized how he got to know each of his customers, their families, and often made home deliveries at no extra charge.  I remember sitting in the back of the car whining about having to make so many stops, and today I realize the amazing business he was building during those stops.

My father sold that pharmacy a long time ago and he currently works for Walgreens. Just like he did at his own store, he greets customers by their first names, spends a lot of time answering questions (based upon his experience, not Google!) and I’m sure he’d make a home delivery if Walgreens would allow it.


My father taught me a lot about customer service. Because of his example, when I work on individual and group media training sessions, I try to honor that person’s individual story. I provide the personal service they need and create a long term relationship. My goal is for people to feel comfortable coming back to me for advice. I received a call from a CEO last week in a panic needing a quick interview coaching session. I made my first house call.

My father proved the importance of customer service, being kind and respectful while growing a business.  Most of his customers paid him back. Enough paid him back so that he could support our family. The true definition of success for people like my father is the ability to provide for a family and grow a business *while* being kind to others.  As I continue to grow my public relations and media training business, I will always keep this very valuable lesson in mind.


Second Grade Storytelling & Presentation Skills

The other day I watched my daughter present her ‘Trickster Tales’ (stories about animals who trick others) in front of parents and her second grade class. I sat quietly watching her entire class present their stories in front of an audience of approximately 30 people.  I was so impressed with the children’s ability to get up in front of an audience and present, and thought about what an important skill this is for the future and how it relates to my profession working with executives on their presentations skills.

I noticed how some children were naturally shy or outspoken, and others were just getting the hang of reading out loud. As a public relations professional, I really wanted to help them with their public speaking skills. As a mom, I just sat there in the moment, soaking it all up.

I found myself listening and watching, evaluating but enjoying, and taking in the art of storytelling.  What is it that really draws us into the story? Is it the story, or is it the delivery of the story? Is it the way it was written, or is it the way it is communicated? I must admit, the child that really captured my attention was the one that read his story with a great deal of passion and emphasis.  He looked up at the audience occasionally, connected with 1-2 people, and then looked back down to read his story. His voice projected, “listen to me – I’m going to tell you a great story!” His enthusiasm was consistent throughout the presentation. His eyes got wider during certain parts and expression grim during others. I couldn’t help but look up from my many messages on my phone and pay attention to what he was saying. Take a look at how wonderful he has presented his story here:


Kids really are the best teachers, aren’t they? 

The end of an Era for PR?

I have had many mentors throughout my career, but the people that really shaped my career were my supervisors* at Edelman Public Relations. Daniel J. Edelman, the Founder of Edelman Public Relations,  passed away Tuesday. Is this the end of an era?

Dan made so many valuable contributions to PR, including media tours with the Toni Twins, Morris the 9-Lives Cat, KFC and others. I remember calling the press for the Butterball Turkey Talk Line, touring with Eddie, the dog from “Mad About You,” and traveling with Morris, the 9-Lives  Cat. Imagine media training a cat. Not easy.


Back in the early 90’s, PR with Morris the Cat

But, what I really remember about Dan Edelman is how he always recognized his staff for doing great work. In a post I wrote a couple of days ago,  I indicated that sometimes a PR firm’s results don’t sync with a client’s expectations, thus a frustrating outcome. However, Dan seemed to always recognize hard work and wrote ‘Edel-grams’ in handwriting when an account person/team deserved the praise.  Twenty years later, I dug out those notes, as seen here:

Daniel Edelman Memo

Thank you Dan, for always appreciating the hard work that goes into Public Relations. Thank you for establishing the amazing firm that helped launch my career in public relations and media training, and for running a respected family business that continues to thrive today. Your memory will live on.

Edelman Memo 2

* Thanks to Nancy Ruscheinski (who credits my work with her addition to Dan’s hand-written note, showed me how to work hard and have fun, and always supported my work) and Alix Salyers (who probably is cringing at the typOS made in this post), but  taught me about being tenacious, yet respectful, with the press, clients and peers.

Crossfit and Public Relations Intersect

I love Crossfit. I’m addicted. Maybe the way I was addicted to aerobics in 1986, step aerobics in 1987, and pretty much everything from 1988 – 1992. If you knew me during this time, you probably saw me teaching at the gym, or rushing to or from a workout. Following college, I became addicted to running, swimming, biking, triathlons, Bikram Yoga – you name it, I taught it, ran it, gave it a whirl.  I’ve pretty much been chasing the perfect image since I was 16.

Then I became an image expert when I was 21 years old. Creating headlines for fitness magazines, and image campaigns for Life Fitness (makers of the Lifecycle) and NordicTrack. At Edelman Public Relations, I trained executives and spokespeople to speak to the press and shaped their company image so consumers would want to buy their product. When a client wanted media attention, I helped create a story or event to get coverage in everything from Muscle & Fitness to the Today Show and The Wall Street Journal. But, at times, clients were still not happy. I remember when my client from Life Fitness saw the piece in The Wall Street Journal and simply wrote, “…Wall Street Journal is good.”

Life Fitness "kudos"

Setting goals (and meeting them) became an important part of the job. What did the client want out of the program? Was it press? Events? Speaking opportunities? How many impressions did they want? Working at one of Silicon Valley’s leading PR firms during the dotcom boom helped me identify and re-evaluate the importance of setting goals. Working with high profile companies like Yahoo! and Apple demanded that we achieve these goals.

Crossfit captures your attention by asking you to set some goals. Unlike an aerobics class, where you work to get to a weight or image you want, Crossfit demands that you set fitness goals for that day, while your coach and fellow Crossfitters hold you accountable for achieving them. These are not weight goals, such as “I want to weigh 110 lbs.,” (which would be nice), but, more like, “I’d like to push press 110 lbs.” There are goal trackers online for the amount of weight you lift, and goals are reflected in the WOD (Workout of the Day). The goals have to do with the number of reps, time completed or amount of weight you lift. It keeps you coming back for more.

Setting goals with your public relations firm, team or consultant may include the amount of placements, the amount of APP downloads or the quality of the placement. To me, the latter is the most important. If you get a placement in The Wall Street Journal that is consistent with your message, that can’t be beat. It is beyond “good.”

Let’s face it: setting goals helps us all work harder. In Crossfit, “PR” stands for Personal Record. What is your PR this year? What are your goals, for life, work and play?

As a consumer or a client, you need to decide who will help you do the heavy lifting to achieve your goals.

at TJ's Games...

at TJ’s Games…


What do you think? Anyone listening? After much contemplation, I’m going to start a blog. Every once in a while (and I mean once in awhile), I have some random thoughts I think others will be interested in. Most of the time, I share it with close friends and family, but if it makes sense to share with the general public, I’ll post it here. I’ll try to keep it work related and interesting at the same time. I’ve been in PR for 20 years (wow, I’m old), so hopefully some of it will be helpful for those of you in business for yourself, running a start-up or simply interested in the PR Business. Here goes…