Open Our Eyes: Seeing the Invisible People of Homelessness

When I received a note from Kevin Hendricks asking me to contribute my thoughts to a book to support Mark Horvath‘s nonprofit, I jumped at the chance. I first came across Mark (@hardlynormal) on Twitter about two years ago, and was drawn in by his ongoing narrative describing his day-to-day work at a homeless shelter, forays onto the streets to do video interviews of homeless people, and worries about becoming homeless himself (again). I marveled at what he had been able to accomplish with a videocamera and an outdated laptop to give homeless people the opportunity to tell their own stories. (I challenge you to watch some of the videos on the site and not come away seeing the people you pass every day in a whole new light.)

When Mark won $50,000 in the Pepsi Refresh grant program at SXSW last year, he used it to create a new project called We Are Visible, which empowers homeless people to connect with others via social media. He also just returned from a road trip across the U.S. to raise awareness of homelessness and to share the stories of the homeless people he met in each city. Throughout all of this, Mark has been on the verge of homelessness himself.

Kevin wanted to find a way to help support Mark in his important work and came up with the idea of creating a book that has just been released — Open Our Eyes: Seeing the Invisible People of Homelessness — as a joint fundraising/awareness-building project. When you purchase a copy of this book, 100% of the profits will go directly to Mark and The book includes the stories Mark has chronicled on the site, along with short essays from people whose lives Mark has touched and ideas for how readers can make a difference for people who are homeless.

Below is my contribution to the book, but please buy the book to read the rest of it as well. Other contributors include: Brad Abare, Chris Brogan, Wendy Cohen, Lee Fox, Jessica Gottlieb, Alan Graham, David Henderson, Jeff Holden, Michael Ian, Becky Kanis, Natalie Profant Komuro, Jeff Lilley, Geoff Livingston, Heather Meeker, Brandon Mendelson, Stefanie Michaels, Scott Monty, Shannon Moriarty, Chloe Noble, Stephanie Rudat, Kari Saratovsky, Lisa Truong, and Scott Williams.

Hero by Example

Mark Horvath is my hero. Not just because he selflessly devotes himself to raising awareness of the issue of homelessness, something that most people prefer not to contemplate, but because of how he is doing it. Mark does not just make noise, screaming “Someone has to do something about this problem!” He grabs a bag of socks and heads out to tell the stories of homeless people, one by one. And he pulls the rest of us along at the same time.

The Invisible People project is truly a poster child for what can be done in the social media era. When people complain to me that their budget is too small to make a difference, I point them to what Mark has been able to accomplish with a budget of—essentially—zero. Though I’m sure he would prefer to have a fancy video production and editing set-up, the constraints of his equipment have actually worked in favor of what he is trying to accomplish. The raw, unedited footage parallels the raw emotions that the stories often evoke in viewers.

By giving homeless people a voice, Mark is helping the people most affected by the problem to be part of the solution. When he gives them the opportunity to tell their stories, he reminds us that they are human beings first, above all. We can no longer pretend that the shabby figure with the shopping cart does not experience the same emotions as we do, or that they prefer to live on the street. And Mark has opened our eyes to the fact that beautiful children and babies are homeless too.

If all the project did was just to make us “see” the homeless people we pass every day, that would be a major accomplishment. But the larger picture is that Mark sets an example that inspires others to take action. Mark is one of the biggest mensches that I know. The Yiddish word mensch doesn’t just mean a good person, but someone who does the right thing no matter how inconvenient or difficult. Despite the fact that he is constantly on the verge of becoming homeless himself, as soon as he finds out that someone needs assistance, he does whatever he must to help that person.

The biggest payoff of the Invisible People project is that it pushes us to get out of our comfort zone and follow Mark’s example. People are hurting everywhere, so much so that the problem seems overwhelming. But he shows us that each of us—one person at a time, just like Mark— can use our unique talents to help one person at a time.

All proceeds from this book support the work of Mark’s nonprofit You can also support directly by making a donation.

Buy it from Amazon for $9.99.
Buy it for the Kindle for $3.99.
Other digital versions are also available.

Better yet, if your organization could use someone who is an expert at using social media to make people care about an issue, offer him a job. How have his talents and passion not been snapped up by a smart advocacy organization yet?

[Full disclosure: I am a board member of, for which I am not paid.]

Guest Post: The Slave Next Door – Ron Soodalter

Many of you know that human trafficking and modern-day slavery are the issues I care most about and have volunteered the most time and energy. That’s why I was honored to be approached for a guest post by author Ron Soodalter, who has just written a book with Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves, called The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today. Though awareness is becoming more widespread, far too many people still believe that this is not an issue in the US. Awareness is the first step toward action, so though this post is not specifically about social marketing, I hope that may be the next step we can take together.

A Blight on the Nation: Slavery in Today’s America
by Ron Soodalter

The American humorist Will Rogers once said, “It ain’t that we’re so dumb; it’s just that what we know ain’t so.”

Certain things we know to be true. We know that the South kept slaves, and the North fought a righteous war of liberation. We know that the slave trade was legal right up to the Civil War. We know that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all the slaves, and that the United States has been slavery-free ever since. These things we know – and none of it is true.

On the other hand, most of us do not know that slavery not only exists throughout the world today; it flourishes. Slavery is legal nowhere, yet it is practiced everywhere. With an estimated 27 million people in bondage worldwide, it is the second or third most lucrative criminal enterprise of our time, after drugs, and maybe guns. More than twice as many people are in bondage in the world today as were taken in chains during the entire 350 years of the African Slave Trade. In seeking to place blame, we’re tempted to point to the “emerging nations” as the culprits, whereas in fact slavery exists in such “civilized” countries as England, France, Spain, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, China…and the United States. Most Americans are clueless that slavery is alive and more than well right here, thriving in the dark, and practiced in many forms in places you’d least expect.

As a student of history, I’d always assumed that slavery ended with the Thirteenth Amendment. Some years back, I had written nearly an entire book on the pre-Civil War slave trade when I stumbled on an account of slavery – in present-day America! My first response – a common one, as it turns out – was denial: “No way. Slavery has had no place here since the time of Lincoln.”

Only after extensive research did I discover that slavery has always existed on this continent, from the days of its European discovery right up to the present day. Christopher Columbus enslaved the Taino Indians, setting a precedent that was followed by every European power to claim land in the New World. Slavery became the social and economic order. After the Civil War, and for decades right up to the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, planters practiced a form of debt bondage known as peonage, binding workers and their families to the land in an unending cycle of slavery. For over sixty years, our own government has enabled worker abuse and slavery through the mismanagement of its “guest worker” program. And now, with the global population more than tripled since World War II, and with national borders collapsing around the world, people – in their desperate quest for a way to survive – have become easy targets for human traffickers. And once again, America is a prime destination.

So how many slaves are we talking about? According to a U.S. State Department study, some 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States from at least 35 countries and enslaved each year. Some victims are smuggled into the United States across the Mexican and Canadian borders; others arrive at our major airports daily, carrying either real or forged papers. The old slave ship of the 1800s has been replaced by the 747. Victims come here from Africa, Asia, India, Latin America, and the former Soviet Republic. Overwhelmingly, they come on the promise of a better life, with the opportunity to work and prosper in America. Many come in the hope of earning enough money to support or send for their families. In order to afford the journey, they fork over their life savings, and go into debt to people who make promises they have no intention of keeping, and instead of opportunity, when they arrive they find bondage. They can be found – or more accurately, not found – in all 50 states, working as farmhands, domestics, sweatshop and factory laborers, gardeners, restaurant and construction workers, and victims of sexual exploitation. These people do not represent a class of poorly paid employees, working at jobs they might not like. They exist specifically to work, they are unable to leave, and are forced to live under the constant threat and reality of violence. By definition, they are slaves. Today, we call it human trafficking, but make no mistake: It is the slave trade.

Nor are native-born Americans immune from slavers; many are stolen or enticed from the streets of their own cities and towns. Some sources, including the federal government, estimate in the hundreds of thousands the number of U.S. citizens – primarily children – at risk of being caught in slavery annually. Although these figures may be inflated, the precise number of slaves in the United States, whether trafficked in from other countries or enslaved from our own population, is simply not known. The simple truth is, we’re looking at a crime that lives in the shadows; it’s hard to count what you can’t find.

What is particularly infuriating is the fact that this is a crime that, as a rule, goes unpunished. For the moment, let’s accept the government’s estimate of about 17,000 foreign nationals trafficked into slavery in the United States per year; coincidentally there are also about 17,000 people murdered in the US each year. The national success rate in solving murder cases is about 70%; around 11,000 murders are “cleared” annually. But according to the US government’s own numbers, the annual percentage of trafficking and slavery cases solved is less than 1%. In 2007, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division obtained 103 convictions for human trafficking, with an average sentence of 9 years.

And to further complicate matters, when they are rescued, survivors often deny their situation. There are several reasons for this: the language barrier, a deep sense of shame, fear for their lives and those of their families in their country of origin, and a sense of obligation to pay their debt. In addition, the traffickers program them to fear the police and immigration officials. And in some instances, they come to identify with their keepers.

We don’t yet know how President Obama will respond to the human trafficking crisis; it’s too soon to tell. But we do know that the response under the Bush Administration was inadequate on any number of levels. In a speech on trafficking, Bush once stated, “We’re beginning to make good, substantial progress. The message is getting out: We’re serious. And when we catch you, you’ll find out we’re serious. We’re staying on the hunt.” Strong words. But the unvarnished truth is, with less than 1% of the bad guys apprehended, and less than 1% of the victims freed, it sounds a lot more like spin than fact; meanwhile, the flow of human “product” into America continues practically unchecked.

This is the kind of knowledge you can’t “unlearn”; the only question is, what do you do with the information once you have it? It’s a question we must all address for ourselves. We tend to think of our America as the country where slavery has no place; the dire truth is, we are pretty far from freedom, and it will take a lot of work and dedication – by the government, and by us – to make it so.

Taking Social Actions

I’ve been watching with interest the evolution of Social Actions, a relatively new service that helps you find things you can do right now for the causes you care about. The site aggregates “actionable opportunities” from 30 different social action-oriented sites like,, Kiva, and others. With the proliferation of so many cause-related social networking sites, it’s helpful to see everything in one place. The Social Actions Labs folks have also been putting together various web applications that help to spread the information farther, such as a widget to put on your website or blog that uses keywords to offer actions related to the topic of the webpage (see left sidebar) and a Twitter “Social Actions PSA feed” you can have post to your own Twitter account daily for your favorite cause.

So when fellow blogger Britt Bravo invited me, along with other nonprofit marketing bloggers, to help her help Social Actions to market and communicate its mission more effectively, I was happy to help. After looking over the website, here are some of my thoughts:

  • The focus needs to be centered on taking action — that’s what the mission is all about. But a look at the home page pulls me in many different directions. If I am a person wondering what I can do about my favorite cause, it should be obvious at a glance how to find that information. It took way too long for me to notice that the small search box at the top left that says “Find an action” is where I should start. The home page should be focused on the search box, with it being as easy to find as the box on Google’s search page.
  • Nowhere do I see anything about the specific issues I care about — just a lot about the features of Social Actions. The key to good marketing is looking at your product and communications from the viewpoint of your audience; answer their question “What’s in it for me?” They have made a good start, with using the words “you” and “your” in a couple of places, and providing a menu of options as “I would like to…” Show examples of featured issues and related actions. Let me see what your application does for me, rather than just talking about it.
  • The home page is also missing the heart and emotion of why people come in the first place. They are passionate about getting involved, in making a difference. They don’t necessarily care about “increasing the scope and impact of the citizen sector.” They want to save a life, rescue the planet, help someone out of poverty… and they want to do it in 5 minutes or less. Emphasize the impact they can have, the ease of participating, and the range of choices they can use to find an action that’s just right for them.
  • Even when I select the link that says “I would like to…Find ways to take action,” I am confronted with four text-based choices that are still not entirely clear for the person who is just looking for how to help stray cats. The language under the option “Find an action by location, cause or keyword” is far too techie for regular people: “Our mashup aggregates actionable opportunities from 19 social action platforms.” How about just “Find an action you can take for your favorite cause”? (And the number of social action platforms listed ranges anywhere from 19 to 30, depending on the page!)
  • Help your users continue to use and spread the word about Social Actions once they have been impressed by the range of action options for their cause. On every search results page, offer an easy-to-find RSS feed so that people can learn about the latest action related to their issue immediately. Offer the code to add a widget to their blog, Facebook profile, or MySpace page with actions on the cause for which they just searched. Add a link that says “Got Twitter?” with instructions on how to use the Social Actions Twitterfeed. Hand it to them rather than making them search your site for these tools.
  • And finally, focus on your mission and whom you are serving. Some of the options on the home page let you look at the nonprofit jobs and internships board, hire a nonprofit consultant, and help foundations develop a micro-philanthropy strategy. Social Actions seems to have a split personality, unsure whether it is serving the individual activist or the nonprofit sector. These two missions can coexist, but not on the same web page. There should be a separate site or section of the existing website for nonprofit professionals or it gets too confusing. Each group has very different communication needs.

I hope that using the Social Actions website as a case study helps you look at your own website with a new eye. Do you have any other suggestions to help Social Actions?

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Guest Post – Through the Eyes of a Marketer: ServiceNation’s Summit

As promised, here is the guest post from CK following up on the proceedings from the ServiceNation Summit:

Sn_3 Having just come off of ServiceNation’s Summit I’m aflutter with thoughts. It’s not every day that I attend an event with 500+ leaders of non-profit, NGO and social change organizations. And it’s certainly not every day that I get to be at an event with such notables as Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Jon Bon Jovi, Usher, the CEOs of AARP, Habitat for Humanity and the list goes on. And on.

Dsc01352_2 The event left me humbled and heartened; I guess the best way to put it is that the event left me affected. And I admit to wiping tears from my eyes when Hillary Clinton hit the stage. Whether you voted for her or not, she has done momentous, moving things in her career. Matter of fact, whether you agree with the views or parties of any of the political leaders that were present, I hope we can all agree that these people have accomplished much (as anything else would be downright myopic).

And I give compliments to BOTH presidential candidates for doing well at Thursday night’s Presidential Summit. I didn’t come at this event to judge, but to listen. You see, this event was not a debate because this event was about uniting us all around something on which we all agree: the need to place service, in its many and myriad forms…spanning improvements to education to bettering our nation’s health to eradicating our plummeting levels of poverty…into a place of more prominence in our country, to garner more participation from the public and the need to shift many of our existing perceptions around service.

Dsc01355_2 And if we’re talking prominence and participation—and most definitely when we’re talking perceptions–we are talking my language. Um, marketing anyone?

#1 Exalt prominence: As a nation we have plenty to be proud of on service–many don’t realize what a strong nation of volunteers and efforts to improve social conditions we can boast. But we haven’t placed this as prominently as other departments. Governor Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver have worked hard to get California to appoint a Service Director to its cabinet level–and both McCain and Obama vowed to add this position to their cabinets at the federal levels as well. There are bills dedicated to service that are currently in Congress and ServiceNation unleashed a Declaration of Service that many signed at the event.

#2 Increase participation levels: Whether through activism, advocacy or volunteerism, our nation can increase its level of time dedicated to service. Corporations can make it easier for workers to dedicate a portion Rosie26hergranddaughter_3 of their time to charities. Individuals can learn how to spend a few less hours watching TV and instead teach a child or an adult to read. As marketers we can lend a few spare hours a month to helping a charity with their promotional needs. Point is, we can get creative, and dedicating time to service can be both impactful and tenable amid busy schedules.

#3 Shift pre-existing Perceptions: Obama hit on how we “need to make service cool again” and Schwarzenegger hit on how we need to “leave a space open on our resumes for service,” while Bon Jovi wants to make “service the new black, always in high fashion.” The thing is, we need to shift perceptions around (1) how much service improves our country and its citizens and (2) whom all can dedicate time to service. Remember, while the young have unparalleled levels of energy, older segments have unprecedented wisdom that can only be gained through experience–with retirees having more time they can allot to important causes (I will talk more on this later as, just like AARP underscored, we need to stop viewing the 50+ segment as a deficit when, in fact, they will likely be our biggest asset).

In closing, I would be remiss if I did not extend my gratitude to three entities:

Dsc01366_2 First, to ServiceNation: The event itself–and the overall movement–is a marketing brainchild. BRAVO! There are many organizations dedicated to improving the country’s many issues and pushing for social change so to nestle them all under “service” was clever. What’s more? ServiceNation is only about 18 month’s old, which makes their tireless efforts all the more impressive.

Second, to Echo Ditto: I am beyond impressed at how professional and respectful the EchoDigital Team were to we bloggers (big props to Brian Reich and Joseph Porcelli). They ensured we were well communicated to and had proper accommodations. So much so that, as a professional, I would have no reservations about recommending them to my clients who need help in bolstering communications and communities around their special events.

Third, to Nedra Kline Weinreich: Nedra is both teacher and friend to me. She not only provided me the reference to attend the event, Nedra helps me every day. She’s taken the time to teach me new strategies and methods on social marketing (which is NOT the same thing as social media–read more here). I find that teaching another is one of the most giving things we can do for another person; in this case it’s a huge act of service in bettering our profession.

PS: Yes, those are pictures from speakers at the event. I needed to take shots of the large screens as I wasn’t close enough to the stage to get clearer pictures (and Schwarzenegger attended via video feed). I hope it’s OK that I placed photos of the big names in this post…as I said in my opening, it’s just not every day that I’m in the company of 500 of them.

Nedra here again. A big thanks to CK for her reportage and analysis, as well as the very kind things she said about me. If you would like to read other bloggers’ takes on the summit, here are some links:

Be the Change, Inc.

The New Service

Have Fun * Do Good

Allison Fine

The Toad Stool

Awearness: The Kenneth Cole Blog

Everyday Giving

Columbia Graduate School of Journalism


Future Leaders in Philanthropy (FLiP)

Social Citizens

Conservation Nation

Inside the Marketer’s Studio

My 2 Cents

Climbing the ServiceNation Summit

Sn_2In this political season, it’s easy to get caught up in the partisan politics and back-and-forth snipes. But on September 11th, both candidates will come together on something they can agree on – the importance of community service. Without enthusiastic and willing volunteers, many nonprofits would be unable to function. An organizing committee of 118 member nonprofits, from AARP to Youth Volunteer Corps of America, has put together a monster pep rally to kick off a new national initiative called ServiceNation.

I was invited to attend their New York-based event as a blogger, but unfortunately there’s no subway stop near me here in LA. So I am sending blogger friend and New York local CK (Christina Kerley) to go in my stead to report back to us on the event. If you don’t already know CK, she is one of the most generous, clever and authentic voices in the marketing blog community; though she does not primarily work with nonprofit issues, per se, she certainly has the heart of a social marketer.

Here is CK’s preview of the event, which is also cross-posted on her blog:

I’m both honored and over the moon to be attending ServiceNation’s Summit on September 11th and September 12th. I’ll be blogging a wrap-up of the event…and oh what an event it will be.

For two days over 500 leaders will convene in NYC for a moratorium on politics, to wholly focus on service. The lineup of speakers is mind-blowing (and make me feel oh so small) including Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Bloomberg, even Alicia Keys, Jon Bon Jovi, Kenneth Cole, Usher and the CEO of Habitat for Humanity (my FAVE nonprofit organization).

See why I’m over the moon?

I’ll be posting after the event, and I’ll twitter when I can, but I wanted to first give you some background:

6a00d8345194a469e200e554c897df88348ServiceNation Summit
, Sept. 11-12 in New York city, will bring together 500 leaders of all ages and from every sector of American life —from universities and foundations, to business and politics—to celebrate the power and potential of citizen service, and lay out a bold policy blueprint for addressing America’s greatest social challenges through expanded opportunities for volunteer and national service.

The Summit will begin with a presidential candidates’ forum the evening of September 11, where Senators McCain and Obama will speak in depth about their views on the role of citizenship and service in post-9/11 America. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will welcome the attendees when the proceedings continue the following day, and the summit will conclude with a keynote address by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who earlier this year became the first governor to create a cabinet post dedicated to service and volunteering.”

ServiceNation is a campaign for a new America. An America where citizens unite and take responsibility for the nation’s future. An America that restores the great tradition of citizen service, and honors the profound sacrifices made by so many Americans who have passed before, from the small band of Founders to the millions who have fought for equality and justice at home, and defended our freedom abroad. ServiceNation is about an America that is ruggedly idealistic, compassionate, and above all committed to the idea of shared sacrifice in pursuit of America’s boldest promise: liberty and justice for all.

I will be joined by my fellow colleagues’/marketing bloggers: David Berkowitz, David Reich and Alan Wolk…so watch for posts and tweets from us all. Lastly, I need to give a HUGE shout-out and HEAPS of gratitude to Nedra Kline Weinreich for recommending me to attend this event. Unfortunately, since she’s on the West Coast she won’t be able to attend (and will have to vicariously experience the event through me); but she has truly made my year. I’ll be cross-posting on this blog and her blog about the event.

Here are some links for more info.:
To see the schedule of events on Thursday and Friday go here
To follow ServiceNation on Twitter go here
Follow David Berkowitz, Alan Wolk or CK (me) on Twitter
To learn more about ServiceNation go here

Kudos to the ServiceNation organizers for reaching out to bloggers to extend the reach of their event. In addition to CK’s coverage here after the event, I will also link out to other bloggers who are attending, including Allison Fine, Anthony Showalter and Lara Galinsky of Echoing Green, and others I know who are awaiting their security clearance.

I’m looking forward to CK’s report about the Summit, which will appear here soon afterward. In the meantime, check out some of CK’s posts related to social marketing issues and social media. Thanks, CK, for being our intrepid reporter!

Celebrit-ing: Bringing a Celebrity On Board Your Campaign

It’s a sad fact of life that celebrities generally command more attention and adulation than we mere mortals. For better or worse, things that come out of their mouths have more clout (at least among certain audiences) than if we were to say them ourselves, despite our obvious intelligence, talent and impressive job titles. So, the question is how to help celebrities use that clout for good and not just to sell movies.

Andre Blackman pointed me to a video (above) just posted of an interview with American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, who is visiting Ghana right now to help the organization Malaria No More. From what I could tell, she is a perfect spokesperson. She’s articulate, knows her stuff about the topic, is enthusiastic for the cause, is timely (she is the most recent AI winner), and creates an emotional connection with the importance of the work MNM does.

Last week, I attended a panel discussion sponsored by PIRATES (The Print, Interactive, Radio & Television Educational Society) on how Hollywood and celebrities can be a force for good. Panelists included David Michaels, who produces, among other things, the Ribbon of Hope Awards honoring television programming on AIDS; Marcy De Veaux, who consults with media companies on diversity-related issues; and Alison Arngrim, who was the epitome of nastiness for my generation as Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie, but who has redeemed herself as a committed advocate on behalf of people with AIDS, abused children and others.

Some of the key points that were made by the panelists include:

  • It’s simply a fact that celebrities wield the power. Alison recounted how she was asked to appear on Larry King to talk about legislation she was advocating. When she offered to bring along experts working on the campaign with her, the show’s producer immediately quashed the idea, saying, “And what show were they on?”
  • Sometimes you bring the cameras to the cause with the celebrities, or you bring the cameras to the celebrities with the cause — both are okay and can help you achieve your goals.
  • There are “good celebrities” — who understand why it’s important to help your cause and want to get involved — and “bad celebrities” — who are there because their publicist told them to go. But again, both can bring you publicity.
  • If you can convince a publicist of the merit of your cause, he or she may be able to deliver their whole stable of celebrity clients, in addition to the one you were originally trying to get.
  • Look for people who have been personally affected by your issue to serve as your spokespeople. For example, the actor Peter Gallagher got involved with an Alzheimers organization because his mother had the disease.
  • If you bring on a celebrity, make sure he or she is prepared to talk intelligently about your issue. At the very least, provide an index card with key bullet points about your organization and issue.
  • If your issue is controversial in any way, your celebrity needs to be prepared to answer questions about whether they are affected by the issue personally. As Alison spoke out about AIDS after the actor who played her TV husband died from the disease, she was continually asked whether she also had AIDS. When she was advocating for legislation to help abused children, she was asked directly whether she had been abused herself (turns out she had, and decided to talk about it publicly at that point).
  • Looking for someone to be your organization’s main celebrity spokesperson — as opposed to showing up at a one-time event — is a “headhunting operation.” You need to make sure there is a good fit between the person and the organization.
  • Don’t use a guilt trip to convince a celebrity to get involved. Frame it in terms of hope, focusing on the good that person can do and what a great experience it will be. And of course, what’s in it for them?

And how do you get in touch with the celebrity you have decided would be perfect for your organization? You can find information on who represents that person on IMDb Pro (has a monthly fee) or by calling the Screen Actors Guild, which has a service that will provide you with the name of the PR rep for the person you’re looking for. You will receive the most help from the celebrity’s manager or publicist, not the agent.

Working with celebrities is not always easy, but the payoff can be big. Think carefully about whether it fits with your strategy and audience. And if it does, give it a try.

For another perspective on this issue, check out this older post from Citizen Brand that was so good I’ve been saving it until I could use it. And I just learned from Stephen Dann that dead celebrities can also be spokespeople so don’t discount someone just because they can’t actually talk anymore.

Related Posts from Spare Change:
Celebrity Love/Hate
Who Asked Them? Unwanted Celebrity Spokespeople

UPDATE (2/22/08): I just came across this blog from Do Something called CelebsGoneGood. It highlights the good things that celebrities are doing or talking about, and could be a great source for finding out which celebs are interested in which types of causes. And it’s just good to see good news about celebrities for a change.

Technorati Tags: , ,