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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the January 22, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Creative PR for Non-Profits
Creative public relations is not about stunts. So says
Michael Redpath, a PR pro whose accomplishments include bringing
MTV’s summer house to Seaside Heights not once, but twice, making
that resort the only spot to host a repeat of the popular program.
Creative — and effective — public relations, he says, is about
partnerships, about asking "how can I help you?" This is particularly
true for non-profits competing for scarce dollars in a down economy.
Redpath speaks on "Creative P.R. Ideas" at the annual Community
Works conference on Monday, January 27, at 5 p.m. at the Frist Campus
Center on the Princeton campus. His is one of 19 workshops designed
to enable boards, staff, and volunteers in the non-profit community
to work together more effectively by developing skills, networking,
and building partnerships. Other workshops include "Suggestions
from the Grant Reader’s Perspective," "How to Ask for Money
in Tough Times," "Advocacy, Lobbying, Politics, and Non-Profits,"
and "How Volunteers Can Learn Organizational and Leadership Skills."
Cost: $25. Call 609-924-8652.
Redpath learned PR in the Navy. He enlisted during the VietNam war,
and after being trained at the Defense Information School, was assigned
to Lakehurst. The son of an executive with the RCA Service Company,
he had grown up all over the country, and decided to remain at the
Jersey Shore after being discharged from the Navy. Even before he
left the service, Redpath started his own company, at that time Management
Systems Association, an organization that managed non-profits. He
was then recruited by Donald Trump to direct marketing for the Trump
Castle casino hotel. When three Trump executives were killed in a
helicopter crash on the Garden State Parkway, his division was dissolved
and he went back into business for himself.
Soon he was recruited to direct marketing for Seaside Heights, which
he did for six years before starting his own marketing firm, Redpath
Associates, which is based in Toms River.
Besides attracting MTV’s summer house to Seaside Heights, Redpath
brought Nickelodeon and VH1 to the town, persuaded movie companies
to film features and commercials there, and even persuaded the U.S.
bobsled organization to hold try-outs on the town’s boardwalk. In
no case, he emphasizes, were these events the point. "With the
Miss America Pageant, the event is about the event," he says.
On the other hand, bringing television, movies, and even bobsleds
to Seaside Heights was about much more.
Redpath says he heard from one teen whose grandmother took him to
on a beach vacation every summer, usually to the Carolinas. Hearing
about the MTV beach house, he talked her into bringing him to Seaside
Heights. The teen is a candidate to come back again — and again
— says Redpath. Likewise, the MTV program held a contest to give
away Jeeps. Redpath tracked the addresses of entrants on a map, noting
that they came from all over the country. Someone from Arizona, watching
the program, might end up working in New York City, he points out,
and might make Seaside Heights his beach town.
Attracting the programs brought in some money, and created some jobs.
(The MTV beach house used 40 interns; and the crews needed places
to sleep, eat, and shop.) But that was not really the point. Redpath
says raising awareness of the resort among a desirable group was the
his objective. MTV’s audience, he is quick to point out, is not made
up entirely of penniless students. Its median family income is $41,000,
a good match for Seaside Heights. At the younger end, the audience
is made up of 14-year-olds, who could be expected to persuade their
families to visit. At the upper end it is made up of young adults
with small children, another group Seaside Heights would like to have
MTV worked for the municipality for which Redpath was seeking publicity.
It would not work for most non-profits, or even for a good many New
Jersey towns, but there are lessons for all in the partnership underlying
the MTV/Seaside Heights collaboration. They include:
again and again in an hour-long phone conversation. Non-profits need
to know what it is they need. More volunteers? Bigger contributors?
Corporate partnerships? New board members? Cash? Knowing the objective
points the way toward achieving it. For Seaside Heights, the objective
was more visitors. For Atlantic City, another town for which Redpath
has conducted public relations events, an objective was to raise awareness
that the city was, in fact, a beach town, and not just a gambling
for Seaside Heights, but it is a little difficult to imagine Cape
May, which has worked hard, and with great success, to bill itself
as "Victorian Cape May" benefiting from exposure on MTV. Ditto
for quiet Spring Lake or for upscale Bay Head.
An astronomy organization, Redpath suggests, could benefit from holding
a comet viewing session at a local school athletic field. A diabetes
organization, promoting healthy eating, might do well to sponsor a
cooking event. While Redpath agrees that MTV would be all wrong for
Princeton Borough, he suggests that a cooking show on Palmer Square
could bring visitors from around the state.
to television and movie production teams with a regulatory stance,
Redpath has seen. They are so eager to lay down the law on parking
and hours and noise levels that they drive the productions away. Seaside
Heights, on the other hand, approached MTV, and other networks and
producers, by asking what it could do for them.
"You don’t have to have a regulatory stance when you have a collaboration,"
he observes. He created collaborations with production companies by
suggesting how the town could work with them in a partnership that
would benefit both. "What can we do to be a better community for
you?" was his question. The result was an ever-widening circle
of partners within the entertainment industry.
go out with hat in hand," says Redpath. "Their stance is `everyone
should support me!’" Well, he says, "get in line."
Far better to approach a potential partner by saying "`I have
a great marketing opportunity for you.’" Maybe a new store needs
exposure. A non-profit could offer them a spot at a fund raising fair
in exchange for 10 percent of the store’s take at the event.
"Don’t say `we’re looking for $5,000,’" says Redpath. "Say
`we’re doing this event, and we’d like to feature you. We ask that
you add $1 on to your price for us.’"
Redpath, is the best way for a non-profit to get its share, and perhaps
more important, to build lasting relationships.
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