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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:

Know your objectives. Redpath emphasizes this key point

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


Be clear on your image. MTV’s beach town was just right

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.

Don’t be too eager to lay down the law. Many towns react

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.

Always ask what you can do to help. "A lot of organization

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.’"

Dollars are hard to come by. Offering value in return, suggests

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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