It was never clear to my parents when I was young if my future was going to be bright
or not. Unless the Olympics had secret plans to branch into couch sports, it was looking
pretty grim. While I was arguably the laziest kid in one of America's most proactive
cities, San Francisco, I did take note on how to treat people justly. A combination of
going to a very artsy elementary school, summers at a circus camp headed by a legend
from the Beat Generation, and frequent trips to Berkeley with my dad to eat at a Thai
monastery, I got to watch a lot of cool people be nice to each other and go out of their
way to give back.
If I hadn't been exposed to tangible humanity at such an intense frequency, I am sure
today I would be on a sofa somewhere eating barbecue sauce out of the bottle. Luckily,
the people who unknowingly taught me how to be a good person have allowed me to
turn this gratitude towards them into a business. I am a lot of things, and one of them is
a highly effective bridge between celebrities, brands and non-profits for collaboration on
social action and cause marketing campaigns at my company, Metro PR.
Los Angeles landed on me, more than I fell into it, but ten years of living in the
9021OMG has been good for the Rolodex of someone who willingly spent the majority
childhood free time in a closet full of stuffed animal monkeys, alone. About four years
ago, a celebrity friend asked me to help her with an event for her nonprofit that focuses
on educating African American and Latina girls, ages 13 to 22, about HIV/AIDS and
prevention because they are the community statistically most at risk of exposure
to the virus. I agreed to help with this event, which I discovered was an inaugural HIV
Summit and Step Dance Show at an African American Church in Compton, CA.
The idea was genius, to pair entertainment and education in a place of trust for the community
and have the Pasteur lead everyone to HIV testing trucks, provided by the Magic Johnson
Foundation, outside the church at the event's close. One of the few TV personalities
who agreed to make the trip to Compton, Michael Yo of E! News, was so moved he
called me the next day asking for more. We decided to pitch E! News on field segments
with celebrities about what they are doing in their communities to give back. The real
deal giving too, not the empty-damage-control-media-blitz-post-public-meltdown. I
booked the celebrity talent and Michael Yo did the interviews in the field for E! News.
We landed segments with Jessica Biel (physically building a new ward for Children's
Hospital Los Angeles), Kobe Bryant (meeting with kids after a game for Make-A-
Wish Foundation), Ludacris (playing with kids at a carnival for First Star), John Mayer
(shooting a PSA for The Epilepsy Foundation), Kristen Bell (leading a march in Santa
Monica for Invisible Children), Dwayne Johnson (teaching physical fitness to kids for
The Rock Foundation), Trace Adkins (performing to raise money for Wounded Warriors
Project) and many more.
My colleagues and I got to know a lot of nonprofit organizations through these segments and developed relationships with some that expanded into running campaigns and events
for their organization. In some cases the campaigns are branded by corporations.
Following the media frenzy of (PRODUCT) RED, big businesses seem to be increasingly
open to cause marketing as an alternative to general philanthropy (or sadly no
philanthropy). While many credit the celebrity influence of (PRODUCT) RED, Bono,
Oprah, etc., for a serious change in the way brands can reward consumers and
communities, let's not forget about Paul Newman and Newman's Own -- the original (and
frankly the sexiest) celebrity to marry his public image with a consumer-based business
to give back.
This transition within the corporate giving structure is being expedited by the up rise of
the Millennial Generation -- young people/consumers who demand more responsibility
from "the man." Which is awesome.
So, my team and I spend our days helping brands recognize they need to support causes
their customers advocate in a way that is genuine and effective do just that, but also
making sure their needs as a business are met. Additionally, we identify a clear call to
action that helps the cause partner reach its goals within this alliance. More times than
not, part of my company's role in addition to partnering and strategizing is to procure
celebrities to engage on some level of the campaign to attract media and mobilize the
Every time I try explaining what I do to my 68 year-old, partly retired, east coast-raised
Jewish father, he responds, "You should work with Britney Spears. She's so popular."
I can't say I've worked with Ms. Spears, yet, but I do have the pleasure of meeting and
connecting very giving people within the entertainment community with some amazing
nonprofit groups while staying true to my San Francisco roots of making "the man" pay
for it, but also gain from it.
I still eat barbecue sauce out of the bottle, though.