And The Pitch

September 15, 2005       Craig Causer      

It’s no secret that many nonprofits lack the media-pitching savvy necessary to optimize exposure of their campaigns. Journalists’ in-boxes are often littered with email announcements and invitations that immediately invoke use of the delete button.

When the Epilepsy Foundation in Landover, Md., decided to create a new campaign to increase understanding and awareness of epilepsy it had to not only develop the main components of the campaign but also a hook to reel in the media. Like many charities, it turned to a famous face — in this case, Amy Lee, Grammy-winner and lead singer of the band Evanescence.

Lee’s participation created a central theme for the newly minted “Out of the Shadows” campaign. The foundation is designing an interactive Web site branded with a goth-rock feel and will institute an 800-number in which visitors will be greeted by a message from Lee. Information about epilepsy including campaign materials and promotional items will be rewritten to capture the attention of young people.

With the Web site to launch around Labor Day, the main campaign push with public service announcements will take place in October. It all leads in to Epilepsy Awareness Month in November. The timetable was ripe for the foundation to begin wooing long-lead media.

“To maximize outreach we needed to have something now to get the interest of those long-lead publications,” explained Kimberli Meadows, director of media relations and public outreach. “We’re looking at long-leads that reach out to teens, the music industry and female-related magazines. Among the publications that have confirmed are Child, Parenting, Teen People and Elle.”

Meadows admitted that the foundation doesn’t have a budget for the campaign and managers knew they couldn’t afford a professional public relations firm to create and execute a plan. So, it relied more on its public relations firms for media support. One firm, Ogilvie Public Relations, conducted the majority of its work pro bono, Meadows added. The foundation created an outreach plan and timeline but wanted to make sure that it was in line with what a professional public relations firm would recommend.

Once the plan was in place, the public relations firm created a list and handled the wrangling of traditional media. The nonprofit focused on outlets with which it had previous relationships, including O magazine.

“Our team created a ‘postcard’ HTML news release,” Meadows said. “When you work with a celebrity there’s a lot of hurry up and wait. We wanted to be respectful of Amy’s opinions so everything was run through her. So we were later than we wanted to be in getting the media invitation out. The invitation didn’t go out until two weeks prior to our event. The best way to get that out was the HTML email.”

The event was publicized in the “Good Works” section of Billboard magazine. While Meadows said that the foundation will be happy with any mention it receives in the media, she was confident that Billboard will do something “a little more exclusive” once the campaign launch date closes in.

The media luncheon was held at Le Parker Meridien hotel in New York City and was resplendent with Amy Lee “Out of the Shadows” promotional images and a large screen television replaying an Evanescence in concert video. Eleven long-lead journalists were in attendance.

Of course it doesn’t hurt to have a spokesperson that likes to mingle. Lee used the pre-luncheon time to work the room and personally introduce herself to each person. The foundation treated media to a sit-down filet mignon and salmon lunch as Meadows, Epilepsy Foundation President and CEO Eric Hargis, Foundation Board Chair and former Congressman Tony Coelho and Lee spoke about how epilepsy has affected them and the goals of the “Out of the Shadows” campaign.

Lee’s “speech” was unrehearsed as she felt it would be better to just have an informal talk.

“I’ve never been to one of these things so I don’t follow the rules,” Lee said half-jokingly. “I can get on stage in front of 50,000 people, jump around like an idiot and be completely comfortable but to stand there and talk about something so personal and speak to a room of people is really difficult. I didn’t have a speech because I didn’t write a speech since I didn’t want it to be a speech.”

The sessions closed with a question and answer session and a photo opportunity, where Lee was made available for photographs with the media. Gift bags that included an Epilepsy Foundation T-shirt, mug, silicon wristband and an autographed copy of Evanescence’s CD “Fallen.” Lee was made available throughout the afternoon for one-on-one interviews.

The foundation was still computing costs related to the event during press time. Prior to the event it had received a $25,000 unrestricted educational grant from Eisai, one if its pharmaceutical partners.

Despite a successful event, as with all long-lead pitches, the number of media placements will not be known until down the road. That’s fine with Meadows as she has plenty of media-grabbing events in the works.

“We still have the PSAs to unveil, Meadows said. “We know that Amy’s coming to Washington to do Congressional Committee briefings on epilepsy. There’s a lot more so we’re okay with what leaks now.”

Follow-up phone calls are continuing and press kits are being shipped out to long-lead media that was unable to attend the event. October will bring additional press releases along with the Web site and 800-number. Behind the scenes materials will be made available and there are plans to include the exclusive previews of Evanescence’s new album on the “Out of the Shadows” Web site.

“Of course we want to get as many media hits as possible since that helps our goal of raising awareness and increasing understanding of epilepsy,” Meadows said. “But it’s also an opportunity for our organization to show that the campaign is done professionally and that we can deliver on what we’ve promised.”