Celebrity Disaster, Part I

In late 2008, HOPE NOW received a sizable grant from the Fannie Mae Foundation to embark on a celebrity campaign designed to bring awareness to foreclosure prevention solutions and mortgage scams.

On paper it seemed like a worthwhile endeavor. The housing crisis was out of control and harnessing the power of celebrities, with ties to cities with major foreclosure issues, would go a long way in educating at-risk homeowners on the myriad mortgage solutions available to them.

The Fannie Mae Foundation gave HOPE NOW somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million to pull this off. Along the way, a New York publicist and a high profile talent manager were brought into the fold as well. It was decided that the celebrities involved would be Queen Latifah (Newark), Mary J Blige (Atlanta), Dwyane Wade and Alonzo Mourning (Miami) and Halle Berry (Cleveland).

The overall plan consisted of 6-8 weeks of aggressive and collaborative community outreach in each city, culminating in one of HOPE NOW’s signature homeowner events – where mortgage companies and non-profits meet face to face with homeowners in order to work out their mortgage challenges.

There was a multi-part promotional effort that was supposed to take place in each city prior to each event, which consisted of a celebrity tour to the hardest hit neighborhoods, a community roundtable with the celebrity featured, a paid media campaign (featuring radio ads with voice-over done by the celebrity) and scheduling of other celebrity appearances with local leaders.

How do I know all of this? Because I was the guy hired to manage this initiative for HOPE NOW.

The Mortgage Bankers Association was running out of projects for me and this was a perfect opportunity for the organization to insert itself into a very promising public relations situation. And best of all, they could live vicariously through a third party, namely me, and their industry members would reap the benefits of any positive media exposure.

After all, what could possibly go wrong if the mortgage industry partnered with Fannie Mae, the non-profit community, local leaders and big name celebrities all in the name of helping America’s struggling homeowners?

I should note that up until this point in the Housing Journey blog, I have done my best to remain objective about my personal experience in dealing with certain organizations. I am a firm believer in not burning too many bridges in my professional career. I’ll burn a few for sure, but I do have my limits and I am going to be very open and honest about my experience.

(Note: if I win the $1.5 billion Powerball drawing tonight, all bets are off.)

My blog, my rules.

There have been certain organizations and individuals, along this journey, that have been extremely confrontational and difficult to handle. And I am in no way discrediting the hard work of any organization or individual just because I view them as difficult. It is important to note this as I continue with these posts.

That said, this celebrity campaign that I embarked on in January 2009 introduced me to some of the most ridiculous, insane, egotistical, controlling, inefficient, nonsensical and downright craziest people I have ever worked with in my career.

And in some strange way, I’m glad I had the opportunity to work with every single one of them. In my mind, the celebrity campaign was a huge disaster (more on that in future posts, remember this is just Part I) but it paved the way to the most productive and meaningful years of my entire career.

We learn from our mistakes. Right?

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