I apologize for leaving you all hanging for more than two weeks. I know you’ve been chomping at the bit to hear more about Queen Latifah, Mary J Blige, Dwyane Wade, Alonzo Mourning and all of the other amazing stars that were part of our mildly-successful-but-could-have-been-better foreclosure prevention campaign.
It occurred to me that the previous two posts were highly critical of this project, even though I was responsible managing a large part of it. It does seem odd that I would take shots at this campaign since I highlight it on my resume, doesn’t it?
But as I discussed in the previous installment of Housing Journey, there were way too many people involved in the planning for this thing to ever have a fighting chance. And to be perfectly honest, it was the first time I had ever managed a project of this magnitude. I certainly made my share of mistakes during this exercise. (Lesson #1: I am not perfect and this was a valuable learning experience that I was able to build on.)
In the beginning, this campaign was very carefully planned out down to the last detail. The second a monkey wrench was thrown into the works, the entire project seemed to descend into total chaos. When one person dissented with an idea or a deadline was extended, everyone fell like dominos and we often found ourselves scrambling to make up for lost time. (Lesson #2: Always have a reasonable contingency plan ready to go.)
Dealing with 35 people on every phone call was starting to become a major hindrance to any meaningful progress. For example, the “run of show” document that mapped out the entire day in Newark went through no less than 30 versions. And I’m pretty sure there was a version #31 created on the day of the event. (Lesson #3: Make a decision and stick to it. Your initial instincts are usually correct.)
Plus, the talent agent and publicist were making it incredibly difficult for us to have access to the celebrities. Call me crazy, but we did sort of need the celebrities’ undivided attention in order to make this “celebrity campaign” actually work.
Amazingly, the Newark Neighborhood Tour and Housing Roundtable, featuring Queen Latifah, happened in February 2009 – mostly on schedule.
Queen Latifah spent the morning touring some of the hardest hit areas of Newark (and if you’ve ever been to Newark, you know that means virtually the entire city), meeting with local homeowners and doing media interviews. Of course, this is my second hand account since there was no room on the tour bus for me, but plenty of room for many of the people that disrupted my planning phone call each week. (Lesson #4: You may think you are the most important person in the room. You aren’t.)
But I digress…
I did manage to make it to the housing roundtable portion of the day, which also included Mayor Corey Booker (currently a popular New Jersey Senator and superstar of the Democratic Party) and Governor John Corzine (currently appealing a court ruling stemming from his shady, post-gubernatorial dealings).
If it had been just Queen Latifah and the two major elected officials discussing New Jersey foreclosure issues that would have been fine. After all, it was a 90-minute roundtable so that seemed like a reasonable expectation. Plenty of time for an insightful housing discussion and plenty of time for Q&A, right?
There were 17 (!) people invited to participate. For each panelist to get equal participation it meant that they each got approximately five minutes and thirty seconds of speaking time. I actually recall an 18th person being added at the last minute, but my memory isn’t perfect.
So basically, the reward for each participant was to travel to Newark, New Jersey for less than six minutes of public speaking. Again, too many people diluting an otherwise well planned activity. (Lesson #5: Less is often more.)
On the positive side, the Newark event did actually follow the original script, albeit not verbatim. The celebrity tour, housing roundtable and subsequent homeowner assistance event – with close to 1,000 attendees – all happened in the correct sequence, even if not exactly as conceived. (Lesson #6: Sometimes good things do happen in Newark, New Jersey.)
Queen Latifah was happy. The mayor of Newark and Governor of New Jersey were happy. The publicist and talent manager were reasonably happy.
We were all ready to move on to Atlanta with Mary J Blige.
The campaign was finally picking up steam, but what happened in the cities after Newark was a string of bad luck and bad timing that was quite unbelievable. (Lesson #7: Things often get worse before they get better.)