The Newark portion of the celebrity foreclosure prevention campaign in 2009, featuring Queen Latifah, basically went according to plan albeit a few hitches along the way.
I wish I could say the same for the other planned cities and celebrities that were lined up for the remainder of the year.
Much like the housing crisis itself had made it easy for everyone to point fingers; I wish it had been easy for me to just spread the blame around for the plan getting out of whack.
But honestly, it really was a perfect storm of bad timing and bad luck that rendered the original plan helpless.
If you remember from previous posts (which I assume you all keep referring to on a daily basis just to refresh your memories), the plan for each city was 1) celebrity neighborhood tour and community roundtable, 2)celebrity voiced radio spots, 3)mortgage servicer outreach to distressed borrowers and 4)large scale consumer help event.
Newark was the only one of the four cities that went in that order – the logical order.
The first challenge came in March 2009 when the Obama Administration announced its Making Home Affordable program in response to the crisis. Since Fannie Mae had been in government conservatorship since September 2008, this meant that the priorities of the team working on the celebrity campaign immediately changed. They were now focused on promoting the President’s new initiative.
But the bigger issue was that Fannie Mae made the decision to put the celebrity campaign on hold and they were essentially our only reliable link to the publicist, the talent agent and the celebrities.
I disagreed with the decision to postpone the campaign. And my reason was simple – the celebrities were already committed to certain dates and changing them would jeopardize the whole campaign. The bottom line is that these people are booked 300 days out of the year and that leaves very little wiggle room to change dates on them.
Not to harp on this too much, but a “celebrity campaign” actually requires celebrities.
Plus, the postponement was now disrupting the logical order of events for each city. As it turns out, we salvaged the celebrity pieces of Atlanta and Miami, but they didn’t go according to script. The consumer events happened first and then the neighborhood tours came later – much later. This meant that there were no celebrity radio spots, no celebrity roundtables and no celebrity promotions leading up to the crucial consumer event – the whole reason for embarking on this project.
Luckily, HOPE NOW’s communications team (namely me) and its outside public relations firm made the consumer events successful without those enhancements – the two day Atlanta event in April 2009 saw more than 2,000 homeowners in attendance and the Miami event a week later saw 3,300 homeowners over two days. Of course, this was also the peak of the housing crisis so it wasn’t hard to generate interest among at-risk homeowners. It just would have been nice to have a celebrity or two on-site.
As for the celebrity neighborhood tours, the Atlanta tour with Mary J Blige and Big Boi happened in the early summer of 2009, with little meaningful impact since the consumer event had already come and gone. But it did happen nonetheless.
As for the other two cities, remember the whole bad luck and bad timing theme?
The Miami celebrity tour happened in June 2009, featuring Alonzo Mourning and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat. The point was to generate as much media coverage as possible. The TV crews followed the NBA stars into some of the hardest hit Miami neighborhoods that morning.
It was going great until both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died that afternoon. TV crews = gone.
And what about the celebrity tour scheduled for Cleveland? Well, that never happened because Halle Berry had already backed out when we postponed everything. You can imagine my personal disappointment regarding that turn of events.
All was not lost though. Or so we thought.
Later in the year, we arranged for former NFL star Deion Sanders to do a tour in Dallas as a make-up for the Cleveland tour that never happened. We had arranged for Deion to go to the house of a homeowner who had just received a loan modification under the Making Home Affordable Program.
We drove out to a neighborhood on the outskirts of Dallas, expecting to see at least two confirmed TV stations there to watch Deion shake hands and talk with the homeowner – a sweet, elderly lady whose experience was tailor made for a 6’oclock TV news human interest story. Throw in “Prime Time” in all his glory and it was downright perfect.
We arrived at the house. Deion was there. The sweet old lady was there. The TV crews were not. “Why?” you may ask.
The date was November 5, 2009 and just 30 minutes before we arrived, Major Nidal Hasan had fatally shot 13 people at Ft. Hood – just 157 miles to the southwest of Dallas. Can you believe it?
Not to be insensitive to the events that transpired that day, but that date also marked the official end of the celebrity foreclosure prevention campaign.
Its short history, and any memories of its existence, currently resides in the G drive of my computer at HOPE NOW’s office on 13th Street Northwest.