Getting Attention in a Celebrity Culture

Getting attention for a good cause can be a
challenge in a celebrity culture, if you don’t use celebrities. That’s the view
of Jamie Drummond, executive director of DATA, a non-governmental organization
advocating for debt relief for developing nations.

After working for ten years on debt relief and other issues related to alleviating poverty in developing nations, Jamie Drummond determined he had to do it differently. He was not able to get the attention he thought the issues deserved using traditional public rlations strategies. So he managed to connect with the Irish rock star Bono who was well-informed, passionate and consistent in his advocacy for poverty alleviation and debt relief.

What was born was celebrity advocacy for DATA, the organization Drummond heads. Today his connection to the One Campaign is organic. His work follows the schedule and the course of Bono’s career moves, concert schedules and lobbying in Washington and Europe.

It is also intimately connected to the “branding” of the rock star and others who have joined him including Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts.

Drummond gave an overview to the strategy of rock star advocacy in a workshop on Rock and Roll Philanthrophy at the Time Summit on Global Health.

The question Drummond raises for people like me, who are not part of a celebrity-driven cause and who represent a constituency rather than celebrity, is this: Can the causes for which we advocate–the list is impressive including peace, universal health care, international justice, eradication of poverty, development of peoples, among others–gain attention in the mainstream media without the use of celebrity?

Drummond says no. He deals with the exigencies of celebrity carefully. Those include the occasional divorce and messy press that results from tabloid journalism, the arrest for drugs, violence or indecent behavior and financial failure. These carry your message south along with the celebrity’s reputation. I’ve seen this happen to a few organizations and this has made me skeptical of celebrity endorsement. Moreover, journalists look for hypocrisy in the celebrity’s behavior toward the issue he/she is advocating. A whiff of hypocrisy can kill any advantage and while it will bring the cause attention, it will be the kind you don’t want to deal with. It will be negative.

Drummond seems to have found a balance that works. He has also found a credible spokesperson who’s media savvy in Bono. He can function in the U.S. with the media and politicians. And he’s European. He has been an articulate and consistent advocate for the poor.

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