Midrash Parashat Va’etchanan: Speaking Up
Howard Lichtman is a Virtual Chief Marketing Officer for a number of leading corporations and non- profit organizations. He is an alumnus of the Wexner Heritage Program from Toronto and recently participated in the alumni trip to Poland and Hungary. He can be reached at Hlichtman1@aol.com
The expression “speak up” is all about being heard. Many non-profits and Jewish organizations use high- profile speakers as an attraction and as a means of establishing a relationship with donors and volunteers. This is a time-tested model. If it isn’t broken, then why fix it? The answer is simple: If you live in a vibrant Jewish community such as Toronto, there are dozens of similar offerings from competing Jewish organizations every single week. How do you “speak up”? How do you break through the clutter and make sure that you are heard?
When I was faced with this challenge by UJA Federation’s business division, my immediate response was “Go big or go home.” Do something unique and different to stand out from the crowd, much like you would in any business challenge. Great, Howard, but how do you do that? My answer was a concept that is easily transported to most major markets in North America. Rather than invite our business target to hear just one high-profile speaker, we created a fully themed day with a large roster of speakers. These people had never before been assembled on the same stage. We’ve done it for two years, and each year there were over 300 people in attendance.
We featured leading Jewish business leaders from a vast array of backgrounds; individuals that have built million dollar business portfolios from nothing; owners of major sports franchises; a technical expert who had sold his company recently for hundreds of millions of dollars; or an advertising guru who had rolled up major U.S. advertising agencies such as Crispin Porter. The list goes on and on. The topics have been: Good Sports, Entrepreneurial Insights, Deal Or No Deal: Bay Street Style, Economic Update, Technology At Work And Play, Private Equity, Now That’s Entertainment, From Success To Significance, Investing in Treacherous Times, Solid Foundation: Focus On Real Estate, Hiring Trends: Positioning Yourself For The Future, Wailing Wall Street: A Session With Israel’s Leading Entrepreneurs & Venture Capitalists, Retailing: Staying Ahead Of The Curve, and The Big Picture (The Movie & TV Industry).
Many of these people don’t typically speak at public forums. The day served as both an opportunity to get up close and personal with these business leaders and hear from them. Having them all assemble on one day in one place becomes a powerful draw.
The title of the event was “Taking Care Of Business.” The title was specifically chosen to have a double- entendre. Sure, Taking care of business means that our day would be focused on business leaders who certainly knew how to “take care of business” successfully. Given that this was a Federation event, our sub-theme was equally as important: “From Success To Significance.” It’s one thing to be successful in business, but achieving business success as measured by acknowledgment, title and wealth do not provide significance in one’s life. Each of the leaders had also gained significance by contributing back to the community. They talked about their rise to success, provided insights into their specific industries, and were asked to also relate how they contributed back to the community to achieve significance.
These sessions are held in May on gorgeous sunny Sundays. We do no advertising, just a simple email campaign. Nevertheless, both years we attracted a large, enthusiastic crowd. Even better, many of the attendees are “off the radar” and are unknown to Federation. It’s a great outreach program.
The second successful format that I’d like to share is the creation of the Bay Street Cabinet. New York Federation runs a successful Wall Street division. Toronto Federation decided that it wanted to emulate the success of that division under the title of “Bay Street”, which is Toronto’s equivalent to Wall Street. The challenge was: How do you create a brand and a community around Bay Street? Particularly due to the fact that the intended audience didn’t necessarily have to “work on Bay Street,” Bay Street was intended to be a “mindset” as opposed to simply a street address or area of the city.
The answer was also to “speak up.” We utilized high-profile speakers en masse to draw crowds. This time the louder impact was created by reoccurring thematic speakers rather under four umbrellas, than a single speaker event. We chose four themes for the umbrella. The first theme was “Bay Street Meets Wall Street.” Under this umbrella we would bring in leading Wall Street luminaries that Torontonians might otherwise not have access to. For example, we brought in Michael Steinhardt, one of the creators of hedge funds and one of the founders of birthright Israel. The second umbrella theme was “Bay Street High Rollers,” which was our own leading Bay Street top-tier experts. The third was “The Guys Who Wrote The Book.” This featured business leaders who had written business books, talking about their books and life experiences. The final theme is “Down By The Bay,” which is intended to be more of a social networking event.
Both of these marketing concepts can be easily translated to most major markets in the United States. It’s an example of how non-profits need to apply out-of-the-box thinking and marketing discipline to reaching out to new audiences.