Media Relations: Nefesh B'Nefesh's push gets interest in 'Aliyah' to climb

This summer, 1,500 North American Jews uprooted their lives and moved to Israel.

This summer, 1,500 North American Jews uprooted their lives and moved to Israel.

At a time of renewed US patriotism and heightened terrorism fears, it's hardly surprising that the story peaked the media's interest.

But what was more important for Nefesh B'Nefesh, an organization that facilitates emigration, or "Aliyah," to Israel, was coverage that captured a sense of hope and Jewish solidarity.

After all, this summer marked the group's third and most important Aliyah push. Nefesh B'Nefesh had organized two previous summer campaigns, but was concerned about the message in the media.

"The third one was pivotal - for funding and for government recognition," says Rabbi Joshua Fass, the organization's president and founder. "We wanted to dispel and correct some of the misquotes in the press."

Strategy

Nefesh B'Nefesh partnered with Ruder Finn to launch a targeted media relations campaign in North America and in Israel.

To reach North American families considering Aliyah, Charley Levine, CEO of RF Israel, knew the PR team would have to personalize the story.

"We made a strategic decision to go with our strong point - the people themselves telling the story," he says. Levine adds that Nefesh B'Nefesh wanted to reach "millions of American Jews," but he didn't expect the pitch to be readily received. "We anticipated a challenge. This is not your normal story. It's not a story that we anticipated would go down easily."

Tactics

RF decided to pitch the story from several angles. The PR team, for instance, visited 33 US states to tailor the story for local media outlets, focusing on families in the community who were preparing for Aliyah.

"It became such a grassroots effort that [the national media] could no longer ignore [the story]," Fass says.

At the same time, RF and Nefesh B'Nefesh also invited top-ranking Israeli officials to high-profile ceremonies at airports in New York and Tel Aviv.

But the most successful aspect, Levine notes, was inviting five journalists and TV news crews to take the transcontinental flight with the new "olim," or ?migr?s, and accompany them through their first days in Israel.

"It helped them capture the overall excitement that was apparent on the airplane itself," he says. "It definitely resulted in better and fuller coverage."

"We didn't shield the press from the passengers, and we did not shield the passengers from the press," Fass notes. "That's a tremendous risk. [But] it was done so professionally and sensitively. I think the press was very much moved by that."

Results

Levine estimates that this year was the most successful Aliyah campaign of the past two decades, and that the 1,500 olim, who filled three chartered El Al jumbo jets, represented a 20% increase over last year.

Moreover, this summer saw unprecedented media coverage of the Aliyah tradition and marked the first time the story appeared in the mainstream media, he notes. "I'd like to think we struck a chord with America's pioneering spirit." If the articles did mention turbulence in Israel, it was only as background before getting to the heart of the message, he notes.

"Only positive points got covered," Fass recalls. "[RF exceeded] our wildest expectations."

Future

Fass notes that the fourth summer campaign will be more personal and more proactive in reaching potential Jewish olim.

"The story can't just be - it's just bigger. No one's going to go for that," he says. Instead Nefesh B'Nefesh will try to depict Aliyah as part of a larger story about Israel's survival, of building a "reservoir" for the future.

"The press is going to be more intense because this is a more intense project," he says.

PR team: Ruder Finn and Nefesh B'Nefesh (Jerusalem)

Campaign: Revitalize Aliyah in North America

Time frame: July and August 2004

Budget: $35,000

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