CAMPAIGNS: Citizens facilitate a real change for Detroit homeless

PR Team: Nedd Worldwide Public Relations (Detroit) Campaign: Loose Change for Real Change Time Frame: November 2002 - January 2003 Budget: $20,000

PR Team: Nedd Worldwide Public Relations (Detroit) Campaign: Loose Change for Real Change Time Frame: November 2002 - January 2003 Budget: $20,000

The growing number of homeless people panhandling for spare change in downtown Detroit raised concerns among a variety of groups. Merchants were worried the panhandlers drove off customers, while police and others feared that cash collected by the homeless was being used for drugs and alcohol, not food and shelter. So a coalition of community groups united to tackle the problem. Nedd Worldwide was brought on board to handle PR for a program designed to address the panhandling issue. Strategy Loose Change for Real Change was designed to allow people concerned about the homeless to contribute money that would be used for shelter and aid programs. The Nedd team understood that people who give money to panhandlers do so out of concern, so they wanted to provide a way for interested citizens to help fund real improvements in the lives of the homeless. The program encouraged people to donate to the Coalition on Temporary Shelter, rather than hand money directly to panhandlers. The coalition supports treatment services aimed at helping homeless drug addicts. Tactics Nedd created collateral materials for the drive, including window posters and donation-collection canisters for merchants to put on display. Posters featured a former homeless woman and a quote from her that encapsulated the campaign's main theme: "The people who gave me money contributed to my problem. Their kindness supported my habit." Two areas of central Detroit were targeted for the program's first phase: the financial district and Greektown, an area that attracts a large number of suburban visitors because of its heavy concentration of restaurants and a casino, explains Cathy Nedd, founder of Nedd Worldwide. Posters and canisters were kept small to meet merchant concerns about lack of space in their windows and on countertops. Small brochures with tear-out donation pages were printed and distributed. The firm created seven different press releases, each tailored to specific media outlets. One discussing the impact of panhandling on merchants was sent to business reporters. One advising downtown visitors not to give money to panhandlers went to suburban publications. "We knew we had to influence suburban visitors," says Nedd. "We needed to educate them to not give to panhandlers." Another release featuring the reformed addict, who had become the spokesperson for the drive, went to feature writers. A PSA featuring the reformed addict, who now does outreach work with the homeless, was also produced. Calls were made to the local media after press kits were sent, and a kickoff press conference was held on January 28. Results The campaign received coverage from more than 65 broadcast and print outlets. Each of Detroit's major dailies covered the campaign, as did the local Fox, ABC, and CBS affiliates. The New York Times also covered the effort. Bank One, a major presence in Detroit's business community, donated $2,000 to the campaign. More than 100 merchants agreed to keep donation canisters and posters in their stores. And as people stopped giving handouts to the homeless, panhandling decreased in the pilot areas. "We think it's really made an impact on the financial district, and it's going to have an impact in Greektown, too," says Jim Little, a program coordinator for the Northeast Guidance Center, and one of the founders of the Loose Change program. "The public has really become aware of Loose Change for Real Change. It's been very effective so far." Future A new set of releases featuring merchant comments on the program are going out to local media. Nedd continues to handle PR for the effort as it seeks to expand beyond the two pilot areas of downtown Detroit.

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