In 2008, shipbuilder Austal, USA received a U.S. Navy contract to build the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). With these contracts, Austal had to ramp up employment from 900 to 2400 persons within 18 months. Although unemployment rates in the area have been in the 9% range, Austal needed to attract a highly-skilled and motivated work force to build these technologically advanced warships. After extensive research identified the target audience as action-oriented “doers,” Lewis Communications created “Do Something Extraordinary” to target this very specific audience.
A few months ago a professional colleague and a friend told me about a project he was working on in Haiti. When I first heard the idea, I knew I had to find a way to help. And now, I’m leaving within the next 24 hours to spend five days in Haiti with a video and still photo crew.
My friend Jim Bryson is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met working in the advertising business. His research company, 20/20 Research, has been our partner with countless clients as we work to uncover powerful consumer insights that will help build our clients’ brands and grow their business. Jim was also a state senator in Tennessee for several years and when he sees a problem, he is really good at finding a solution and doesn’t rest until things get better.
Which is why when Jim visited Haiti last year on a mission trip after the earthquake, he uncovered some pretty powerful insights of his own and developed an idea on how things can be improved for future generations. His insight after visiting Haitian orphanages was that the common practice of providing formal education to orphans only until the 5th grade and more or less turning them loose on Haiti’s unpaved streets was only perpetuating a cycle of joblessness, poverty and hopelessness. If, instead, proper schools could be built within or attached to orphanages that provided an education for kids from the 6th grade on, a new generation of educated, service-minded Haitian’s could become future leaders and begin to solve some of Haiti’s ongoing social problems.
Jim has already begun the fundraising process and is now headed to Port-au-Prince to purchase land where the first Joseph School can be built. Several of my Lewis colleagues (Sarah Cooper, Ben Fine, Jeff Williams and Steve Moe) and I are tagging along with Jim in order to shoot stills and video of teachers, parents, and children. By telling the stories of the Haitians we’ll meet, we hope to create a powerful way for people in the US and around the world to know about and support The Joseph School. For some people, they will be compelled to donate much-needed funds to build schools. But for many others, supporting Jim’s work and the work of so many others in Haiti can also be accomplished by spreading the message through Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media.
Please check out TheJosephSchool.org when you get a chance. Once back from Haiti, we’ll be updating the site with a new design with images and video from our trip.
Stony Brook University Medical Center captured the Gold Award for best total campaign for an Academic Medical Center at the 2009 Aster Awards. Individual honors went to Stony Brook’s microsite and print advertising. Clients Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt Medical Center and the University of Virginia Health System were also recognized for a total of nine Aster awards. In addition, Lewis clients received ten honors in the 2009 Healthcare Marketing Awards.
According to some British scientists, on May 19, 2031, an asteroid about the size of Manhattan is predicted to center-punch the Earth, effectively eliminating all human life within a few months.
So, we probably don’t have to put quite as much emphasis on that global warming issue. (What is Al Gore going to do?) Not to mention those who are currently building a house don’t need to opt for the more expensive 30-year roof.
21 years left.
So does knowing the exact amount of time you have left change anything? Does your list of “somedays” take on a newfound urgency? Are you now going to quit your job and go help the less fortunate around the world?
I say if that’s what you want to do, you should pursue it with unbridled vigor. For me, knowing now I will never retire actually provides a little more clarity. How many times do you attempt to look way off in the future and you feel like you somehow won’t live the life you have at present. Well, no need to worry about that anymore I suppose.
Now we all have something in common to worry about: May 19, 2031. So let’s all just stop worrying about everything else that is suddenly not so important: the economy, our 401K’s, the death of advertising, or TV or NASCAR. We’re all going to be just fine. You know how I know? Because if you’re reading this, you are probably in the advertising (uh, sorry…the “communications/social influence”) business. Which means you’re in the greatest, most exciting and interesting career on the planet. You make a living on ideas. That is NEVER going to change. Sure those ideas will manifest themselves in new ways, but who cares? Great ideas will always be great ideas up until that fateful May Monday in the not too distant future.
So take a look at what is on your desk right now. There are a million excuses not to make it the best it can be: “I don’t have enough time,” “I’ve got too much on my plate,” “It will cut into my Facebook time,” “The AE is clueless,” “The client won’t like it,” “The creative director is stupid,” “The strategy is wrong,” “There is no budget,” “They’ll never buy it,” “I can’t make a difference,” “The category is shunned by the shows,” “My computer screen is too small,” “I am a hack,” (okay, I admit I still believe this one). The difference between good work and GREAT work is the unwillingness to give in to the voices. So just take things one at a time. Pick your projects, clients, etc. that will most help you make a difference. And have fun. Most importantly, make whatever you do GREAT. Make it memorable. Make it funny, or serious or compelling. Just make sure to get it done by Sunday night, May 18, 2031. I can promise you, this time there’s no way you’re getting an extension.
Once the initial shock wore off from what I was hearing, the question was “Okay, just how on earth do you tell that story and do it right?”
I have to confess, when I heard Interstate 20 was one of, if not THE largest sex trafficking corridor in the United States, I was skeptical. Shocked and horrified, but mostly skeptical.
I live in Birmingham, Alabama. Not Las Vegas, or LA or New York. There’s no way this could be going on in Birmingham or even Atlanta for that matter. We are in the Deep South. No one treats another person like that in the South.
But once we began doing the research and talking to people who were actually experiencing it, the horror and realization began to set in. How on earth do you tell this story? And is there any way to make it believable?
The first hurdle our production team needed to cross was trying to get someone to go on camera and talk about it. The people involved in the business won’t say anything to you—if you can even find them. They are so good at hiding in the shadows that if you show up to film anything, you’d be spotted by any number of lookouts they have posted well before you pulled into the parking lot. Most of the customers helping fuel the industry won’t talk to you. Why would they? They have a new 16 year old just waiting for them at the next truck stop, which is sad, but true. A few brave truckers talked to us about the inside details and gave us a starting point for what we needed to capture. And we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.
Finally, that leaves the victims themselves. After a few initial interviews we quickly realized that trying to get the victims to tell their stories is a lot like asking a soldier fresh from a firefight to describe his experience. Just like soldiers in combat, these victims suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and are unable to emotionally recall their ordeal. They can talk, but they seem so disconnected from everything they are saying, it is hard to do it with meaning. We decided the best we could do was capture their stories and re-create them for the purpose of the film.
So, with cameras and chase cars in hand, we hit the road. Turns out, of all the elements in the video, the road was the easiest. The road doesn’t talk or try to hide. So our group spent weeks driving up and down the corridor between Birmingham and Atlanta to capture footage we needed. With a Red Epic, Canon 5D’s, GoPro Heroes, and a motion control rig, we were able to capture this part with relative ease. Only an occasional curious state trooper or motel owner even noticed us.
In the commercial ad business you always look forward to creating imagery to help tell your story. For the first time in my 30-year career, however, this was not the case. Every scene we captured in the film left an impression on our crew. Working in an old theater to recreate the “pimp” and “torture” sequences was as distressing to shoot as it is to watch. Some so distressing, we ended up using still photos rather than moving pictures to keep from crossing a line of taste somewhere. I don’t think “taste” and depicting sex trafficking even live in the same universe.
It took more than a year to capture and stage every scene for the film. Some of this was because of the schedule we needed in order to use key locations, and some of this was because the entire project was produced pro bono and had to be filmed after hours and on weekends. The time-lapse sequences were captured by going out just about every weekend to different locations along the interstate.
I hope the story we’ve told does justice to what we discovered. If we can prevent just one little girl from falling into this trap, we will have done our job. And if we can help give the victims back the life that was stolen from them, then every second of effort poured into the film was worth it.
John Pope, Charlie Brown Sanders
Time Lapse sequences
Charlie Brown Sanders
Flame and finishing
Audio and sweetening
Jacob Garner, Leigh Ann Motley and Ben Fine
By now people all over the world have heard at least some part of the scandal that Paula Deen is embroiled in. Whether or not you’re pro Paula, one thing should be taken away from all of this. Her brand is now tarnished.
Paula Deen is much larger than her individual self. She’s a brand. She worked on it, cultivated it and watched it grow into the empire that she now enjoys….or did.
Branding works on feelings, perceptions, images and beliefs. There are certain expectations behind a brand experience. As we tell our clients, your brand is everything. Perception is reality. End of driveway talk, social media and a myriad of other things can make or break a brand. How people view your brand can hurt or help you. Brand trust or believability, in this case, has been damaged.
A brand is an inherent promise to consumers. There is a saying that “your word is your bond”. It’s the same for a brand.
Will Paula come back from this debacle? She probably will but it’ll be an uphill battle. The take away from this? Protect your brand, shape it, mold it and above all, guard its integrity.
In March, I traveled with a group of our staff to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to look for potential sites to build the first Joseph School. The idea was to send a video and still photography crew to document our time there. I will attempt to describe what we saw, but most people reading this will never be able to grasp the desperate living conditions for 98 percent of Haitians.
First, a little about The Joseph School. A good friend of mine, Jim Bryson, asked our company to help spread the word about a concept he developed while working to assist after the Haitian earthquake disaster. Most Haitian children are forced to live in orphanages because their parents simply cannot afford to take care of their basic needs. For generations, the country has found itself in a self-perpetuating situation in which the majority of the country is uneducated and has no hope of finding jobs to sustain themselves. Children in orphanages are basically turned out into the streets after 5th grade and face a career of panhandling to try to find a meal for the day. In Haiti, there is no long-term hope for “bettering oneself” as we are so accustomed to here. In Haiti, the long-term dream is to simply find sustenance for the day. Period.
Jim’s concept for The Joseph School is to establish a school that can take the 5th grade children and provide them with a free education all the way through 12th grade. His concept is, for the first time, to give the children of Haiti a chance to become leaders, a chance to find a real job and a chance at a future.
All those plans and dreams sound great when you are hearing them in the lobby of an upscale Nashville hotel. They take on an entirely new meaning when you’re riding in an open truck down a main street so embroiled in chaos it is hard to imagine that it has ever been deemed a “society.” Trash is piled everywhere because there has been no trash pickup since the earthquake (a year ago, really?). Trash is piled into every possible place: streams, the sides of the roads, etc. There is no sewer service, so the same stream that provides sanitation to one person is providing the source for cleaning clothes for another, or worse still—drinking water. The entire city of Port-au-Prince smells of burning garbage since that is really the only way to get rid of any trash at all.
The streets are full of dust, dirt and garbage, and untold diseases are kicked up in the air with each passing car. Traffic could easily be the situation one might find if a major city such as Los Angeles was to endure a nuclear attack; there is no real order – the rule of the day for traffic is to stick your nose in and hope it doesn’t get taken off. But somehow they never seem to hit one another. It is truly amazing.
The United Nations has a large presence, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what they are doing. They drive around in tanks with machine guns. I suppose they are “establishing order.” What we wish they were doing is trying to rebuild this country. It looks exactly the same today as it did the day after the earthquake over a year ago. Buildings are still piles of rubble. Many still hold the victims of the earthquake inside them.
But it is against this backdrop of utter chaos, hopelessness and despair that we discovered the most wonderful thing; the resiliency of the Haitian people. In a country that most people would agree has perhaps the worst luck on the planet – the world’s worst poverty, hurricanes frequently rake the country, few if any natural resources left, mudslides in the low-lying areas of the country, and now a catastrophic earthquake and a disastrous epidemic of cholera —we find smiling, embracing, joyful people. People who put on the best clothes they own every Sunday and walk miles to worship a God that most people would assume has turned his back on them.
If these people can have faith and hope living under such extreme circumstances they are faced with, I would contend that Haiti isn’t the poorest country on Earth. They are perhaps the richest. They live purely. They live for the day – thankful that they have been given that day to live. They remain hopeful while living through adversity that those of us who have lived a life of privileged excess can’t begin to imagine. They accept their lot in life with an attitude of thankfulness. They care for one another.
We, on the other hand, would never make it in this kind of environment because we would try to blame someone – anyone – so that we can satisfy our sense of entitlement. We wouldn’t deserve this kind of treatment and because we are Americans, we don’t have to take it. Not us, no siree.
Upon returning home we were profoundly embarrassed looking at our world, because we have lived a life of excess. We’ve gotten pretty much everything we have ever wanted. We live in houses that in Haiti would shelter 100 people. We never have to worry about whether we’ll eat today. In fact, we’ll all complain that we don’t have enough. There’s always that next something we don’t have. We’ll continue feeling our sense of entitlement and we’ll continue to make our life about Us. Life for the typical American is just that way; it is comfortable, it is excessive, and that’s just the way we like it.
So which is the poor country and which is the rich one?
Well, I can tell you that we are going to do everything we possibly can to make The Joseph School a reality. We are going to try to refocus the world’s short attention span on this country that is so desperately in need of the most basic services. But at the end of the day we hope we can bring home some lessons about life – for the country we live in.
The poorest country I know.