Beware Calls Promising Hugh Downs Will Promote Your Nonprofit

By on Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Some of my nonprofit clients were pitched for documentaries hosted by Hugh Downs and produced by Vision Media of Boca Raton, Fla., in exchange for a $20,000+ fee. The pitch smacks of advertorial, and while the production company is happy to promise viewing on “public television,” the reality is that few stations, if any, run the spots.

Last spring National Public Radio investigated the agency, which can’t prove to its clients that the spots they paid for ever aired. Unfortunately, the National Funeral Directors Association was among the organizations duped into paying thousands for video work that they can show on YouTube or in their own marketing materials (which they could likely have produced for less with other vendors) – but that never saw air time on public television.

The New York Times also investigated the agency in 2008, with similar results. PBS even has a standard question in its FAQ addressing the controversy and declaring – in no uncertain terms – that it does not have a relationship with this company and a number of others listed.

Another company contacts nonprofits promising to put them on CNN in airports. It offers a high-stakes “make a decision quickly” scenario to the nonprofit agency, requesting thousands of dollars up front for “pay for play.” These pay for play opportunities don’t carry the prestige or credibility of legitimate news reports.

The take-away from all of this – If you get a call promising massive air time for a few thousand dollars, and it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t leap and take the bait right away if you are presented with an opportunity like this. Ask questions. Google the company name online. Read the contract. Find out what you are really getting for the money if you choose to use their service. Advertising has its place, but it should be used strategically.

If you really want a celebrity to promote your nonprofit agency – consider who might be best to promote your cause. Approach their agent and reach out. You may be surprised by a positive response and support.

Consider what you truly need for video promotion. Many nonprofits have a promotional video about their work. Costs for video production have dropped, as more nonprofits use small cameras and create their own grassroots YouTube videos. And many video production companies will now work with you to use footage you’ve taken yourself to create a hybridized professional video that you can be proud of.

After you know what you want and have a budget established – then find the company that can do the work for you within your budget and meet your requirements.

Everyone wants to know what you think.

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