The CITYPAK Project is a not-for-profit philanthropic organization that works to provide custom designed backpacks to homeless persons in need. Thoughtfully designed to meet the constantly changing needs of the homeless, CITYPAK’s unique features include anti-theft loops, a built in poncho to cover the Pak and the user, an internal waterproof pocket for important documents, and more. Today, with the help of exclusive manufacturing partners High Sierra, corporate and individual donors, and a variety of local and regional non-profit distribution partners, The CITYPAK Project distributes CITYPAKs in a growing number of cities across the U.S. and Canada.
Doing Something Big With Limited Resources
Founded by Chicago businessman and philanthropist Ron Kaplan (Paradigm Talent Agency), the impetus for The CITYPAK Project was a simple desire to create something that would make life on the streets a little easier. Kaplan, living in Chicago at the time, hand-delivered the PAKs to his homeless neighbors—on corners, under freeways, wherever he encountered someone in need. The bags were received with gratitude; with many homeless immediately loading their belongings (often carried in garbage bags) into their new CITYPAK.
CREATING MORE IMPACT AND FINDING THE RIGHT GROWTH STRATEGY
But Kaplan was an ambitious man with a cause for which he was incredibly passionate. He wanted to distribute more PAKs, to more homeless, in more cities. How could one man with limited financial resources, and even less free time, most quickly and cost efficiently build his cause?
Kaplan needed to raise awareness for his cause. He considered hitting the phones: enlisting his personal network to raise capital for The CITYPAK Project, cold-calling organizations around the country who work with homeless clients, advertising through High Sierra’s marketing network. But he couldn’t do all of them; and any one of these alone wouldn’t be enough to move the needle quickly.
Using Media to Turn a One Person Company into a National Network
Kaplan turned to his friends at LiveLoud Media who over the years had helped evolve the careers of many of his agency’s music clients via strong local, regional, and national media campaigns. LiveLoud built a PR strategy for The CITYPAK Project that quickly and effectively raised awareness & capital without requiring the grassroots approach typically used by most non-profits.
DON’T FORGET WHO’S ALREADY LISTENING, EVEN IF THE STORY HAS CHANGED
Kaplan had been in the music industry for decades. He had worked as a musician, talent manager, and was most prolifically known as a partner of international booking agency, Monterey International, that worked with dozens of prominent and emerging artists. We knew that the network of people and businesses who might want to contribute to his cause reached well beyond the list of who he would ever consider calling personally, so we took it upon ourselves to take on this challenge, developing a PR strategy that started with prominent trade media outlets like Pollstar who knew of Ron and and his work in the music industry. Understanding that everyone in the music business reads these publications, we included opportunities on how to get involved in the storyline. Within a few short weeks, there was considerable support from industry colleagues desiring to contribute money, resources, benefit events, and even the support of their artist clients who were passionate about the issue of homeless.
BUILD A MICROCOSM OF YOUR NETWORK AND LET IT RIPPLE
Next, we created a “proof of concept” event in Chicago, where Ron lived, and invited select media to cover the event, including priority local publications. After all, this was their city and these were their homeless neighbors. We also leveraged our own relationships and invited a local journalist who covered homelessness for a national newsletter geared towards the non-profit sector. Hosted at a local meal center that serviced homeless clients, Ron personally distributed ~50 backpacks during the meal. Not a huge number, but it gave us the opportunity to capture engaging photo and video content for future use in CITYPAK social media campaigns, media in other cities, future distribution partners, and more. Most importantly, it provided the model that would be patterned to quickly grow the program.