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How we screw up “Toys for Tots”

Let’s leave aside the idea that anything you do for charity is a good thing and focus only on the marketing (or PR) benefits of associating with charitable causes.

The problem with “Toys for Tots” (and countless other like charities) as a cause for your station is that it is always presented impersonally. Indeed, the way our industry talks about these causes is deeply flawed.

Yes, the idea that you are providing toys to kids without them is profoundly clear and simple. And unambiguously generous and noble. But much of the power of the effort is sapped because you’re talking about hypothetical toys and, more importantly, hypothetical tots.

It would be much – MUCH – more powerful for you to focus on ONE SPECIFIC child and the SPECIFIC toys you provide that child. In other words, it’s about where you place your emphasis, not your toys. That would allow you to personalize the story because, ironically, what we make personal is what becomes universal. However, that which is broad and vague remains lifeless and passionless – impersonal and non-universal.

This is why, for example, War of the Worlds was about Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning, not about all of humanity.

So before you pat yourself on the back for a holiday promotion well done, ask yourself whether your efforts were generic or specific. Ask yourself if you got audio of the specific child who received the toys and captured their reaction which you played back for your audience. Ask yourself if your audience knows the name of the child you are supporting. Ask yourself if you were there when your station brought light to that needy child.

Ask yourself if you’re in the radio business where you change lives, personally and intimately, or the business of mediating the delivery of generic toys to generic tots.

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