In the Internet business community there is much buzz over a networking event created by “The Rich Jerk.” If you have poked around that business at all, you have seen his stuff, and if you have opted-in to any of his email lists, you too can receive emails addressed to “Dear loser.”
RJ, as he is often referred as, is a character created by a very effective and brilliant marketer. He has clearly created many successful businesses and knows Internet business well. He has a large and extensive network in the business. So when he started inviting the top Internet business marketers to a free networking event followed by a party at the Playboy Mansion, many said yes. Many, many, said yes to attending and promoting it.
As I understand it, the Playboy Mansion can only be rented for events that benefit charity. And that is what this is. The cost of a ticket, for your basic “loser” is about $2,000, and maybe more if the price went up as promised in the original marketing.
That’s not a bad ticket to schmooze with the likes of John Reese, Mike Filsaime, Yanik Silver, and dozens of other top Internet business hot shots who have demonstrated success. At least the first two on my list have sold over $1 million of a single product in a single day. Suffice it to say that they are good at what they do and networking with them might be beneficial to your Internet business.
Dozens of top Internet business marketers mailed their lists encouraging people to buy a ticket for the event. After all, they reasoned, it should be fun and its for charity. And then the buzz really started. Paul Galloway took a public stance against it on his BizTools blog because it was at the Playboy Mansion, and that was offensive and demeaning.Â More than 200 people commented on that post.
A week or two later, John Reese sent an email apologizing to his list for having promoted the party. It was an email, but has since been posted at http://www.imnewswatch.com/archives/2007/07/john_reese_send.html. In it he apologizes because he didn’t realize how offensive the marketing for this event was going to be, and so he should not have promoted it. He notes that since he committed to go and others are going because of that, he will keep his word and still attend. He emphasizes that he has always thought of RJ approach to business as offensive and considers RJ’s marketing the antithesis of his own. Nevertheless, he decided to support this event because it was for charity.
And that begs the question. In fact, it begs many questions. In this day and age, when corporations are demanding more for their marketing and charitable dollar (both are equally deductible to a business and in fact, of the two, only the charitable deduction is limited in amount), can offensive marketing ever lead to good fundraising? Is it a good thing to raise money for a good cause if you do so by intentionally or inadvertently offending people? Are their limits to what we should support charitably? And most importantly, aren’t there better ways of raising money for charity?
This question is not just limited to events like this one that are obviously and intentionally controversial. When I was on the leadership team at the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, we had an annual thank you event for our donors. Some years it was open to people who made gifts of any level and others it was limited to gifts of $250 or more. Our volunteer leaders were very involved in decisions and always had the last say.
I believe it was in the spring of 2003, with the Presidential election in full bloom, they decided to bring in Al Franken. Now there is no doubt, Al Franken is a funny guy. But shortly thereafter he became, or attempted to become, the Rush Limbaugh of the left. I say that with respect for both of those personalities, though I have my personal preference for one over the other.Â If you are trying to build a community, even one in which 70-80% tend to elan toward one political party, why would you want to offend the others who you still want in your community? Especially when it does not even relate to your mission? Especially when you are trying to say thank you?
Now it doesn’t matter what my politics are. And it doesn’t matter what I think of the Playboy Mansion or Playboy Enterprises or even the Rich Jerk. It doesn’t matter that I laugh at some of RJ’s stuff as I do some of Ann Colture, Rush Limbaugh, Al Franken, and Steven Colbert. I have a sense of humor, a sense of decency, and many opinions about things in which I have no expertise.
But the truth is that there is an easier way to raise money. A much more ethical and effective way to do so than to promote parties in a mysoginistic way. Although it is not as fun as a party at the playboy mansion, and it is not as fun as writing emails in the character of a rich jerk, The simplest,easiest and most effective way to raise funds for charity is to simply ask.
I’m curious as to how much the Rich Jerk is going to donate from this party? Will he take the cost of rental of the Playboy Mansion out of the proceeds or his pocket? Don’t get me wrong, it is legitimate to take expenses out of the proceeds of an event. But when you are planning the event, you have to take into account those costs and ensure you are still being efficient.
How much might Rich Jerk have raised had he, instead of inviting his extensive network of successful marketing gurus to an event, actually visited them in person and asked them for money to support the charitable cause that he is passionate about? Not efficient enough to visit? Call on the phone. Email and then follow up with a call.
For those who are used to raising $100 a pop, or even $1000, then RJ seems to be doing ok with his event. Who am I to judge his marketing for effectiveness. But I do have the expertise to comment on his fundraising. Give me access to 3 dozen friends who all earn more than a million per year, many of whom earn that per month, and I assure you that your charity will get more than the Rich Jerk is donating from this event. And no one will be offended.
So what am I missing here?