As seen on Forbes.com
There’s no more common refrain in marketing than that of the ad agency imploring the client to “do something big.” And yet, how many agencies do you recall actually doing something big? I’m not talking about big commercials, stunts or social programs for the brands they handle. But something big for themselves.
Looking back, I can’t tell you I expected our project to generate 55 million media impressions. Not even close. But I did know that it had the structure, heart and drama to make an impact. And that if executed properly, with a little of the luck that seems to befall all good documentaries, it had the potential to profoundly affect people.
It started with a simple, ad-like proposition: In a world of lines that divide us as people, let’s create one that brings us together. The first question was where to place this line that would unite? I chose the gymnasium floor at Compton High School—specifically the free-throw line, a decision based partly on the fact that my son, Chase, had played basketball with boys from Compton since he was young and partly due to an observation that Compton was probably the most rebuked and vilified community I had ever seen.
The first task was to work out the specifics of the program, which centered around a free-throw contest where the winner would receive at $40,000 scholarship and each of the seven runner’s up a $1,000 scholarship. The key was to ensure that the contest came off as a platform for these amazing kids to share their stories, rather than just another reward for athletic skill. My hope was that during our two weeks of filming, what began as competition would gradually become cooperation. Ultimately, the level of support and kindness these eight boys and girls showed one another rose to a level I could have never even imagined, as those of you who watch the film will inevitably see.
The final hurdle, if you don’t count lawyers, was money and resources. I turned to my agency, WDCW, for both. After an initial round of friends and family fundraising, we were still in desperate need of cash and skilled people to bring the project to life and adequately reward all the contestants. There was no way to justify these investments from a P&L standpoint. There was only the promise of doing something that felt important. And I will be forever proud of my partners for believing that was enough.
You may have heard what transpired during and after the event, as it became the lead story on Yahoo News and one of Bing’s “Decisions That Shaped 2011.” But if not, it’s all here in the eight-minute TED Talk I recently delivered.
And the film, titled “Free Throw,” was just released on Apple iTunes, Amazon, Video On Demand and through our website, Freethrowmovie.com
Ultimately, the size and value of what we accomplished is better judged by someone other than myself. But as I’ve watched this line go from metaphor to a reality, I can say that, personally, I will feel less hypocritical next time I go to one of our clients and ask them to “do something big.”