What I learned about marketing in Maui

In Hawaii, on the island of Maui, is the famous road to Hana. The road winds steeply into the hills, traversing breathtaking forests and views of the Pacific Ocean. About half way up the climb are the “Seven Sacred Pools of Ohe’o,” a group of freshwater pools frequented by local teenagers who jump into them from the surrounding hillsides. The pools are surrounded by jagged rocks, making the jump extremely dangerous. Miss the water by a few feet either way and you wind up seriously injured, or dead.

This is a tragedy waiting to happen. It also happens to be a great marketing opportunity.

If I were a PI lawyer living in the area, I would be making a tremendous amount of noise about the dangers of allowing our children to engage in this behavior. I would demand that the area be fenced off, warning signs be erected, and the area be patrolled by law enforcement personnel.

I would make it my mission to see that these changes occur. In other words, I would turn this into a cause.

To be honest, I didn’t research this and I don’t know what, if any, safety precautions have been instituted or considered. And, for all I know, it may not be as dangerous as it looks to me. Further, no one may be interested in any of my suggestions. But assuming this is not the case, here’s what I would do:

I would send out media releases announcing my concerns and the formation of a committee of like-minded citizens. I would make myself available for interviews by the media, and as a resource to those writing about the subject. I’d go on radio talk shows, give speeches to anyone who would listen, and write editorials for bar journals, newsletters, and local print media.

I would circulate petitions, and encourage my clients and contacts to write letters to state and federal lawmakers, as well as editors of local papers.

I would contact members of Congress, the Governor, and local politicians. I would use my conversations with them as leverage to meet other key people who can either help me further the cause, or introduce me to those who can.

I would contact other influential people in the community – business owners, professionals, civic leaders, publishers – and others who regularly communicate with, advise, or sell to members of the community, and solicit their support in this cause.

I would ask experts to provide proof of the dangers and to analyze the viability of proposed solutions. I would become a distribution point for their white papers and articles, a conduit between them, the media, the politicians, and the community.

I would regularly campaign for the cause in my newsletter. I would ask my colleagues and referral sources to join me in urging their clients and customers and employees to support the cause. I would provide them with background materials they could use in their newsletters.

I would purchase bumper stickers, placards, and leaflets to support the “campaign.” If money were needed, I’d consider organizing fund raising events.

I’d set up a web site dedicated to the cause. I’d invite concerned citizens to subscribe to our online newsletter, so they can learn the latest news affecting our cause. They would be asked to invite their friends to sign up.

On the web site, photographs of the Seven Pools would depict the dangers. I’d include quotes from people whose kids were injured, and quotes from experts. I’d put reprints of articles in which I was interviewed, and copies of the articles, letters, e-mails, and media releases I’d written or received. I’d put links to e-mail addresses of politicos, along with template letters and suggested language anyone could use to voice their concerns. And a “guest book” so visitors could sign an online petition.

And I would make sure that my clients and referral sources and everyone else in my target market knows about everything I have done in furtherance of the cause. 

As a result of all this, everyone with whom I communicated about the cause would hear what I do for a living, and be told how to get in touch with me. I wouldn’t do any blatant selling of my services, but let them know my credentials and professional interests in the cause. (My opinion means more because of those credentials.) I’d let it be known that of all the injuries I have seen in my work, the ones that are the most troubling are the ones sustained by children, and I am motivated by an abiding desire to protect children from such injuries.

Every letter, every e-mail, every fax, would have my name and phone number and web site address on it. Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people would hear my name and associate it with the righteous cause of protecting children from harm.

As a result of this activity, I would gain access to scores of influential people, people I would not have access to but for the cause. I would gain credibility with and become familiar to countless others, many of whom would see me as a minor celebrity, someone they would be privileged to know. The attention I generate would serve to open doors to the very best referral sources (high powered doctors, for example), and the publicity would, I am sure, attract clients with serious injury cases.

I would do something good for the community, and I would benefit, too.

And you can do the same.

First, look for a problem in your target market. It could be potential, like the attractive nuisance of The Seven Pools, or actual, such as a bill pending in Congress that will seriously affect your clients’ industry. It should be something that will have widespread support in your target market, yet not necessarily without contrary opinion.

It should be something that cannot be fixed with a single phone call, but rather something that calls for a concerted effort, requiring you to rally support from those in or connected to your target market. You need time to build momentum, and whether the cause is won or not, you need an opponent that will provide you with a good fight. So choose something where there will be some opposition. This could be an idealist truly opposed to your vision, someone with a financial stake in the outcome, or it could simply be bureaucracy, apathy, or a lack of tax dollars.

Most of all, it should be something you sincerely and passionately believe in. Don’t choose a cause solely because of the marketing possibilities. Your mercenary motives will be exposed, and you will depicted as a greedy opportunist, not a hero.

Some would say that the cause should be reward enough, that there is something wicked about seeking to promote yourself this way. I say the more prosperous we are, the more we can do to make the world a better place.

There is no shortage of causes in this world. Some are better than others in terms of what you can do with them, but with a little effort, you should be able to identify something that will allow you to “do well by doing good.”

If you can’t find a cause, or if you lack the organizational skills or time necessary to properly champion it, team up with someone who targets the same market and shares your interest. Or, join someone else’s cause. Serve where you can. Help where it is needed. The contacts and experience you gain are invaluable, and can well prepare you to lead the next cause.