How celebrity ambassadors help end polio

By Gabriela Simionato Klein, communications consultant at Rotary International

We are now “This Close” to achieving a polio-free world, and many public figures and celebrities have agreed to help Rotary spread the word.  More than 40 world figures including Bill Gates, Archie Panjabi, Ziggy Marley, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Jane Goodall are taking part in Rotary’s “This Close” campaign. Many organizations seek celebrity ambassadors and many notables see the benefit – professional and personal – in this kind of relationship. This is not a strategy unique to Rotary but how do those celebrities make a difference?

At the beginning of April, I accompanied our Brazilian ambassador, supermodel and mother Isabeli Fontana, on her press trip with Rotary. It was a great experience to see our organization’s impact on the country’s polio eradication process firsthand and to get a better understanding of how much our ambassadors can help.

(Right to left) Isabeli Fontana, Gabriela Klein and Monica Lages, the model’s manager.

(Right to left) Isabeli Fontana, Gabriela Klein and Monica Lages, the model’s manager.

This was not my first time working with Isabeli. The launch of her partnership with Rotary, at a party donated by a Brazilian fashion house, generated impressive press coverage in fashion and entertainment outlets, a niche in which our stories don’t usually receive space. Rotary and its battle for polio eradication graced the pages of Vogue, Rolling Stone and Harper’s Bazaar.

The event created a fundraising opportunity in partnership with the model and with fashion label TUFI DUEK.  An End Polio Now t-shirt customized by the house designer, Edu Pombal, was auctioned off for almost $90,000 in support of polio eradication efforts. To date, the communications support we have received from Isabeli and her partners has presented Rotary’s work to millions of followers, and informing new audiences of Rotary’s role.

This effect was also seen in India, where Isabeli energized health workers at a regional meeting and, during a school visit, informed kids, teachers and parents of the importance of vaccination and healthy habits for a better life. More than that, the experience made her more knowledgeable and committed. She came back looking for even more possibilities to help in an impactful way.

But Isabeli’s chosen path is not the only one. Personal preferences, different reasons for involvement and work schedules determine how each ambassador makes his or her mark. Several musician ambassadors donated their songs and performed for a special CD, with proceeds raised being donated to Rotary International’s End Polio Now campaign.   Others donated their time for our organization, using their fame or leveraging their talent to promote our message when talking at high-level events or with the press.

How can you help? Research ambassadors who are relevant in your area and learn their preferences for possible supporting activities.Find ways to leverage their influence and consider their roles in your plans.  Identify potential national or international ambassadors with whom you have a personal connection, and suggest their name to the communications team or your staff liaison in Evanston. Ideal ambassadors have strong social media channels; they are popular, very active and have a positive impact in the community. They are willing to work with Rotary – not just by posing for a picture, but by truly embracing the cause as their own. With wide-ranging support, they can help Rotary raise awareness in the final push to end polio.

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