A PR Lesson Stemming from the Aroldis Chapman Acquisition

 

The news business may be changing, but the news cycle remains a powerful tool for getting messages out. Even when the news is bad.

Recently, one of our former pro bono clients, the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic of Chicago (DVLC), has taken a highly dispiriting piece of news and, rather than ignore it or try to play it down, turned it into a campaign that’s not only helping get their message out, but raising serious funds.

While some Chicago Cubs fans cheered in late July when the team acquired (arguably) the best closer in Major League Baseball, others agonized over it. Earlier this season that pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, served a 30-game suspension for domestic violence after reportedly attacking his girlfriend and firing a gun to intimidate her (she later declined to press charges, and he admitted only to shooting a gun at his garage … eight times). Due to conflicting police statements no charges were ever filed against Chapman.

When one of the city’s most beloved, and historically cuddly, sports franchises signs a player who’s been suspended under MLB’s domestic abuse policy it sends all the wrong signals — that women lie about being abused and that even when abuse makes news, the accused abusers can still be richly rewarded at work if they’re good at their jobs (Chapman, who frequently throws a baseball above 100 miles per hour, is certainly good at what he does).

Some fans felt the same way, and one decided to do something about it. A reporter named Caitlin Swieca announced via Twitter that she planned to donate $10 to a domestic-violence organization every time Chapman saved a game. Another local sports reporter Julie DiCaro saw the tweet and suggested that Swieca donate to the DVLC. A cause was born.

Hundreds of people followed Swieca’s lead, and the next thing DVLC Executive Director Margaret Duval knew, she had received a flood of unexpected donations. As the cause picked up steam on social media, with Swieca and other Cubs fans tagging @DVLCChicago and similar local organizations in their conversations, Duval seized on the momentum.

In the week after Chapman’s acquisition, DVLC was all over the local news, and every time local reporters interviewed Swieca she named the DVLC as her organization of choice. Some reporters even reached out to Duval for interviews, resulting in exposure in major news outlets including NBC 5 Chicago and the Chicago Sun Times. Suddenly, the news cycle had shifted toward the anti-abuse advocates.

Duval took it a step further, creating a special fundraising page tied to the campaign’s #pitchin4DV hashtag. She set a clear and strategic fundraising goal of $11,000 — 0.1 percent of Chapman’s annual salary.

“After the rapid fire of donations, I could tell that this would be a great opportunity for us to harness the momentum and use it to reach potential new donors, who care about domestic violence issues but may not have heard of us,” Duval said. “Within the first week of Caitlin’s campaign we decided to set up the fundraising page. We saw that people were tweeting about their donations, so we thought that the page would provide a great visual way for people to make a statement and show that they are making a difference.

“We are brainstorming next steps for this campaign, possibly hosting an event, and are continuing our push via Twitter.”

As of this post, DVLC has raised $4,261 through the #pitchin4DV campaign. That’s nearly a third of the goal, and the Cubs still have a lot of games left to play — plus many more if they go deep in the postseason. They seem certain to do that, especially with their controversial new closer. And the controversy isn’t going away — as the Cubs fired one of their DJs last week for playing a song between innings that was particularly insensitive, given Chapman’s past.

If the Cubs make and eventually win the World Series, it will be the biggest Chicago sports news in decades — and one of the biggest sports stories ever. That Chapman could well look like a hero through such a postseason run might be unsettling for some. But they can take heart that it will mean more exposure, and more funds, for the DVLC and its efforts to stop domestic abuse.

Tana understands the importance of building professional services brands through media relations.

 

Having studied in Japan during college, Tana enjoys traveling abroad to learn about how different cultures approach environmental sustainability and socio-economic issues.