Plugging Away: This Is a Self Promotion

For those of us in the industry who annually suffer a hangover after the marketing binges of the holiday season - from both creating and consuming an excess of brand messages - there is an antidote. And I'm not talking Advil.

Do the right thing.

Even at the risk of being totally gratuitous, in this column - for the first time - I will shamelessly plug a deal we are working on at Fathom Communications. Some people might call the project I am about to describe as pro bono work. Good deeds are a surefire cure for the pangs of a guilty conscience; however, this particular campaign is not pure bono, it's a sort of hybrid, mixing charitable work with effective entertainment marketing. We like to call it a case of "worthy-cause marketing." We are starting the New Year by putting our best foot forward, literally.

Dancing Classrooms was launched in 1994 by world-renowned ballroom dancers Pierre Dulaine and Yvonne Marceau. It is a not-for-profit project of the American Ballroom Theater Company based in New York, designed to bring social awareness, confidence and self-esteem to children. How do they do it? By teaching ballroom dancing to students at inner-city schools as part of the curriculum. Kids who are more familiar with the solipsistic gyrations of break dancing on pavement and cardboard are taught by Dulaine and his team how to hold on to a partner, to have physical, social contact with another person, and elegantly rhumba across a parquet floor.

If you've seen the award-winning documentary Mad Hot Ballroom, you are familiar with Dulaine and his program. Mad Hot is about Dancing Classrooms students participating in a New York City-wide dance competition. Or you may have seen Antonio Banderas as Pierre in New Line Cinema's biopic, Take the Lead. Dulaine has been personally training kids and ballroom-dancing teachers in over 180 New York City schools and is now stepping out. The program is expanding beyond the metropolitan New York area: They've already been doing the soft shoe in Newark, Dallas, Fort Worth, Omaha, Chicago and Toronto, and now they plan to jive in 20 other markets across the country, and they are looking for a corporate sponsor or two to help them. The sponsorship can be a tax write-off as a charitable donation, but this donation does not just create good will, it provides a platform for the sponsoring brand in all 20 plus markets including the New York metropolitan area.

Corporate sponsors really become dance partners with Dancing Classrooms. They are allowed use of program logos in marketing materials and media support. There is brand inclusion on all school collateral and merchandise. Recognition and company profiles appear in all Dancing Classrooms press releases and media outreach. The brand is included in Dancing Classrooms' biannual newsletter to 2,000 supporters.

A sponsor thus gets a presence in important regional markets while also participating in the organization's national profile. Fathom has also teamed up with New Line Television to offer sponsors a first-look chance to bring Take the Lead, a reality show based on the motion picture to life on cable or network television. The show, developed by New Line, is about 12 troubled teens in the Dancing Classrooms program - kids who are taught how to dance with partners and compete for awards. You might describe it as Brat Camp meets So You Think You Can Dance. Brands have an opportunity to be sponsors of the series and become integrated into the programming.

Pierre Dulaine is one of the most charming personalities one can imagine meeting. It's no wonder New Line created a film about his life - it is a charmed life. His enthusiasm and humor is infectious. He is an artist and entertainer, and a good citizen who has dedicated his life to teaching young people.

"What we're really teaching is responsibility in life, and being nice and respectful to each other," says Dulaine. "Ballroom dancing really gives that to people. We are teaching them to take a bow. When you take a bow that means that you've excelled at something." Pierre Dulaine is the perfect partner for a brand that needs to brush up on its steps, and at the moment his dance card is open.

The tagline for Mad Hot Ballroom says it best: Anyone can make it if they know how to shake it.

Richard Linnett is director of entertainment marketing at Fathom Communications. (richard.linnett@fathomcommunications.com)

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