Entertainment marketers love to associate their brands with nonprofit causes: The brand’s financial support benefits the cause, and standing behind a worthy cause reflects well on the brand. There’s no shortage of causes to choose from, but one that really hits home with many in the Hollywood community is Writers In Treatment.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 20.6 million Americans aged 12 or older were classified with substance dependence or abuse in the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That’s the bad news. The good news is that millions of Americans are in recovery. SMHSA defines recovery as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.”
That dovetails nicely with W.I.T.’s goal, which is to produce and present events dedicated to improving the quality of recovery by reducing stigmas associated with alcoholism and addiction. Event proceeds provide scholarships for quality professional care to anyone in writing and publishing facing problems related to addiction. But there’s another purpose to these events.
“People in recovery need events that are more exciting and culturally stimulating than a life under the influence,” says Leonard Buschel, founder and chairman of the organization. “So one of our main goals is to fill that void with fun or spiritually uplifting or thought-provoking entertainment that keeps the mind engaged.”
I had the pleasure of experiencing one of those events—the 4th Annual Experience, Strength and Hope Awards Show—last Friday night. The award went to Duran Duran’s John Taylor for speaking honestly and courageously about his own recovery in his memoir, In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death & Duran Duran. Robert Downey, Jr. presented the award, and a starry crowd—including host Ed Begley Jr., astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, “That ’70s Show”’s Kurtwood Smith, and actor-musician Michael Des Barres—gave the evening both glamour and heft.
Taylor joins previous award recipients Christopher Kennedy Lawford, Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr., and Aldrin.
These events also provide excellent sponsorship opportunities for treatment centers. Since alumni in recovery are the number-one source of referrals for treatment centers, it’s beneficial for them to provide ongoing value to their alumni.
“The same year that we launched the award, we also held one of our other signature events, Chasing the Muse … Stone Cold Sober with host William Moyers of Hazelden, poet Dan Fante, author Mark Ebner, actress Katey Sagal, and ‘Sons of Anarchy’ creator Kurt Sutter,” says Buschel. “In a very smart move, our sponsor for that event, Hazelden, gave all their tickets to local alumni—a lovely way to subtly remind them who they have to thank for their new lives.”
W.I.T. also produces the REEL Recovery Film Festival, a multi-city event (New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Ft. Lauderdale) celebrating films that provide an honest depiction of addiction, alcoholism and recovery. The festival, featuring screenings and symposia, offers direct interaction with filmmakers, addiction specialists, therapists and others who share the common goals of reducing the stigma and helping people get into recovery.
“It’s the perfect venue for all kinds of brands—pharmaceutical companies, treatment centers, studios, broadcast networks, media organizations,” said Buschel. “Recovery is very much in the public eye, and many more brands are eager to support it.”
I asked Buschel to elaborate on that in a recent interview.
What makes your events so special?
“First, we’re very closely connected to the entertainment recovery community,” said Buschel. “We know the people involved on a deep level, so they trust us; they know we’ll be sensitive to their needs.”
As an example, Buschel noted that he doesn’t allow camera crews into his Experience, Strength and Hope Awards Show. “It would spoil the intimacy,” he explains. “The other night, both Robert and John were very candid in their remarks because they knew they were in a safe place. You can’t do that with cameras rolling.”
Cameras were allowed in the reception, however. “John and Robert posed for pictures with Aldrin and our sponsors in front of the step ’n’ repeat, so there were plenty of photo opportunities to give major sponsors excellent visibility—and our celebrities were happy to do it in an organized and controlled area.”
What’s unique from a marketing perspective?
“It’s a great opportunity for two completely different industries—the recovery world and the entertainment universe—to reach a common audience: the 25-to-40-year-old demographic. That’s rare.”
What kinds of perks does a partner get for sponsorship?
“We offer generous packages featuring ads, signage, a sponsor trailer reel shown before each film, email blasts, and tons of great publicity,” says Buschel. “The good-will exposure alone is worth the nominal sponsorship fees.
“But above and beyond that, we offer something valuable for the recovery community: the opportunity to rub shoulders with entertainment icons while strengthening relationships with alumni and other key audiences.
“For the entertainment industry, we provide the chance to get in on the ground floor of annual events that are going to take off in a huge way—the climate is right. Celebrities are speaking up about their own recovery programs and are delighted to participate. More and more talented filmmakers are exploring the subject matter—how could we even have a festival without the content we have today?”
When and where is the next festival?
“October 18–24, we’ll host our 5th Annual REEL Recovery Film Festival in Los Angeles. Among the events in the works is a special showing of the critically acclaimed documentary, “Paul Williams Still Alive,” and we’ve invited Paul Williams to make a special guest appearance. We’ll also be screening “Limitless,” starring Bradley Cooper, whom we’ve invited to speak. And we’ll have a star-studded opening night reception, dozens of film and TV screenings followed by Q&As with filmmakers or clinicians, and a gala closing night party. Now that’s the kind of buzz we can all enjoy!”