What’s the big idea?

I’m a fan of former Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper. In a world where the UN has become a breeding ground for contempt against Israel, watching Prime Minister Harper stand up and defend Israel made me proud. So when the Prime Minister came to speak to the Jewish community in Montreal, I was excited, but also nervous — would he receive the audience and the welcome he deserved?

Sure, people would want to hear the Prime Minister speak, but is that a big enough event — a large enough contact on their radar screens — to cause them to commit to coming? Maybe. But “Maybe” is really never good enough to ensure success. Fortunately, Rabbi Saul Emanuel, the Executive Director of the VAAD of Montreal who invited the Prime Minister to speak, was wise enough to hire a professional to help with promoting his event. 

My friend Emmanuel Amar and I worked together on this to come up with a big idea. As Napoleon so aptly said: “small plans do not inflame the hearts of men.” We had to transform “just another speech” into a once in a lifetime event. Something that would compel attendance. Secondly, we had to confront the ugly truth of marketing: ads can’t create energy and emotion, they can only tap into it. Hype is what happens when ads try to create their own energy. Persuasion is what happens when ads tap into a pre-existing desire.

So what was the desire that we could tap into?  And how could that be channeled into making Prime Minister Harper’s arrival a must-attend event? It was simple. It was why I was excited Mr. Harper was coming in the first place: here was a man who used his position and influence to take a principled and unflinching stand to defend Israel and Judaism within a political environment that was sickeningly anti-Semitic. 

So we made the event about THAT.

Once we hit on that, coming up with the Big Idea was easy. We would make the event about awarding the Prime Minister a medal for his defense of Israel. He would be the inaugural recipient of the King David Award (a name we made up for this event), for the defense of all things good in the world. 

With that, the regular old speaking event transformed into a must-attend, big-deal award ceremony.  It was a smash hit. A smash hit to the point where Chief Rabbanim from around the world sent videos of congratulations. Even the Israeli Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, sent a video of congratulations. The gala was sold out weeks in advance. I was told that Mr. Harper teared up while watching the main video of the evening.

The head of the Prime Minister's advanced security team told me that Mr. Harper was "elated" at the way the event turned out.

By the time I woke up the next morning I received this note:

“The thanks goes to you Morty for all the hard work and effort you put into the evening, including the videos! I am grateful for the collaboration.”
Farhaan Ladhani, Senior Advisor, Digital Outreach, Office of the Prime Minister (of Canada)

The marketing message became the powerful motivator we hoped it would.

Below are the videos we created to honor PM Harper.

Rabbis from around the world give Prime Minister Harper their most heartfelt thanks. This video was shown during the event.

PM Harper shows his support to the Jewish Community throughout the years. This video was shown during the event.


The impact of Confidence

No one will buy from you unless you've given them the confidence to buy. Confidence is never driven by either intellect or logic alone, you need both ingredients.

So the question becomes: How can you move from giving your prospects knowledge only, to giving them an emotionally-driven conviction to buy? 

Nowhere does this question manifest itself more than at business and non-profit events where you can clearly see failures on both sides of the spectrum — failures by just presenting information and failures by concentrating exclusively on entertainment and emotion.

The info-only types skimp on location, time, food, music, and choreography. The entertainment-only types skimp on sales messages, persuasion, and generally asking for the sale.

Azorim Development is the largest real estate developer in Eretz Yisroel. Mr. Hershey Friedman is the majority shareholder. His son-in-law, Yanky Klein, brilliantly recognized the need to address both these aspects for their events after attending some of our Tzedaka events.

Over the next year, Azorim had a 10-fold increase in sales from these events.



Here's how we did this: Instead of boring guests with endless speakers, we trimmed the presentations to a short handful of high-impact speakers and videos.

Instead of trying to save money by limiting the attendance of Azorim personnel, the company flew in half a dozen key people to attend the event, lend their support and influence attendees.

Instead of focusing solely on rational arguments, Azorim balanced emotional and rational appeals to ensure they not only supplied a logical argument for the purchase of their properties, but an emotional conviction to buy as well.



When attendees entered the venue they were offered their choice of scotch and wine and were served everything from sushi to sliders. The evening began with some entertainment and then Yanky passionately emcee'd the evening, moving quickly from presentation to entertainment and then to well-crafted videos. Attendees left on a high, primed to purchase.

After hearing from Mr. Friedman and the company's CEO, Mr. Dror Nagel, and watching the video presentations, buyers had the confidence they needed.





This concept doesn't only apply to events; it is just more evident in that environment. Giving people the logical and emotional aspects of confidence is the difference between wondering why sales didn’t close and counting your influx of cash. This applies to every aspect of your business.

We showed this video at the event itself as a means of communicating Azorim's commitment to quality and showcasing the different prestigious projects Azorim has to offer. Listen as Hershey Friedman, Chairman of Azorim Developments, talks about the Azorim Philosophy.

We created the following video to persuade people to attend this exclusive event for their chance to own a piece of Israel and some Azorim luxury.


Borrowed Interest VS Call To Arms

The Yeshiva Gedola of Montreal held annual fundraising dinners often but not every year. The reason they weren’t more consistent about it was because the dinners were only mildly successful financially. About five years ago, the President of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Dovid Rothchild, asked me to get involved in upgrading their dinner efforts.

Besides upgrading the event itself to an operationally successful and enjoyable experience, we focused on the messaging for both the advertising and the evening itself. Many organizations expect me to advertise the event, to promote the entertainment for the event or come up with some catchy tagline. Fortunately for the Yeshiva Gedola of Montreal, that’s not what we did, because what we did worked. Perfectly.

Our ads promoted the school and the school’s mission, rather than the event.

Our ads focused on what was authentic and true about the Yeshiva rather than trying to use “borrowed interest” from event entertainment or some gimmicky tagline.

Our ads formed a human connection between the people at the school and the reader.

One year we highlighted Rabbis from Kindergarten through Grade 11: each week focusing on a different rabbi. We captured modern black and white pictures of each and every rabbi. Next to each picture we had the rabbi write one paragraph to explain what’s special about his class.

Of course, the skeptical person might look at these pictures and think: well that’s all well and good for long-term branding, but how is that going to help the fundraising effort? Answer: the more people identify with and wish to support the organization’s mission, the more readily they’ll open their wallets to show their support. 

In the first year, we ran ads that focused on the Yeshiva’s message, we raised 10x more money than the previous year. The ads were a smashing success, to the point where the elementary boys were cutting them out of the local magazines and hanging them on their walls and making photo albums from them.

Advertising great Lee Clow has been quoted as saying “any ad can have a call to action, but only a great ad can have a call to arms.” I agree, and think that’s the real difference between these ads and the typical charity event ad. Typically, charity event ads have an over hyped call to action around buying tickets but these ads had a call to arms that rallied the community around the mission and identity of the school. 

Now you may be wondering how all this applies to you. Here’s how: stop wasting money on boring ads that have pictures of all the honorees but have no emotional impact. Stop advertising the entertainment then neglect to tell readers why your organization is one valuable enough to deserve their money. You may instinctively think that the mundane organization or business might not be exciting or cool enough to advertise which may tempt you to use “borrowed interest” from the entertainment or honorees. Don’t do that. Focus instead on what makes you meaningful. Start with the authentic truth about what you do and the value you provide. 

And finally, try finding that human connection rather than forcing a false sense of urgency. It may be easy when spending money on an ad to want to see results right away, and therefore shout at customers that they must “act now”, but I promise you’ll find that a timeless and authentic call to arms will work better over the long term than an over hyped and time limited call to action. 


Focus on Starfish

Once upon a time, a wise man was walking along the shore the morning after a fierce storm. Starfish and shells were washed up on the shore for miles in either direction. As the man looked down the beach, he saw a young man reaching down, picking up starfish and throwing them back into the ocean.

 "Good morning!” the old man called out. “May I ask what it is that you are doing?" The young man replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean. If I don't throw them in, they'll die." "But, young man, there are miles and miles of beach all covered in starfish… You can't possibly make a difference!"

 At this, the young man picked up another starfish, threw it, and just as it plunked into the ocean, said, "It made a difference for that one.” 

 So why do I tell you this parable? Because when it comes to charity fundraising, it’s crucial to realize that your audience starts out thinking like the old man, and it becomes your job as the advertiser to transform their perspective to that of the young man’s. It might seem obvious when I say it like that but most charities do the opposite. They talk about the scope and magnitude of the problem they’re addressing, in order to help people understand how great the need really is. But this is akin to showing the old man the miles of beach strewn with starfish. Instead of motivating, it’s actually demoralizing. 

 So when Rabbi Leifer had me help his fundraising efforts for Yaldei, his special needs organization in Montreal, Canada, I knew right from the start that we had to focus on the individual starfish and not the miles and miles of beach.

As an entrepreneurial genius, Rabbi Leifer understood why we needed to do this.  I’ll also say that Rabbi Liefer’s faith and willingness to go big and take the advice of experts are a few of the many reasons he went from running Yaldei out of his basement to owning a 43,000 square foot state-of-the-art premises, where he runs one of the most sophisticated special needs operations on the planet.

We convinced parents to let us tell their children's story in Yaldei’s ads. Each advertisement focused on the milestone success of that child and the annual cost to make that happen. We promoted these stories like a political campaign, with posters, newsletters, lawn signs and billboards.

That night, 1550 people showed up and they raised far more money than any ever before. All because we focused on the starfish instead of the beach.