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Lessons in Traditional PR. . . From a 14-Year-Old Philanthropist

This story originally appeared on Business on Main

In 2011, at age 13, Julien Leitner launched the Archimedes Alliance with a 100-second video appeal that opened with a simple question and answer: “What’s it cost to change the world? Two bucks.”

Archimedes Alliance

Waving a photo in front of his webcam, he made his case. “This guy,” he explained, “is Archimedes. He said, ‘Give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and I can move the earth.’ You are the lever. If I get 10 people to give two bucks and each of them gets 10 people to give two bucks and that happens just four more times, then you and I have a $2 million lever.”

So far, with a big assist from traditional media publicity, he’s collected nearly $17,000 toward his goal of raising $2 million for a worthy organization, chosen by the donors. “ allows us to maintain activity,” he says, “but publicity in traditional media gives the biggest jumps that we see.”

How he gets that publicity is a success story with lessons small businesses can put to good use.

Numbers prove the point

According to Leitner, the Archimedes Alliance launched with an email campaign to “everyone we knew,” but it took traditional publicity “to really get the ball rolling.”

“Around the holidays in 2011, we got a bunch of attention from KGW, KXL and KATU,” he says, reeling off the call letters of the biggest television stations in his home state of Oregon. “We went from $5,000 to $13,000 in one week.”

Features in statewide newspapers and magazines followed, as did posts in dozens of blogs and a feature in Wired magazine that included the line “I love this kid’s moxie.”

Moxie he’s got in spades. He’s also got spot-on instincts for reaching and leveraging media outlets to spread the word about how much good two bucks can do.

“Social media allows us to maintain steady low activity,” he says. “It’s immediate and keeps people aware. But if people aren’t in the space of mind to donate or share, they see it and it’s gone. Plus, it’s generated by us. Traditional media shows we’re getting attention and are relevant. It adds a different level of hype.”

I’m quoting a 14-year-old word for word. Here’s what else he knows.

Networking is the new publicity trigger

“A social media expert who I contacted for advice had a friend who was compelled and said, ‘Hey, I can get you into this conference.’ So in November, I gave a five-minute talk at Portland State University’s conference about how philanthropy can be done through this formula of getting a lot of people to give a little money. Afterwards, a guy from KGW came up and asked if in a few weeks they could send over a reporter. After that, I sometimes had two interviews a day and we raised like $11,000.”

Set your story apart

“If you’re unique, even if you’re kind of out there, you have a better chance of being noticed and becoming known. If you follow the standard formula, if you’re basically saying, ‘Donate — we’re good,’ you’re part of a standard and nothing sets you apart. The two-bucks idea is nontraditional. It empowers anyone to make a difference and draws people in.”

Know your talking points

“Most interviewers ask, ‘Why?’ ‘What effect?’ ‘How long?’ ‘What was your inspiration?’ I don’t wing it, but I answer naturally, and I know I need to say, ‘Go to the website.’ It’s the final-stage contact. It’s where people go to donate and get the info they might need. It helps them make the decision, and I need people to pass it along.”

Reach high

“The ultimate mission is to go viral. That’s a pretty lofty goal, but we need it to go national or global. A perfect world would be coverage on something like ‘The Ellen [DeGeneres] Show,’ or a major picking it up, or a major name tweeting it. What would come out of coverage like that is the Archimedes Alliance would become more self-sustaining. It would still take a lot of effort, but it would spread on its own.”

Leitner closes with his aim in mind: “For every person who sees [our message], a few donate and send it along. We need to get to a lot of people.” For that, the reach and credibility of traditional media is his lever.

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