NEW YORK When Rich Russo, creative director at Euro RSCG here, read New York's March article "A Night on the Streets" about Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the rising number of homeless in the city, the native New Yorker immediately knew he could bring the words to life in a compelling way: have the homeless themselves read the text in front of a camera for a public service announcement for the Coalition for the Homeless.
The New York nonprofit released the ads to networks this week to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the mayor's pledge to reduce the rate of city homelessness by two-thirds. "Homelessness is the single biggest failure of the Bloomberg administration," begins one man, as the 90-second spot shows a diverse group of homeless people, from older men to young children, reading from the magazine. The spot ends with the voice of actor Alec Baldwin explaining what the organization does and directs viewers to coalitionforthehomeless.org. "And by the way, the average age of a homeless person," he says, as a still portrait of a graying man fades to that of a young boy, "is nine."
"Awareness is everything in this game," said Russo, who hopes the campaign will drum up additional resources for the group, which helps feed, shelter and educate the homeless of New York City. "It's hard" to get people to make donations to unfamiliar nonprofit groups, he added, "especially in this economy."
Russo looked to past and present colleagues to create the pro-bono effort, calling on agency producer Jeff Goodnow, director Gary Langford of Langford Films and editor Jeff Ferruzzo of Outside Editorial to donate their time and resources. The team shot about 90 minutes of footage in one day using the Red One digital camera, which Russo said gives the spots their filmic feel without the cost. "You can't get that [using most digital cameras]," he said. "Very little was touched in post-production."
The footage was cut into several executions for TV and online distribution: the 90-second spot "When All Else Fails" described above, as well as 60-, 30- and 15-second ads. The shorter cuts do not specifically mention the mayor, but instead focus on facts about homeless New Yorkers. So far, according to Russo, CBS has donated time.