The Ineffectiveness of Spokes-Celebrities

If you’ve been in education advocacy or public engagement long enough, odds are you’ve had this conversation many times.

The discussion starts off with a question. How do we get (parents, teachers, leaders, anyone) to notice what we are doing? How do we really change minds?

Then someone offers up this “golden” solution. We need a celebrity to speak on our behalf. Like Bill Cosby. Or Oprah. Or … who’s that person?

And you venture down that rabbit hole to discuss those spokes-celebrities who could take on your cause. Someone respected. Someone known. Someone you don’t need to worry about being on TMZ in a month. And you usually someone somebody else knows through a friend of a college friend.

If you are lucky, the conversation ends there. If not, you spend weeks trying to get in touch with agents or friends of friends or their accountant’s college roommate’s cousin. Soon, you are back to the drawing board. No spokes-celebrity and just an advocacy effort that must rise or fall on its merits, on the strength of its evidence, and on your ability to convince folks its the right thing to do.

Why is this important? Last week, the Belfast Telegraph ran an article telling us the truth we choose to ignore. Celebrities are not effective in truly representinf non-profits and rallying the public to a cause.

This should really come as no surprise. When the special education movement had its most significant impact, it was because of grassroots efforts, not celebrities. You didn’t see movie stars touting NCLB, and you certainly don’t see pop stars or pseudo-celebs changing any minds when it comes to Common Core, either for or against.

And even while Campbell Brown is raising hackles over teacher tenure or Eduflack’s often cited doppelgänger Louis CK is harping on tests, they aren’t increasing public awareness or converting the unconverted. No, they are preaching to choirs and inspiring the opposition.

So before you go down the spokes-celebrity path, take the time and money and invest in some quality research. Or a solid public engagement campaign. Or a way to better translate complex education data to busy parents. Or even a way to get parents better involved, in a positive way, in their kids’ educations.

Unless you happen to be offering Katy Perry or Salma Hayek or or Gabriele Union or Tina Fey as your spokes-celebrity. Then I’m all for it, and Eduflack will be right there to help you out.

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