Be direct. As a Brit, I tend to be overly diplomatic and obtuse, so when I used to say “that’s interesting,” it meant that’s an idea or plan that doesn’t resonate with me. Now I just say what I mean.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Katz.
Paul Katz is a social entrepreneur, music veteran, multiple Grammy nominee, and UK attorney who has worked with major artists and overseen music for Oscar winning films. For nearly two decades, through his company Entertain Impact, Paul has utilized pop culture and engaged influencers in marketing and advocacy campaigns for causes.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in a loving home in suburban London, where I spent most of my school days playing soccer and listening to music. I started my own DJ business at 13 years old, and continued spinning through my undergraduate, postgrad, and law school days. By the time I left high school, I had applied to work at EMI Records, the Beatles label, six times, and eventually worked at EMI when I first qualified as a UK attorney. My mantra has always been follow your passion, not the money, and music was my first love. That’s what took me to the US nearly four decades ago.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
I was not particularly philanthropic-focused as a kid but was an avid reader. The book that opened up my worldview as a 15-year-old was the novel “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Set in a Soviet labor camp in the early 1950s, the story follows Ivan Denisovich Shukhov an ordinary prisoner, wrongly imprisoned during Stalin’s reign of terror for one day. Noble Prize winner in Literature Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned in a Soviet gulag as a dissident, so the book is largely based on his own experience and is more potent. The book made me uncomfortable and appreciative of my situation. I even went to the kitchen and, for my breakfast, slowly ate a small piece of bread dipped in water, which was the prisoner’s ration on a good day. The book was the catalyst for me to join Amnesty International, especially their letter-writing campaign to free political prisoners and to become involved in the field of Human Rights.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I have made plenty of mistakes but don’t have a good answer for this one. Perhaps one is when I multitasked and sent a text to a musician that I didn’t check before sending. I found later that my message was auto spell-checked to say “you’re a moron artist” rather than what I intended, namely, “you’re a major artist.” From these faux-pas, I applied a lesson from the late teacher and peace activist Thich Na Han, that I still use today. If I want to do things well, I focus only on one thing at a time. A second lesson I learned was if you have a problem, it is easier to deal with it early than procrastinate or avoid confronting the situation altogether. Otherwise, your problem grows bigger. This mistake, though, had a happy ending. I called the musician and explained what had happened. We laughed and remained good friends to this day.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
I often bridge and translate between the worlds of entertainment, business, and philanthropy when creating or facilitating cause and advocacy campaigns for nonprofits or businesses. For our campaigns, my agency Entertain Impact, specializes in engaging committed influencers whom we do not normally pay since our research reveals they are passionate about the particular cause we are approaching them to support. An influencer is a public figure that is culturally appropriate for your stakeholders or desired audiences. Influencers that have supported our campaigns include actors, musicians, athletes, celebrities, social media creators, corporate leaders, and icons. I have plenty of research, my own, industry and academic, that shows the measurable positive impact influencers have on raising awareness, support, revenues, and driving audiences to act.
With “Good Influence — how to engage influencers for purpose or profit,” my immediate aim is to infuse organizations of any size anywhere in the world, through stories and practical, actionable steps, with the knowledge and confidence to work with influencers to enable them to meet and exceed their goals. By doing so effectively and economically for philanthropic purposes, the organizations, their people, and all of us can benefit.
On a longer-term basis, I want to create, grow, and build capacity for a new field called “Cause Influence,” which employs popular culture for social change. Cause Marketing is now a $2B+ business, and there is no reason why Cause Influence cannot provide similar significant economic opportunity and social impact over the coming decades.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
What I do in part is wrap up serious subjects in entertaining packages, so my book is filled with interesting stories of campaigns with influencers that inform while being enjoyable and inspiring to read. We have positive stories from campaigns involving Usher, Kevin Bacon, Angelique Kidjo, Mark Cuban, Queen Noor, Shaq, A.R. Rahman, Archie Panjabi, Ziggy Marley, and so many others.
I particularly like our campaign for the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, part of the National Trust, preserves and protects historical places overlooked in American history that represent centuries of African American activism, achievement, and resilience. One such place was Nina Simone’s three-room childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina, which had been bought in a dilapidated state by four African American visual artists. Entertain Impact engaged influencers and partners in the campaign to raise funds to restore the home with plans for artist residencies, community events, and tours. We reached out to influencers who had recorded or were influenced by Nina’s music or inspired by her civil rights work. So beloved and respected is Nina that the response was overwhelming, with all influencers donating their time, social media, memorabilia, and in one anonymous case, money to the campaign. The lead for our press release was John Legend, who was soon joined by Yusuf/Cat Stevens, Talib Kweli, SZA, Patti Labelle, Earl Sweatshirt, Mahershala Ali, and Issa Rae. Sony Music and the Recording Academy were also involved.
With the right research, you can identify influencers that will join your cause for free because they care and whose audiences combined on social media are in the hundreds of millions. Then, with a little bit of luck, you may go viral. For this campaign, the rapper Noname changed the # for the campaign to #Save NinaCrib, which went viral and attracted much media attention and additional influencers like dancer extraordinaire Misty Copeland and Oscar-winning film director Barry Jenkins. The campaign not only exceeded its fundraising goal but reached a broader and younger audience than was the norm for the National Trust.
Link to the video.
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
There wasn’t one aha moment. It was more the effect of an accumulation of asks over the years from small philanthropic organizations that wanted our help in engaging influencers for their worthy causes. While we would have liked to help and often gave pro-bono consultations, due to bandwidth issues we simply couldn’t offer in-depth help.
This was disturbing to me since I wanted to help them beyond a free consultation. I recalled my days in the 1990s as a member of the Board of Witness, the human rights organization founded by musician Peter Gabriel to utilize technology for human rights. Initially, Witness took on projects and did an excellent job but could only carry out a select number of projects that often lasted multiple years. This prompted a change of strategy. Going forward, Witness would use its resources to train other organizations and human rights, workers. They held workshops, trainings and created a curriculum with videos. The results have been a proliferation in the number of projects that were created by multiple players in the space and whose scale has far outpaced anything that Witness could do on its own, even if it grew ten-fold.
Taking the Witness model, I decided the best way to transmit my experience, stories, case studies, and 5 step D.R.E.A.M. method was to write “Good Influence” and to provide several resources on the book’s website goodinfluencebook.com. I felt that with the knowledge and the confidence this book creates, smaller and mid-size organizations could do what I do irrespective of size and location by utilizing, what I call, the Influencer Effect to reach desired and often difficult reach audiences to further their mission.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Our mission is to do the maximum good for the most people, so our work impacts many people. For example, a recent Vaccine Equity campaign with the World Health Organization with a $1M match from The ELMA Vaccines and Immunization Foundation launched with Elton John raised an additional $1.76M resulting in over 500,000 vaccines being bought.
I will always remember a young girl I first met in the cancer ward at Saint Damen Pediatric Hospital in Haiti. The hospital has the only cancer ward for children in the country. An institution that is the best hospital in the country, founded by Father and Doctor Rick Frechette 25+ years ago, takes in for free over 3,000 mothers and children each year who would not otherwise be able to afford medical treatment. Today run by Haitian Doctors, it employs over 400 doctors, nurses, and support staff. Our campaign raised enough money to buy new medical equipment that helped that young girl go into remission, and today, over four years later, she is still in good health.
In my book, there are many examples of continents, countries, regions, and communities being affected by our work with clients like Rotary International, the American Diabetes Association, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but ultimately our collective work with our clients facilitate better lives for individuals and gives them greater agency over their future.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The Chinese philosopher Laozi says that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Maybe so, but these days, we need a GPS to guide us through the complexity, tsunami of information, and cacophony of noise that envelopes us each day. Hopefully, through active listening, communication, and cooperation, we can find the common ground that unites us. My theory of change is that popular culture leads to revised values, new behaviors, and policies that reflect this reality. There are many examples of civil, environmental, and gender rights.
For the work we do, the prevailing attitude of kindness and compassion, coupled with pragmatism, can be applied to communities, society, and politicians, and specifically, I’d like to suggest:
- Communities can continue to organize around the fields of education and youth development. The work we do with ELMA Music and Youth Development Alliance funding music programs to bring youth into community centers, e.g., the Door in New York or A Place Called Home in Los Angeles, so they can receive health, education, and other wrap-around services. This program has 18,000 young people enrolled in several cities, but we are looking to expand into other cities, such as Atlanta. So, if you know of any candidates, please contact me.
- Our elected leaders at a Federal, State, and City level from all sides of the spectrum can come together around the key issues of our day, such as climate change, increasing funding for social services, and protecting our democracy. A campaign we did a few years ago was aimed to roll back then President Trump’s executive order to allow ranching and drilling on vast sways of public lands called National Monuments. We worked in part with the Green Tea Party, a branch of the Tea Party that wanted to preserve the land for our children. While we may not have agreed on other issues, we found common ground on this one, and we, along with other organizations, were successful in having the executive order rescinded.
- Society is an immense concept to grasp, but I’d like to see people get more involved in issues and help by volunteering and funding the programs. We have a program for identifying causes that influencers are passionate about, finding the right nonprofit for them, and mapping out an effective program for them to work together. This process can be found in my book and its website and applied to every individual and organization. I encourage, per Laozi, that each of us can take the first step.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership, to me, is hiring brighter people than yourself and giving them the freedom to create. I am more into a cooperative and co-build model, which includes mentorship, than a hierarchical one. You may make more mistakes this way, but you get better results, encouraging people to grow to be the best versions of themselves.
In the music space, I am on the board of and deeply involved with, Black-owned and run music group, Made in Memphis Entertainment. Founded by Hall of Fame Songwriter David Porter and serial entrepreneur and minister Tony Alexander, MIME consists of music distribution, recording studios, music publishing, and synchronization for the film and tv business. While a commercial business, as important is MIME’s social mission which is to provide opportunities to young people from under-resourced communities, including BIPOC, who have all the ability but not the social networks to get into the music business. Leadership here is growing the next generation of music executives by hiring people that may not get a job in the mainstream music industry but who, through training, caring, and real-life experience, have the opportunity for a life-changing career. MIME alumni have successful careers with many music companies, creative, marketing, or business executives.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Be direct. As a Brit, I tend to be overly diplomatic and obtuse, so when I used to say “that’s interesting,” it meant that’s an idea or plan that doesn’t resonate with me. Now I just say what I mean.
- Move and groove: While you can never have the experience of the people you deal with or are the focus of your work, by not staying in an office, you do yourself and that work a disservice. By going to them in the field, you understand more, interact in a meaningful way, and co-build with them solutions. I have been to Haiti several times to support Saint Damien’s Pediatric Hospital. By meeting the staff, mothers, and kids, when crafting campaigns for them, I come from a place of empathy and knowledge that makes me and our campaign an ambassador for the hospital and the incredible work they do with limited resources.
- Cashflow: I enjoy the strategy and campaign execution work. However, I learned that cash flow is important in running a business and different from profit and loss. What has been amazing is that each client for over 15 years has paid, but sometimes several months late, so you need to focus on cash flow or you’ll be dipping into your own funds.
- Listen: People are the heart and brains of what my company does. I have gotten much better over the years at assessing people. Initially, despite speaking the Queen’s English, I didn’t pick up the nuances of US English, and this caused confusion. The first floor in England is the ground floor in the US. So always actively listen, educate yourself on the cultural nuances, and at the very least, you won’t get lost as much☺.
- Measure your impact: this is the holy grail for my work since I want to have my time make a difference for my work and my clients. We now measure rigorously. Recently we completed an awareness campaign, “We Are The Solution,” for the U.S. organization of ALIMA, an international medical humanitarian aid organization. Through our and Alima’s team’s efforts, we increased followers by X, and average open rate for emails was X more than ALIMA’s average. We also drove people to their website at 6 times the prior record. These stats help raise money, morale and move the mission forward.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek answer and a quote I made up from my 25+ years of Buddhist practice. It reads: “We are all going to die; we don’t know when and now is an excellent time to learn the piano.”
The lesson in this is don’t procrastinate, be proactive and act today. Whether it’s devoting more time to your family, hobby, business, or philanthropic cause, don’t leave this to the future. This maxim has served me well by providing the impetus to start my own business 17+ years ago, write my book and start a nonprofit, the Advocacy Alliance, dedicated to getting out the vote.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
There are so many people that I’d like to sit down and break bread with that I’d probably put on a few lbs. But if I had to only choose one group, I’d have dinner with Michelle Alexander — author of the New Jim Crow, Ava DuVernay — director of the documentary 13th, and Bryan Stevenson — founder of the Equal Justice Project. Apart from being great creators of books, films, and human rights organizations, the biggest stain on the US is the centuries-old derogatory treatment of Black people, which continues to this day. I want to know what they feel the next five years hold and what I can do to be helpful through our get-out-the-vote work and more.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Via my social media platforms which are: LinkedIn- https://www.linkedin.com/in/paulkatznewyork/, Twitter: @PaulKatzNYC
“Good Influence — how to engage influencers for purpose and profit “ will be at Amazon, Apple, X, and all good retailers in the first quarter of 2023
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Authors: How & Why Paul Katz Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.