Case Study: Musical Education Nonprofit “Little Kids Rock” Tunes Into Public Relations to Help Amplify Its Charitable Efforts

Bootsy Collins (Parliament-Funkadelic and James Brown) with Little Kids Rock students in Jersey City, N.J.

To honor its 40th anniversary, boutique PR agency The Marcus Group (TMG) wanted to do something different. Instead of simply having a big party to celebrate the occasion, TMG decided to donate a full year of its services to a charity.

“The Marcus Group has always been an agency that does pro bono work for worthy nonprofits—it’s been a part of the culture here going back 40 years,” said Kaitlyn Krieger, senior account executive at TMG. “That’s how we came up with the idea of how to commemorate our anniversary in this special way.”

After sifting through morethan 130 applicants, TMG selected Little Kids Rock (LKR), a national nonprofit that works to restore music education in underfunded public schools.

Headquartered in Cedar Grove, N.J., LKR is a nonprofit organization that partners with school districts, “training public school teachers in our innovative curriculum, and donating all of the instruments and resources necessary to run rockin’ music programs,” according to its website.

TMG quickly identified the area where LKR needed their help the most: pitching stories and events.

Still, the agency faced two major challenges: working without a budget and working with an organization that had very few staff members.

Limited staff members and volunteers translated to difficulty scheduling press appointments and interviews with the various schools. Coordinating with the staff’s time and limited resources was crucial to making the arrangement work.

With that in mind, TMG identified the following objectives:

1) Secure more national media placements for LKR.

2) Increase feature articles that showcase the real impact the nonprofit has on its students.

3) Organize and publicize events that boost LKR’s visibility.


Beyond looking at how LKR was portrayed in the media (based on former press clippings), no formal research was conducted at the initial planning phase.

TMG immediately got to work on execution, helping LKR maximize publicity for many events coast-to-coast with placements in major newspapers and television outlets.

“The Marcus Group dove right in, answering everything from ‘Can you proofread this?’ to ‘Can you get the media to this event?’ and everything in between,” said Keith Hejna, LKR’s communications officer. “They really helped us with our image. Not just getting us out there, but improving the way that we represented ourselves.”

TMG created a polished press kit for LKR, and professionally reformatted press clippings for the organization’s representatives to share with potential donors, corporate partners and other supporters.

The agency focused its outreach on certain school districts and homed in on key areas that LKR wanted increased publicity. It also tried to drum up publicity by having celebrities deliver instruments to the schools involved in the program.

For example, when LKR confirmed an appearance from Lady Gaga after having sold out the room for its 2011 “Right to Rock” Gala, TMG helped them leverage the A-list celebrity’s presence at the event.

“They gave us good advice,” Hejna said. “Keep it quiet, invite two or three top-tier print outlets and service everybody afterwards.”

The results included feature articles in Billboard and Forbes, as well as a captioned picture in Rolling Stone of Lady Gaga hanging out with the kids. “The best part was that our event was a complete success because she was comfortable, there was no media there, it was very easy,” Hejna said.


After the year was over, the charity hadn’t added another staff person to help with the PR. Fortunately for LKR, TMG has continued to provide free services for more than two years.

Here are the results from the first year of pro bono PR TMG provided:

1) Increased media placement by 40%.

2) 72 press mentions (up from 51 the year prior), not taking into consideration hundreds of mentions in blog posts.

3) LKR has been featured in national media outlets such as “Better TV,” Billboard, CMA’s Close Up Magazine, “Dr. Phil Show,” ESPN The Magazine,, Fender Musical Instruments Corp., The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, Pollstar, Rolling Stone, Teen Vogue, The Washington Post, and Univision Network.

4) 50% increase in LKR’s total revenue ($577,799).

5) 25% increase in LKR’s event revenue ($72,570).

6) 160% increase in LKR’s individual donations ($303,179).

7) 19,978 increase in number of students reached by LKR.

8) Appearances from celebrities like Lady Gaga, Bootsy Collins, Steven Van Zandt and former New York Yankees star Bernie Williams, among many others.

In addition to all of these tangible results, TMG’s pro bono PR freed up LKR staff members’ and volunteers’ time, enabling them to focus more on furthering the goals of the organization.

“It has really allowed me to do my job much more effectively,” Hejna said, “because the PR that comes along with it is coming from the professionals, and I’m just doing the work at the table.”


After the year was up, LKR sent TMG a recap of everything it had done and how much it helped the cause. “When I looked at all of the statistics,” Hejna said, “I was floored by not only how much our reach, but also our donations and event revenue, went up, really all due to them; due to the excellent PR they provided.”

Krieger explained the reasons behind TMG’s decision to continue providing free services to LKR: “When the year was up we saw how much we were able to help them. Not only was working with them a lot of fun, but Little Kids Rock is a great charity and is making a real impact. Being able to help get the word out about what they’re doing is rewarding.”

Often, marketing and PR fall by the wayside when it comes to nonprofits—the resources simply aren’t there. TMG was able to come in and handle an entire area that LKR simply didn’t have in-house.

The TMG-LKR collaboration continues to be a match made in heaven: 2012’s Right to Rock Gala was the most successful in LKR history, raising more than $800,000 and enabling the nonprofit to serve more than 100,000 students with music education.

“Before all of this, it was difficult for me to even conceive of a full-service PR firm donating so many of their resources to us,” Hejna said. “But they did it. They did a great job and we benefitted from it.”

The pro bono PR not only boosted LKR’s bottom line, but helped the charity reach more children than ever before—and that was music to the agency’s ears. PRN


Keith Hejna,, Kaitlyn Krieger,


Dollars and Sense to Generate New Business

Kaitlyn Krieger, senior account executive at The Marcus Group, offers three tips on how to get big results with small budgets.

1. Share, share, share: Make sure you share publicity you generate everywhere, such as email blasts and social media channels as well as with donors, sponsors and volunteers. Having those audiences pass it along will go a long way toward spreading the word and generating buzz.

2. Have a game plan: Nonprofits want as much help as they can get, so it’s important to work with your client to establish a realistic scope of work up front that your agency is comfortable with and that uses your talents. Don’t be afraid to tell your client if you think other volunteers can update mailing lists, while you focus on generating publicity.

3. Pitch different story angles: Understanding the different aspects to a story is essential. One media outlet may focus on the organization, while another may focus on the event or on the larger cause.

This article appeared in the June 17 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.