Sometimes, tying a famous name to a charity work can put a big target on that organization. If everything goes well, it’s great PR, but if things go poorly, for whatever reason, there’s that famous name in the headline.
A recent example of this is an Associated Press story in which the Make it Right Foundation is being sued over homes built in places that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The famous name associated with Make it Right? Brad Pitt.
The A-list Hollywood actor’s name was all over the headlines recently because of the lawsuit, which was filed on the behalf of residents of New Orleans Ninth Ward, which was one of the areas hardest hit by flooding after the hurricane. Their attorney, Ron Austin, was all over local media talking about “sicknesses, headaches, and infrastructure issues…”
Of course, Pitt’s name was mentioned prominently in all the reports. According to the story, Pitt created the foundation about two years after Katrina and hired “award-winning architects” to rebuild communities that had been scoured away by wind and fast-moving flood waters. The organization planned to build 150 new homes, billing them as “storm-safe, solar-powered, and green.” Residents could purchase the relatively affordable housing through a combination of government grants, resettlement financing, and donations from the Make It Right Foundation.
At least, that was the plan. But things didn’t quite work out that way. A decade after the first ground was broken on the project, 110 house have been built, and some are, reportedly, already falling apart. The attorney, Austin, complained of mildew, roof leaks, and sagging porches… “Essentially, Make It Right was making a lot of promises to come back and fix the homes that they initially sold these people and have failed to do so…”
So, in an effort to help devastated hurricane victims, Brad Pitt has harnessed himself and his brand to a PR catastrophe. Images of frustrated families, who already suffered unimaginable horror and loss, have been tied to his image.
In response, the Foundation sued the lumber company that provided a lot of the suspect wood, but there’s no news about how or if that suit was settled. Through all of this, Pitt has chosen to focus on the bright side, telling local media:
“I get this swell of pride when I see this little oasis of color and the solar panels… I drive into the neighborhood and I see people on their porch, and I ask them how is their house treating them? And they say, ‘Good.’ And I say ‘What’s your utility bill?’ And they’ll throw something out like, ‘24 bucks’ or something, and I feel fantastic.”
That position may not be one he’s able to hold for much longer. The recent headlines marking the demolition of one of the Make It Right houses brought this issue back into the spotlight even before the lawsuit hit the headlines. The demo, according to the media, was in response to neighbors complaining of the eyesore. In response, Make it Right, though not Pitt, responded with this statement:
“Our homeowners’ well-being and privacy are some of our top priorities and we work closely with them to address their concerns… Each situation is different and we are currently coordinating the necessary follow up with the appropriate parties to address any areas of concern.”
Given the direction this narrative is going, they may want to consider “coordinating” faster… and shifting to a more empathetic message.