by Danny Selnick, Vice President, Public Policy Services/Business Wire, Washington, DC
Volunteering on the Speakers Committee at the National Press Club in Washington, DC has its rewards. You get to meet many famous and interesting people, including heads of state, business leaders, politicians (with whose POV you might or might not agree), entertainers, and even sports figures. But it’s especially gratifying when you host someone who has a real mission — one that no one can disagree with. Such was the luncheon that I put together for Law & Order SVU’s Mariska Hargitay. It was only after my daughter, Alina, suggested Mariska, not just because she’s a big fan of the show, but also because she knew of the organization she founded — The Joyful Heart Foundation – whose mission it is to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues.
After months of back and forth emails and phone calls with the Foundation’s staff about getting Mariska to speak at the National Press Club, I was finally able to get the okay. Finding a date that would accommodate both Mariska’s schedule and room availability at the National Press Club would also be a challenge. Remember, the Club is a place where news happens and their conference rooms are sometime booked months out. But it finally worked out that we’d hold her event in the stately Holeman Lounge on March 13, 2013.
I wrote a brief news flash for the Press Club’s “The Wire” notifying members of the upcoming Mariska Hargitay luncheon and then a longer news advisory that would be sent to the media to cover the event. I also began looking to fill the head table with NPC journalist members, who I knew would be interested in Mariska, but more so, about her work as advocate. After weeks of emails and phone calls, I stacked the dais with bureau chiefs, reporters and producers from The Dallas Morning News, Detroit News, Univision, Hearst Newspapers, The Hill, USA Today and even Kathleen Parker a syndicated columnist representing The Washington Post Writers Group.
The easy part of this luncheon was to provide NPC President (and Bloomberg reporter) Angela Greiling Keene with remarks for her to open up the luncheon and introduce Mariska. But what I also included were the staggering statistics on violent and sexual assaults on women and children, and a backlog of tens of thousands of untested rape kits, meaning some prosecutions might not take place for a decade or more.
The day of the event arrived and my daughter and I planned to greet Mariska at the entrance of the National Press Club, then escort her to the 13th floor of the building. She drove up in a large four-by-four and was then accosted by several paparazzi — who I had to push away in order to get Mariska and her team into the safety of the National Press Building.
After intros were finished, Mariska addressed the members of the National Press Club and the Washington press corps. As beautiful as she is, she was equally gracious and was very “on message” — in launching a new campaign, “NO MORE” Q&A followed her 20+ minute opening statement as would any other news conference . . . and she handled well one of the more difficult questions, concerning what she thought about convicted rapist Mike Tyson having appeared on a recent SVU episode.
This was a luncheon news conference that had a real story to tell and a cause to stand up for; was written up in The Detroit News, in Kathleen Parker’s column, covered on ABCnews.com and more. I’m happy to have played a part in making this event happen. I’m proud of my daughter, Alina, for suggesting Mariska Hargitay as a speaker and I’m also grateful to Business Wire for supporting my efforts as a volunteer at the National Press Club.