Myrlia Purcell and her website LookToTheStars came to my attention a month ago.
I ignored my initial concerns – we do not promote celebrity for it’s own sake – and decided to speak directly to try and learn more about her and her project. There is far more to Myrlia than simply tracking celebrity fund raising activities; she has always enjoyed volunteer work and in the past has involved herself with literacy programmes, education non-profits and feeding the homeless. She spends some of her spare time teaching Parent and Child dance classes, with the proceeds of the classes going to a local children’s home, and is a mother of two young children.
Myrlia sits on the Advisory Board of Pause to Support a Cause, writes a blog about personal development and spiritual topics, and has been an Inspirational Luminary on InspireMeToday.com. “I’ve been interviewed by E – The Environmental Magazine (widely quoted in lots of other magazines from that interview), InspireMeToday.com, Gazeta do Povo in Brazil and BBC’s The World Today, among many smaller publications/media outlets”, she added.
So, where did the idea of tracking celebrity charity work and such like come from?
“My husband, Steve, and I began Look To The Stars as a way to make a difference. People pay so much attention to celebrities, and I thought, ‘Why not use some of that attention to bring non-profits into the spotlight?‘ We also hoped that by making fans aware of the good things celebrities are doing, they would be inspired to give back and get involved in causes important to them.” “It all started with a book idea, really – I wrote out four questions asking celebrities what they felt was the biggest problem with the world, and what steps they felt needed to be taken to fix that problem. When not enough celebrities wrote back for me to make a book, I decided to put in the legwork myself and find out who supported what. Fortunately, I have a captive software engineer (my husband) who can be bribed with tea and biscuits, so we sat down to create a website that would track the good deeds of the stars.”
“Shortly thereafter, in February 2006, the LookToTheStars.org website was born, and I now joke that it is our third baby.”
“We began with just research – checking with non-profits, reading celebrity-related news stories, looking at auction sites – to build our database. Then we started to attract increasing attention. Over the last 4 years, more and more charities and the PR people for both non-profits and celebrities have been in touch to tell us what is happening. We have also had some celebrities get in touch and ask us to help out with their events and projects, which we are always happy to do. Any way we can raise awareness for a good cause makes us happy.”
“But for the most part, we have no real desire or need to establish relationships with celebrities themselves; the charities are the ones we aim to help, and they are thrilled to provide whatever information we need.”
Excellent, I think, Myrlia is not just another celebrity chaser hunting deflected PR and glory, there is a focus on the causes not the people; our connection and conversation continues easily.
So with so many celebrities and our apparently insatiable hunger for trivia and gossip, how do you decide what to include and what to ignore?
“We lost our PR person over ‘who and what we should accept‘, actually, because I am happy to promote the genuinely good acts of even somewhat disreputable celebrities. If you walk only with angels, you will never know how to relate to the sinner. If an adult film star is going to be selling the shirt off her back for a children’s hospice, we want to let her fans know where they can go to bid! Each celebrity has his or her own fan base, and we want to let them all know what matters most in the world. There is no point teaching maths to the professor – we have to reach the ones who don’t yet know how to add. That being said, we do require that our news stories and items in our database include a genuine celebrity AND a philanthropic angle.”
On a more prosaic note, I wonder how Myrlia and Steve manage to fund the site, after all, irrespective of the profile and work of the celebrities that they cover, business is business!
“That is the big question, isn’t it? It has taken us years to get to the point where we are sustainable. We sell ads on our site, and we have affiliate relationships with other businesses. I like affiliate relationships, because everyone is getting something of value.”
“Since late 2006 we have been driven by volunteers from around the world. People come to us wanting to help raise awareness for good causes while they are building up their real-world writing experience. We are currently working with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s charity, After-School All-Stars, to give students the opportunity to write with us, too! Many of the writers stay with us for a couple of months, though some have been with us for years. A great extended family has built up around Look To The Stars, even though I have only met two of our writers in person! We are not a charity, though have considered becoming one.”
And how do you manage to cover so many people spread all around the globe?
“Managing the writers and video crews from so far away has proven difficult and somewhat unsatisfying, but we have been able to work it out, thanks to my husband’s fantastic programming skills. We have things set up behind the scenes on the site so our writers can claim stories from a list of options, and then everything is sent to our Features Editor, the amazing Tim Saunders, for editing and publishing.”
“We had some difficulties with PR people contacting several of our volunteers simultaneously to set up one interview, so we introduced another system in which our volunteers can enter information on any celebrity or event they plan to cover. It’s all down to communication between team members. Tim does most of the correspondence with the news team, focusing on the current events side of the site. When I’m not actively building strategic partnerships, I work with our beautiful hosts and the camera crews on our videos, with the non-profits and our biographers on our database (over 2000 celebrities and 1400 non-profits now!), and with Steve to raise our profile on the internet.”
So, what does the future hold for Myrlia and Look To The Stars?
“In the time we’ve been doing this I have gone from loving the site to just wanting to sell it more times than I can remember. I love what we do; we have been told by countless charities and media organisations that what we provide is valuable to them, and I am excited about our future, but it isn’t easy.”
“I think the main thing I have learned while doing all of this that that businesses don’t grow at a constant rate, and shouldn’t grow too quickly — we had a sudden expansion last year that seriously threatened our high standards. I would suggest that entrepreneurs not worry too much if there is a lull, or if they are feeling drained. Push too hard, and you are likely to burn out. Go with the cycles; just as the moon and seasons have phases, so do you and your business. Love what you do, and be patient.”
A fitting way to close our conversation. Many thanks Myrlia for your time and the very best of luck with all your endeavours. It was a genuine pleasure to meet such a genuinely well motivated entrepreneur with values for her business and the world that we too share.
Oh, and finally she adds,
“And for anyone who wants to partner with us, or try their hand at writing — feel free to get in touch! :-)”
For more information about Myrlia and her work go to:
Interview by Business Editor, Phil Birch.