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Things I Wish I Knew When Securing a Celebrity Spokesperson

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I recently had the opportunity to connect with Wendy, who had some great tips on how corporations can secure the right celebrities for their cause-related marketing initiatives. And, though these ideas are more on what corporations need to know when approaching a celebrity, nonprofit organizations should also keep these in mind.

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With the PRSA 2010 International Conference just a month away, I thought I would reminisce about working in Washington, D.C.’s, public relations world. When I moved to the nation’s capital, I had left my company in Charleston, S.C., to my business partner — a company that we had built together — for a  new adventure in Washington, D.C., working for a national organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger in the United States. I thought I knew everything about public relations — that is until I came to D.C. There was so much I simply did not know that I have learned over the course of the years I have lived here.

Working for a national organization is completely different from working in a small city like Charleston, S.C. For example, recruiting a local celebrity (or several) doesn’t require contracts, corporate sponsors’ connections or compensation in return for media interviews, event participation, usage of name, etc. It simply requires an e-mail or a phone call.

During my tenure at the hunger organization, I had an opportunity to work with a TV celebrity chef who served as a spokesperson for one of the organization’s programs. Though she fully embraced the cause, a majority of her involvement was supported by a couple of the organization’s corporate sponsors who were compensating her for her work with us, and helping them with their cause marketing efforts.

On another initiative with the same organization, I was not as successful. Instead, I went in naïve, lacking the backing of corporate support needed to make the campaign successful and being too pushy, and the results were minimal and unsatisfying.

When it comes to securing a national spokesperson, there are several things that I wish I knew then that I know now.

Wendy Dutwin is the founder of Limelight Media, Inc, a Los Angeles-based entertainment marketing authority with more 13 award-winning years of experience in uniting top-quality celebrities with major corporations for their cause-driven marketing campaigns. For more than a decade, she has connected celebrities with driven marketing campaigns, including Hilary Swank with Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program, Brooke Shields with Tupperware’s Chain of Confidence initiative, and Tim Gunn’s Addressing Psoriasis campaign.

I recently had the opportunity to connect with Wendy, who had some great tips on how corporations can secure the right celebrities for their cause-related marketing initiatives. And, though these ideas are more on what corporations need to know when approaching a celebrity, nonprofit organizations should also keep these in mind. Why? As a national organization, we are always trying to find the right celebrity to help spread our mission through national media attention, events, endorsements, product promotion, etc. But how can we ensure that our corporate sponsors are finding values in their investments with us?

Working with so many corporations on cause related activities, here’s what Wendy recommends when securing a national spokesperson:

  • Understand the spokesperson’s point of view: Many clients will mention to me that a celebrity is a fan of their company’s brand or product. So they assume that the celebrity will want to work with them at a discounted rate (or even free!). It’s important to be savvy in the entertainment industry, as these types of assumptions could be perceived as amateur. Targeting talent that has a genuine interest in your product is a great first step, but the talent will expect the partnership to be fully paid for and no discounts will be offered simply because there is a shared interest. Understanding endorsements from the talent perspective and client perspective will help to build smart strategies for securing talent and looking like a pro.
  • Assuming a celebrity will be inexpensive if their calendar isn’t booked: “But what has Julia Roberts done lately?” was an actual quote from a client wanting the mega star at rock-bottom prices. The reality is that the mega star was taking a hiatus from films to focus on family. Most of us realize that A-list celebrities like Julia Roberts can be incredibly scrupulous about her projects and partnerships. Even celebrities who are not as top tier can decline your campaign for the right dollar amount. It’s important to understand that celebrity schedules do not always revolve around their work and endorsements — they have personal lives too. This key piece of information will allow you to focus your energies on securing the right talent.
  • Working with celebrities on philanthropic causes: Since the focus of my work revolves around cause marketing campaigns, celebrities are still expected to be paid, even if the charity/cause involved is an extension of their personal philanthropic work. In many cases, celebrities will donate their time for PSAs or relief telethons, but this is often a favor to another celebrity or in a time of crisis the celebrity feels driven to help. Expect a celebrity to be financially compensated for their time and association of their own brand with yours. Educate yourself on how these types of events differ from your brand’s campaign.
  • Research, research, research! While some initial online research about a celebrity is important, there is a lot of outdated or inaccurate information online. Enlisting professional help in this area will help you to get a 360-degree view of what the celebrity is working on as well as upcoming projects. For example, if you’re targeting a celebrity that just wrapped a media tour to promote a book, now probably isn’t the best time to hire them for a campaign, since they’ve recently done the TV circuit.
  • Anticipate budgets: Many clients are surprised at how much they will need to budget for a campaign, but for a multi-tiered campaign there is usually a lot of time involved between preparation, media interviews and events. Also, in many cases the celebrities will need to travel, so consider extras such as flights, meals, hotel, on-the-ground transportation and special requests. Before you present budget parameters, think through all the possible expenses, including a little negotiating cushion!

For Nonprofit Organizations Planning to Secure a National Spokesperson

Based on my previous experience with national celebrity spokespeople, I agree with Wendy’s tips and I wish I knew these before. As a corporation, you need to go in with your company’s expectations for your national spokesperson; and as a nonprofit organization, you should have a similar plan. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Don’t be pushy. As a nonprofit organization we may expect a national spokesperson to fall all over us and our cause, but being pushy can backfire on you. Like any other relationship, you are required to give and take. Start off on the right foot with your spokesperson’s publicist. Look for ways to work together.
  • Negotiate time and be respectful of a spokesperson’s schedule. A spokesperson’s schedule is tight. One cannot assume just because they are your organization’s spokesperson that they will just drop everything for you because they believe so much in your cause. Prioritize your lists of requests beginning with the most important items and go from there. Like any PR campaign, you want to get the biggest bang out of your bucks.
  • Keep in mind your corporate sponsors contracts and ensure that your requests align with theirs, since they may be the ones helping you fund your outreach. When working with your celebrity spokesperson, it was very important to kick off our campaign on a national a.m. show with branding of our cause incorporating our corporate sponsor into marketing collateral and promotional items that would appear on set, as well as within the actual interview.

Wendy says, “Securing a national spokesperson to represent your brand (corporate on nonprofit), is just the first.”  And I absolutely agree!

Thank you to Wendy for sharing her knowledge and tips for this post.

What are your thoughts? Share your experiences and tips?

Sherrie Bakshi, communications maven, Matrix Group, and co-founder, Stylee PR & Marketing, which is now run and managed by its co-founder, Vladia Jurcova Spencer. Bakshi has more than 10 years’ experience in the field, working with a variety of clients. She specializes in everything from traditional PR to now working with clients on effective social networking and online strategies. Follow Sherrie on twitter @Sher_32 or connect on LinkedIn.

Join Sherrie along with other members of the PRSA National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) at the PRSA 2010 International Conference: Powering PRogress, October 16–19 in Washington, D.C.!

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Sherrie Bakshi

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