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Top tips for getting a celebrity ambassador

The lure of celebrity is everywhere: we watch them, read about them, want to be who they are and want to support who they support. It’s little wonder, then, that many NFPs like to include celebrities in their fundraising and brand-building campaigns.

Essentially, celebrities contribute to building a charity’s brand by transferring their positive associations to the promoted cause. Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett’s role as chairman of Beyondblue is a strong example. He delivers credibility to one of its key audiences, middle-aged Australian males, and his participation helps communicate the message that seeking help for mental illness is acceptable and not shameful.

As well as building brand, celebrities can also generate PR opportunities for a charity. A celebrity endorsement transfers their personality, credibility and status directly to the brand. For example, as goodwill ambassador and special envoy for UNHCR, Angelina Jolie-Pitt tells stories of refugees to a media that might otherwise be disinterested. Also, celebrities such as Eva Mendes, Joan Jett, Justin Bieber, Kelly Osbourne, Pamela Anderson and Paul McCartney appear in often-controversial campaigns for PETA, attracting mainstream media coverage as a result.

But is it all good news, or are there drawbacks?

Biggest risk

It is often said that the biggest risk in endorsement branding is the celebrity himself/herself, and it’s true.

We always need to remember that celebrities can get into public controversies that can harm the brands they endorse. Consider Shane Warne’s endorsement of Nicorette, followed by him later being photographed chain-smoking cigarettes. If the celebrity is implicated in a scandal, what impact will this have on your charity? Could it actually ruin a weaker brand?

Celebrities can also become overexposed and lose their star appeal as a result of endorsing multiple brands. They may also decide to change their image, which might sometimes be contrary to that of the brands they endorse.

So what are the criteria for choosing a celebrity to endorse your brand, and how can you match a celebrity to your brand for maximum impact and results?

Step one: Clarify the role

What role do you expect a celebrity to undertake, and to what degree do you expect them to participate?

Essentially, to find a celebrity aligned to your expectations, your brand and your specific requirements, you need to create a mini job description.

Are you looking to build a long-term partnership with a celebrity to deliver value over time, or a high-profile, short-term partnership to boost an annual event?

Are you looking for a celebrity to help with brand-building through advertising and PR, or a more hands-on ambassador who will lobby and advocate for your NFP, and leverage their corporate or industry relationships to benefit your brand?

Are you looking for a celebrity to build your brand among specific audiences, like Jeff Kennett for Beyondblue with a male target audience, or are you seeking an overarching and universal endorsement?

You will also need to clarify what benefits you will be able to offer the celebrity. This is particularly relevant if you are targeting an up-and-coming star. What exposure can you guarantee them? What introductions can you make? Can you offer them a level of credibility and appeal that may help them build their own personal brand in a way they might be unable to achieve alone?

Once you have clarified the role, the requirements and the benefits, you will need to craft this into an attention-grabbing pitch that will cut through and differentiate you from your competition.

Step two: Build a shortlist of candidates aligned to your brand, your values and your scale

When you are shortlisting potential candidates, ensure the celebrity’s personality matches your brand’s personality. Some NFPs make the mistake of choosing a celebrity based on their popularity and appeal. While these attributes are important, it is essential to understand the significant role a celebrity’s personality brings to the brand, and the associations the celebrity will transfer. Angelia Jolie-Pitt brings credibility and status to the plight of refugees through her work with UNHCR, while PETA’s nude shots of Olivia Munn and Pamela Anderson give vegetarianism and animal rights a more provocative and sexy persona.

You need to consider your brand values and shortlist candidates who align with your broader brand strategy.

The celebrities you consider must also have constancy and lasting appeal, but should not overshadow your brand. Brands that are yet to gain strength need to be careful not to choose a celebrity whose strength surpasses that of the brand. If you are an internationally renowned NFP, you should target international celebrities. Likewise, if you are a large, national charity, target Australian-based celebrities.

It goes without saying, of course, that the personality of the celebrity should also reflect a positive rather than negative image.

Step three: Clarify your budget

Ideally, you will be able to negotiate for your chosen celebrity to participate in your event, or act as an ambassador for your cause, at no charge. However, it should not be assumed that this will always be the case. If the celebrity cannot participate for free, they may agree to a discounted fee.

A celebrity’s appearance fee is not the only cost to be factored in – you may also need to pay travel and accommodation costs for the celebrity, along with photography and production costs. You need to be able to follow through on any commitments you make for guaranteeing the celebrity exposure, via either PR or paid advertising.  

Step four: Work your networks

Once you have a clear understanding of your expectations and have shortlisted potential celebrities aligned to your brand and your scale, and have a budget range in mind, use your networks to identify any personal connections to a celebrity or their family. As in any business scenario, a referral can be the best way to begin establishing a relationship.

If you cannot access anyone on your shortlist through a personal connection, try to find a reason big enough for the celebrity to be specifically interested in your cause. If you are a cancer charity, is there anyone on your shortlist who has experienced the impact the disease can have on an individual or family? If you are an indigenous literacy charity, can you approach an indigenous role model who may have family heritage in your key geographical area? If you are involved in protecting the Great Barrier Reef, are there any celebrities scheduled to film in north Queensland?

Finding a relevant connection is a more likely way to emotionally engage a prospective celebrity than a more traditional cold call or email.

As well as working your networks and finding an emotional connection, multiple angles of approach should be used for any celebrity. As well as any personalised avenues of contact, be sure to approach the celebrity via their management agency, making a professional, on-brand pitch to explain the mutual benefits of a potential partnership. That way your approach is documented and can be formalised through the right channels.  

While there are often sector-specific considerations, the four points above are key factors when you consider attracting a celebrity endorsement of your charity. Finally, keep trying. Celebrities often have busy schedules and multiple projects, and an opportunity that is not right today may be exactly the right thing in six months’ time. Expect 10 rejections for every yes, and keep persevering until you achieve your targets.

Paul Nelson, Managing Director, BrandMatters. 

This article originally appeared in Third Sector’s September print edition- subscribe today.

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