Getting your charity the right celebrity endorsement

Thursday, 10 November 2016 13:55

The lure of celebrity is everywhere. We watch them; we read about them; we want to be who they are; we want to support who they support. It's therefore little wonder that many not-for-profits choose to use celebrities as part of their fundraising and brand building campaigns.

Essentially, celebrities contribute to building a charity’s brand by taking their positive associations and transferring them to the promoted cause. The Hon. Jeff Kennett’s role as the Chairman of Beyond Blue is a strong example. Kennett delivers Beyond Blue with credibility among one of its key audiences, middle-aged Australian males, and his participation helps communicate that seeking assistance for mental illness is acceptable and not shameful.

In addition to building brand, celebrities can generate extensive PR opportunities for a charity too. They do this because the celebrity endorsement transfers the personality, credibility and status of the celebrity directly to the brand. Two quite starkly different examples of this are Angelina Jolie-Pitt’s role as a Goodwill Ambassador and Special Envoy for UNHCR, telling the stories of refugees to a media that may otherwise be disinterested; and celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Eva Mendes, Pamela Anderson, Joan Jett, Kelly Osborne and Paul McCartney who appear in often-controversial campaigns for PETA and attract mainstream media coverage as a result. Thus, celebritity endorsements strongly correlates with a brand's positioning.

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

It's 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, only to be photographed later chain smoking cigarettes. If the celebrity is implicated in any kind of scandal, what impact will this have on your charity? For weaker brands could it in fact ruin the 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 a contradicting image to that of the brands they currently endorse.

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

Step one: Clarify the role

What role do you expect a celebrity to undertake, and what are your expectations of their degree of participation?

Essentially, in order to find a celebrity aligned to your expectations, your brand and your specific requirements, you will 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 assist with brand-building via advertising and PR, or a more hands-on ambassador who will lobby and advocate for your not-for-profit, and leverage their corporate or industry relationships to benefit your brand?

Are you looking for a celebrity to build your brand amongst certain specific audiences, akin to Jeff Kennett, Beyond Blue and 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 celebrity. 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 to build their own personal brand in a way they may be unable to achieve themselves?

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 to approach, ensure the celebrity’s personality matches your brand’s personality. Some not-for-profits make the mistake of choosing a celebrity to endorse their brand based on their popularity and appeal. Although these attributes are important, it is essential to understand the significant role that a celebrity's personality brings to the brand, and the associations that celebrity will transfer. Angelina Jolie-Pitt brings credibility and status to the plight of refugees via her work with UNHCR, while PETA’s nude shots of Pamela Anderson and Olivia Munn give vegetarianism and animal rights a more provocative and sexy persona than those themes might typically enjoy. You will 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 ascertain a high level of brand strength have to be careful in choosing a celebrity whose strength doesn't surpass that of the brand. If you are an internationally renowned not-for-profit, you should target internationally renowned celebrities. Likewise, if you are a large, national charity, you should target Australian-based celebrities. And of course, it goes without saying; the personality of the celebrity should also reflect a positive brand image rather than a negative one.

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 for free, though it shouldn’t be assumed that this will always be the case. If the celebrity is unable to participate for free, they may agree to a discounted fee.

The celebrity’s appearance fee is not the only cost to be factored in. You may also need to pay for travel costs and accommodation for the celebrity, along with photography and production costs, and you will 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, have built a shortlist of potential celebrities aligned to your brand and your scale, and have a budget range in mind, use your existing networks to identify any personal connections to a celebrity, or the family of a celebrity, in your network. As in any business scenario, a referral can be the best way to begin establishing a relationship.

If you are unable to access anyone on your shortlist via 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 recently experienced the impact cancer can have on an individual or their family? If you are an Indigenous literacy charity, can you approach an Indigenous role model who may have family heritage in your key geography? If you are involved in protecting the Great Barrier Reef, are there any celebrities who will be filming in north Queensland in the imminent future? 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, all approaches to any celebrity should use multiple angles of approach. In addition to any more personalised avenues of contact, ensure you approach the celebrity via their management agency, using your pitch as a professional, on-brand approach to explain the mutual benefits of a potential partnership. That way your approach is documented and can be formalised via the correct channels.

While there are often sector-specific considerations to be mindful of, the four points above are key factors to address when considering attracting a celebrity endorsement of your charity. The final advice to remember is to keep trying. Celebrities often have busy schedules and multiple projects underway, and an opportunity that isn’t right today may be exactly the right thing in six months’ time. Expect 10 no’s for every yes and keep persevering until you achieve your targets.