How to harness the power of celebrity to your cause

Written by
Alex Goldup
February 24, 2014
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The parting of Scarlett Johansson and Oxfam has brought the value of celebrity supporters into question.

The recent high-profile parting of Scarlett Johansson and Oxfam resulted in a certain amount of hand wringing about the value to charities of celebrity supporters. Despite this, it remains true that a sprinkling of stardust can add an extra edge to fundraising and awareness campaigns. Celebrity support, when it is properly planned, sensitively managed and when the right safeguards are in place for both parties, can help charities to raise their profile, boost funds and increase their influence.

With hundreds of A, B and C list celebrities, not to mention an army of agents and representatives acting as their gatekeepers, it is not always easy to know where to start. Here, then, are some top tips for approaching and working with celebrities to get the very best out of them for your charity.

Choosing a celebrity – biggest is not always best

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The key to success is to be clear and upfront about what you want.

When choosing a celebrity, it will always seem appealing to ask an AA-list person like David Beckham or Cheryl Cole. Remember, however, that the more famous a celebrity, the more time and resources you will need to get her or him on board, the more difficult the different agents will be, and the less time they might have for you. Celebrities with busy schedules will need to be ‘booked in’ well in advance and may be unsuitable for short-notice requests and regular appearances. Sometimes a less high profile but dedicated ambassador will take a greater interest and accomplish more for your charity.

Look for celebrities who have a link with or interest in your area of work. Perhaps someone with a high profile who has experience of the issues your organisation is involved with. Target audiences are also important. The ideal celebrity supporter should resonate with and appeal to the people who you want to reach – so choose carefully.

All aboard

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How you measure the impact of a celebrity’s support will depend to an extent on the nature of her contribution.

There are normally two options for approaching celebrities with a request for support – going to them directly or, more common, working alongside their representatives, agents and other gatekeepers. The most useful agents will work with you and help you to understand the limitations on their celebrity’s time and advise on the best way to work with her.

Regardless of whether you go direct to a celebrity or through an agent, the key to a successful approach is to be clear and upfront about what you want. Spell out what you are asking the celebrity to do and the likely time commitment. A good way is to map out your ‘wish list’ over, say, a year. In this way, the celebrity, or agent, will quickly be able to decide on her or his level of commitment.

Finding the right opportunities

It can be useful to have several celebrity supporters from various walks of life who will appeal to a variety of media and audiences. The key with each is remembering that they are all different and will respond differently to certain ‘asks’. To a large extent the celebrities will determine how best they can be used and what they will be comfortable handling. A model may prefer a photo call, an actor a radio appeal, a journalist a visit or a trip.

Managing the relationship

Celebrity relationships need careful managing. Charities that have the best rapport with their celebrity supporters look after them carefully. They should be on an organisation’s internal agenda for regular discussion. It can be helpful to have a member of staff who looks after celebrity supporters and to have a record of what your organisation has asked them to do and when you have last been in touch. Remember to keep them up to date with what your organisation has been doing on a regular basis. A newsletter with a personal note, a Christmas card and invitations to suitable events will all help build and maintain a rapport.

When things go wrong

Celebrities are in the public eye – which is usually why you want to use them in the first place. The flip side of this is that there is always a chance that they may attract negative publicity. Keep on top of developments and have a response ready for media, supporters and other key audiences at the first sign of any problems. Remember that even the most squeaky-clean celebrities will have their ups and downs – so don’t be too quick to drop or criticise them if they run into difficulties. A longer view of a celebrity’s worth over time can be a better guide to action than fixating on poor publicity that is here today, gone tomorrow.

Measuring impact

How you measure the impact of a celebrity’s support will depend to an extent on the nature of her contribution – for example whether she has spoken at an event or agreed to mention you in media interviews – as well as your own internal reporting processes and performance targets. If a celebrity has helped to generate media coverage, then standard PR measurements such as ‘reach’ and ‘advertising value equivalent’ can be used. Celebrity support can also be measured as a ‘gift in kind’, so that if, for example, a high-profile person normally charges a fee for speaking at an event and is doing the same for you, free of charge, then you can value this donation at the same level.

About the author: Alex Goldup

Alex Goldup

Alex Goldup is a director at Third Sector PR, an award-winning public relations consultancy focusing primarily on the not-for-profit sector in the UK and overseas.

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