It started more than 15 years ago when one of our clients asked us to recruit celebrities to wear (and thereby promote) a new line of high-end tees debuting at Kitson.
(Anyone remember when Kitson was a thing?)
Given my background as West Coast head of PR for Turner Broadcasting, I figured, “How hard could it be?”
Harder than I thought, that’s for sure!
But over the years, my staff and I have developed a solid reputation for delivering on these types of challenging celebrity-driven PR campaigns.
From A-listers to reality stars, we have successfully secured hundreds of well-known stars for all kinds of PR campaigns showcasing celebrity collaborations.
Note, I said PR campaigns—not advertising.
I make this distinction because, as we all know, PR budgets for talent fees are usually much smaller than they are for advertising.
And in many cases, we had no budget at all.
The Secret of Success
So what is the secret to our success?
For one thing, we are very picky matchmakers.
We start by carefully vetting the brand to make sure it is “celebrity-friendly.”
The truth is, not all brands are created equal.
Some, like luxury goods, are a natural fit with stars, while others—let’s say household products—fall flat.
If we determine the brand is not suitable, we recommend an influencer marketing campaign instead.
While I’m on that subject: influencer campaigns are certainly all the rage right now, but traditional celebrity endorsements will never go out of style.
In many instances, you need the halo effect only a recognizable face can bring.
Think red carpet events, national television appearances, high profile publicity stunts, and yes, even certain social media pushes.
14 Steps to Successful Celebrity Collaborations
So if you have a client who wants you to pursue celebrity collaborations, follow the criteria we use to determine if the brand can truly reach for the stars:
- Geographic Scope. Unless you are asking a celebrity to attend an event in his or her hometown, it is highly unlikely you’ll get anyone to participate with a local or even regional company. The brand must be national at the very least, and preferably global.
- Brand Longevity. Like us regular folk, celebrities and their gatekeepers are more comfortable with established companies. They view start-ups as risky business.
- Brand Classification. Luxury and high-end brands have the most appeal with celebrities.
- Current Brand Awareness. Similar to longevity, celebrities like to collaborate with brands they are familiar with—especially if the brand is well-known in their inner circles. If the star has never heard of it, they are not likely to take time to have you educate them.
- Current Brand Status. Everyone wants to be associated with trendsetters, and celebrities are no different. If your brand is in a slump at the moment, now is not the time to pursue celebrity collaborations. Wait until you rebound.
- Current Brand Image. If your brand has a negative public image, you are not going to get a celebrity to help you turn it around. Use other PR strategies to create a positive image and then pursue celebrity collaborations.
- Level of Controversy. While certain celebrities do thrive on controversy (Kathy Griffin anyone?), most shy away from it. And if they do get involved with a provocative brand, it is usually because it is something they believe in; such as Scientology, for example. Or perhaps they are in need of major exposure themselves and think an association with a hot topic might help their agenda. Either way, if your brand is controversial, it will limit your options—just be aware of that before proceeding.
- Pop Culture Conversations. From gossip columns and talk show fodder, to tweets and hashtags, celebrities frequently find themselves to be the topic of the day in pop culture conversations. What about your brand? Is it already a pop culture darling? If not, does it have the potential to be one? If it does, celebrities will take notice and will be more inclined to partner with you.
- Main Form of Distribution. Let’s get real here. Most celebrities don’t shop on Amazon or at the 99-cent store. The brand should be available in top-notch venues, such as high-end boutiques, major department stores, upscale grocery locations, and five-star hotels and restaurants.
- Closest Retail Price. Most products retailing for under $50 do not go over big with celebrities—unless you can bundle some complementary brand items together. A collection of cool beauty products adding up to more than $50, for example, should be fine.
- National Brand-Charity Partnership. Appealing to a celebrity’s good nature with a charity angle—e.g., “Proceeds will benefit the XYZ Charitable Association”—can work, but it usually requires the participation of a national, reputable organization like the ASPCA. Speaking of which, we found this leading animal advocacy organization to be a favorite among the Hollywood crowd when we recently handled a small project for them. As die-hard animal lovers, General Hospital star Laura Wright and Access Hollywood host Kit Hoover were more than happy to lend their names and images to raise funds for the charity. If your charity is local or regional, occasionally you might win over a celebrity if he or she shares your passion for a particular cause. An even better option is to have your brand support the celebrity’s personal charity.
- Celebrity Fans. Some brands just naturally have celebrity fans. For example, our Peanuts client has hundreds of celebrity fans because the brand resonates with their childhood memories. A few we have collaborated with in the past are Alec Baldwin, Ashley Biden, and Whoopi Goldberg, among many, many others. Existing celebrity fans are a huge plus, of course, as it can attract other celebrities who like to be in good company. This only works, though, if the celebrities are in the same league. A-listers don’t care if your brand has B-list fans. In fact, that’s likely negative.
- Social Media Numbers. Social media numbers are today’s most important currency. Just as we look at a celebrity’s social media numbers before pursuing them, talent reps do the same with your brand. In a perfect world, your brand’s social media numbers should be more than one million.
- Talent Budget. Yes, in some cases, it is possible to get a celebrity to waive their talent fees. But there will still be amenity costs involved if you are lucky enough to secure a celebrity. Their glam team and transportation, for instance, can be expensive. And even if you are only sending them swag, you need to consider the cost to produce and package high-end swag. (Always send one package for the celeb and one for the publicist, too!)
Obviously, there will always be exceptions to the above rules, but it is still a great place to start in evaluating your brand’s potential with this highly sought-after PR technique using celebrity collaborations.
To make the process even easier for you, we have created this quick, fun quiz. It should only take you two minutes to complete—and it could be the beginning of a beautiful celebrity-brand friendship!