FOCUS: CELEBRITY BOOKERS - Going by the books. With celebrities very much part of today's media and PR frame, Nick Purdom finds out just what makes the bookers tick

The celebrity phenomenon, in many people's eyes, has reached saturation point, with the pages of the press constantly plastered with stories about contestants from Big Brother attending London bashes, rugby captains being caught with banknotes up their noses and misinformation being spread about ginger-haired celebrities getting it together.

The celebrity phenomenon, in many people's eyes, has reached saturation point, with the pages of the press constantly plastered with stories about contestants from Big Brother attending London bashes, rugby captains being caught with banknotes up their noses and misinformation being spread about ginger-haired celebrities getting it together.

There is now such a plethora of 'personalities' that they have inevitably been ranked by degree of celebration. From your A-list Madonna, down to your plummeting, try-hard Anthea Turner, the PRO has to ensure that the celebrity suits the product and that they are willing to endorse it.

However, nothing attracts the interest of the media, or the public, like a well-known personality. Whether it's Posh and Becks or the Royal Family, the celebrity is becoming an increasingly important weapon in a PR person's armoury.

So how do you get hold of a celebrity, how do you make sure you get the right one, and how can you be certain you're not paying too much for them? In this Under the Spotlight we delve into the mysterious world of the celebrity booker and ask them the questions PR people most want answered.



Why should I use a celebrity booker rather than going direct to a celebrity or their agent?

According to Richard Brecker, Upfront Television joint managing director, celebrity booking is 'one of the most misunderstood specialist professions in the industry - everyone thinks they can do it until they try to do it themselves'.

Celebrity bookers are very keen to stress that this is a specialist profession. Brecker says endorsement contracts in particular can involve 'tortuous and lengthy negotiations between an artist's representative and the client'. Jeremy Lee, JLA managing director, says: 'If you're comfortable with the get-out clauses and other contractual stipulations and you do not want to listen to alternative solutions, then yes, go direct.'

But celebrity bookers argue that the main reason to use their services is to save time and money. 'Celebrities and their agents know I bring them business regularly and, in most cases, obtain a discount as I am in effect buying in bulk,' says Paul Williams, PWA Celebrity Consultancy founder. Because of their specialist knowledge celebrity bookers also know the kind of rates that celebrities command and will endeavour to get the best price.

Securing the right celebrity can take a lot of time and effort. 'For a medium profile event or television show, we work on a ratio of at least 25 written approaches to celebrities for one booking. That's a lot of work!' says Brecker.

In-depth knowledge is another selling point for celebrity bookers.

'Our research team will know who is 'in town' and who is on the publicity circuit and we will always be up-to-date on the whereabouts of all the A-list celebs,' Brecker says.

Non-specialists who go direct also run the risk of aggravating celebrities and their agents. 'When you use a good celebrity booker you are buying into their credibility with artists and agents,' says Charles Benenson Commercial Casting managing director.

'It takes time to build up trust with an agent. While agents recognise the value of corporate work, they also see it as an interruption to their normal business and do not relish being constantly called for 'prices and availability' for what normally turns out to only be a client pitch.'

A very good reason for using a celebrity booker is that they are also more likely to be successful in securing the right celebrity for you.

Most operate a no deal, no fee policy, and it is their job to sell the project to the celebrity.



How do I go about finding a reputable celebrity booker?

'Unfortunately the business is unregulated and inevitably there are a number of charlatan agencies which trade on clients' nervousness and ignorance of the market,'opines Lee.

Given this observation it would seem wise to be diligent before engaging a celebrity booker. Lee says: 'The most sensible course of action with your first enquiry is to brief three agencies and compare their responses.

'Once you have selected one, partly on the basis of fees quoted for certain individuals but more importantly on their understanding and responsiveness in general, stick with them for future enquiries,' he adds.

For Williams it's a question of personality and building rapport: 'If you get on with the celebrity booker on the end of the phone and they do a good job then you will probably go back to them again.'

As usual when choosing suppliers there are a number of prudent steps that can be taken. Ask if you can speak to satisfied customers, check what major campaigns the company has worked on, find out if it is a member of any professional body such as the IPR or Chartered Institute of Marketing.

One particular issue when choosing a celebrity booker is impartiality. Benenson recommends asking: 'Does the celebrity booker purport to represent dozens of celebrities? If so, how can they be free to give impartial advice?'.



At what stage should I approach a celebrity booker, and what sort of brief should I give?

Celebrity bookers generally accept that PR consultancies are going to approach them at the pitch stage. 'As long as you tell us it is a pitch we are happy to supply advice on fees and the kind of celebrity you are looking for straight away,' says Benenson.

Lee recommends briefing the booking agency at the ideas stage: 'Ignoring the input of professionals and relying on a brainstorming session with your colleagues or the client is only likely to end up with a list of various people's personal preferences, without any objective reference point. It is also going to miss artists who are new to the circuit, or who may not have a high media profile but for reasons unknown to you may be ideal for the project.'

Brecker says: 'Come to us when you know your budget and your wish list.

If you've got money to spend, make a firm offer and we'll guide you on the market value. Don't ask us to do availability checks.'

Lead-in times vary according to the type of celebrity and event, with bookers normally recommending between three months and three weeks. 'I always say to clients that in an ideal situation two months prior to the event date is comfortable, with the booking being complete within six weeks,' says Williams. However, he also points out it is possible to secure celebrities the day before, or even on the day.

As far as the brief is concerned, bookers like as much information as possible. 'The more information we have the easier it is to give the correct help. A good celebrity booker understands your client's product launch may be confidential, but we cannot help unless we know the sort of product that is being launched or endorsed and who the company behind the product is,' Benenson says.



When and why should I use a celebrity?

'Celebrity sells!' says Brecker, summing up the key reason to use one. Celebrities can be used for publicity and credibility, profile and awareness of a company, product or event'

'I would say the best time to use a celebrity is when you are trying to obtain optimum media coverage and when the budgets allow for them,' says Williams.

There is no doubt of the pulling power of celebrities with the media.

By having a celebrity at a product launch, opening or event you are much more likely to attract the media, other guests, and maybe even potential clients.

'The best reasons to engage a so-called celebrity are to attract or flatter your target audience. If there is no need to use the celebrity to put 'bums on seats' then you should at least think twice before spending several thousand pounds of your client's money on a premium for fame,' says Lee.



How do I go about selecting a suitable celebrity; what advice and guidance can you give?

Getting the right celebrity is, of course, critical. Choose the wrong one, and you could do more harm than good.

Brecker advises asking questions such as what is the objective, how will the celebrity be used and do you want to achieve maximum or targeted publicity?

'The booker should know which celebrities meet your objectives, be they extolling the virtues of such-and-such, motivating a cynical salesforce, linking a conference with a quick understanding of the agenda, hosting awards with energy and charm, or simply entertaining your client's clients without causing anyone any offence,' says Lee.

Money is certainly not the only answer. 'It is not just a question of throwing enough money at someone,' says Benenson. 'A good booker will know the kind of celebrity that may want to be associated with your client's product. We also know what a celebrity will and will not do.'

The advantage of using a booker is also that they are likely to be more frank than an agent on the celebrity's weak points. Williams says: 'Because I am not a manager I will not tell you that my celebrity is the best.

If I think a celebrity is bad at speaking or not very approachable by the media at events then I will advise against that person'.



Aren't celebrities always very expensive; how can I justify the expense?

'Fee-wise, yes of course celebrities are expensive,' acknowledges Lee.

But he adds, 'You are paying for their uniqueness and what people sometimes refer to as their 'wow factor'.'

Cost is relative. 'It's true that a good domestic name can command pounds 10,000 to pounds 15,000 for a one or two hour photocall, but this is cheap when you consider the amount of national coverage you may garner,' says Brecker.

He recommends the question that should be asked is 'Will the celebrity's fee be offset by the media coverage your brand will receive?'

When it comes to buying a celebrity, like anything else, you get what you pay for. It is a truism that so-called celebrities who cost very little will probably deliver very little. 'Bear in mind that celebrities with the highest profile will invariably cost more, but then you are buying into that profile and hopefully reaping the benefits,' Benenson says.

Using a good celebrity booker can also stop you paying over the odds for a celebrity. 'I will always tell a client if I think a celebrity is overpriced and give two or three alternatives that I think are just as good for less money,' says Williams.

It should not be forgotten that one of the chief talents of the celebrity booker is to negotiate - not only for the best celebrity for the job, but also for the best price.



Do you offer any sort of evaluation service; what criteria do you use to judge the success of using a celebrity in a campaign or event?

Having taken the trouble to secure the services of a celebrity, it can be all too easy not to evaluate the impact they have had on a campaign or event.

'The best way to evaluate success from an agent's point of view is to be there on the day. Post-event audits are useful, but cannot take into account audience response at the point of delivery,' says Lee. However, he adds: 'In the case of serious speakers, a lasting impression does matter and a formal evaluation three months after the presentation would be a very interesting exercise'.

If they do not attend the event in person, many bookers will follow up afterwards. 'I call clients a few days after an event to find out how they felt it went and whether they would consider using celebrities again.

Generally opinion is good but there are always going to be cases where a celebrity did not do a good job or the client's expectations were too high,' says Williams.

'There is no scientific evaluation but if the brief has been fulfilled and the required media coverage achieved the client is invariably happy,' says Brecker.

In the final analysis, many celebrity bookers feel that evaluating the success of a celebrity is really down to the PR agency and client. 'We judge success on how helpful the celebrity was to your campaign. Did they help get the message you wanted across?,' says Benenson.

'While we can read press coverage of an event, only your client and you can judge overall whether sales of that particular product have been positively affected by the use of a celebrity in its launch or endorsement. It would actually be nice to get feedback from the PR company,' he adds.



What is the future of celebrity booking; how are you planning to develop your service?

'The future is exciting,' says Lee. 'Audiences are becoming more experienced and, in the main, our clients are becoming less risk-averse and more amenable to new ideas. Thankfully at the top end of the market the days of dishing out the same celebrities year after year are over.'

Not surprisingly, celebrity bookers think demand for their services will increase.

'There will always be a market for using celebrities in PR and advertising. The public love them and so the industry will use them,' believes Williams.

For Brecker, 'New technology is definitely the way ahead'. Upfront recently launched a pilot business-to-business internet-based service, Celebrities Worldwide, which gives subscribers more than 6,000 celebrity contact details on-line.

Williams agrees: 'I have had a web site for over two years. It is continually being updated but I think it will be some time before people use web sites as often as they could. But nothing replaces a good client relationship.'

Benenson has similar feelings. 'In a way I am horrified that someone might try to buy a celebrity from me on a web site. At the end of the day this business is based on the trust you have with a client, and it's slightly old-fashioned in that sense.'

Lee adds: 'Just as web casting will never totally replace conferences, no amount of on-line surfing will replace the personal experience and the particular skills a good booker is able to offer'.



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