Putting the campaign's best face forward

Finding the right celebrity for a cause marketing effort can be a critical part of its success

In today's culture, celebrities are influencers, and bringing them on as spokespeople for a cause marketing campaign is almost expected. Celebrities ranging from Brad Pitt to Phantom of the Opera star Emmy Rossum have recently signed up for such efforts. For PR pros looking to add star power to cause marketing campaigns, there are several things to think about when choosing a famous face.

David Schwab, VP and MD of Octagon's First Call, a celebrity acquisition and activation company, suggests creating a list of celebrities to approach about participation, keeping in mind the assets of the celebrities, including other projects, “bookability” with the media, and their influence.

“Michael Phelps, for example, his Facebook page now has 1.5 million friends,” Schwab says. “So your audience is coming along with [him].” But not all celebrities will bring the same long-term interest as Phelps, he says. An actor in a movie is bookable for a shorter period of time than an actor on a prime-time TV show. Depending on the length of the campaign, either option can work.

In July 2006, haircare brand Pantene launched its “Beautiful Lengths” campaign, which collects ponytails to make real-hair wigs to donate to women who have lost their hair from chemotherapy, with help from actress Diane Lane. For the 2007 campaign, Pantene worked with Hilary Swank, who cut her hair to donate on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

“The power of Hilary combined with the power of Oprah was really synergistic in terms of creating and building awareness of the program,” says Randall Chinchilla, external relations manager for Pantene North America. For the campaign, Pantene worked with the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), a nonprofit that acts as the philanthropic arm of the entertainment industry.

More so than a popular celebrity, a personal connection to the cause is what resonates, says Judi Ketcik, VP of communications for EIF. “If you've been personally touched... you're more passionate about the cause,” she adds.

According to a survey of marketers from Octagon First Call, 69% say they are more likely to pay attention to a nonprofit or cause marketing campaign if the celebrity spokesperson has a personal connection to the cause.

“Consumers today are much more savvy about cause marketing,” says Alison DaSilva, EVP at Cone, which has worked with Avon's “Breast Cancer Crusade” and the American Heart Association's “Go Red for Women.”

One thing to think about when aligning with a celebrity is if he or she has any previous experience with the cause or the company, says Mike Swenson, EVP at Barkley PR, which has worked with Lee Jeans' “Lee National Denim Day” for 13 years. This year's celebrity ambassadors are Grey's Anatomy's Chandra Wilson and Private Practice's Tim Daly.

But Swenson warns about partnering with a celebrity who might already be involved in too many other causes. “It really needs to be somebody who... is really going to be focused on your cause,” he says.

After a celebrity is chosen, the final important step is the contract, outlining what the company expects from the celebrity, including access to friends and family.

“That needs to be clear from the beginning,” Schwab says. “If that family member has passed away, have you cleared that you have access to rights to video of that person?... Clearing how comfortable this person is talking about certain things is critical.”

“Every client opportunity is going to be different,” says Sacheen Cicero, group VP and creative specialist at Cohn & Wolfe, which recently worked on Payless' “Friendship Shoe” campaign, benefitting the Fresh Air Fund. “In the end, you want your client, or your client's [product or cause], to be the star of the campaign, not the celebrity.”

Do

  • Make sure the celebrity has a personal connection
  • Be clear on requirements and commitments in the contract
  • Partner with experienced organizations and causes

Don't

  • Assume that every celebrity is a good public speaker
  • Underestimate the value of up-and-coming celebrities
  • Think that all cause marketing campaigns will be the same

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