The most effective use of star power

A celebrity spokesperson can boost a campaign, but that star has to be the right fit.

A celebrity spokesperson can boost a campaign, but that star has to be the right fit.

When it comes to a PR strategy, incorporating a celebrity spokesperson can boost budgets and blood pressures, and involve countless hours of impassioned negotiations. The right celebrity, however, can make all that worthwhile and help PR take the lead in a client's marketing mix.

These days, capturing the entertainment media is vital to reaching certain audiences, says Lisa Rosenberg, partner and co-director of Porter Novelli Entertainment. Using stars can not only be an effective way to do that, she says, but can help a brand "punctuate pop culture... influence audience affinity, and impact consumer-buying behavior."

In June, PN partnered with Gillette's Venus to kick off its fifth "Legs of a Goddess" contest, a nationwide search for a woman with unparalleled confidence and charisma - and gorgeous legs. Simultaneously, the brand unveiled its new razor, Venus Breeze.

To heighten awareness of the contest and the product, Rosenberg says, Venus added a celebrity component: The brand awarded pop singer Rihanna with its 2007 "Celebrity Legs of a Goddess" award, and tapped her to serve as a contest judge.

The campaign launch was a "tremendous success," in large part due to Rihanna's relevant correlations to Venus Breeze. She had the exact attributes the brand wanted to celebrate, Rosenberg says: "confidence, charisma, and show-stopping legs. If the natural connection isn't there, it makes it harder for the consumer to find the message credible."

Another way for a celebrity spokesperson to believably resonate with both consumers and media is making the brand his or her own, says Lisa Pearson, MD, home and lifestyle division at DeVries Public Relations.

"That's a scary thing," she admits, and it's not always an option. But it is one reason the firm's Brooke Shields-helmed "Chain of Confidence" Tupperware campaign has been so embraced since its May launch.

With the help of Wendy Dutwin, president of entertainment consultancy Limelight Media, DeVries made sure Shields understood the Tupperware brand, its key messages, and PR program. Shields was then given the flexibility to adapt those messages to her own life, Pearson explains, putting them into her own words and "talking about them from an intimate point of view."

This freedom allowed Tupperware to "use Brooke across lots of different touch points" beyond media relations, Pearson adds. "The more you can integrate the person into the campaign, the better and more meaningful it will be."

That integration, however, can add up financially, warns Erin Haggerty, fashion director at Pierce Mattie PR.

Working with celebrities involves "knowing what you're going to get for what you are going to pay," she says - and setting client expectations from the very beginning.

But even brands with smaller budgets can create celebrity success stories, Haggerty notes. For example, "you can get a lot more out of [up-and-coming talent] than you can with established celebrities," she says. "They will devote more of their time at less of a cost" and are not yet associated with other brands to the point of overexposure.

Brands used "to shy away from using controversial, bad boy/bad girl celebrities," adds Barry Goldberg, owner of talent coordination company Celebrity Connection. But today, "we don't even think about it," he says. "There's a generation of kids in the prime 12 to 24 demographic that so idolize these [celebrities]... The more outrageous stuff that they do, the more they're idolized."

If a brand is going to take a chance with an edgier talent, "you can't call Lloyd's of London and take out an insurance policy," Goldberg says. "It has to be a really smart use of celebrity in PR and it has to make sense. If the PR is good, everybody will overlook the potential for disaster."

Technique tips

Do

Research. To find the right star, use an outside talent consultant or tools like the Davie-Brown Index or Q-scores

Realize that while an individual brand may be adventurous, its celebrity spokesperson often must align with parent-company ethics

Be aware of emerging talent. Sometimes a rising star can be more effective than an established celeb

Don't

Opt for a talent just because he or she is the flavor of the week. No one will believe a spokesperson who doesn't display a relevant brand connection

Expect controversial talent to suddenly turn professional. An edgy reputation may come with lots of baggage

Think celebs are always the answer. An author, fitness expert, or professor may just serve the brand better

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