Lending star power to your brand

Stars, like it or not, are everywhere, and the right one can be an excellent brand-booster.

Stars, like it or not, are everywhere, and the right one can be an excellent brand-booster.

In 1961, social historian Daniel Boorstin wrote, "The celebrity is a person who is well-known for his well-knownness." Those words resonate stronger than ever today, as PR pros tap into America's obsession with stars to garner media coverage and credibility on behalf of clients.

"It's necessary for brands to incorporate relevant celebrities into their PR campaigns to stay current and 'cool' in consumers' eyes," says Jill Borkan, account supervisor at New York-based Alison Brod Public Relations. Her firm has relied on celebrity integration for fashion and lifestyle clients like Victoria's Secret Pink, bag designer Kooba, and Cointreau. It has found that using brand-appropriate stars is a key tool to gain attention from titles like People and Us Weekly.

Niki Ostin, account supervisor at LA-based Clifford PR, agrees that smart celebrity integration can lend authority to a brand and help shepherd it toward a specific audience. Clifford clients, including Kahlua, the Platinum Guild, and AT&T, have seen great success with celebrity-driven programs, Ostin says. But it's essential, she warns, to "make sure the talent you're working with is dedicated to your project [and] is the right fit for what you're trying to accomplish."

To ensure that right fit, a PR firm might consider enlisting the services of a talent agency. Rita Tateel, president of LA-based Celebrity Source, says the benefit of working with a talent procurement firm like hers is that it specializes in identifying the stars who best meet a client's demographic, psychographic, and strategic needs - and are realistic for the allotted budget. She adds that her staff is intimately aware of the talent's hobbies, interests, and other personal affiliations that can "motivate a star to say 'yes' beyond money."

"It's critical to find a star who is truly passionate about the topic or item you want them to represent," adds Lisa Stockman, team leader with New York-based Chandler Chicco Agency. That's especially vital at CCA, a healthcare-focused firm which has at times relied on stars to raise awareness about little-known or taboo diseases and treatments.

Kerry Lyman, director of marketing and PR for St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina Pet Care, says Purina has involved stars in its marketing mix for years, from its star-studded cat calendar to its current ProPlan Rally to Rescue program.

To PR pros looking at celebrity integration, Lyman cautions that there may be some initial sticker shock. "Celebrities are expensive," she warns. But with a well-written contract and strong media training, she says, talent integration can be a solid use of PR resources. And "if you want to get on Extra," Lyman adds, "you [need] a celebrity component."

Another way to get on Extra or Access Hollywood is via "seeding," distributing free products to celebrities in hopes they'll use them and be captured on film doing so.

Though less formal than contractual endorsements - and recently the topic of much talk regarding potential tax implications - the industry shows no signs of slowing, says Karen Wood, president of LA-based celebrity gifting firm Backstage Creations.

While Backstage's efforts typically focus on footwear, accessories, handbags, and food items, star-seeding can work effectively with most consumer products, Wood says. In creating gifting suites designed for events including the annual Teen Choice Awards, Wood looks at the targeted celebrities' likes and dislikes, and tailors on-site marketing accordingly.

Participating in swag suites and loot bag-stuffing can be rewarding for "brands that don't have the budget for an ad in People," says Jenna Seiden, cofounder of Swagtime, a Web site dedicated to the goodie-bag culture. She works directly with gift-bag companies, event coordinators, and marketers to share the contents of celebrity booty bags with site readers. Every product featured on the site is then linked to an e-commerce page on which consumers can buy it. "People like to emulate their heroes," Seiden says of the site's popularity.

Though "you can never guarantee press, from a brand perspective, [seeding] is a good way to get exposure," says Julie Kenney, president of gifting firm Jewels and Pinstripes.

Particularly with charities, she says, when brands provide merchandise as a "thank you" to star participants, it offers them the chance to serve as "mini-sponsors," connecting them with both a worthy cause and the talent affiliated with it.

Technique tips

DO

Be specific about expectations on both sides of the effort. A precise contract is essential

Consider using a talent-procurement agency. They can advise on the right fit and on which celebs shirk obligations

Look at informal arrangements, such as celeb gifting suites and swag bags

DON'T

Guarantee a client media coverage based on "seeding" efforts

Feel the need to give every celeb free merchandise. Not everyone gets the $50,000 goodie bag

Expect a celebrity to change his or her ways because of a PR campaign

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