Media relations: Celeb Power

Using celebrities to endorse consumer products can provide PROs with unique opportunities. But it's not always straightforward.

Flick through any consumer title and it is clear that celebrity sells. From niche interest magazines to TV listings, women's weeklies and the glossies, the nation seemingly can't get enough gossip, scandal and behind-the-scenes action on famous faces.

Fortunately for brands, readers also have an insatiable appetite for the minutiae of celebrities' lives. From Hollywood high-flyers to home-grown soap stars, sports stars and Pop Idols, the public wants to know everything from how they shop, eat and look, to the thread count of their bed linen.

All of which is fertile ground for celebrity endorsement; the logic being to associate brand X with personality Y and hope that some of the fame, glamour and kudos rubs off.

To find out how far the editors of high-selling women's and teenage glossy magazines are prepared to go in indulging the growing celebrity endorsement trend, PRWeek spoke to six editors at the glamorous end of journalist/PRO relations.

All is not what it once was in the world of celebrity endorsement and consumer titles. According to some in celebrity PR and marketing communications, journalists have become much more demanding when it comes to the stories PR people pitch linking a brand and a famous face, particularly over the type of star and the levels of access they need.

'A few years ago, you could get fairly good mileage out of putting a celebrity in a branded T-shirt - both for the celebrity and the brand.

Now the days of the cheesy photocall are over,' says Ian Monk, managing director of MacLaurin Media, which among other celebrity clients represents Claire Sweeney.

Likewise, despite the growth in celebrity magazines - witness Closer, Now, Heat and OK! - and the explosion of celebrity itself, magazines are becoming much more picky about the stars they rate.

'There has been a move from Hollyoaks to Hollywood,' says Wendy Mair, head of the marcoms practice at Hill & Knowlton, who has worked with Walkers (and Gary Lineker) and Adidas (with David Beckham).

'Consumer magazines are becoming more niche and their desire for certain celebrities is becoming more niche as they know the type of celebrity that will appeal to their reader,' she adds.

This is not to say that smaller celebrities do not still have their moment.

Last year Domestos had a brief flirtation with Alex, the cleaning obsessive from Big Brother, while EHPR helped Wella ShockWaves join forces with Gareth Gates, following the success he enjoyed from ITV1's Pop Idol.

The most important factor in any celebrity endorsement is fitting the right famous face to the right brand. But with the recent explosion of celebrity through phenomena such as reality TV - in which 'ordinary folk' become celebrities - has come a more discerning market. Readers and editors have become more demanding.

'The big decision is not whether to do it, but who are we going to use, as credibility is key,' says JCPR founding partner Jackie Cooper.

The trickiest part of the deal nowadays is balancing access to the star and exclusivity for the journalist, with mentions for the brand.

Cooper, who signed up Claire Sweeney to front Marks & Spencer's egoboost bras and more recently helped underwear brand Ultimo hook up with Rod Stewart's girlfriend, Penny Lancaster, says that her organisation has a firm policy of never involving money.

But she adds that it is often best to have a legal agreement between the three parties involved - the celebrity, the brand and the journalist: 'The magazines have to keep their editorial integrity, but a journalist knows that if they go back on a deal, then we won't touch them again.'.

And of course, as the consumer magazine sector becomes ever more competitive, the level of access to a celebrity they achieve, the more the story becomes a PR coup for the magazine.

Jo Elvin, editor, Glamour

'Attaining celebrity access through PR endorsements is a tricky area.

'The crux of the issue for me is how big the celebrity is and how desperately I want them. And if I'm honest, for most celebrities, it doesn't seem worth sacrificing our editorial integrity. I would never, for instance, agree to a cover on the condition that a celebrity wears a brand.

'If someone was enticing me with Madonna, I'd probably listen to what they wanted in exchange, but in my experience most of these agreements involve a logo or product shot too much for my taste. In the long run, it's better for me to walk away from the access to that celebrity than to end up with a clunk shot of them holding a product.

'We occasionally work with brands when they have signed a celebrity to their cosmetics brand, for instance. This feels a little easier for me, because our readers are genuinely interested in the news that a supermodel has a new make-up contract or a celebrity is launching a perfume. It feels far less gratuitous.

'We sometimes make exceptions for charity features. If the reader feels that some editorial is also raising money, then they are more accepting of product placements - eg. celebrities wearing an Asda T-shirt, the sale of which raises money for Breast Cancer Care.

'We've had many successful partnerships that have raised money for great causes.'

Nina Ahmad, deputy editor, Cosmopolitan

'Cosmopolitan chooses celebrities for the cover who are incredibly popular with the readers, like Martine McCutcheon, who we used for the December 2002 issue in the UK. But they will only make it on to our cover if they have something strong and new to say that we can also cover-line, so we offer the readers as much as possible.

'We will absolutely not use a celebrity on the cover if it is purely because they have a product to endorse. Likewise with the big celebrity interviews within the magazine, we will not use a celebrity picture endorsing a product as we feel this is cheating the reader.

'While negotiating celebrity interviews we always make this clear, plus the fact that there will be no copy approval on any interview and this is how we ensure editorial integrity.

'Cosmopolitan would never just say "yes" to a designer wanting to showcase their clothes in a fashion shoot, using a celebrity model. The celebrity would have to be a huge star and we would need to have an exclusive interview or something much more to give the reader.

'For Cosmopolitan generally, we could not make whatever a celebrity had to endorse at all prominent in any feature as it ends up looking like an advert and our readers would just not be happy with that.'

Margi Conklin, deputy editor, Elle

'Of course, celebrities always have a "project" they want to plug - but usually this will be a new album, movie, TV series or fashion collection.

If Sarah Jessica Parker wants to talk about Sex and the City, we're more than happy to sit back and listen.

'This arrangement becomes less than ideal, however, when a star wants to plug a product that bears no relation to the core values of the magazine.

I've seen some publications fall into that trap and it has an effect on both the star and the title. I remember when Cat Deeley had a deal with Oral B and a magazine ran the art as though it was a proper glossy shoot - I felt that might have been going too far. Not only does it confuse the reader, in some cases it may appear tasteless.

'We celebrate people for their style, beauty, talents and achievements - not because we're getting them off the back of a £1m ad campaign. And while stars do use us to get publicity, we also use celebrity stories to grab headlines for Elle. When Meg Mathews took her clothes off for our January cover, she did it so people would notice her. But millions of people noticed Elle as a result. That's what I call a beautiful PR relationship.'

Marie O'Riordan, editor, Marie Claire

'It's a constant juggling act balancing your reader's satisfaction versus the PR agenda. In the words of David Brent, you shoot for a "win-win"!

'Marie Claire's most successful example was our August 2002 cover.

Kylie's PRO approached us with an idea involving Evian, her tour sponsor.

Evian was after the high-octane glamour that association with Kylie could provide. Promotional artwork for the tour was planned and both Evian and Kylie's people wanted to give these pictures to us for use in a cover story. Their "win" was promoting the tour and Evian to a perfect audience.

My "win" was getting a shoot with a sought-after star.

'I was able to brief their photographer on our requirements plus I was granted an interview. My side of the bargain was to mention Evian and run one small shot inside of Kylie with an Evian bottle. The main reason the project worked was because both PROs were co-operative and never lost sight of my editorial agenda.

'Ultimately, Evian paid for one of my best-selling cover stories last year. An offer like this will probably never occur again. But if PROs thought about the editorial agenda a bit more often, they would be surprised at editors' willingness to co-operate.'

Lysanne Currie, editorial director, Sugar

'Sugar very rarely features celebrities endorsing products and only if the product is of total relevance for the readers. If the synergy between celebrity, magazine and products isn't perfect then the feature can only do damage to all three.

'Sugar's teenage readership is extremely media savvy and hates feeling that they are being sold to in a clumsy way. However, if the synergy is right, readers absorb the message and the deal can be brilliantly successful for all three partners.

'Last year, we were offered a shoot with Gareth Gates by EHPR, PR company for Wella Shockwaves. We would get the shoot and interview exclusively for the teen market in return for Gareth talking about Shockwaves and a product shot. In return Wella could say which pictures they didn't like, but Sugar retained final picture and copy approval.

'At Sugar we don't give copy approval - PROs who work with us regularly realise that our features are fair - but we will give PROs the chance to comment on the pictures from the shoot.

'With the Wella deal, it was a great opportunity for us to get great pictures of Gareth at a time when he was all every teenager craved. The shoot went well, Gareth answered our questions, we got some great pictures and Wella Shockwaves products were seen by 365,000 Sugar readers. Perfect.'

Jane Johnson, editor, Closer

'The aim of every good journalist is to produce the best story without compromise. It's only fair to the readers. Which makes the area of celebrity endorsement a tricky prospect. Why would you want to talk to Liz Hurley about her favourite shampoo, when what readers really want to know is the latest on her love life?

'But faced with the choice between no Liz Hurley interview (she's not known for inviting reporters into her home) and having access to her with the proviso that there has to be a mention of her shampoo, very few editors would turn it down.

'It would, of course, be a different story if you were being offered access to a star who wasn't so A-list. There's no point having a reject from the celebrity Big Brother line-up pushing your pasta brand - you might as well burn that budget now.

'Humour in the shape of a great picture opportunity can work well. If you're topical. If you sign up the celebrity winner of a big reality TV show you'll be able to exploit their trend value. But be quick, it often doesn't last for long. If you're not topical, be clever. Give your star (and pick wisely) a never-been-seen-before look - or put them in an unlikely pose, surroundings or outfit, you may be onto a winner. But beware, choose your concepts well.

'Think glamour and humour - but don't be cheesy. Nobody wants to see even the most famous star doing something naff.'

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