Celebrities will add pizzazz to your campaign, but they could also
land you in hot water. Larry Dobrow reports on how to nip potential
problems in the bud, or at least deal with them effectively if they
In former Party of Five star Lacey Chabert, Weber Shandwick Worldwide VP
Daisy Okas thought she had the perfect spokesperson for a Kodak
promotion aimed at teenagers. Chabert was young, hip, pretty - and a
photography enthusiast to boot. Alas, Chabert had a few small requests,
and wasn't at all shy about verbalizing them.
"At the last minute - and it wasn't specified in the contract - she
demanded that we hire a specific hair and makeup person," Okas recalls.
"Then she made us cancel an interview that had been scheduled for weeks
so that this person could work on her. She did a decent job, but she was
way too demanding for her level of star power."
The lesson to be learned from this experience: no matter what is agreed
upon ahead of time, there's always a chance that your hand-picked
celebrity will throw a hissy fit over an issue as seemingly trivial as
the exact shade of their highlights. And, as Celebrity Connection
president and founder Barry Greenberg notes, "The last thing you want is
some pissed-off celebrity hawking your product or service on national
The vast majority of encounters with celebrity spokespeople proceed
without incident. "It's a business transaction," Jill Farwell, managing
director of Manning Selvage & Lee's global consumer practice states
flatly. "You're buying somebody's time to speak on behalf of a product
or service. The key is to do it in a way that respects their agenda."
Therefore, be as specific as possible in the contract.
The first issue that presents itself is almost always compensation,
which isn't as simple as merely negotiating a dollar figure. Sally
Gaglini, president of Zip Celebrity, notes that many potential
spokespeople will insist upon an additional perdiem sum that can run to
several hundred dollars per day. Sometimes celebrities will accept a
client's product - say, a limited-edition car - in lieu of cash;
sometimes they'll demand the entire fee up front. "Never, ever, ever do
this," Gaglini stresses. "Pay as you go. You can stop payments if the
talent doesn't perform as promised, but it's difficult to get the money
back once the person has it."
Additionally, there's no set daily rate for a celebrity's services. "Our
delightful friends in the PR arena often call us and say something like,
'We're going to pitch Pillsbury and want to know what George Hamilton
will charge for a six-month PR tour,'" says Greenberg. "What they don't
understand is that a lot of the time, the fee depends on what kind of
mood the celebrity's agent is in when he gets up in the morning."
The next hurdle that must be cleared is the elusive exclusivity
"If you hire an athlete to promote your allergy medication, you
obviously don't want him using a competing product in public," says
Ogilvy PR Worldwide SVP Beth Kramli. These clauses, however, aren't easy
to negotiate, if only because the client and the spokesperson often
disagree about what constitutes a conflict. Michael Lasky, a partner at
law firm Davis & Gilbert, stresses that the contract should identify
competitors by name. "You can't just say, 'Don't endorse competitive
products.' If you're a soft-drink company, Red Bull is more of a
competitive concern to you than Seagram's seltzer."
Then there's the extensive clause in which the contract broker spells
out when (length of term), where (geographic boundaries), and how
(promotions/ads/PR/point-of-sale materials) the client will be permitted
to use the celebrity's name, likeness, or image. Better-known
celebrities will often ask for approval over ads or other promotional
materials, and sometimes over the publications in which they will
appear. Similarly, others will insist that their appearances on behalf
of a product or service gel with their pre-planned PR agendas.
"Celebrities map these out six months in advance," notes Edelman
Entertainment marketing SVP Mary Semling. "You'll hear, 'Oh, I can't do
Leno again.'" To prevent clashes between a celebrity's publicity slate
and the client's goals, it is wise to include a list of potential media
bookings in the contract.
As for media training, it's not enough to send a packet of materials to
a spokesperson and hope for the best. "We've started including a clause
that says, 'We envision you presenting these message points' in both the
offer letter and the contract," says Semling. "It makes the client's
agenda very clear up front."
And these clauses and concerns are just the tip of the iceberg.
Experienced negotiators tell horror stories about peers who failed to
specify how many hours constituted a "working day," then watched their
spokes-person depart after a mere three hours of media interviews; about
a spokesperson who demanded extra money not to wear a competitor's
branded apparel when seated courtside at a televised basketball game;
and about a baseball player who was "too ill" to attend a client's
event, yet led off the first inning of that night's game with a home
"It's always the one thing you never even considered that will come and
bite you in the ass," quips Greenberg. "By the time we get finished
making the deal, everybody is a little bloody. But I'd be lying if I
said that isn't part of the fun."
1. Do include a 'morals clause,' which allows clients to terminate their
relationship with a spokesperson who has acted in a way that reflects
unfavorably on the company or its products
2. Do allot sufficient time for media training and post-interview
feedback, regardless of whether the celebrity and his or her agent think
they need it. Meet with celebrities the day before their appearance
rather than an hour before they go on camera
3. Do be prepared for surprises. Regardless of how comprehensive the
contract may be, celebrities are notoriously fickle and often demand
perks (e.g., a certain type of bottled water) that were not specified
ahead of time
1. Don't expect a celebrity to be everybody's best friend. Clients pay a
spokesperson to promote a product or service, not to have dinner with
their PR reps
2. Don't assume that just because background materials have been sent to
a spokesperson in a timely fashion, they'll be read. Expect that the
celebrity will show up for the interview or shoot with little, if any,
knowledge about the client
3. Don't change the rules of engagement. Never expect a celebrity
spokesperson to accommodate a change in schedule or responsibilities -
unless he or she is compensated accordingly.