PR TECHNIQUE USING CELEBRITIES: Keeping tabs on the talent

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.

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