Taylor Swift label comms head on utilizing celebrity spokespeople

Big Machine Label Group's comms head, Jake Basden, reveals his nine top tips for brands who want to work with celebrity spokespeople.

Taylor Swift label comms head on utilizing celebrity spokespeople

Big Machine Label Group is an independent record label that has artists including Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, and Steven Tyler on its roster.

The Nashville, Tennessee-based company’s VP of publicity and corporate communications, Jake Basden, often meets with brands and organizations that want to work with the record label’s artists.

Here are his top tips for how to get the most of a celebrity spokesperson.

Know the players.
Develop an early relationship with the celebrity’s management team because they serve as the closest adviser on all accounts. Think of them as the "chief of staff," responsible for controlling schedules and approvals on every level.

Most celebrities employ their own independent publicists. While I am in charge of publicity for all products that come out of the label, I am not always handling daily initiatives, so it is crucial to build a solid rapport with the "indie." At the end of the day, the artist has employed this person to handle their PR efforts – not you or your agency. The indie’s job is to counsel their client, which can work for or against you. When they are not helpful, it hinders results and conversely, those who are enthusiastic strive to ensure their client delivers on all levels. Also, there are times the indie has a stronger ability to negotiate specific talking points and branded on-air messaging with an outlet. 

Get in-sync.
If your campaign happens during the same timeframe as a job the celebrity is currently promoting, find out how to partner. The media landscape is more competitive than ever, so if the celebrity is on The Today Show supporting a movie in March, you can’t expect Good Morning America to book them in April or May for your campaign or launch.

Go to the source.
I see a lot of marketing agencies hire talent agencies to get a celebrity spokesperson booked rather than a record label or studio directly. A great example of this is Big Machine Label Group’s partnership with General Mills and Feeding America called Outnumber Hunger, which has secured over 40 million meals nationwide since 2011. This has allowed General Mills to have access to not just one artist but several on our roster to engage in multiple press and service days to appeal to various demographics. We are constantly meeting with brands and showcasing our diverse talent roster.

Be direct.
Make sure the initial contract is fully inclusive of all of your requests. Most top celebrities have unwavering schedules, so it’s tough to find additional time with them, and sometimes attorneys and managers will not agree to subsequent requests. No one likes to be surprised.

Do your homework.
If you represent a spirits brand, don’t ask someone that has publicly stated they abstain to endorse your brand. Doing your homework can save you time, money, and embarrassment.

Ask for a meeting.
If the talent agrees to be your spokesperson (and cash your check), you deserve the right to ensure that they understand your overall message. Therefore, put a media training session in the contract. This is mutually beneficial to ensure that natural conversations about your brand happen. It’s not uncommon to ask for a meeting with the talent and their management team to witness in person that they are truly interested in serving as an ambassador of your brand in the most authentic way possible.

Messaging and imaging.
Use the celebrity’s voice and not your brand when drafting key messages. Research past interviews with your prospective spokesperson and look for key words or phrases they often use. If they are funny, add humor. I’ve been put in a lot of awkward situations where the message points weren’t decided in advance and everyone is scrambling to help make it more comfortable for the celebrity on press day.

Images are also very important to an artist – on package, in-store promotions, in a press release – so be sure to only use approved graphics. Be proactive and ask the celebrity’s team which photographers they are most comfortable with, and then make sure your budget can accommodate. When the artist is photographed or interviewed in a familiar environment, they are more likely to deliver at the highest level.

Hair and make-up is everything.
Ask upfront what expenses are required for stylists and glam. These expenses are usually very high, so find out before you agree on final terms of contract. Many celebrities will only work with specific people, often incurring their agency fee on top of the booking cost, and you are often responsible for traveling the "glam squad" with the artist.

Nothing is free.
While most celebrities participate in philanthropic endeavors, there can often be significant expenses associated with public appearances. If you are asking an artist to attend a charitable event—one without an appearance fee budget – you should at least be willing to offer a stipend for their options for glam and a car service for the event. Also, make sure you mention that you are willing to cover these expenses in the lead portion of your conversation.

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