Dispatches exposed the shocking reality behind non-profit celebrity endorsement

Channel 4’s Dispatches, 'Celebs For Sale: The Great Charity Scandal', saw former 'I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!' contestants Harry Redknapp and Caitlyn Jenner supporting a fake charity in return for thousands of pounds.

It's fine for celebrities to endorse charities, but only if they believe in the message, argues Shelley Frosdick
It's fine for celebrities to endorse charities, but only if they believe in the message, argues Shelley Frosdick

The investigation raised some big questions about the use of celebrities by charities, and the shared insight into the public’s perception of these partnerships.   

The show opened with Harry Redknapp posing in a T-shirt for a non-existent charity called CUPPA, and it made for uncomfortable viewing.

Not only did it raise big questions around how celebrities choose to support charities, but it also shone a light on the individuals that work for and support celebrities and broker these deals.

When executed correctly, no one would question the success and influence that a celebrity can bring to a charity.

Some of the most successful charity partnerships have been driven and supported by celebrities.

Could anyone imagine Comic Relief or Stand up to Cancer without the vast amount of celebrity support they have – and would they be as successful without it?

Authenticity is a word we use a lot in PR, and rightly so; particularly when it comes to celebrity partnerships. 

For me, the most painful viewing came as Antony Barnett asked Caitlyn Jenner why she wanted to support CUPPA.

As Caitlyn sat proudly in her CUPPA T-shirt, she delivered a series of comments that demonstrated almost no understanding of the issues that it was raising awareness of (plastic waste in Africa) and, as she tried to display a knowledge of, and passion for, the issue, it became more and more clear that this particular partnership was one where the dollar signs seemed more important than the cause.

I’m sure that Caitlyn does a huge amount for charity, and I commend her for that, but this decision to take money to promote a fledgling charity was wrong. Add to that her visible lack of engagement in the subject, and you have a partnership that is never going to work.

Any celebrity lending their time to a charity will want to feel a reward from giving their time and that they have made a difference, and that’s a feeling that comes from an authentic connection – not a monetary payment.

Charities should focus their efforts on finding celebrity partnerships that are mutually beneficial.

Find an individual who shares the same passions as the charity and has a connection that is authentic, and will resonate with the audience they are trying to reach.

Ultimately, the celebrity is being used to encourage the public to support a cause; if their fans and followers see through a partnership then it’s a wasted exercise for all involved. 

What Dispatches showed is that the public don’t want charities to spend their money in this way and that they find it uncomfortable and a poor use of funds.

They want to see partnerships they can engage with and trust.

Find a celebrity who wants to work with you as much as you want to work with them. Not an easy find, but when you do, the impact will be significant. 

Shelley Frosdick is divisional managing director of The PHA Group 

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