How to choose the right celeb

Finding the right celebrity to endorse a campaign can be a master stroke but a poor choice could mean disaster. Cathy Wallace offers some tips

Find a hook: Lenny Henry was lit up for NPower
Find a hook: Lenny Henry was lit up for NPower

Celebrities can make a PR campaign. Get the right person and your campaign will be given credibility, clout and an almost guaranteed route to the right audience.

But sign up the wrong person and your campaign could, at best, go unnoticed, and at worst turn into a head-in-hands moment as ‘your’ celebrity’s misdemeanours are splashed over the News Of The World.

So how to choose the right talent? First and foremost, a celebrity endorsement has to be credible. ‘Will people believe David Beckham shops in Asda?’ says Andrew Bloch, managing director of Frank PR. ‘Probably not. Will they believe Kerry Katona shops in Iceland? Absolutely.’

Max Clifford, who has introduced many of his most high-profile celebrity clients to charities to lend their support, advises that a partnership or endorsement will only work if it is believable and natural.

‘The media will be cynical and critical and inclined to say they’re just doing it for the sake of it unless it is natural,’ says Clifford. ‘If somebody says what does Simon Cowell know about breast cancer and why is he speaking out about it – his mum suffered from breast cancer so it’s a cause close to his heart.’

The exposure/overexposure balance also needs to be right. Your chosen face needs to be interesting and newsworthy enough to hit headlines, but it is crucial to get them on board at the right time. Frankie Oliver, board director of Nelson Bostock, says: ‘A lot of celebrity campaigns will rest on profile interviews in the media, but if your celebrity has done a film or TV launch and been in lots of titles in the past six months, they are unlikely to get into the same titles again.’

Bloch cites a recent campaign for Virgin Media using Rachel Stevens: ‘At the time of the launch Rachel was one of the finalists in Strictly Come Dancing, and she was topical. Using her three months earlier just wouldn’t have had the same impact.’

But if your celebrity is not guaranteed to hit headlines, there are other ways. Creative photography will often make an impact. Comedian Lenny Henry was a hit in a campaign for NPower, when he was pictured in a suit covered in lightbulbs. Elsewhere Oxfam used some striking images of comedian Johnny Vegas, author Meera Syal and actress Prun-ella Scales for its ‘Unwrapped’ Christmas campaign.

‘The photos were very humorous and as the campaign was targeted at the mass public we wanted a range of people who could reach a variety of audiences,’ explains Raakhi Shah, UK artists liaison manager for Oxfam.

Oxfam, like many charities, has several celebrities who lend their names to campaigns. But Shah says the charity will not accept just anyone. Famous people who are constantly attracting bad publicity for falling out of nightclubs or taking drugs, or are associated with a brand that is unethical, would not be welcome as ambassadors, she says.

Celebrities also have to fit the audience, adds Oliver. ‘If your campaign rests on being a voice for parents, you need someone who will be respected by parents.’

In a celebrity-dominated media landscape there is also the risk of people becoming bored with seeing the same person backing just about every brand, charity and product going. ‘Personally I’m sick to death of seeing Kelly Brook endorsing something new,’ says Bloch. ‘There are celebrities out there who will put their names to lots of things, and that just has the so what factor.’

Whoever you choose, be aware there are sometimes circumstances that you just cannot control.

Celebrities are people with their own lives, and there is always a risk factor, warns Bloch: ‘If you have a brand that is very family-orientated and you recently put all your money into hiring Gordon Ramsay, you would not be happy with the allegations made against him recently, whether they are true or not.’

But if you do your research and plan a swift exit strategy should things go sour, hiring a well known face can define your campaign.

Golden rules: How to sign a star to back your campaign

Have more than one celebrity on your initial hit list – you will not always be able to sign your first choice

Involve the client – you may think a certain celebrity is perfect for the brand but the client may have other ideas

Be realistic – not everyone can sign David Beckham

Pre-agree with the agent which media you are going to target to avoid a ‘sorry, we don’t do OK’ moment halfway through

Be clear on what you expect from the celebrity – do you want a day set aside for interviews? Photoshoots? Quotes? If you’re aiming for breakfast shows, make sure the celebrity is happy to be up and about at 6am

Build a good relationship with the celebrity’s agent so you can ask them to warn you in advance if any negative publicity is brewing

Make sure you have a long cancellation period – if your celebrity cancels two weeks before launch date, you will be lucky to recruit someone else in that time frame

Jamie Oliver

Famous for Being the Naked Chef and more recently, his crusades to improve the nation’s health
Suitable for Any food brands, social justice campaigns, family-friendly brands (Oliver is a devoted husband and father)
Not suitable for Anti-swearing campaigns – newspapers including the Daily Mirror have launched offensives against Oliver’s prolific use of the ‘f’ word

Elizabeth Hurley

Famous for ‘That’ dress, being Hugh Grant’s girlfriend for ten years, sultry upper-class image with saucy vixen undertones
Suitable for Beauty brands, upmarket luxury brands, fashion brands, fur coats
Not suitable for Animal rights – Hurley has angered PETA by posing in fur

Joanna Lumley

Famous for National icon, original ‘posh totty’. Stunning beauty with impeccable social standing and impressive charity credentials. Managed to maintain flawless image despite starring as boozy drug-wreck Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous
Suitable for Causes close to her heart such as a recent Gurkha campaign, upmarket brands, luxury car insurance
Not suitable for Any budget or downmarket brands


Famous for Being a UK-born R’n’B superstar who counts hip-hop heavyweight Kanye West as a friend
Suitable for Any hip, urban brands, Ribena (rapper Kanye references the kids’ drink in Estelle’s no 1 single American Boy), anti-violence and knife crime campaigns
Not suitable for Newsnight. Estelle has labelled presenter Jeremy Paxman as ‘disrespectful’

Sir Ian Botham

Famous for Being arguably the most talented cricketer England has ever produced and his tireless charity work
Suitable for Charity support, beef-based brands (‘Beefy’ was the face of British Beef)
Not suitable for BSE awareness-raising, vegetarian campaigns


Case Study Natalie Imbruglia launches Martini Rosato

Client    Martini
PR team    Nelson Bostock Communications
Celebrity    Natalie Imbruglia
Timescale    May-September 2008

Despite high-profile advertising campaigns, including one starring George Clooney, the Martini brand was still seen as unfashionable in the UK among women aged 25-29.

To launch a new type of Martini – Martini Rosato – and help make the brand appear more relevant to young women, Nelson Bostock Communications co-ordinated a celebrity and media party at Kensington Roof Gardens.

The agency signed singer and actress Natalie Imbruglia to ‘host’ the party and act as the brand ambassador. She was chosen as someone who features on style pages in glossy magazines and because her Italian heritage and ‘Riviera image’ fit with the brand.

The party was covered in national showbiz pages, and interviews appeared in OK, Hello and InStyle, focusing on the Martini Rosato launch.

In total 70 per cent of media coverage appeared in titles read by women aged 25-29, and two-thirds of the coverage linked the Martini brand to Imbruglia.

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