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8 Tips From the Front Lines on Leveraging Celebrity for PR

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Today we bring you a guest post by Ryan Croy. Croy is Managing Partner at Fifteen Minutes, an LA-based entertainment and lifestyle-focused public relations and communications agency. This post is the first in an ongoing collaborative series.

As a PR firm that represents both celebrities and consumer brands – from large multinationals to newly-launching lifestyle businesses – we get a 360-degree perspective on the practice of matching companies with talent to drive awareness for corporate initiatives, be they product launches, red carpet events, non-profit programs or social media campaigns.

If executed correctly, a celebrity partnership could open a floodgate of media coverage, spike consumer interest and positively impact your client’s bottom line. As PR professionals, we carry the torch for earned media impressions and their value in shifting public perception.  It is our job to know if and when a celebrity-driven initiative is the appropriate strategy to deliver ROI.

In today’s reality, celebrity engagement fees are higher than they’ve ever been. Unless you’re working with a large budget, it might make sense to explore other avenues or more cost-effective alternatives.  But in the event that you do move forward with a plan to generate earned or owned media buzz through a celebrity influencer, be sure to consider the following to minimize missteps and ensure maximum value:

1. Know your audience

If your core customer is male between the ages of 35-50, listens to country music and spends discretionary income on fishing gear, you’re probably not going to want to seek out a young actress from an ABC Family show as your campaign spokesperson. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many businesses miss the mark on defining the right personalities based on their consumer profile.

2. Aim for authenticity

Regardless of whom you end up working with, one of the most important factors in determining a successful relationship is authenticity.  Whether the celebrity is hosting an event, making an appearance, doing a PSA or supporting a product launch through traditional or social media campaigns, the initiative will achieve optimal ROI if it’s organic.  If the partnership lacks authenticity, even if your consumer bases intersect, it will come across as forced and ultimately fall flat.

3. Be realistic  

Once you define your audience, research personalities that not only align nicely with your core consumer but also fit within your budget. If you’ve allocated $20,000 to secure a celebrity for an SMT and social media campaign, don’t expect Jennifer Lawrence.  As powerful or influential as the brand may be, by entering a paid arrangement to promote a product, celebrities instantly limit the work they can do for other brands in the same category. It may even make sense, given the nature and objectives of the campaign, to engage a lesser-known personality who might be a category expert or well-known influencer with an extremely engaged and responsive fan base.

4. Establish a celebrity filter 

The shotgun approach to celebrity outreach typically produces an underwhelming, low-ROI campaign that leaves PR teams scrambling for impressions and calling in favors to second-tier media outlets.  When you’ve defined your audience, budget and a list of celebrities you believe are the right fit for the campaign, establish a filter based on a list of criteria central to the brand and its message.  Run each influencer on your list through the filter and if he or she meets every attribute, you’ve found yourself a name you’ll want to pursue.

5. Do your due diligence

Before reaching out, do the necessary research to ensure there are no conflicts of interest or recent public faux pas among your top choices.  If your goal is to leverage a celebrity or personality for media coverage surrounding an event or campaign, make sure that person is relevant to media in your category.  Also, steer clear of celebrities who are too visible, or have their hands in a number of campaigns.  Often times, once celebrities are engaged, black out dates arise due to other projects he or she is involved with or they’re already scheduled to appear on a national morning show weeks before your campaign to promote a different project.

6. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket

When you begin your outreach, it may take days, if not weeks, to get a firm answer on the availability of your top choice, so don’t be afraid to impose deadlines and be persistent. Often times, brands end up settling for a personality that wasn’t an original choice because they spent too much time targeting one person who ultimately declined their offer.  Place between five to seven ranked names on your hit list and be prepared to move swiftly should you get a firm ‘no’.

7. Define your ask 

Know exactly what you’re asking of a celebrity ambassador and be as specific as possible when approaching their reps with a formal offer. The more specific you are regarding scope and budget, the faster you’ll get feedback to move forward or move on.

8. Include a budget for ancillary costs

Depending on the nature of the campaign, you can anticipate additional costs including hair and make-up, transportation and first-class accommodations and air travel (no celeb wants to be seen or photographed in the back of a plane).  These fees can add up, so plan for them in advance.

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