Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and prayers for my wife . And thanks to my colleagues at Barkley and our friends in Kansas City who are helping us during this journey we are on. I am on a quick trip to New York City for a long scheduled speaking engagement at the Cause Marketing Forum. Char insisted I keep this appointment. My topic is causes and celebrities and here is a synopsis of what I will talk about to the Forum.
Cause and celebrities go together. It’s not new that the stars in movies, television or music get involved in issues that matter. Its been going on for a long time. Many point to Audrey Hepburn and her efforts on behalf of UNICEF as the opening act to today’s onslaught of celebrity cause involvement. In the intervening years, other notables that come to mind are Elizabeth Taylor and Elton John on behalf of AIDS. And what about Bob Hope and his tireless support of our troops as he visited America’s armed forces around the world? Today we have the much-hyped Bono fighting global poverty, hunger and AIDS in Africa. And so on.
In a sense you have to think of celebrities and cause today in two different ways. There are celebrities who are involved in what can be called issue causes—those causes that have political or controversial overtones to them. And there are celebrities who are focused on what I will call more mainstream causes—the ongoing causes that are always with us—health issues, hunger, housing, education. AIDS started out as an issue cause but has now become more of a mainstream health issue.
There is also a third type of cause that is caught in between and not receiving proper attention. There are issues that some don’t want to get too close to because of their perceived negative overtones. Violence against women and children is an example. It is a cause that everyone knows needs to be addressed, but some corporations do not want to associate their brands with family violence or other issues that don’t feel warm and fuzzy. Celebrities help in situations like this because their familiar faces and voices can help take difficult issues and create connections with consumers on behalf of the cause and the corporate partner.
That is just one example of how celebrities can be strategically used to enhance cause branding programs. The key word here is “strategically.” Partnering with a celebrity must be more than just a tactical decision to have a famous face show up at an event. Celebrity involvement must be a strategy. A celebrity alone will not make a campaign. Used correctly, though, a celebrity can be a huge boost to a cause campaign on all levels from awareness to education and, of course, fund raising.
Here are some guidelines for choosing and working with celebrities that will create a successful and strategic partnership:
∑ Establish clear objectives for how a celebrity will add value to the program.
∑ Create a list of the activities the celebrity will be asked to undertake and outline it in terms of number of hours or days of involvement requested.
∑ Identify a group of celebrities to contact.
∑ When making a cold pitch, approach the manager first, publicist second and agent third.
∑ Play fair. In many cases, the celebrity’s people do not all get along, so be careful not to get involved in the crossfire. Befriend everyone. Remember, you are building relationships for future celebrity searches as well.
∑ The celebrity should have a personal connection to the cause.
∑ As with any pitch, be succinct and clearly communicate what benefits the celebrities can expect for themselves.
∑ Be persistent in following up. And stay in touch after the current search is over. Agents call us all the time now with ideas for our programs.
∑ Always give preference to celebrities that have other activities going on simultaneously with their involvement in the cause program. It extends the reach of the cause effort if the celebrity has a new movie forthcoming, a hot new television show launching a second or third season, or a new recording. Their cause involvement will benefit their reputation as well.
∑ Once a decision is made, there should be an agreement drawn up whether or not the celebrity will be paid.
∑ The agreement needs to clearly spell out what both sides are providing each other.
∑ Educating the celebrity about the cause program and the key messages for the year is imperative. You need to conduct the training yourself and not rely on the celebrity’s people to relay the right information.
∑ Overall, remember that the people employed by the celebrity all are dedicated to serving their boss just as you are dedicated to serving your client. Recognize it, figure out how to cater to it and leverage it.
∑ Enjoy the journey while working with a celebrity. It can be painful at times, but it is also rewarding. When you find the right celebrity and have clear objectives for what you want to achieve, the cause is the beneficiary.
What we have learned is that celebrities can truly help a cause if the process is thought through in a strategic manner. There are always going to be critics of celebrity involvement in causes. It is certainly true that some famous folks do it to gain publicity or to improve their personal reputations. But the fact remains that if you take the time to think carefully about the objectives of your program and how a celebrity can fit into those objectives, the experience and the results will be positive.