"These days, it’s nearly impossible to surf the Internet, open a newspaper or magazine, or watch television without seeing a celebrity selling something, whether it’s umbrellas, soda, cars, phones, medications, cosmetics, jewelry, clothing or even mutual funds."
(Creswell, Julie. NYTimes.com. 22 June, 2008.)
For corporations with bottomless coffers, it's easy to play the game with A-list celebrities e.g. Beyonce and Pepsi, Vitamin Water and 50 Cent. Startups such as Chirpify have managed to follow suit with folks like Lil Wayne and Snoop Lion. (No doubt a dollar sign would fit right in with Young Weezy's face tattoos.) But for most of the little guys that are pitching a Series A term sheet, these type of deals are cost-prohibitive. Fortunately, there's a scrappy way to engage in these type of partnerships and reap the benefits without dropping all your seed money on the deal.
In this article, we'll cover:
- Finding a celebrity that fits your brand
- Four buzz-building ideas that don't require a six-figure budget
- When and how to rope in an agency
Britney Spears, Your New Spokesperson?
Earlier this week, I had a conversation with the head of sales at a San Francisco e-commerce company about whether or not to bring on an agency to facilitate celebrity partnerships. This has been a recurring theme at the company, echoing debates that took place last year about joining forces with Britney "No Panties" Spears. Instinctively, I found myself taking a hard stance against both these initiatives. But what is it that triggered the no-go alarm ? And most importantly, how do we know if an influencer partnership can benefit?
In my mind, it boils down to brand image and value. For new companies, the messaging and imagery of initial marketing efforts are an opportunity to define sensibilities, quality, and values that shape consumer perception. When this is executed with consistency and regularity, people associate these attributes with a particular company, so over time, the brand comes to embody a promise about the goods or service it delivers. When the brand personality deeply resonates with a consumer, a loyalty forms that makes it difficult for competitors to shake.
When engaging in any sort of partnership, both parties bring their service, audience, and reputation to the table. A company can build brand equity though transitive association and broaden their distribution channels to boot. This can be true for any partner, whether they be a company or an individual. So when it comes to the question of Brit-Brit, one must ask themselves if they'd like to be associated with meltdowns and marketed to teeny boppers. Understand here that choosing the wrong celebrity could alienate the type of consumer you're looking to attract.
- Is the celebrity's following your target audience?
- Does the celebrity truly like your product?
- Does their endorsement history fit with your company's brand and ethos?
- Which medium best fits your objectives - video, social media, visual media/ads?
6 Steps to Partnership Success
So you want to get started?
- Scouting - Make a list of celebs that are relevant to your industry or share your companies mission or sensibilities. See if your demographic favors prospective endorsees by checking out their QScores.
(Reference: How to Find and Identify Influencers.)
- Introduction - A cold email from an unknown company will generally go unnoticed. Look up their agent on whorepresents.com then scour LinkedIn for any mutual connections - warm intros, people! In your email, be sure to relate concrete examples of how their particular client is a strong brand fit. (Reference: On Pitching.)
- Conception - Brainstorm big, narrow down ideas to those that are simple to execute and easy to measure. More on the options below.
- Contract - Make sure to explicitly outline deliverables for both parties. Underscore how each partner must follow through to ensure success.
- Distribution - Who's going to make sure that the word gets out? Getting through to media will likely be easier through the celeb's PR company. See if you can work this as part of the deal. If not, use your own.
- Tracking - Set up analytics for traffic, bounce rates, and signups. Add Google alerts (celebrity + your company).
There are companies out there that will take care of every step of the process for you. Some agencies focus on the introduction part and connect their portfolio of clients with brands in need. Others have teams of folks to craft the pitches, hatch up contest ideas, and deliver reports with the results.
If you're smart and scrappy, I think you can do it yourselves.
No Cash Negotiations
Very few startups have the budget it takes to make a celeb an exclusive brand ambassador or spokesperson. A little bit of praise, generosity, and the right incentive can certainly up the odds of securing a celebrity endorsement.
When you're low on cash, here's what to ask for:
Social media mentions
Product placement in photos
Co-branded contests or promotions
Repurposed content (re-post from their blog)
And here's what to offer:
Access to innovative technology
Lock this down, and not only will your community be excited, but you'll get massive distribution to the celeb's following. It'll then be time to alert the press! Target interest-relevant publications that have an audience who can identify with your celebrity. Offer exclusive content or interviews to make your story more compelling. Just make sure your product and team can convert this traffic into customers by ensuring the value prop and messaging fits this new audience.
P.S. Curious about what happens to celebs who don't play by the rules? For better or worse, they get dropped.