Sports equipment manufacturer Unequal Technologies garnered a staggering degree of buzz last year that sent sales figures soaring. The catalyst? The firm hitched itself to the most controversial figure in the National Football League: Michael Vick, the former Pro Bowl quarterback who spent 18 months in prison on dogfighting and conspiracy charges.
Unequal Technologies was the first company to sign Vick to an endorsement deal after his prison stint. The move unleashed a torrent of media coverage. Sales jumped 1,000 percent in the short term and are now about triple what they were a year ago.
The company flouted convention with its risky endorsement, betting on an instant deluge of coverage and the forgiveness of sports fans. While it’s certainly not a textbook play, the example illustrates how hiring a celebrity spokesperson can significantly boost a business’ profile and credibility.
For most small businesses, it’s a question of money, media impact and making sure you find the right fit for your image. Here’s a look at six things to consider when it comes to celebrity spokespeople.
Finding a good fit
Business owners should look for candidates who mesh well with their target audience and key demographics. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a senior citizen (no matter how famous) hawking products or services geared toward readers of the Twilight series.
For example, we recently hired UFC fighter, Silver Star recipient and Iraq War hero Brian Stann as the official spokesman for our mortgage company, which specializes in VA loans. Brian has an incredible story, but he also has a passion for helping veterans. That was a key factor in our decision.
Brian went on to refinance his current mortgage with us. Teaming with a celebrity who is a fan of your product or service can be incredibly beneficial, but business owners shouldn’t expect any sort of discount if that’s the case.
Know your budget
A-list celebrities don’t come cheap. Unless you’re a multimillion-dollar behemoth of a company, odds are you won’t be able to afford top-tier movie stars and pro athletes. Celebrities in this stratosphere are probably starting in the mid six figures, depending on the project. If you don’t have that kind of budget, start lower on the food chain.
Agencies that specialize in celebrity bookings can connect interested companies with potential B-list celebrity matches. Heck, even some former A-listers looking to rehab, or otherwise burnish their image, (ahem, Michael Vick) might be available for cheap. Business owners can reach out to agents directly, finding them via some Google sleuthing or through a subscription service like Who Represents. Make sure you enter that conversation with a firm number in mind.
Businesses with more of a community focus can utilize local celebrities, such as TV news anchors, retired sports figures and other neighborhood standouts.
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Get specific and be prepared
Make sure you’re getting the access, image and deliverables that you’re paying for when the time comes. Contracts should get specific in terms of appearances, access and other key details covering how the spokesperson’s time and likeness can be utilized.
Our visual director spent a full day with Brian Stann during his training for an upcoming UFC fight. He got amazing video from Brian’s workout as well as intimate time with his family and an in-depth on-camera interview. The videos, still images and sound bites will be used in an array of materials across multiple media formats.
There’s another notable lesson in here: Show up prepared. You’re probably not going to get a lot of time with the celebrity, so make sure to maximize your window. Audio, video, scripts, teleprompters — make sure everything is ready to go if you’re handling production duties. Make the process as painless as possible for the spokesperson.
Consider the small details
No one wants to embody the image of the boot-licking lackey, so consider it more along the lines of customer service. Within reason, do what it takes to ensure the spokesperson is happy and at ease. Maybe that’s in terms of travel, or restaurants, or the type of ridiculously expensive bottled water they require.
Maximize the exposure
Craft a multi-layered media plan that maximizes the impact and reach of your investment. Today, that means social media campaigns and releases along with the tried-and-true methods of relationship building and straight pitching associated with public relations efforts. Don’t expect the celebrity’s media people to lift a finger, even if you’re working for a nonprofit.
Drill down into your demographics and the appeal of your spokesman. Look for unique organizations, communities and online influencers who can spread the message.
Prepare for the worst
Unequal Technologies got Michael Vick on the cheap because of his career trajectory. But what about all those companies who sponsored him before his arrest and conviction?
Have a game plan prepared to handle some potential worst-case scenarios involving your spokesperson. You might have to make a difficult decision one day about whether to support your embattled celebrity or cut him or her loose. Just as your brand and services reflect on the celebrity, so ,too, do their words and actions reflect on you.
Chris Birk is director of content and communications for VA Mortgage Center.com, the nation's No. 1 dedicated VA lender. A recovering journalist, he also teaches at a private Midwestern university. Follow him @cjbirk.