In the 1990s, Sarah Shaw’s line of Sarah Shaw handbags became a hit with celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts and Sarah Jessica Parker, and were featured in the pages of People, InStyle, and Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine. The resulting publicity helped Shaw grow her business to a $1 million company, with Sarah Shaw bags sold in over 1,200 boutiques and department stores nationwide.
Today, Shaw has a new business as CEO of Entreprenette, a consulting firm that helps women launch businesses specializing in accessories, clothing, cosmetics, home and lifestyle products. I spoke with Shaw to get her step-by-step secrets for getting your product to celebrity—and parlaying that into publicity and profits.
Celebrity endorsements work well for tangible products like clothing, accessories or handbags. However, the tactic can also work for a service, Shaw says. “If you have a catering company, you could offer a gift certificate to a celebrity to get them to use your services to cater their party.”
Shaw shared six key action moves:
1. Determine which celebrities appeal to your target market
“Who would be your best brand ambassador?” asks Shaw. Since celebs at the top of the heap are inundated with products, consider approaching B-list or up-and-coming celebrities, who may be more likely to use your product.
2. Decide on an “angle” that will help your product stand out
“Find a connection to the celebrity,” says Shaw, who adds that charities can be a way into a celeb’s heart. A handbag designer could approach a star by offering to make a handbag named after the person and donating part of the profits to the actress’s favorite charity.
3. Get in touch
Shaw’s company helps entrepreneurs with celebrity placements. She also recommends the website ContactanyCelebrity.com. “Every celebrity, political figure or athlete you can think of is listed on this site—and if you’re looking for someone who’s not, they will find their contact information for you,” says Shaw.
4. Be persistent and polite
“You have to go through a lot of gatekeepers to get to these people—publicists, assistants, maybe even assistants to assistants,” says Shaw. “Be nice to everybody.” Shaw also suggests “greasing the palms” along the way by sending samples of your product to the gatekeepers as well: “It doesn’t cost you anything to do this, and could mean thousands in sales for you if your product actually gets through to the celebrity.”
5. Be prepared
When a celebrity is photographed using your product, it could mean thousands of orders—or nothing. “Be prepared for a surge in business, but don’t go hog wild,” cautions Shaw. “Have a comfortable amount of inventory on hand, but not more than you could sell [without the celebrity].” Most people won’t mind getting on a waiting list if a product is back ordered—in fact, it could add to the product’s cachet. But if you get stuck with unsold inventory, your celebrity strategy could end up costing you big time.
6. Promote it
It may take months before your efforts pay off and you see that celebrity holding or wearing your product in People magazine or on “E! Entertainment News.” When you do, be ready to move fast. “Create a one-sheet—a paper with your company logo, a picture of the celebrity and your product, and a blurb about how they are using it or how they got it,” recommends Shaw. Send your one-sheet to the media to get publicity, or to stores to get more sales. Of course, you’ll also want to feature the information prominently on your website—and use social media tools like Twitter and Facebook to spread the word, too.
Pitching your products directly to celebrities isn’t the only route you can take, Shaw adds. There may be hit or up-and-coming TV shows that are perfect for your product design. Pitch the show’s costume, props or set departments, depending on the type of product you have.
Keep in mind that your efforts don't just benefit your business—they benefit the celebrity or TV show as well. “They want to be the one who discovered your cool, new product,” Shaw says. “Everyone’s looking for the next big thing.”