What Is a Celebrity Endorsement Worth to You?

This bakery owner risked a big expense for an endorsement from LeBron James, only to be let down.
Business Writers
January 05, 2012

The all-caps e-mail came two days before New Year's, right in the middle of the holiday rush: "URGENT! NEED CAKE FOR LEBRON JAMES BIRTHDAY THAT WILL BE HOSTED AT THE SHELBORNE HOTEL BY DWADE, GAB UNION AND HEAT TEAMMATES."

(That would LeBron James' Miami Heat teammate Dwayne Wade and Wade's girlfriend, the actress Gabrielle Union, hosting a New Year's Eve/birthday party for James at South Beach's Shelborne Hotel.)

Alethea Hickman, who owns Boca Raton's Passion for Pastry, received the e-mail from the Shelborne's marketing director, Samantha Rosen. Hickman had baked cakes for former Miami Dolphins star Dan Marino and Boston Red Sox owner John Henry.

"I figured it couldn't hurt to do one for LeBron James," she told journalist Jose Lambiet.

Just one small thing: Hickman couldn't collect payment from James, who's in his second year of a $100 million contract with the Heat. Instead, Rosen promised publicity for Hickman's "sponsorship," including Tweets prominently mentioning Passion for Pastry.

So Hickman hired extra help and created a $3,500 five-tiered white cake with French vanilla buttercream covered in Miami Heat red fondant. It was topped with a crown made of edible gold dust and decorated with tiny edible basketballs. She delivered the cake and anxiously awaited publicity from the party.

But the photo of the cake appearing online, and in James' Twitter feed, wasn't hers. Instead, it was a glittering gold and ivory creation from Miami's Divine Delicacies, which baked a five-tiered rum cake and decorated it with golden lion heads and the initials LJ.

Hickman was upset, and wanted payment. But so far none is forthcoming.

“It was a great cake,” Hickman said. “I could’ve blown it off because I had so much work with the holidays, but I came through at the last minute. I don’t even know what they did with it at this point. They have no respect.”

It was the icing on the you-know-what that James announced his engagement to his high school girlfriend Savannah Brinson at the party, meaning the party (and the Divine Delicacies dessert) got worldwide press attention.

“I’m beyond mad,” she said. “I had to hire extra people to be able to make it. They should pay for my cake no matter what they did with it.”

Jared Galbut, the Shelborne's general manager, explained to the Miami Herald why Hickman's cake didn't make the cut.

“It just wasn’t what was expected," he said. "When LeBron’s people saw it, they just didn’t want to use it and decided to bring their own cake. I can’t tell LeBron James what birthday cake to eat. It’s LeBron James, for Christ’s sake.”

As for how much Galbut would pay Hickman if he were asked, he just said: “That cake couldn’t be worth more than $600. It’s flour, eggs and water.” (Apparently he ignored labor costs.)

Would you gamble on giving goods or services to a celebrity for free hoping for publicity?

Photo credit: Courtesy blippit.com

Business Writers