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Best Practices for Celebrity Engagement with a Cause

Brands – and, increasingly, causes – have been tapping celebrity supporters for years, and it’s become a tried-and-true promotional tactic. But it’s important for organizations to understand what they’ll be getting – and not getting – when they bring a celebrity on board. The “ripped from the headlines” best practices below can help guide cause-celebrity relationships in today’s environment.

  • 1. Know your budget: In many cases, even when a cause is involved, celebrities don’t come cheap. Be realistic about your budget and crunch the numbers beforehand to make sure you’re covering costs – and meeting obligations to partner organizations. Overspending on “operating costs” and administrative expenses leaves a sour taste in the mouths of donors and beneficiaries – like the annual “Funniest Celebrities in Washington” event, which despite steep ticket prices and A-list performers, has failed to make donations to nonprofit partners for the past five years.
  • 2. Learn about and leverage your celebrity spokesperson’s passions: Leverage the personal passions – beyond the causes they support – of celebrity supporters. Brad Pitt’s floating house, which combines his appreciation for all things architecture with his charitable efforts – is a perfect example. Through his Make It Right Foundation, focused on providing affordable and sustainable housing for Hurricane Katrina victims in the Lower 9th Ward, Pitt worked with Morphosis Architects to create the “Float House,” a home that can rise up to 12 feet on guideposts, in the event of flooding.
  • 3. Think long-term: When searching for celebrity support, look beyond this week’s People cover. Causes that truly resonate with celebrity supporters can foster deep, long-term commitments. Sound like a marriage? Maybe, but you’ll get more bang for your celebrity buck if you find someone who’s willing to do more than pose for photos at your gala. Think advisory board memberships, event hosting and face time with beneficiaries, in addition to attending the usual fundraiser.
  • 4. Do your homework: Research isn’t glamorous, but it’s important to understand what you’re getting into with a celebrity spokesperson: they have the power to hurt – or help – your brand. Celebrities are people too, and sometimes they make mistakes (see: Michael Phelps or Chris Brown) that reflect on the brands (and causes) they support.
  • 5. Use caution when addressing celebrity compensation: Now that we know celebrities don’t come cheap (see #1), think carefully about how forthcoming (or not) you’re willing to be in addressing compensation for celebrity spokespeople. There’s a fine line between transparency and over-communication.
    • Example: Promotional materials for the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s campaign (funded by GlaxoSmithKline) featuring tennis star John McEnroe clearly stated GSK paid McEnroe for his involvement. Some are questioning this “full disclosure” tactic – one blog writer said the campaign had thrown McEnroe “under the bus” – while others are applauding its transparency.
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