Tara Reid
Tara Reid

Michael Jordan for Nike. Oprah and Jessica Simpson for Weight Watchers. Britney Spears for Pepsi. The list goes on and on … these campaigns have all successfully leveraged a celebrity to tout a brand or product, and they’ve all been memorable. How can you not think of Jennifer Garner when you hear “What’s in your wallet?”

Celebrity endorsements remain valuable despite a rise in social influencers serving as brand ambassadors (or a celeb’s occasional, crisis-inducing misstep). Whether it’s intended to boost sales or loyalty or inspire consumer confidence, many brands still use actors, athletes and musicians in their advertising efforts.

But what about PR? How can you best leverage a celebrity in a PR campaign? And is it worth it?

Celebrities have the ability to drive more awareness and exposure for a brand or product, and they can add a timeliness or relevance that might be lacking based on the narrative.

Before you pick up the phone and start dialing agents, however, consider these five guidelines to help determine if the star power of a celebrity partnership can help ignite your brand.

This isn’t advertising. When it comes to a public relations campaign, celebrities are used differently than in advertising. Most effectively, they serve as spokespeople — to speak to consumers via press on behalf of a brand. Celebs are best utilized to share a brand’s or product’s narrative and earn the trust of consumers. They need to know details and differentiators, and be prepared to speak about them with sincerity, whether they use the brand or product regularly or not. If a celebrity is already being used in an advertising campaign, it would be ideal to also tap into them for publicity. Be sure to discuss PR early on and incorporate this into your contract or deal memo when negotiating creative needs. 

Keep it real. There’s nothing worse than watching celebrities endorse products you know they never use. It’s awkward, disingenuous and risks ruining the relationship between a brand and its consumer. So, how does a brand choose the right person? First, it helps if the celebrity is actually a fan of the brand or product. There needs to be automatic linkage. Marketers can and should use a celeb’s love for a product to their advantage, as that relationship can turn into a more formal partnership. A great example of this is John Mayer and his love for Justin’s Nut Butter. When Mayer tweeted his desire for Cookie Dough-flavored Almond Butter, Justin’s created the flavor just for him and sent him his own jar. Mayer gushed about the “hand-made batch of nirvana” across his social platforms, and media caught on like wild fire. While this organic relationship never turned into a formal partnership, it easily could have. Mayer’s authentic passion for Justin’s and alignment with the brand would make him a perfect fit. So, when selecting a celebrity spokesperson, ask yourself if the person could genuinely help bring the brand to life.

Make it count. Often times, celebrity partnerships aren’t leveraged to their fullest potential and PR opportunities are left on the table. Once you’ve selected the best celebrity for your brand, it’s imperative to develop a scope of work that will help you generate the biggest ROI. You’ll want to make sure the celeb conducts press interviews — maybe even hosts a press event — promotes the brand on their social channels and provides customized content such as videos, recipes and tips. These days, you’ll likely enter into a lengthy partnership as very few celebrities like to partner with a brand for one-off opportunities. Make sure you have enough time to develop and showcase the authenticity of the brand partnership and plan tactics accordingly to generate ongoing buzz and impressions. 

Think beyond the TV or movie screen. While you might best know a TV or movie star, most consumers — especially Millennials — are taking to social media to seek out product recommendations that will influence their purchases. Thus, it’s crucial that your celebrity spokesperson, regardless of their primary medium, has a strong social media presence as that is where they will most likely reach your consumer. You’ll want to make sure there are plenty of social media-based tactics woven into your contract. This could include an Instagram Story once per month or a few Facebook posts each quarter.

It’s going to cost you. A celebrity partnership is pricey — with the cost based on the level of star power you choose. You should look at and plan for this as a marketing effort rather than straight PR. In fact, you can likely work with sales and marketing colleagues — i.e., those in digital or e-commerce divisions — to include additional asks of the celebrity to make the return even bigger. The key is to select someone you know will give your brand lift by leveraging their cachet. You might also consider a lesser-known celeb if that means getting more bang for your buck and ensuring your brand gets the support it needs.

Engaging with a celebrity for a PR campaign is a process and an investment, but, if done correctly, it can definitely help build buzz around your brand and take it to the next level.

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Tara Reid is vice president of Havas Formula’s Chicago division.