Matching the Right Celebrity with the Right Cause

Oprah cut Hilary Swank's hair to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths. Photo: AP/George Burns

Celebrities are frequently recruited to build awareness around a cause-marketing campaign. We recently spoke with Wendy Dutwin, CEO and founder of Limelight Media, about how to prepare to partner with a celebrity and how to find the right celebrity for a cause campaign.

Limelight, which is based on the West coast, works with both companies and firms and does a lot of work in the cause marketing space, for example, helping with the Hilary Swank/Pantene Beautiful Lengths program.

Our Q&A is after the jump.

What is the interest out there for enlisting celebrities for causes?

What we always try to look at are the trends in the marketplace. From what I can see, many cause-related campaigns do see the benefit of a celebrity when it fits organically. You can’t just plug a celebrity into a cause-related marketing campaign and hope for the best. There has to be some rooted level of integrity and organic connection for the two to go hand-in-hand and for it to be effective once you take it out to consumers.

Besides the interest coming from the brands and PR industry, what is the interest level from the celebrities themselves? How interested are they in participating?

They’re very interested. A lot of times celebrities are open to partnering with brands and corporations that are trying to do better things while getting their message across. Obviously, there’s still a marketing message, products that need to be sold in the marketplace. But if one can do that by also doing some good in the environment or some good helping with a homeless initiative, for example, I think celebrities are more inclined to be part of those types of campaigns because they get to focus on doing some good as well.

How do you deal with any push back or backlash?

Oftentimes we don’t see a lot of negative backlash because we do our research. I think some initial research about the celebrities you’re thinking of identifying is really important. And not just doing it on the Internet. A lot of times I see my clients making errors in the sense that they look online instead of enlisting professional help in this area which can help you get a 360 degree look at what the celebrity is working on. And that way you’re targeting a celebrity who really is organically connected to the campaign and becomes an extension of their personal philanthropic work.

How do you match a celebrity with a cause?

There are three major tips:

-Many of my clients are surprised at how much they’ll need to budget for a campaign because it’s cause-related. But the fact is, for a multi-tiered campaign, there’s usually a lot of time involved between preparation, media interviews, events, depending on what you want the talent to do. So you have to consider a budget for the celebrity’s  time. Even though they are connected to a cause, they do need to be paid for their time.

And there are also extras to consider as far as flights, meals, and that kind of thing. So I always work with my clients and make sure that they’re working with a realistic budget and to think through realistically who they could get who meets those budget parameters.

-My job as a consultant is to make sure that I’m giving my clients things that are not necessarily on the radar, that aren’t available at the Internet or media level.  I’ll be looking for certain things that a celebrity might be doing that the client will find appealing and we try to match those partnerships that way. So work with a company that has an ability to plug into the entertainment industry and know things that might not always be available at the public media level.

-My third point would be to negotiate what you want from your celebrity spokesperson. It’s really important to go in knowing what kinds of things you need upfront. It helps you when planning a budget, [and] it helps you when you’re targeting a certain spokesperson to have all of that worked out and planned in advance. It will make your search a lot easier when you’re trying to find a particular kind of talent.

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