Social Media Status Key to Endorsements for Today's Celeb

Publicity Shop Measures FanDNA for Stars From Ashton Kutcher to Charlie Sheen

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It used to be that a favorable "Q" score, a high rating on the Davie Brown Index or good old-fashioned ubiquity was enough for a celebrity to secure a high-profile endorsement deal. But increasingly, an active social-media profile has become one of the most important deal-points for brands, talent agents and even PR agencies to consider when negotiating contracts.

"Advertising agencies are asking more and more, "How many fans on Facebook do you have? Are you on Google+? What's your Klout score, what's your client's Klout score?'" said George Ruiz, head of digital media for International Creative Management. "These questions are being asked on every single deal that comes from the ad world as they're asking, "Are we hiring the right person to get our message out?'"

Charlie Sheen
Charlie Sheen

The lack of sophisticated influence metrics had begun to take its toll on major PR firms such as Interpublic Group of Cos.' PMK-BNC, one of Hollywood's largest publicity shops, with a roster of more than 300 celeb clients. "We had a problem, because if you go to Washington, you hire a lobbyist to do what we do. But now if you come to Hollywood, you do it yourself," said Chris Robichaud, co-CEO of PMK-BNC. "People are making multimillion-dollar decisions based on nothing or gut instinct. Clients will say, 'I have a Q score, but what do I do with it?'"

To help connect the dots of its clients' (and comparable celebrities') influence, awareness and likability, PMK-BNC has introduced a new measurement tool, FanDNA, in partnership with Interpret. The tool compiles quarterly data on top actors, musicians, models and athletes to rate their appeal to certain affinity groups, match them with the most-appropriate brands and ultimately measure the impact of their branding deals.

Take Ashton Kutcher and Charlie Sheen, two celebrities who've seen significant changes to their FanDNA in recent months. Prior to his public meltdown, Mr. Sheen had a "Power" score over 130 (highly influential), making him an ideal fit for brands such as Wrangler, Volkswagen , Volvo and McDonald's at the end of fourth-quarter 2010. Post-meltdown in second-quarter 2011, his score dipped to 102.4, making him a better fit for edgy brands such as Red Bull, U.S. Army, the NFL and Nascar, according to Interpret's data. Conversely, his "Two and a Half Men" replacement Mr. Kutcher had a score of 129.2, and a tech-savvy, family-friendly following that made him a good fit for everyone from gaming companies to Dairy Queen to Toys "R Us.

Beyond metrics, social media can also help celebrities proclaim their love for brands that eventually turn into formal endorsements -- or in the case of actress/web-TV star Felicia Day, a whole web series. Last year, Ms. Day tweeted to her 1.4 million-plus followers about her love for a game called "Dragon Age." Mr. Ruiz, her agent at ICM, happened to be talking with "Dragon Age" publisher Electronic Arts about collaborating on an original digital series for an upcoming title, one of which happened to be "Dragon Age II." Ms. Day, who gained popularity for her role in Joss Whedon's "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" and as creator/star of "The Guild," a series now sponsored and distributed by Microsoft , quickly signed on to create a multi-episode series based on a new character with a narrative that coincides with "Dragon Age II."

This is the kind of endorsement that would prompt Ms. Day to tweet on a brand's behalf. "The last couple of years I've been approached quite a bit to do large-scale campaigns, just like a random tweet for a brand," she told Ad Age . "My personal internet activity is sort of sacrosanct. I try to keep it as agnostic as possible and not use it for any financial reward. My goal is to be an artist in this venue."

But as more celebrities,from Kim Kardashian to Bravo's "Real Housewives," are being paid to tweet about endorsements and at public appearances on behalf of brands, more marketers are writing social-media guarantees into their contracts. "We're starting to hear in negotiations, "We'd like to include X number of tweets or Facebook postings,'" said Peter Hess, co-head of commercial endorsements for Creative Artists Agency. "It's similar to traditional advertising -- instead of two commercials, now we want two tweets."

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