The power of celebrity in brand marketing has been steadily rising over the last decade in China. Annie Lee, founder and managing director of Dream Worker Communications, is a driving force in this new-to-China field, guiding brands toward savvier choices when it comes to celebrity representation.
"The biggest star isn't necessarily the best fit with your brand. What a brand needs is a celebrity who will not only reflect it, but grow with it," she said.
A native of Taiwan, Ms. Lee, 42, began her career as a radio anchor in Taipei, before moving into sales and marketing. During eight years at MTV she masterminded the Procter & Gamble sponsorship of the hit show "Super Talent Search."
"I was watching the industry in 2002 and saw that celebrity endorsement was quite attractive to the brands but they didn't know how to use it effectively," she said.
Ms. Lee founded Dream Worker Communications in 2004 as a PR company focusing on entertainer marketing across TV, print, social media and events. The company now numbers 70 staff in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and annual growth of about 30%. Clients include Unilever, Heineken and Hennessy.
Her work with pop singer JJ Lin is an example of how the right celebrity fit can turn into a phenomenon.
"JJ Lin is not only a brand ambassador," she said. "He collaborated with [Unilever's] Cornetto [ice cream] for four years and we released three albums tailor-made for Cornetto. He composed the songs for the ads, appeared in the commercials and made the songs into nationwide billboard hits."
Benny Xu, Unilever China's brand building director beverage and savory, praised Ms. Lee's strong experience working with celebrities and her deep industry network. "She provides insightful comments into the marketing activities and shares solid suggestions about the whole campaign design," he said.
One of the secrets to her success is spending time helping a celebrity understand himself as a brand, as well as the company he is signing up to represent. Her motto is that there are no difficult celebrities, only ones that don't understand you. This very human touch has led some of her stars to refer to her as "sister Annie."
"We're more than a matchmaker -- we need to manage this marriage so that both parties win," she said. "I think the most important thing is management and I put good synergy between the celebrity and the brands."