Your Celebrity Spokesperson: a Survival Guide

How to Get the Most Out of That Expensive Talent

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Jay   Silverman
Jay Silverman
Let's say you're a brand manager, creative director or agency producer who's just spent enough money to float a small country for two years by hiring (for only a few hours) the services of a celebrity spokesperson who'll be promoting your product. Before you step onto that soundstage, you have to ask yourself, "Am I truly ready for this experience? Have I prepared for every conceivable contingency?" As I mark my 30 years as a director in the "brands-plus-celebrities" business, I'd like to take this opportunity to offer every brand manager out there a checklist of critically important tips you should keep in mind before you even shake the hand of your big superstar celebrity for the first time:

Celebrities aren't there to win their next Oscar
You may be the nicest person on the planet, and your brand the greatest thing since sliced bread. But you should always remember that your celebrity spokesperson is giving up his valuable time with family and friends, on the golf course or during his limited hiatus, to stand on your set, interact with your product and read copy that wouldn't ordinarily be coming out of his mouth. He's only there for one reason, and it's not the craft service. So you need to be on top of your game to service his needs. What are his mandates? How is he feeling that day? Does he require a special limo service, designer wardrobe and the brand of bottled water you're serving? Have your celebrity scheduled in and out of that sound stage as quickly, and efficiently, as possible.

Maximize your celebrity's time on the brand's behalf
You've only got your celebrity's attention for a limited period of time, right? So make the most of it. Sure, you'll be shooting that TV spot, but what about print? Can you piggyback stills before lunch? What about producing webisodes? Original interactive web content? Social-media content? Viral messaging? Instead of schlepping your celebrity to five different stages for five different media shoots that week, why not compress the production of all of your materials into one time frame.

Never assume
During my career, there have only been a few occasions where something unexpected didn't happen. Your celebrity might be tired, irritable, cranky or fighting a hangover. Never assume that Lance Armstrong will hop on his bike, or Michael Jordan will shoot a basket, or that Ray Charles' piano is in tune. I once had an international client hire a world-class Olympic sprinter for a spot in which he'd heroically sprint on a track. The problem? No one ever asked him in advance if he'd run for us. He wouldn't.

Know your talent today
OK, so you've just hired the hot female pop star du jour for your campaign. Is she still a blonde this week? Is she bald? Has she gained 30 pounds? Is she looking anorexic? Research the most current "look" that your star is sporting, so he or she doesn't arrive on your set in an unrecognizable state. I've recently had to ask two major stars if they wouldn't mind shaving off their facial hair before we started to shoot. One did. The other, whose mustache was a recent addition to his "look," refused, sending my client home feeling truly ripped off. It's moments like these that can give celebrity endorsements a bad name.

Personalize celebrity messages to your biggest customers and sales people
What would be more exhilarating to your sales staff, as well as your major customers, to have your big star personally deliver a video "atta-boy" to each of them by name? Ray Charles was once gracious enough to shoot messages like these for us at the end of the production of a TV campaign we produced. This "bonus shoot" didn't take but a few minutes, and our client's sales team and customers, each of whom received a personalized DVD, were stunned. It isn't difficult to generate a tremendous amount of goodwill in this way if your star is on board.

Choose your battles
The director you've hired must not only be technically proficient, have a solid, creative eye and be a collaborator with his brand manager/CD/agency producer client, but he must also have the ability to serve as a "celebrity wrangler." The director needs to bond -- instantly -- with his subject. If Angela Lansbury "requests" that her key light and camera be situated in specific positions, allow her that suggestion and adjust accordingly. If your star won't wear the famed T-shirt featuring your brand/client's iconic logo, be prepared to have him wear something else. You need to keep peace on the set while still delivering the best possible results for the brand.

Is your celebrity approachable and PR-friendly?
We've worked with some of the most famous people in the world who, after a day's work, would sign autographs and pose for photos with our clients and members of our staff -- and many that have not. Find out well in advance from the celebrity's manager or agent what the "approaching-the-star-or-not" parameters might be.

Don't be afraid to ask questions
Assuming you've bonded with your star talent, don't be afraid to ask her questions about the day's assignment. Does she need a break to make some calls? Is she hungry? Would she like to watch a quick replay on your HD monitor? Is she comfortable with her wardrobe and props? Is the air conditioning too cold? The more you can engage your star, the better the performance.

When working with child stars ...
Be sure to investigate the best time of day for your child star to deliver his best work. Child stars can be highly unpredictable, occasionally uncooperative and easily distracted. If his or her parents are on set, build up a rapport with them as well, and enlist their aid. The end goal remains disseminating the best message on behalf of the brand, regardless of the fact that your kid star just drank way too much caffeinated soda.

In the end, integrating a celebrity spokesperson into your brand message will generate brand awareness and a "buzz factor" for your campaign, and, more often than not, increases sales. Remember, even if celebrities quite often require a bit of pampering, they are just people like you and me who have some unique expectations. If you keep in mind that playing ball with them means you're playing in their ballpark, the end result will virtually guarantee a successful brand campaign.

Based in Hollywood, Jay Silverman is a commercial director of advertising campaigns for TV, interactive and print media. He has directed multimedia advertising projects for such Fortune 500 clients as McDonald's, Intel, Disney, Coors, Budweiser, GM, Coke, Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Visa and Gatorade.
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