VIEWS: 5 PAGES: 6 POSTED ON: 7/30/2012
For years charities have been recruiting celebrities to endorse their work. Celebrity backing appears to be a fast and effective way for charities to gain greater media exposure and supporter engagement. But how should charities go about recruiting celebrities? KnowHow NonProfit has been speaking to PR consultant Max Clifford, PR manager David Piner from the British Red Cross, and deputy chief executive of Chase Hospices, Bridget Turner, about how they make their approaches to celebrities and how they make their ask appealing. David Piner. David: You usually go through their agent unless you have a long- established relationship with the celebrity. And usually that agent may decide there and then whether their client is likely to participate. Sometimes it won’t even reach the celebrity, if they know it’s just not for them. Usually the agent will have a pretty good idea of what their client, what their celebrity, will do or not do. If you’re lucky it will get in front of the celebrity themselves who will then usually say to their agent “Okay, I’m interested in doing this. Find out more about what I have to do. This is something that interests me.” But in this business you have to be prepared for a lot of rejection and a lot of ‘no’s, and often not hearing from an agent again. I think there are things you can include in your pitch letter which may increase your chances. I think you have to personalise the letter. I think, a scattergun approach – agents recognise that and they’re likely to bin the letter. You have to put in this letter why you’re asking this particular celebrity and that’s where relevance and credibility comes in. If you don’t know why you’re asking this celebrity then I should question why you’re asking them in the first place. Is it just because you like them? Just because they’re popular? You need to show that you’ve thought it through, and it could be that you’re approaching them for a number of reasons: that they’ll really connect with the audience that you’re trying to target; that they’ve had experience of this issue; that they have an expertise in it. I also think you need to put in your pitch what impact they will have: that they may increase donations; that they may attract more people to the event; because celebrities get hundreds of charity requests a month. They’re only, maybe, going to do one or two. And they will want to know that they’re going to make a difference by giving up their time for free. What I would also suggest is that you give them a menu of opportunities in your pitch letter, if you can be flexible. So what I will usually do is I will start with a simple ask that they could do which will not mean that they have to give up a lot of time, for example, a supportive quote or a publicity shot, as a minimum. But then I might suggest that if they had more time that they might do a more time-intense form of support which may be recording a piece to camera, maybe visiting a project, if they have the time available. So you’re giving them choice. A supportive quote may be better than nothing but, of course, a bigger ask, asking them to record a video, asking them to speak at an event, they may not always have the time or availability to do that. So I usually offer a menu. Bridget: I’m Bridget Turner. I’m the deputy chief executive and Director of Care for Chase Hospice Care for Children. There are gatekeepers, and that’s their job and you have to respect that, so there’s no point getting cross with them and saying “our cause is so important” because everybody does that rings them up a hundred times a day. I think, where you can is if you can get the agent down first. Again, you need to try and find out the history of the celebrity, what they’re currently doing, whether you’ve seen it on the TV and you know they’re supporting one charity and you won’t get a look in. What really does motivate them? All that’s stuff’s out there, it’s available for you to find, really. You’ve got people to do research for you. Don’t be impatient with the agent. Be very clear again about expectations. If you have got something that’s got a deadline, don’t shrug away from that. Be really clear and say “If you can you help me, this event is happening, or this event has landed at our feet and we’d love them to do it, but I do need to know in 48 hours” because then they’ll be clear with you. And just be respectful of their job although they can be very strong gatekeepers. We have approached agents cold, if you like. That’s really quite difficult because you need an ‘in’ somewhere, you need somebody who knows somebody that can open the door for you, unless that celebrity is so close. And we know of the celebrities who’ve had very sick children in the past, we haven’t got any of those celebrities who support us, but they perhaps are involved in hospital campaigns and they’ve been directly affected. But I would say with that, that again is very difficult because if they’ve been affected by something in their own lives that’s their life, it’s not their celebrity life. And in their own time they may come to support you, but on the back of something happening that’s quite difficult, really, to go in and ask. Everyone says to us “Why don’t you get David Cameron on board?” For one, he’s now our prime minister. Two, it was his child that died, and that’s very difficult, and in the background we know that he is there and supportive but it would be very, very insensitive to go straight to him and say “Could you do this?” David: I just want to say something. The difference between approaching agents and publicists; I usually prefer to approach publicists rather than an agent if a celebrity has one. And the reason why is that the agent usually works off commission so they’re only paid through getting their celebrity client paid work. Charity isn’t paid work so we might be less of a priority for them. Whereas a publicist has usually been paid a fee anyway and their job will be getting them as much publicity as possible. So publicists might be more open to hearing you rather than an agent. Max: Hi, I’m Max Clifford and I’m PR for various stars and companies worldwide and someone who’s been very much involved with children’s hospices in this country for many, many years. The best practical advice would be to use people that you know. One of the people involved in this particular charity is a very close friend of x, y or z. So, it’s networking. That personal contact is the most practical way of getting them involved. Rather than going through agents who are only interested in making money, most of them, because it’s far more natural and it also means you can introduce that person to the cause. So hopefully they will see it for themselves and it will touch them. That’s the most effective way, the best way. Wherever you are, whatever part of the country, and no matter how small the charity, you’re not too far away from a major football club, or there are people you can contact through the local radio station to get leads. Network, and try and see if there’s a contact with someone that’s famous and someone who might be the perfect person to come forward and act as a spokesperson, someone’s who’s prepared to come down, to visit and have pictures taken, to do interviews, to get the word out there, to explain to people. Because there’s always areas available to stars in papers, magazines, television, radio, when they wouldn’t be available normally, no matter how good the cause or how good the charity. David: If one can afford it subscribing to a celebrity contact database is always a good thing because it saves a vast amount of time and you can contact celebrities directly. Obviously those databases cost money but there are other ways I think you can contact celebrities. Obviously you can use the web; they may have contact details. Also thinking about other means: press offices at stadiums, theatres or studios, for example. If you were after a character, a celebrity from Emmerdale, for example, you could write to their press office to try and get contact details. Or a particular football player, you can write to their football club. Also volunteers and regional staff tend to have a huge amount of knowledge about celebrity in their area as well. And thinking, especially if you’re a local charity, there’s always a problem with celebrities being based very much in London - the London effect – a lot of complaints we have are about, well, what about us smaller charities out in the regions, or our regional offices. And you’d be surprised how many volunteers or staff know local celebrities, those who went to school in the area, those who have a holiday home there, those who have family there. Celebrities will only tend to - they won’t travel far - and they will only tend to support regional charities if they have a strong connection to the area. And volunteers and staff are a great source of information for that. Also, visiting your local tourist board, you can find out what celebrities are local in the area and they have a wealth of information there. So there’s the Celebrity Managers’ Forum, which represents about twenty charities where celebrity managers or people for whom celebrity endorsement is part of their job, where we get together every month to talk about the issue of celebrity engagement; but what we can also offer is advice and support to smaller charities who don’t have that specialist function within their charity, and that can include contact details too, if a charity is really struggling to find contact details of a particular celebrity, or needs advice; we’re happy. I, for example, offer help and advice to a particular children’s hospice, a small children’s hospice where I live locally. Bridget: We do sit down and have a discussion, and a lot of it is about being very clear to begin with and not over-egging your expectations, because, if you get it right, those expectations will build year on year if you’ve got the right celebrity. So it is perhaps, going back to the thing, what is the real big thing you want them to do? Don’t marginalise a very small event for something that they might do that’s bigger, that will have a bigger pay-off for you, and think you’ll get three of these for one of these. You won’t. You’ll only get the one big thing. Our aim is always to get them into our environment so not to meet them in the fundraising office, try not to meet them at their office or their domain, wherever they are; to actually try and get them to come down to the hospice. The deal is to try and get them to stay for two hours, which is a lot of their time. It has to be very flexible around their commitments so, for instance, regular early morning TV presenters, they’re up at the crack of dawn, often the only time you’ll get them is immediately after they finish that TV programme. So you’ve got to be available. You can’t be precious about your time, you’ve really got to work with their time, whether that’s a Saturday, a Sunday, an evening, whatever it is, to get them. What we do is we get them into our children’s hospice environment, two hours, cup of tea, sit down and explain the service to them and take them round, and the real secret is to have some anecdotes, within the bounds of confidentiality, that actually brings our service to life. And also allow them to have some time when they’re not being mobbed by children and families, so if they want to ask those difficult questions that they really feel they can’t ask publicly, or they’re worried about their own emotions, then they feel they’ve got the opportunity to do that. Obviously we’re very respectful and very polite but there are no extra airs and graces. The building is as it is, as it’s operational, so if there are toys on the floor, there are toys on the floor. If there are tea cups on the table, there are tea cups on the table. They kind of see it in action so we don’t spruce it up so it’s a false environment because, clearly, that would be wrong. First name terms, very much as I am, I don’t become suited and booted to meet a celebrity and, again, if children or families come up and speak to me during the tour, I would have made that clear to them, I wouldn’t dismiss a child or a family. I would speak to the child or the family, engage with whatever it is, introduce the celebrity, have a little chat and then move on. Max: Well, every star is different. Most stars are totally selfish and only really care about themselves. But they care about image because the more popular they are the better they like it. And I’m not talking about Simon now because Simon doesn’t come into that category, but plenty I’ve worked with in the last 40 or 50 years do. But for me, getting them possibly to do the right thing for the wrong reasons is okay, providing they’re bringing much needed help to that particular charity whatever it happens to be. I think, from the stars’ point of view it gives them popularity, appeal. It shows them to be caring, even if they’re not. And, of course, that adds to their appeal and their popularity and normally to their bank balance and to help to feed the huge ego that most of them have.
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