Celebrities. They appear to be the focal point of every PR campaign these days, don’t they? Whether it’s to open a restaurant, get donations for a charity, sell a t-shirt or just to lend heat to a cool brand, we publicists tend to look to celebrities as a quick solution to every problem. (I’m distinguishing between an advertising campaign, in which a celebrity is paid big bucks to essentially “act” in a TV or print ad, and a PR campaign, in which a celebrity lends his or her personal credibility to support a cause or an event or a product.)
But is it really such a quick solution? Hardly. Celebrities and their handlers know the value of every tweet and Instagram, let alone their personal appearances. And they are being bombarded daily by publicists who want a piece of their time, so it’s harder than ever to convince a celebrity that your brand is the right one to associate with.
To get some advice in this area, I sat down with Roy Bodner, a seasoned talent coordinator and former PR executive with E! Online. Roy has produced dozens of star-studded special events over the course of his career so he knows from hard-won experience what it takes to get a celebrity out of his Malibu beach house or her Tribeca loft and to the red carpet.
Q: How difficult is it to get a celebrity to do anything for free anymore?
A: It’s getting more and more difficult. The trick is to find a celebrity that has an affinity for the brand you’re promoting. It’s got to be organic first and foremost. For example, everyone knows that Nicolas Cage is a huge comic book fan. It wouldn’t be surprising to find him at the opening of a new comic book store because that’s a passion of his. Actress Julie Bowen of "Modern Family" is a passionate runner, so it would make sense for Nike or another athletics company to tap her for a promotion.
Q: Affinity or not, aren’t they going to want to be paid?
A: In some cases, you might be able to bring something else to the table that’s of value to the celebrity if you don’t have cash to give. Maybe you’ve got a large Twitter following for your brand and the celebrity could benefit from the cross promotion with your social media channels. Or maybe they have a project, like a book or their first CD, that could use the added exposure the publicity from your event or campaign will bring. I often target celebrities with pet projects because I know they will be looking for publicity themselves.
Q: Do you usually contact the celebrity’s agent, manager or publicist?
A: Lately, I have found the manager to be the best person to contact because they have the most consistent relationship with the celebrity. They are in it for the long haul, and tend to be looking at the benefits of an opportunity for a celebrity from all angles whereas an agent is only looking at the money involved. A publicist can be good in some cases but they are “on and off retainer” a lot. So that’s why I think it’s best to go straight to the manager.
Q: How do you contact them?
A: I send a personalized pitch letter, addressed to the celebrity and signed by someone of stature like the president of the company or a board member of the charity. The letter should make it clear why the celebrity has been selected for the ask. What makes them the perfect person for this brand or charity campaign? Say you’re representing a charity that supports transgender youth. I might ask Felicity Huffman or Chloë Sevigny or Jared Leto to be the spokesperson or to attend a fundraising event, because they’ve all given wonderful, sensitive performances as transgender individuals.
Q: Suppose I do have a budget. Where do I even start?
A: According to the Huffington Post, a single tweet can range in cost anywhere from $975 for Lisa Rinna to—no, I’m not kidding—$13,000 for Khloe Kardashian. Personal appearance fees are equally random and wide-ranging. (Most do not start below $5,000.) Your best bet is to be honest with the manager and tell them your budget—minus a few thousand dollars as they will no doubt come back with an offer that is higher than your budget. You’ll also want to make sure you have left money in the budget for amenities like meals and travel if appropriate.
Q: I guess the question is—are they really worth the money in the end?
A: I don’t think a celebrity is the be-all, end-all to every PR campaign. It really has to be the right fit. Some examples that have worked include Madonna and Ed Hardy; Heidi Klum and Barbie; and Denzel Washington for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Those are some memorable campaigns and they worked because the celebrities really shared a passion for the brand they were promoting.