Have you ever thought about the impact an Ellen Degeneres or LeBron James could get you with something as simple as a tweet promoting your brand to their millions of followers? I do. But at the same time, I am smart enough to know they rarely ever come about from free will….with the emphasis on the word “free.” Celebrities and athletes all have their price for endorsements, and in general, most small businesses feel too much like the David amongst the Goliath of our industries to afford such endorsements. If carefully ventured though, there is an opportunity to gain significant ROI through celebrity endorsements as not all of them are out of reach.
I spent over a decade of my professional career in the great sport of NASCAR. As Director of Marketing for an agency who primarily represented sponsors, I’ve seen the best and worst in terms of marketing activation from Fortune 100 companies. I’ve also seen many short-lived sponsors within the sport, primarily due to over saturation of sponsors in recent years. It seems every week, half of the field have different paint schemes as car sponsorships are piece milled by eight primary sponsors annually versus the historical one or two. It’s just too much for the fan to absorb and like most consumers, they block out advertisement when its just too much, giving each sponsor less impact. Only those that activate well will see their ROI.
The problem is, whether you sponsor a venue, a person or a team, success comes down to the bottom line: the numbers. I decided to put together a short list of some of the things you need to consider when venturing into this potentially great opportunity.
- Remember what your goal is: A return on your investment. It’s easy to get a little star struck by a personality representing your brand but remember that these people, no matter how great they are, put their pants on one leg at a time (or so I’ve been led to believe). Don’t discount the return you need simply because you get the warm and fuzzes because your brand is represented by a star. An autographed photo of you and the celebrity does not benefit your company any. As you negotiate the contract, you should establish how many units you need to sell per dollar spent so that you achieve your needed ROI. The numbers don’t lie and you should be very skeptical when you see a proposal that doesn’t seem to translate directly to your needed sales.
- Finding the right person for your brand is crucial. A polarizing figure can harm your brand’s image as much as it helps it. A Q-score is basically the a measurement of the familiarity and appeal of a celebrity, sports figures and the like. While you would like to have a star with a high Q-score, keep in mind that these people tend to cost more (because they are more popular, more familiar stars) and it may not necessarily be a good fit for your brand. Michael Jordan is among the highest of q-scores, but if you’re the creator of a baby product and have a female customer base, you should consider a brand ambassador who has meaning to your targeted demographic. But let’s face it, small business can’t afford a Michael Jordan anyway. Look at your brand’s demographic first and foremost and ask yourself if this particular individual’s voice and likeness resonates with your customer.
- Just as in NASCAR, some celebrities endorse so many items, it’s just not believable. Of course, in NASCAR, the fans know that sponsors are footing the bill for the team so believability doesn’t matter too much to them. Any endorser shouldn’t say they’re interested without trying and loving your product first. If they do, run away! Establish a relationship with this person. If they’re only hearing your brand goals and speaking points through a second hand source or intermediary, how can they be passionate about your brand? Humanize your brand by telling them your story. Its easier for them to communicate a story rather than regurgitate several scripted lines.
- Because small business cannot afford most print or TV media advertisements to use your endorser, think of non-traditional ways to incorporate their voice and likeness, especially with social media…our free way to reach consumers. Creation of compelling video content is cheap and has the ability to go viral. Likewise, many radio stations are thrilled to book time for a celebrity at no cost. How can you integrate use of your spokesperson to benefit your customers directly (as in a customer-specific promotion) or as a tool to gain additional media? Can you integrate a charity aspect to your program that will gain more passion from the endorser and more media attention? Does it make sense to do a satellite media tour if you have newsworthy information that will be listened to more through an endorser. Can you tap into a celebrity’s fan club to allow them to also carry the load in reaching out to their communities? You need to truly challenge the old way of doing things as they are usually ineffective.
- Don’t let quantity of twitter followers fool you. Just because a celebrity has 500K followers, only half are even somewhat active and at any given time, it’s generally less than 1/2% of people on twitter that will see their message live. Certainly, if your endorser blasts out content that has the ability to go viral (like a compelling video), that’s a good thing but it takes a great deal of twitter messaging to reach their audience. Likewise, some celebrities have their publicists tweet for them and it’s just not believable. Tweets with personality and dialog that would truly come from your endorser is a must.
- When at all possible, deal with the endorser directly and be organized. If there is an opportunity to cut out the middle-man, do it. At the same time, you have to be highly organized on your end to assist them in executing your marketing program. These people have busy lives and they prefer to work with people who are on top of their game and not asking for favors at the last minute.
- Ask for case studies and numbers to justify the spend. You obviously know your business better than the celebrity knows your business so definitely challenge pricing if it does not seem of at least equal value (or value in your favor). Negotiate. It is very easy for the celebrity to overvalue the price of a program because “that’s what they should be getting.” Just like the true value of a home is what the market bares in terms of an offer, an endorsement deal is only valued at what someone will pay. If major companies aren’t so quick to throw away and waste dollars (which likely won’t happen soon), its better for all companies as a whole to set factual rates.
- If you are skeptical about costs, flat out ask the celebrity what he/she will do if your ROI is not met at the end of the term? In most cases, it’ll be nothing and you should be prepared for that. But in the rare and glorious case that the celebrity desires to “do the right thing,” that’s one to keep. Especially in today’s economy, those who want to maintain a relationship with a potentially growing partner is one that is worth the extra effort to keep.
- Make sure that your agreement has a “character clause” as it truly protects both parties but usually the sponsor. One of the quotes I’ve written and hold close to my heart is “Never assume that a person with a great reputation also has great character.” In this day and age of immediate media attention, one tiny slip from your endorser could really hurt your brand’s reputation. We’ve seen it with scandals involving everything from DUI’s and drugs to sex scandals. Having this clause allows for you to exit and potentially recoup some of that investment should it come to fruition. While you hope it never happens, such a clause is pretty standard and a valid requirement.
I have been fortunate to have my brand, Slawsa, represented by NASCAR’s Kenny Wallace. His energy is infectious, he is likable amongst all fans, he is authentic on social media, and most importantly, he and his family love our product…so it appears so far to be a win-win. Additionally, my condiment is great for grilling/tailgating with most of our current distribution in the southeast and midwest, so its a wise sport to venture. As a veteran, Wallace understands the value of growing a small business for a potential long term partnership, which is why he’s given me his cell and personal email if I need to reach out. His character has proven to me he is one of the rare celebrities who is “willing to do the right thing” so that we see value equal to our spend. Again, he is a rarity.
While most celebrities and athletes are going to be out of reach for small business, if you do your homework, you too might be able to capitalize on some nontraditional marketing campaigns with use of a great spokesperson. And I’m just putting this out there: IF Ellen or LeBron want to tweet good things about @Slawsa, you have my permission!
Guest post contributed by Julie Busha (@julesbusha), the owner of The Busha Group and the Slawsa brand from Cramerton, NC. With a deep history of marketing within the sport of NASCAR, Julie used her branding, marketing and sales experience to launch Slawsa, a unique slaw-salsa hybrid condiment, in late 2011. Within a mere year and a half after launch, Slawsa gained placement in the relish aisle in over 4,200 stores in the US and Canada with rave reviews from critics and consumers alike. More information for Slawsa can be found at www.slawsa.com. Watch the interview with Julie on the Small Businesses Do It Better Show.