How Small Businesses Can Utilize Celebrity Endorsements

987White shoes with the telltale Nike swoosh were on the feet of NCAA basketball players in the 1970s before they were worn by Michael Jordan in the 1990s. Usain Bolt enjoyed sponsorship by Puma after first setting his world’s fastest man record in 2002. In 2001 Jenna Elfman (of Dharma & Greg) wore an “I Love NY” t-shirt during an appearance on Jay Leno and drew major attention to then-unknown shirt designer, Rebecca Minkoff. These are all examples of celebrity endorsements, endorsements done right that paid off in a big way. And while they highlight celebrity endorsements for big companies (with the exception of Rebecca Minkoff, who was making clothes out of her studio apartment at the time), the good business lessons learned from setting up and cashing in on such high-vis endorsement deals can easily be applied to small companies. Here’s what small businesses can do to reap the benefits of endorsements while minimizing the costs—and the risks.

Why Celebrity Endorsements Are Worth It For Small Businesses

Celebrity endorsements are a high-risk, high-reward marketing strategy. Small businesses have a lot to lose when seeking an endorsement by well-known influencers. Even if they manage to score an endorsement without paying for it, the time commitment is strain enough on valuable human resources. Small businesses also have no control over the endorser, and little room to deal with their unexpected misbehavior and how it reflects on the endorsee. But when they do work out, endorsements can build credibility for new or untested products, enhance brand awareness, and help small businesses reach a new customer base. This “halo effect” of exposure, sort of a piggy-back off the star-power of celebrities, is what small businesses receive from an endorsement. It’s usually worth it: After Neff beanies sought out paid endorsement deals with Snoop Dogg, the business saw a 300% revenue increase over three years.

What To Consider When Seeking A Celebrity Endorsement

Before putting the effort into coordinating an endorsement, small businesses must first ask why they’re seeking an endorsement at all. Who are they trying to reach? How does it fit into the marketing strategy? What is the potential return on investment, and, more importantly, how exactly will success be measured? The importance of authenticity in endorsement cannot be over-emphasized—and the source of authenticity is a well-though-out plan.

If a small company decides that providing some sort of monetary compensation for endorsements makes smart business sense, they should avoid paying out with actual cash. Cash flow is critical in a small business; protect that, and find ways to compensate endorsers through product, equity, or something more creative.

There’s also value in receiving an endorsement “by use.” In this situation, the cost is only of the product itself. If a small business can get their product to a celebrity who then gets photographed using it or wearing it, the passive endorsement is free exposure. This is particularly useful in the apparel and accessories industries. Look at fashion and lifestyle magazines like InStyle and People. They each have a “Where Can I Find” and “You Asked, We Found” section, respectively, where readers can find out exactly what their favorite celebrity is wearing in a given photo. Land on those pages, and a small business can reach an audience of millions.

Picking the Right Person/People to Endorse Your Business/Product

It’s easy for small businesses to lose themselves in the endorsement process. The excitement of being picked up by a star or someone with a dedicated fan base is often blinding. That’s why small businesses must spend time identifying the perfect endorser for their product or premise. Does the potential endorser’s principles match those of the business? What value will they add to the relationship? Is their audience one that needs to be reached? Thoughtfully and honestly answering these questions will help small businesses stay focused on finding the right fit.

A celebrity contact database like is a useful tool to break through the communication wall that separates the biggest celebrities from the rest of us. It’s one of the few ways that small businesses can access celebrities. That being said, small businesses can also benefit from looking beyond celebrities in the traditional sense (actors, athletes, and musicians) when seeking endorsements.

Internet and niche celebrities wield the same sort of exposure power. Consider YouTube stars with popular channels, bloggers with a large and consistent readership, and people on Twitter or other social media platforms who have sizeable followings. Contact is easy in these cases—being reachable by the masses is, after all, the reason why they’ve become so popular—and their own reach is profound. A single positive Tweet by popular freelance food writer @CateOMalley about a new healthy snack product, for example, will reach her 720 followers, the followers of her followers, and so on. It’s a low-cost, or in many cases no-cost, endorsement with big rewards.

Also, don’t overlook endorsements by customers. Customer testimonials are endorsements, after all. They have the same benefits that celebrity endorsements do, even if they’re on a smaller scale: They build credibility and enhance the brand. Empower customers to provide honest feedback, and then feature those who positive things to say on the business website, in marketing emails, and in social media posts.

The Small Business Endorsement End Game

Endorsements work for small businesses—or at least they can when they’re planned out thoughtfully and executed carefully. Have you had success with endorsements for your small business? Share your experiences below.

Billy Bones runs BBE Booking Agency, a music booking agency that assists event planners in entertainment booking and event production.

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