PRmoment Awards Tickets 2024 PRmoment Leaders PA Mediapoint PA Assignments PRCA PRmoment Awards Winners North

The evolving role of celebs and influencers in PR campaigns

Big stars may add a sprinkle of glamour to campaigns, but are they are worth the fees they command? We look at the value they can add to your work, and how to select the right person, and then use them to their (and your) best advantage.

Celebrities ARE worth it

But only if you chose the right one says Gareth Anderson, senior account director at integrated agency Beattie: “I absolutely still believe in the value of celebrity, as do many of our clients. The key is choosing the right one.

“It’s too easy to get swept along with whoever is currently dominating the sidebar of shame. Yes, they’ll generate a flash of awareness whilst they’re newsworthy, but they are often the worst value for money. Agents charge a premium, all too aware that their shelf-life is limited. And who remembers the lesser cast of Love Island six months down the line?! It’s not a wise investment as it’s generally front-end loaded. You’ll be left with dead content.”

Long-term relationships

Anderson says you need to use celebrities based on insight, not zeitgeist. “It’s simple – take the brief, survey audiences, speak to media contacts, analyse social channels. We’ve nearly always found that the best ambassadors are those with an established ‘traditional’ career, with whom you can develop a long-term partnership, and who can authentically speak to your audience.

“This approach helped establish the partnership between Kylie Minogue and Specsavers. Her collection is now flying off the shelves globally – a clear measure of the positive impact PR can have on the bottom line.”

Celebrity is the wrong word

You also have to bear in mind that the stars of today are not the same as those of the past says Steph McDonald, director at PR firm Ketchum, sports and entertainment: “The term ‘celebrity’ feels outdated. In years gone by, celebrities could be defined as film or TV stars, someone who could be seen lunching in The Ivy or attending red-carpet events. For me, today it’s a misleading description of an individual who has influence over the interests and decision making of consumers. When used correctly in communications, these individuals still have real value.

You need to be authentic

“Whether it’s athletes, whose own personal journeys and successes inspire someone to buy the products they use for even the smallest chance of a ‘rub off’ effect, or social influencers whose loyal followers want to mimic the things they experience or the brands they use, the key to effective use of ‘celebrities’ or influencers is authenticity. Consumers are smart. They spot a paid endorsement a mile off. Ensuring there is a relevant and credible link between the brand and influencer opens up possibilities to create campaigns that can leverage the reach they can command in a way that is transparent but relatable enough to deliver impact.”

Discussing how to get most value from a celebrity, McDonald says this is hard to measure: “In terms of defining ‘best value’, that can be somewhat like defining how long is a piece of string. The value comes from the relevance and ability to use a celebrity in a way that resonates with the right target audience. And ultimately, value can be increased or decreased with execution. If you’re paying someone a large sum of money to do very little or something that is not authentic to them, it’s likely a) they don’t want or believe in the product you’re asking them to endorse which will impact execution, or b) you’re buying them for reach at the expense of relevance, which means you are fighting a losing battle to begin with. Successful partnerships with influencers happen when brands use emotion; be it humour, passion or sadness; tap into topical milestones in the influencer’s life; or provide a surprising angle that you didn’t expect or know about that individual. That’s when real value and impact can be achieved.”

How much?!

Continuing on the theme of how much your ‘star’ should be paid, Keren Haynes, joint managing director at agency Shout! Communications, says it’s a question of weighing up how much the celebrity is going to cost, versus how much additional coverage you’ll get for your investment: “You don’t get much celebrity for less than £8-10k these days – that would get you a fair amount of advertising on a small commercial radio station, not very much of one of the bigger operators and nothing at all on the BBC. Put in that context, if you have the budget to put into a campaign, hiring a celebrity has the potential for an excellent ROI. 

“Broadcasters most appreciate celebrities that have already had an established career and are already in the limelight, be they entertainers or sports people, for example. These are deemed better quality than reality stars who are famous for being famous.” 

When celebrities fail

Haynes says that where the use of celebrities fails is when there is no connection between the spokesperson and the campaign. Haynes lists other ways you can waste money: “Overuse of that celebrity is also detrimental; no matter how big the name, if they’ve been on air in the three to four weeks leading up to your campaign then broadcasters will consider them over-exposed. They also need to fit into the PR timetable. For broadcasters the earlier on in the day the coverage, better the chance of getting on air. So the celebrity who demands a relaxed start to the day is going to scupper some of the best coverage. Finally, the celebrity needs to understand the difference between being infamous rather than famous. The PR industry needs it’s spokespeople to be squeaky clean, not caught with their pants down or their nose in a cocaine trough.“

Watch and learn

In this film Keren Haynes outlines some top tips for using celebrities.

Doing the maths

When it comes to working out exactly how much to offer your celebrity, Emma Usher, director of talent booking agency RunRagged, says “The amount celebs get paid varies depending on the type of activity and from celeb to celeb, there are many variables to be considered, for example, time required of the person, the period of contract, service output, usage and any media obligations. Almost all celebrities nowadays will expect to be paid for being involved with a brand.

“One of the biggest mistakes brands make is to overpay for the services delivered by the celeb. This usually happens when junior staff are put on the job of booking talent to save money, when brands leave it too late to work with experts like us, or when international brands and agencies try to secure western talent.

“We know of instances where talent have been paid 25 times more than we’ve ever paid them for similar work and they’ve actually told us about it in genuine disbelief. They know that won’t work with us, but they will take it if they can get it and who wouldn’t, but it only happens when the person doing the deal is inexperienced.”

Here Emma Usher describes why celebrities are not going out of fashion.

Don’t overvalue

To make sure you are not overpaying your chosen star, remember that they may not be worth what they used to be in the “good old days”. Gary Grant, managing director of marketing agency You Agency, says: “My view is that the celebrity influencer landscape is changing and that they are no longer worth the value that they used to be worth. Nowadays we are all more cynical and canny when it comes to advertising and endorsement, particularly with social media rules ensuring that #spon or #ad is used when promoting a product. That means that we no longer believe them to the extent that we did. I now find that my clients get more cut-through, impressions and engagement and ultimately leads when using micro-influencers. These are genuine people with followers under tens of thousands that showcase a lifestyle with transparency and true insight into their world. This word-of-mouth promotion gives value back to the product or service and takes us back to the days when hype was a genuine phenomenon, based on a product or service that provided the benefits it promised.”

Case studies

My brushes with celebrity

Robin Lander Brinkley, freelancer at Maxwell Communications, talks us through a few of his experiences of working with celebrities: “My first experience was when I was starting out 17 years ago. I remember inviting a finalist from ITV’s Pop Idol to perform at a school in their hometown, which was my first ever client. We had reporters, photographers and a local television crew in attendance and the coverage was incredible. The school looked fun, the kids were so excited and the media had a local tie-in to a show that was taking the country by storm. It was my first ever ‘hit’ and it cost nothing at all!

“In 2009, I was asked to manage the launch of a new VIP room at a leading nightclub. I was given a budget, told I could hire a celebrity and I immediately knew who I wanted – Calum Best. Women fancied him, men respected him and he was very much associated with nightlife and the party scene at that moment in time. He had dinner with competition winners, toured the venue, posed for official photographs then spent time meeting people all night. He had a charisma that commanded attention, was well liked and worked really hard that night, always asking if there was anything more he could do. I was impressed with how seriously he took his role that evening and how respectful he was of everyone involved. The place was packed and a full pages of press coverage from the night.

“Last year, a corporate client wanted to relaunch one of its commercial divisions and we invited Broadcaster and BBC Apprentice winner, Michelle Dewberry to be a guest speaker. The audience was enthralled and inspired by a moving and entertaining account of her early life, career, experience of the media, and subsequent opportunities and lessons learned. The press coverage was excellent, it generated impressive social media response and, most importantly, it made a long-lasting impression on the invited guest, She was fantastic.

“I can honestly say I have never regretted hiring a celebrity. Though there are a growing number of factors for consideration when making choices today, including an individual’s digital presence and social media reach, I believe the right person at the right event still holds tremendous PR value and people do enjoy a ‘sprinkle of celebrity’.”

So it seems that everyone agrees, carefully chosen celebrities are definitely worth using in PR campaigns. But whether they are always worth the fees they ask for is another matter!

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for free to our twice weekly editorial alert.

We have six email alerts in total - covering ESG, internal comms, PR jobs and events. Enter your email address below to find out more: