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How the celebrity endorsement game has changed

Being famous never goes out of fashion. In the words of celebrity branding expert and author of the Kim Kardashian Principle Jeetendr Sehdev: “Celebrity has never mattered more than it does today, especially among the digital native millennials and generation. Fame is the holy grail and everyone wants to be a star.” 

But as everyone in PR knows, the rise of the influencer means that celebrities ain’t what they used to be. As Sehdev says: “Before celebrities were larger-than-life personas that nobody could really touch. Today, they are content-creators, media planners and talent all rolled into one, and with social media everyone can be a celebrity in their own right. The younger generations are more influenced by Youtube stars than they are by traditional celebrities. They feel a closer relationship to them because they have identified and created them. They feel they have an equity stake in them.”

The new ‘normal’ celeb
Influencers are able to reach groups of people in a far more personal way. Pam Lyddon, owner of agency Bright Star Digital, says: “As a mum and a PRO I am more likely to take notice of the channel mums, bloggers mother pukka and unmumsy mum rather than a celebrity ... I can relate to them and so does their audience and this is what people are leaning towards. Influencers are your normal-every-day people who have something to say that people can relate to and are on their wavelength – that's powerful.”

Choose your icon carefully!
But be careful which celebrity you choose to promote your brand. As Jessie Nicholls, senior consultant at agency Linstock Communications, points out:  “In using a celebrity to draw attention to the brand, the company also undertakes a much bigger risk should the celebrity step out of line.”

Discussing how to choose well, Nicholls says: “Endorsers have got to be believable, and for that they need to be closely linked to the brand they are promoting. As such, it’s often the case that individuals who provide the biggest benefit are those created by the companies themselves.”

Celebrities love to link themselves to charities, but charities should think about who they link to their brands. Nicholls says: “In the charity sector, research suggests that the ability of celebrity to reach people is limited. The main beneficiary seems to be the individual, whose philanthropic halo outshines their association with any given cause. Angelina Jolie, for example, supports 29 charities and public perception of her is of someone who deeply cares about humanity. But naming the charities she supports would be a difficult task.

Get fame without celebrity endorsement
“It’s important for brands to find their own voice and their own issues to comment on, delivered by individuals who passionately believe in the views they are promoting. If you pick the right issue at the right time and support your case with fresh and genuine insight, your brand can become famous without the need for a celebrity endorser.”

As well as deciding which celebrity or influencer to link to your brand, you have to plan the media strategy. In the panel, one PRO describes different approaches, whilst a journalist explains the best way to make sure the celebrity you pick gets picked up by the papers.

How to make your star shine brightest  

Using digital reach
“Celebrities’ reach and follower counts outstripped many media publications’ paid circulations a long time ago – so naturally, the way that celebrities can influence PR campaigns for brands has evolved, fast,” says Emma Streets, head of social at CreativeRace.

Streets describes how celebs have now essentially become their own PR managers, with their use of social media and channels such as Snapchat. This means PROs have to be more creative in both the people they choose to represent brands and the media strategy they follow: “The days of celebrities signing up to be associated with, and ambassadors for, one or two select products are long gone, with multiple sponsored posts commonplace across all channels. Combine this with the recently updated legal guidelines around brand endorsement and increasingly transparent posts that have to use #spon or #ad when celebrities refer to specific products and services, and brands have a new set of challenges to cut through and benefit from the support of influencers online.

“So how can brands respond to this ever-evolving landscape? If you have a genuinely great product that’s new and effective of course this will always work in your favour. Looking for ways to create authentic and genuinely engaging content that can incorporate a brand message remains a constant challenge, but certain brands, particularly in the competitive beauty, fashion and fitness fields, are managing to retain some brand power here, Ultimately, with a hugely savvy consumer and celebrity audience, becoming more transparent about how your product fits in their lives and those of their audiences, demands a new lease of creativity and collaboration that moves past the press photocall and endorsement fees of the past.”

Getting into the papers
New media has changed things, but there is still a lot of kudos of having your chosen celebrity in the papers. Freelace journalist Donna Ferguson has been interviewing celebrities for the national newspapers for four years. She describes how fame can translate into column inches:

“As far as credits go, editors accept that the celebrity is usually promoting something. However, what is considered an acceptable credit differs according to the paper I’m writing for. For example, The Guardian’s editorial code means journalists writing for that paper are supposed to examine carefully whatever the celebrity is plugging – the advice from my editor was to make sure it is to do with the core thing the celebrity is known for. Other slots have set questions which not every celebrity is prepared to answer – and although you may be able to add a question in, it would need to be relevant to that section of the paper. Many celebrities who are paid to plug a brand will not work for these slots.

“Fame is a very subjective thing nowadays and the definition of celebrity is changing. When pitching, I try to match the celebrity to the readership of that particular section of that particular newspaper. I will often search the archives of the paper to check how often the celebrity’s name comes up before pitching them. However, I will certainly pitch celebrities I’ve never personally heard of or come across before – as long as I have good reason to think they are famous enough for the slot.”

Along with national newspaper journalists Sarah Ewing and Nicole Lampert, Ferguson has set up the Celebrity Interview Club on Facebook to help freelance journalists connect directly with celebrity publicists 

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