Getting celebrities to support your cause

July 21, 2009

spotlightEngaging a celebrity to help promote your cause can be an effective way to gain attention but it’s easier said than done.  For the past few  months, I’ve been trying to persuade several high profile Canadian men to endorse a public awareness campaign for a  nonprofit client. This is the first time I’ve attempted to do something like this and I have to say, it’s not easy going. Here’s an outline of my approach as well as some observations about the experience.

The approach

  1. Don’t aim too high – If you’re not a high profile nonprofit, the chances of enticing an A-list celebrity to your campaign at the start is probably pretty low. I started off aiming for the sky and the return emails and phone calls numbered zero. I adjusted my approach. If I could get some prominent but less well-known celebs on board, that would give the campaign added credibility and perhaps the A-listers would then be willing to join. This seems to be working. The more celebrities that sign on, the easier is seems to be to get more.
  2. Tailor your ask – Research the celebrity you are planning to approach. Find out about his/her background, childhood and what charities  he/she presently supports. Use this information to tailor your approach. Is your cause related to one the person already supports? Is there something in this celebrity’s personal history that you can relate to the cause? Help the person to see the connection with your organization. Research can also reveal circumstances in the individual’s life that perhaps don’t make him/her the best choice for your cause. Research is important!
  3. Don’t ask too much – It would be great to have a celebrity become a major campaign spokesperson. It would be fabulous if they agreed to make a video, mention your campaign on the Web, hold a fundraising concert or attend a media launch. Again, if your organization is in the building stage, asking for a high commitment right at the start doesn’t seem the best way to go. Start with something easy—something that doesn’t take a great deal of time. Once the celebrity makes that commitment, perhaps there will be an opportunity to build further engagement.
  4. Don’t be a stalker – Celebrities are understandably protective of their privacy. They have many organizations and fans seeking their attention. While it’s important to be persistent with agents and other gate keepers, I’ve tried not be a pest. I hope that I’ve come across as respectful of the time and effort agents and publicists have put towards getting my message to the celebrities.

Observations

I have been successful at getting a number of individuals on board with my client’s campaign but there are a number of celebrities on my dream list that remain elusive. I am continuing to plug away.

The biggest hurdle I had to face was actually finding contact information for agents and publicists. Fortunately, I located a friend-of-a-friend who had an IMBD Pro account and was able to look up the agents of the people on my dream list. Subscribing to the service would have been another option. Sometimes you can find information on the Internet but that can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

It’s amazing to me how different the responses have been from agent to agent. A few get back to me promptly after an email, phone call or letter. Their clients have either come on board quickly or they’ve communicated that they are unable to support the cause at this time. Many, many emails and phone calls go unanswered. This really burns me because I have to keep calling and emailing until I’m sure there isn’t a possibility of support. It makes me feel like a stalker and it’s a major drain on time. Just call or email me back and tell me your client isn’t interested. I promise that I will then go away.

It’s a big thrill to than hear that a celebrity endorsement has come through. There’s no question that having someone well known endorse your cause can be a major boost to your nonprofit’s efforts, not to mention the morale of its staff. Just be prepared to spend a great deal of time doing research, following up leads and making phone calls. Give yourself more time than you ever thought you’d need.

How about you? Have you been successful at getting endorsements from high-profile community members. Share your tips and tricks here.

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5 Responses to “Getting celebrities to support your cause”

  1. Nico Says:

    Thank you, Deborah. There are some celebs who claim to have (had) the illness. As they are/have been directly impacted, I feel a need to approach them. I will keep trying, although due to the frustration level of getting no answers, I realize I can only do 1 email a day to avoid “burn out”/giving up. I appreciate your reply and the advice here! Thank you.

  2. messagecom Says:

    Thanks for your comment Nico. I really have no secrets or advice to offer other than the info based on my experience outlined in this post. It will probably involve a great number of “asks” to get a celeb on board. Doing your research up front on well-known people who may have some association with your cause already (even in a broad way) would help. Celebrities who are just breaking out in terms of popularity are also a better bet as they are likely not yet engaged in causes. Good luck with your quest!

  3. Nico Says:

    Hello Deborah, this is an interesting write up. Currently learning (as a complete lay person) about the no replies from agents. I am trying to find a celeb who would endorse (perhaps just a 45 second video) a fundraising campaign for a specific medical study. (It’s not being funded by the NIH (USA)). It would be nice to be able to talk to you about this, as it seems you have real experience in this type of venture.

  4. messagecom Says:

    Good question, Lynda. I neglected to cover this in my post. So far, none of the high-profile Canadians I’ve approached have asked for a fee but I understand that is expected in some circumstances. I would imagine it would depend on how much time and effort you are requesting from the individual.

  5. Lynda Says:

    Interesting article Deborah. My question: do most celebrities do this for free or is there an expectation of reimbursement.


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