PUBLIC RELATIONS: Reaching for the stars - Hiring a celebrity to endorse your brand may seem like a great idea, but make sure you pick a professional who isn’t going to overshadow the product, writes Danny Rogers

If you are choosing a celebrity to endorse your product Ken Clayton, managing director of Michael Rines Communications, offers some useful advice: ’Avoid the ones that the chairman’s wife wants to meet.’

If you are choosing a celebrity to endorse your product Ken

Clayton, managing director of Michael Rines Communications, offers some

useful advice: ’Avoid the ones that the chairman’s wife wants to


He recalls some unattributable tales of disaster that indicate the

varying levels of professionalism shown by hired-in celebs.

For this reason, Clayton’s ground rules are that the celebrity must

genuinely appeal to the target market and that they should be briefed

well in advance, even if it’s not always easy to gain access to


As a calming note for marketers with pre-event jitters he adds: ’If they

have agreed to appear they will generally be OK.’

Adrian Wheeler, managing director of PR agency GCI Sterling, believes

celebrity success pivots on individual professionalism: ’If you use a

temperamental celebrity or someone who considers themselves above the

task it can be a problem. You must insist your client chooses a

celebrity who knows how to play the game.’

Wheeler gives the example of a recent photo call for Virgin Vodka.

’Guess who we used?’ he laughs. GCI got the irrepressible Richard

Branson to hold a female staff member dressed as a nurse upside down.

’It worked because Branson is a consummate PR professional. The press

knew he would give good value.’

But there are other issues to consider. Consumer PR outfit Band and

Brown faces the task of adding editorial exposure to telephone bank

First Direct’s partnership with Bob Mortimer for its new ad


Managing director Gill Brown is certain that Mortimer has the ideal

image for the brand: ’He is streetwise, quick-witted and has the

alternative approach that First Direct wants. The choice is also

innovative, as he has not been used in this way before.’

However, she recognises that this can bring its own problems: ’Bob

Mortimer is a high-profile celebrity. I’m mindful that we achieve

meaningful brand awareness and not meaningful ’Bob’ awareness.’

As Brown points out, celebrities are brands in their own right: ’One

must strike a balance between who’s big at the moment and who’s the

right fit for the brand.’ Like Clayton, she believes the key is

effective briefing, preferably through direct access rather than via an

agent or manager.

Brian MacLaurin, managing director of PR agency and personality

publicists MacLaurin Communications, knows that celebrity ego versus

brand is a hard balancing act. MacLaurin says the PR professional is

usually presented with a celebrity chosen by an advertising agency and

asked to identify editorial opportunities.

This was his experience with Billy Connolly after he starred in ads for

British Gas and HFC Bank’s Goldfish credit card.

The crux, he believes, is understanding where the celebrity is coming

from: ’Some adore publicity and you just need to make sure they do the

right things at the right time. Some hate it and you need to ensure that

the initiatives meet their needs.’

Pip Landers, product development manager for Whitbread’s Pizza Hut

chain, faced a difficult balance when she embarked on a roadshow with

its ad’s rugby stars, Rory and Tony Underwood. The problem was ensuring

that press coverage focused on the brothers’ connection to the brand,

not just their exploits on the field. ’Rory and Tony were well briefed

and although loads of sports journalists turned up, they refused to talk

about rugby, only Pizza Hut.’

Spinning PR off celebrities in their ads is crucial to Pizza Hut. The

recent ad starring footballers Gareth Southgate, Stuart Pearce and Chris

Waddle generated huge publicity for its lionisation of great British


Landers says celebrities can contribute massive awareness to an ad

campaign if integrated properly. She cites the example of the previously

unknown star of the Murphy’s ads, whose character Whitbread has used to

promote its JJ Murphy’s pub chain.

Safeway and PR agency Countrywide similarly teamed up to make the most

of the Harry and Molly child characters from the retailers’ ongoing


’Personalities can become part of the brand equity,’ argues

Countrywide’s consumer director, Nick Hindle. ’It can be a hell of a job

to justify the cost of a celebrity to a client and it is not

cost-effective to use a celebrity in the one-off ’endorsement’ of a

product. You must look at all the uses that can be made of them.’

In an attempt to bring ’science’ to the personality/product match,

consumer PR agency Freud Communications is setting up a celebrity

register. Creative director Alex Johnston explains: ’The brand futures

section of our parent, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, uses a combination of

focus groups and TGI consumer surveys to identify brand fit. The

database can cross reference celebrities according to their market, cost

and regional location.’

Hindle says PR’s real challenge is achieving the visible link between

celebrity and product. He cites the use of Page 3 model Kathy Lloyd to

promote the film Drop Zone. ’A newspaper could have missed the


So we threw her out of a plane and ensured her jump-suit was


It appeared in the Daily Star.’


Estimated charge per day:

Anthea Turner                        pounds 30,000

Noel Edmonds                         pounds 25,000

Chris Tarrant                        pounds 10,000

Anneka Rice                            pounds 5000

Member of cast The Bill/Gladiators     pounds 1500


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