.desc-wrapper { height:300px!important; }

The Perils of a Celebrity Spokesperson

Entrepreneur Magazine offers up a listing of tips to smaller businesses and startups interested in employing a celebrity spokesperson. The article’s advice for companies looking to boost their visibility offers more than a dozen tips on finding the right celebrity endorsement. Here are some of the more important takeaways:

  • Define expectations, budget and time frame
  • Be sure values, ethics and personalities jibe
  • Don't settle for just any celebrity
  • Evaluate with your head, not your heart
  • When shooting for the stars, aim high
  • For businesses whose market is strictly local, think local celebrity
  • Look for someone with charisma
  • Find someone willing to go beyond the call of duty because he or she has genuine interest in your product/brand
  • Weigh whether to hire an outside firm to help in the search
  • Know the risks-—and have an exit strategy

That last item is the most important. While the article spends a lot of time talking about the positive aspects of a celebrity spokesperson, it also brings a lot of risk.

When you employ a spokesperson, you are aligning your brand and organization with the face of a single individual. This can be very successful for all types of organizations. Wendy’s had a great run with Dave Thomas, Priceline has done very well with William Shatner and George Foreman made the Foreman Grill a success.

However, trouble for a spokesperson generally means trouble for the business or brand. Despite the familiarity and appeal of a celebrity (often calculated by us researchers as a Q-Score), their troubles are now your troubles.

Here’s a great example. Many years ago, a mid-sized southern regional bank tried to position themselves as friendly and caring about their customers. The campaign included the tag line “Where banking is still a people business.” It was great campaign that made the CEO the face of the organization. The CEO was the epitome of a bank CEO, tall, gray hair, and always wearing a blue suit. The CEO was included in local commercials dismissing the importance of technology and automation, always closing with the tag, “Banking is a people business!”

The organization spent a lot on the campaign and on customer service and measuring customer satisfaction. The entire organization was focused on customer service and customer surveys.

Just one problem. Profitability. The organization did a great job of focusing on the customer and developing the campaign, but they also made a lot of bad loans and lost sight of risk and profitability.

As you might guess, the CEO was removed and the spokesperson of the campaign disappeared. All of the investments that made the CEO the face of an organization focused on satisfying the customer was history, and so was the successful campaign.

Having a celebrity spokesperson ties your brand to that person. Everyone has ups and downs and their success or failure now become your worry. It can make a small company, just ask George Foreman, or it can be a complete headache. Whatever you do, it should never be done lightly and without some thought. I also would suggest not using a CEO. Being able to distance yourself from a celebrity is much easier than distancing yourself from your CEO or former CEO.