Courtney Nally, SVP, General Manager, Ketchum Sports & Entertainment
It seems like every month we read about a new celebrity being named “creative director” for a brand. When reading about one of the latest recently, I was reminded of a business card I’ve held onto from my early days starting out. It came from the “Vibe Manager” of a large hotel chain. When I asked what it was he actually did, he responded, “I make sure everyone always has a positive vibe about our brand.”
So be it “creative director” or “vibe manager,” this is, and has been for a while, the future of the brand/talent relationship. While it certainly isn’t anything new, I’m excited to see things going this way.
In my experience working with hundreds of celebrities and brands, there’s been a tide shift. Brands now realize they have to hold celebrities more accountable for their role with the company, and celebrities are doing the same for themselves. The talent now come into deals with brands seeking equity and sales incentives. They are invested in a brand’s success beyond whether or not an ad they star in does well.
Of course there are risks associated with this as well. But the potential challenges that stem from having a deeper “creative” role with a celebrity are really no different than any time a brand associates themselves with talent. If the relationship is one day or three years, brands still have to work hard to make sure a celebrity resonates with their target audience. And of course “celebrities behaving badly” will become a PR issue regardless of the celebrity’s title or duration with the brand. Best you can do is prepare and plan for those sorts of issues, and manage them quickly if they occur. But those risks aren’t a good reason to deter brands from forming longer term relationships.
And here’s one big reason why. It’s been widely proven that the market’s biggest buyers – millennials and beyond - don’t love “one and done” spokespeople. Consumers are savvier than ever, and they want to believe that a celebrity actually likes and uses the product they’re endorsing. This is much more convincing when they see a brand and celebrity commit to each other long term.
Authenticity is everything, which means connecting a brand to what we think we know of a celebrity in their off-camera life. It’s the reason why Samsung’s campaigns with Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard have done so well. Because they look like the busy parents the rest of us feel like – it seems so true to their life. They just happen to be celebrities.
When entering this type of celebrity relationship, its mission critical to ensure the talent is part of that initial discussion—you can tell a lot about a person’s commitment level in those meetings and really gauge how “available” they will be for the brand. You want to hear the talent say it’s a real partnership, not just a services agreement. That’s when you know you’re headed in a good direction.
At the end of the day, a lot of this is semantics. Are celebrities truly what we think of as a creative director for these brands? Performing the same functions as creative directors typically would do? Probably not. But “celebrity ambassador” doesn’t seem to quite have the same cache or news value.
Maybe that guy with the Vibe Manager was on to something…
Courtney Nally is SVP, General Manager at Ketchum Sports & Entertainment. She leads the group’s talent negotiation team, managing hundreds of contracts annually ranging from athletes to celebrities, to serve as spokespeople and the faces of campaigns for Ketchum client programs.
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