Courting Hollywood -- Building Successful Celebrity-Cause Partnerships

Hollywood stars have a unique gift. It's not the ability to make audiences laugh (or cry), or the free swag constantly bestowed upon them. Their gift comes from the power to promote whatever they support to millions of people through talk shows, weekly magazines, and ever-growing social media followings. 

Understanding this gift, most non-profits recognize the tremendous value a celebrity can offer in moving a cause forward. But not every celebrity-cause partnership is successful.

At Metro PR, I work with non-profits to find and secure the best celebrities to advance their mission, whether it's for a branded cause marketing campaign, an event host, or a long-term ambassador agreement. I've worked with NGOs of all sizes, from international organizations like the United Nations Foundation and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital® to small, local charities based solely in Los Angeles.

Regardless of their size and sector, most non-profits that approach us are looking for the same thing: to bring the Hollywood voice to their cause. Yet, the next step is not always clear. What do they want from the partnership? Which celebrities make the most sense? How can they best approach talent?

Whether bringing on an outside agency or working to engage celebrities on their own, here are three things I suggest all non-profits consider prior to asking a celebrity to join their cause:

1. Know Your Goals

Knowing what you want to accomplish beforehand is imperative to creating a successful celebrity-cause partnership. Are you launching an awareness campaign? Social media is a powerful tool in promoting facts and figures, but do you want people to go the extra mile and take action? Whether you're looking for donations, volunteers or name recognition, establishing clarity in your desired outcomes will guide you toward finding the right celebrity and putting forth specific requests to reach your goals. 

2. Find the Right Celebrity for Your Cause or Campaign

Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift. When we begin working with non-profits on celebrity engagement, we always ask for their "target list." Without fail, one of the two (or both) Justins and country's Golden Girl make an appearance on every list. The "mainstream is best" approach does have its benefits -- mega-talent can reach millions of people in the time it takes to hit "send" on their latest 140 word Twitter post. But is mainstream support the only way to reach your campaign's goals? And is getting one tweet from a perceived "A-lister" really as effective as you think?

We encountered a non-profit that secured a tweet from a major celebrity asking their 10 million+ fans to donate to the charity. The donation conversion rate was less than .0003 percent of total followers, raising less than $500. Conversely, we asked Disney star Bella Thorne to engage her twitter fan base of a few hundred thousand to rally around an anti-bullying effort from and Lenovo. Young people re-tweeted, responded with their own thoughts on bullying, and even created their own YouTube videos about the issue. The reason? People likely subscribe to the aforementioned A-lister's twitter for fashion and relationship updates and not charity suggestions, while young people following a Disney star look to that person as a role model.

We encourage non-profits to think more strategically about product-market fit when considering celebrity ambassadors. Which celebrities support similar causes? Who is your target audience? Will the talent on your list resonate with this audience?

3. Create the Right Ask
You've assessed your goals and identified a celebrity you believe can help accomplish them. Now it's time to tailor your ask to their interest and availability. Are you approaching Tom Brady during playoff season or an SNL cast member during a show week to film a Public Service Announcement? It may look like a quick commitment on paper, but your chances of securing them are far less likely. A good ask is an educated ask.

We were hired to bring celebrity speakers to the TIME magazine summit with Opportunity Nation, which tackled economic mobility in the U.S. Prior to securing Serena Williams, we did research to learn her passion lies in education. Our ask offered a mutually beneficial opportunity: Serena would have the chance to speak to a crowd of opinion leaders about her own work on education, and the summit would have an A-list athlete make a commitment to use her resources to create opportunity in 2012 (a primary goal of the summit). We heard back with a "yes" within 24 hours.

I would be remiss if I said these three steps will secure a non-profit's No. 1 celebrity ambassador choice every time. Landing the right celebrity is also about timing, forming the right contacts, and having a bit of luck. Like with any game, you have a far better chance of winning if you prepare before going in -- hopefully these rules help you make a strong first play.