When I initially jumped from journalism to PR, after New York City dailies and wires services fell by the wayside, I noticed several aspects of public relations that surprised me: 1) most PR people didn’t know how to speak to a journalists; 2) most PR people couldn’t craft programs with elements that appealed to both the client and media; 3) more time would be spent on strategizing tactics and objectives than on developing creative stories that had a chance of enticing a journalist; 4)many programs were similar to past ones and 5) when in creative programming trouble, use a spokesperson for publicity efforts.
In this article, I’ll zero in on the pros and cons of using a celebrity spokesperson.
Pro: Using a celebrity spokesperson makes it easier to achieve publicity.
Pro: Impressionable people believe everything a celebrity says.
The remainders are all cons:
Con: Using a celebrity often leads to a story about the celebrity, with a scant mention of client talking points, if any.
Lesson to Learn: It’s better to use an accepted expert than a spokesperson from central casting.
Con:Top celebrity spokespersons often are, or have been, tied to previous clients.
Lesson to Learn: Many reporters view celebrity spokespersons as “hired guns,” who know nothing about the products they are hawking and will concentrate on the spokesperson’s career, with no or scant mention of the reason the spokesperson was booked for the interview.
Con: Many interviews with celebrity spokespersons often only have a few words mention about the client.
Lesson to Learn: Just because a reporter agrees to interview a spokesperson doesn’t assure client inclusion during interviews.
Con: Clients often expect programs from agencies that will work without having a celebrity spokesperson as the focal point.
Lesson to Learn: Programs should be crafted to work without celebrity spokespersons; spokespersons should be included in a secondary role.
Con: Most celebrity spokespersons make so much money that they are difficult to control and are not adverse to speak out or tweet about social or political matters.
Lesson to Learn: Clients let the agencies select spokespersons and expect the agency to be able to control what the spokespersons say, even though this is not possible.
Con: Celebrity misbehavior is certain to result in news stories.
Lesson to Learn: Do not rely on agents to vow for their client. Do your own due diligence and check with beat reporters who have covered the celebrity.
Celebrity spokespeople are especially ubiquitous in sports marketing accounts. But based on my managing and/or playing key roles in the most prestigious national and international sports marketing mega events (and many none sports-related accounts) over many years, it’s evident to me that many PR practitioners fail to realize the downside of having only athlete spokespeople hawk a program.
I’ve used many athletes over the years. But I made certain that corporate inclusion is always a major thrust of the programs. High corporate execs doing major media interviews explaining their support of a sports marketing program in business media is more important than athlete sports media interviews in my opinion. Because one hit in a major media business outlet always resulted in more praise from clients than dozens of interviews with athletes talking about their sports careers with a single mention of the client in stories devoid of the talking points clients want.
And that a lesson worth remembering.
About the Author: Arthur Solomon was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations and sports business publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at [email protected]