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What is the value of a famous face?

25 June 2010

Amazon PR's Kirsty Kitchen wonders if we're relying on celebrities too much 

We all know the value that a famous face can add in terms of grabbing attention, but we also know the potential pitfalls. 

Corporates are perhaps more accustomed, in some ways, to working with the ups and downs of celebrity culture than charities. But there has been a major shift in recent years, with many of the big charity brands employing dedicated ‘celebrity managers’ to help them identify, recruit and manage the right people.

There’s no doubting that celebrity management, done properly, is a demanding and time consuming job. There is always a risk in aligning your carefully nurtured brand with someone in the limelight (many will remember Naomi Campbell striding down a catwalk draped in fur just weeks after acting as a spokesperson for US charity People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Geri Halliwell’s limited grasp of the issues she was meant to be highlighting as UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador), so you have to commit time and energy to finding the right individual, briefing them thoroughly, and monitoring their exposure carefully.

And, unfortunately, in many cases they will expect some form of payment – often in the form of substantial fees – which could be argued to be a rather unsuitable way to spend funds.That said, in many cases the potential value can outweigh these risks and make celebrity engagement a valuable part of the communications mix.

Getting the non celebrity angle 

But the value really comes from having informed and personally engaged people representing you, who have real credibility and can speak from their own experience – not just be fed a series of messages to regurgitate while you watch with baited breath and crossed fingers.

When Hugh Grant supported Marie Curie Cancer Care’s Daffodil Appeal in a string of national media interviews, it could have been cringeworthy. In fact, it was incredibly powerful, because he was speaking from the heart, explaining the impact that the charity’s nurses had on his mother’s last weeks of life. No media questioned the celebrity angle. There wasn’t a hint of cynicism, because it was a real, personal experience that moved beyond the fame-factor. In its modern form, "celebrity" is a word that carries with it a set of incredibly strong connotations. It is no longer the same as describing someone as well-known or high-profile.

Celebrity managers 

Thanks to the world of tabloids, weekly magazines and internet hype, "celebrity" now refers to a particular form of fame – often at its most loud, extreme, superficial and self-publicising. There are, without a doubt, some brilliant individuals who fall under the celeb banner, but as communications professionals rather than entertainment-seekers, we should ask ourselves whether these are the people we should be focusing on.

Perhaps, rather than "celebrity managers" we should be thinking more about building "ambassador manager" roles within communications teams. These professionals would take on responsibility for seeking out and involving high-profile individuals of all kinds, such as key media commentators, major donors, sector influencers and so on – not only those who would fall within the celeb category. In many organisations this role would work across departments, creating a strong connection between fundraising, marketing, PR and public affairs, for example. And perhaps it would help focus the mind and avoid a reliance only on one type of famous face?

Kirsty Kitchen

account director, Amazon PR