As a new arrival to the bright lights and big city of New York in the late 90s, I worked as a consultant with the US Fund for UNICEF to help manage both the press in attendance and celebrity ambassadors for UNICEF’s 50th Anniversary celebration. Not only was it a very exciting opportunity for a 20-something in the high times of the Roaring Nineties, it also provided interesting insight into the logistical effort and management of a roster of celebrity ambassadors that few are ever privileged to see.
UNICEF has been the pioneer of positioning celebrities to promote development issues globally. And they have been very successful at cultivating the right celebrities, and providing the support to ensure these celebrities are on message and confident in speaking on the issues to media and global public at large.
Over the past decade, celebrity agents have picked up on the brand value for their clients of aligning themselves with charitable organizations and have sought to cultivate these relationships, with one or more celebrities becoming the brand of a charity. But by doing so, some charities have felt the pressure to align with the celebrity and their vision as opposed to the charity’s own unique vision. In a way, management of the relationship and its main focus has moved from the charity to the celebrity and their representatives, sometimes with negative effect.
There is a risk that a celebrity ambassador could go “off the talking points” and discuss future potentials or projects or make commitments during media interviews that had not been discussed with leadership beforehand, leaving the organization to then invest their energy and time to redirect staff efforts towards this new public commitment.
There is also the illusion that with a well-known celebrity comes a well-funded organization with no possibility of funding issues in the future. Often times, that is not the case, and it’s leadership’s responsibility to seek out funding from different foundations and high-level donors. Not an easy task when you are so publicly tied to a wealthy celebrity ambassador. It is very much a double-edge sword. What you gain in earned media and publicity has the potential downside of mission and project creep, along with funding issues for the organization.
So before you and your CEO decide that a celebrity ambassador is the solution to your brand awareness issues, consider the following:
- Ensure the celebrity understands all parameters of their role and responsibilities and negotiate the end at the beginning.
- Choose the celebrity and their passions that align with your brand, not the other way around.
- Have two to three ambassadors as opposed to one highly visible celebrity.
- Revisit the relationship often and assess what gains you have earned in terms of visibility and funding, measure that against the impact on the organization as a whole.