PUBLICITY: THE FAME GAIN

Associating your charity with a famous face practically guarantees column inches for your cause. But how do you go about it and what are the pitfalls?

CASE STUDY: NCH LINKS CELEBRITIES TO A CAUSE

Children's charity NCH uses more than 300 famous people a year to raise awareness of its work and raise funds for an array of projects.

"Celebrity sponsorship has become an essential part of the work we do,

says Richard White, celebrity support manager at NCH.

We don't spend money on advertising, so celebrities are one of the ways we rely on getting our message out to a wide cross-section of people."

NCH always tries to match the person to the campaign as closely as possible.

For its child adoption and sponsorship programme, White recruited two celebrities who had themselves been adopted.

"It's vital that the people NCH uses to front campaigns are able to talk knowledgeably about the subject and have a passion for what we're trying to do,

he says.

The charity also tries to integrate a chosen celebrity into different aspects of an individual campaign. British film star Jenny Agutter is a vice-president of NCH and has been fundamental in helping build the "Byte Night

campaign.

"Byte Night", which takes place in September, is NCH's annual sleep-out event for the IT industry. It raises money through personal sponsorship of homeless young people and care leavers. The charity targets senior directors from the industry, who agree to give up their bed for the night and raise at least ?xA3;2,000 for the campaign.

The charity used Agutter to network with the corporate sponsors who support the event and attend drinks receptions to raise awareness of the campaign within the IT industry.

"Using a well-loved celebrity to network with corporate supporters adds more weight to a campaign, and also helps a company promote the charity to its employees,

says White. "We always get a positive reaction when we ask a celebrity to write a letter of thanks to company staff who have helped raise money for a campaign, as it makes them feel like they have contributed to something important."

Agutter also sent follow-up letters to potential sleepers, and gave her name to endorsement on the internet and created her own web page to raise sponsorship.

On the day of the event, she will give interviews to the media and appear on radio and TV to talk about the campaign. She will also be present throughout the night itself, giving a welcome speech and remaining with participants throughout the night. She will also meet with a drama group made up of young people from NCH's care projects to talk about her career as an actress.

Although Agutter fronts the event, other celebrities including golf champion Nick Faldo and TV personality Graham Norton will also attend.

White believes this approach ensures corporate partners, participants and the charity's supporters become more familiar with the campaign and are more likely to offer support in following years.

"We've always tried to use our celebrities in an imaginative and engaging way, so they become intrinsically linked with the charity and our key messages,

he said. "This way our supporters feel like we're all working together to make something good happen for children across the country."

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When British Telecom monitored the levels of phone donations during last year's BBC Children in Need, it recorded a boost in donations whenever a popular celebrity featured on screen. When teen band S Club 7 appeared to perform a sketch, donations rose by 10 per cent, only to drop back again as soon as they disappeared from view.

In the modern world, celebrities have a phenomenal influence. They sell us everything from clothes to cars to coffee, and good causes are no exception.

It's unlikely a charity would launch a major campaign or appeal without the help of a famous face, as celebrity endorsement is often the only affordable way a charity can market itself to a wider audience.

"Using celebrities in any kind of advertising is normally foolproof,

explains Virginia Featherston, a director at brand agency Publicis. "We all like celebrities and they're often the only way to get your product or campaign noticed in an increasingly loud marketplace."

Compared with other methods of fundraising, celebrity endorsement can have a huge impact and immediately raise public awareness of both the charity and the campaign. The merest sniff of a celebrity's involvement can often spark acres of precious media coverage, which inevitably produces a rise in donations.

At its simplest, this is a cosy two-way relationship - the charity gets exposure from a star-struck media, and a famous face gets good PR and can assume a mantle of moral worthiness.

Celebrities may put their name to a cause they feel strongly about or have a particular personal link to. For less altruistic reasons, they might chose to become involved with an organisation because they believe they will receive media coverage and enhance their image.

These relationships are important for a variety of reasons. They provide valuable ammunition when approaching high- value donors or corporate sponsors, who may jump at the chance of meeting Roger Moore or Paul McCartney. They also add clout to recruitment drives, as people are more likely to respond to a letter from Joanna Lumley than the charity's head of fundraising.

Some organisations have found journalists are simply not interested in talking unless there is a celebrity sponsor. Michael Berg, events manager at HIV charity Crusaid, cites an example of a national radio station that recently agreed to cover Crusaid's Walk For Life event on condition the charity secured a celebrity interview. No celebrity, they stated, would mean no coverage.

Celebrities also provide a huge pull for charity events, because people will go if they think they'll get a peek at a famous face. By associating an aspirational figure with a particular cause, many charities have found members of the public feel they are getting closer to the individual by donating to their chosen charity.

As Tiffany Russell, celebrity co-ordinator at Mind, points out, some organisations have found using a famous face helps them to build a stronger relationship with supporters.

"We've found that if we manage to get someone well-known to endorse a campaign, we get positive feedback from both our supporters and the people we're trying to help,

she says. "They get the impression that somebody 'important' cares as well."

Clever use of celebrity sponsors can also alter the public's perception of a cause. The late Diana, Princess of Wales' support of people with Aids undoubtedly helped mitigate the stigma attached to the disease and raised the profile of both the issue and charities dealing with HIV-related issues. Likewise, her work alongside charities including the British Red Cross and the Halo Trust for the landmine appeal had an enormous impact on an international scale and has ensured the campaign has remained visible years on.

Celebrities can also provide instant street cred to organisations battling for recognition. Respect For Animals not only gained impressive media coverage but also instant kudos when actor Jude Law directed and starred in a commercial supporting the charity's anti-fur stance and roped in his celebrity friends including Paul McCartney, George Michael and Spice Girl Mel C.

To get to a celebrity, a charity must get past the agent, who may receive up to 20 calls a week asking for a charity appearance. Responding to a recent request, Steve Redgrave's agent replied that an appearance would be fine, but not until 2004 as all promotional time was booked for the next two years.

James Wright, a PR who has co-ordinated campaigns for charities including ChildLine, Comic Relief and Children In Need, says celebrities themselves are usually amenable, but the agent will always be out to get the most for their client.

"Charities must expect an agent to be very defensive on behalf of their clients, and it's vital that you make your request stand out,

he says.

"Often a celebrity will only have a couple of hours a week set aside for personal appearances, and literally every minute counts."

It's also essential to conduct proper and considered research into which celebrity would be appropriate to front a particular campaign. Virginia Featherston believes celebrity appeals can sometimes detract from the charity's key message.

"One of the problems with celebrity endorsement is that many celebrities are actors and it's all too easy for their words to seem insincere. This doesn't matter when they're trying to get you to buy a lipstick, but charity issues are another thing entirely,

says Featherston. "We love TV presenters or pop stars because they're trivial, but it's sometimes hard to hear them preach about child poverty and assume an air of moral superiority when you're surrounded by pictures of them cavorting on beaches or coming out of expensive restaurants."

She believes it's important for charities to be aware of exactly how they use a celebrity. "Comic Relief has struck the right note in recent years. Now you see comedians playing football with kids or making people laugh, which fits in with what we consider their proper role,

she says.

Despite the temptation to try to recruit the face of the moment, a popular personality with an obvious affinity with or understanding of the issue or campaign will be more likely to be committed to the cause and add gravitas to the campaign.

Unfortunately, celebrities are capable of creating as much bad publicity as good, and inappropriate behaviour by a celebrity sponsor can seriously damage a charity's reputation and credibility.

The infamous case of Naomi Campbell and the PeTA anti-fur campaign illustrates the potential dangers when a famous face is linked closely to a particular cause. The supermodel was used extensively for PeTA's "I'd rather go naked than wear fur

campaign, and hit the headlines when, two months later, she appeared on the catwalk draped in yards of mink. Charities must be aware that celebrities, unlike the press, sometimes have conveniently short memories.

Likewise, Christian Aid hit the headlines when it recruited Darren Ramsay from the Big Brother TV series to go on a high-profile aid trip to Jamaica.

He cut the trip short after two days and arrived home amid a blaze of publicity and claims that he couldn't handle the conditions in the Christian Aid camps.

Lee Penhaligan, an assistant solicitor at law firm Bernard Marcus, which deals with charity law, believes the best way to avoid problems is to review the celebrity's commercial and career obligations to make sure no conflict is likely to arise. It's also a good idea to define the respective obligations of the celebrity and charity to avoid any misunderstanding.

"If your celebrity were to attract personal adverse media coverage this could have a serious impact on the charity's reputation,

she adds. "My advice is to include a widely drawn clause entitling the charity to terminate the sponsorship agreement immediately."

There's also the murkier issue of "nominal payments

when agents demand an appearance fee for their client to front a charity's campaign. One charity celebrity officer believes that up to 20 per cent of charity deals with celebrities involve some kind of payment, which is likely to come as a gift from a corporate sponsor.

Hopefully though, fear of adverse media coverage may stem the flow of financial demands. Last year, GMTV presenter Fiona Phillips was attacked by the Sunday People, which alleged that her agent demanded ?xA3;10,000 to promote the NSPCC, and promised she would plug the charity's cause on her show in return. The story prompted an investigation by the Independent Television Commission and resulted in negative coverage for Phillips and the NSPCC, despite the fact that the charity insists it never made any payment.

Still there are many charities that would count themselves lucky to face problems like these. While charities such as Comic Relief have celebrity agents vying to get their clients involved, many smaller organisations dealing with issues such as mental illness, alcohol abuse and domestic violence find it nearly impossible to build relationships with high-profile personalities. "We've found it an uphill struggle trying to get celebrities on board,

admits Mind's Russell.

There is no easy solution, as celebrities will always be attracted to the causes with the broadest appeal and that will endear them to the largest number of people. However, Jackie Graveney, director of communications at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, believes charities must think of creative ways to make their causes appeal to the celebrity market.

"It wasn't that long ago that breast cancer was a taboo subject, and the success we've achieved with our Fashion Targets Breast Cancer campaign is testament to the fact that a lot of work was put in at the early stages to raise the profile of the disease,

she says. "Once we'd got our brand positioning and identity clear and started to think inventively about achieving media coverage, we found the celebrity endorsement followed."

The most successful charity-celebrity relationships are those that manage to get the person intrinsically linked with the cause.Terry Wogan and Children in Need, or Lenny Henry and Comic Relief are obvious good examples.

These relationships take time and effort to develop. Claire Ainsley, celebrity officer at Macmillan Cancer Relief, believes it is beneficial to have one person within the charity dedicated to fostering and maintaining these relationships.

"To simply get a celebrity on board is a great achievement, but to develop the relationship takes time,

she says. "Having one person who is in regular contact with the celebrity and the agent, and who is responsible for ensuring they are fully briefed and know exactly what is expected of them, is key to keeping hold of this valuable asset. Celebrities are used to being the centre of attention, and you have to make them feel appreciated.

"Provided you're careful to preserve your key message and communicate clearly how your campaign will benefit the celebrity as well as the cause, these relationships can bear fruitful rewards for organisations across the sector."

DO'S AND DON'TS

DO make sure that when you write an initial letter to a celebrity's agent, you include as much information as possible. This should extend to how much time would be required and what would be expected on the day.

DO make sure your celebrity is properly briefed and fully understands your charity's message. You will discredit your campaign if they appear clueless in media interviews.

DO make sure you try to develop the relationship to ensure long-term benefits.

DO think of creative ways to use a celebrity. It is an increasingly competitive marketplace, and newspapers get around 30 charity photo-calls a week, so it's important that your campaign stands out.

DO thoroughly research the market before deciding on which celebrities to approach. Read celebrity magazines such as OK and Hello! as well as local and national papers to keep up to date with their movements.

DO have one point of contact that deals regularly with both the agent and the celebrity and understands the marketplace.

DON'T build your whole campaign around a celebrity appearance and assume you'll receive coverage. The media is unpredictable and charity news items are the first to get buried if a bigger story crops up.

DON"T ask for a lot of time or commitment. Keep the request small and you'll be more likely to secure half an hour of their time

DON'T assume that any celebrity is better than no celebrity. Often it is better to wait for an individual who has a strong connection to your cause than to recruit the latest TV presenter desperate for publicity.

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