For anyone working in the charity sector in the past three months there have been curveballs aplenty. For those of us working on a freelance basis, these balls have been even more wonky, forcing us to become more deft and more creative than we have ever been.
For many years I have been a freelance consultant, matching celebrities, influencers and public figures to the aims and objectives of a number of charities.
From securing a donation from Kate Moss for her local Sue Ryder shop to getting pop stars to open up on camera about their experience of loneliness and grief, and from working with soap actors on hard-hitting story lines to encouraging reality stars to post on Instagram, no day, brief or client is ever the same.
Appropriate and targeted celebrity support and engagement can be a game-changer for any charity, helping to create cut-through and chatter in an increasingly noisy space. It can see a campaign trending on Twitter, landing on Daily Mail Online, nabbing a coveted slot on breakfast TV or a comment piece in a broadsheet, all of it invaluable exposure for charities where traditional advertising budgets are minuscule or non-existent.
Lockdown has been particularly interesting where the charity and celebrity landscape is concerned. Some clients took the decision to freeze consultancy contracts and decided not to use their existing celebrity bases during this period of uncertainty.
Others have spotted an opportunity not only to leverage their existing celebrity supporters and ambassadors, but to actively seek new ones. They have reasoned that celebrity support is needed now more than ever to promote new fundraisers and to talk about the surge in demand from service users and beneficiaries.
One of my clients, Dementia UK, has been extremely proactive in seeking out celebrity support at this time.
Like many charities, it saw a worrying drop in revenue from events such as the London and Brighton Marathons. However, it was agile in its response, using its challenge events ambassador, the athlete Adelle Tracey, to keep runners focused and motivated for postponed events and quickly taking other fundraising events online.
Its annual fundraiser Time for a Cuppa became an online get-together and a number of celebrities who have been directly affected by dementia lent their weight and their social media platforms to support it.
The charity also launched an awareness-raising campaign, illustrating how lockdown is an everyday reality for many people caring for loved ones with dementia. The musician Naughty Boy, the reality TV star Georgia Kousoulou, the Downton Abbey actress Phyllis Logan and the actor Jim Broadbent (all with personal experience of dementia in their families) participated by means of video call rather than in a studio, and helped to produce a hard-hitting campaign in weeks rather than the months it would have taken pre-lockdown.
This gamble has paid off for the charity. It will emerge from lockdown with its existing ambassadors more engaged than ever, with new ones on board and with far more donors, social media engagement and followers. And with two successful celebrity campaigns under its belt, its fundraising products will be a far more valuable prospect to potential corporate sponsors.
As far as access to celebrities is concerned, this period has been unprecedented. With filming and TV schedules on hold and big brands celebrating front-line workers and everyday heroes over famous faces, celebrities and, crucially, their agents have had the time, space and desire to work with charities.
I have got to know my celebrity and agent contacts in a far more personal and human way. Celebrities have also been furloughed and are also worried about the health of their loved ones, and in that respect the pandemic has been a great leveller in my personal interaction with them.
So what will the “new normal” look like for celebrity support as we emerge from this period?
So much has changed in the past few weeks and we have new heroes now. Nurses and train drivers are gracing the front cover of Vogue, and the groundswell of support for #blackouttuesday has shown that we expect more campaigning from our public figures. They will want and need to adapt to this new mood, and I predict far more interaction between charities and celebrities in future.
As a sector we have to be bolder and more professional in securing celebrity support. We need to think of public figures as a key part of the marketing mix, rather than a “nice to have”, and we need to have more honest conversations with agents about where their clients want to be and how we as charities can help them to get there.
We can’t pay in hard cash, but we can lend gravitas and provide meaningful content, and my hunch is that in the post-Covid world this will become a more valuable commodity to agents and brands than paid posts for teeth-whitening kits and fast-fashion discount codes.
Rachel Braier is a freelance celebrity manager