I’ve worked with a fair number of famous people, from Ralph Nader to guys from Duck Dynasty. Although it’s really not in my wheelhouse anymore I sometimes still get calls to find out how much it would cost for a celebrity to attend their event, endorse their product or contribute to their non-profit cause. No matter how great your product , or how important your cause, stars generally don’t do anything for free unless its for their own foundation (or for George Clooney). The good news is that almost any celebrity can be booked if you have enough money. Here are a few tips for figuring out how to find someone, how much they cost and what the process might be like.
- Find out who represents them. The easiest way is to buy a subscription to Who Represents an online listing of virtually every celebrity agent, publicist and manager. Although some people like to go through managers first, I always call the agent. Agents are usually straightforward, no BS types who will give you prices and explain the ins and outs of back-end deals and endorsements.
- Know your budget. Have a good idea of how much you have to spend before you make the call. Do your homework or you’ll get blown off pretty quickly. Don’t call asking for Brooke Shields if you’ve got $5000. Stars not only require fees, they also require first class airfare, accommodations and drivers. I priced former Vice President Al Gore once…he was $300,000 for two hours. The client assumed with such a hefty fee that Mr. Gore would stay for dinner after his appearance. Not so. Like any celebrity, Mr. Gore was only going to show up for his scheduled appearance. Expect to pay anywhere from $5000 for a local celebrity to $25,000 and up for a two hour appearance from a B-lister, like a reality TV star or athlete from a niche sport. For A-listers, expect prices to start well into six figures for an appearance and for endorsements be ready to talk about upfront fees, and a portion of the back end.
- Make sure your brand aligns with the celebrity. Their personal brand image is just as important as your product brand image. I pitched a deal recently for a company that needed a senior spokesperson with credibility and a trustworthy image. No offense, Warren Beatty, but we’re going to look at folks like Bob Newhart and Betty White.
- Get to the point when talking to reps. Don’t spend a lot of time introducing your company or product, and please don’t rattle on about how much you love “so and so’s last movie.” Be quick about it. A few years ago I got Mark Ervin at IMG on the phone to find out how much Shaun White would cost for an autograph signing. Although I expected to get Mr. Ervin’s assistant rather than the legendary agent himself, I made sure I was to the point. I got all the information I needed. (By the way, thank you for your graciousness, Mr. Ervin) I got comedian Kathy Griffin’s agent on the phone once and because I wasn’t wasting his time with unnecessary information, this agent actually spent 30 minutes explaining how typical back-end and licensing deals worked for stars like Ms. Griffin. He also helped me get to some celebrities that were closer to my client’s price range and when I dropped his name I got immediate attention!
- Be patient with the contract process and make sure you understand everything. Most agents are also attorneys and can and should take time to explain every clause thoroughly . It may take some time and you’ll have to work out details that can seem very nit-picky and even annoying. But remember, if at any time a celebrity rep feels you won’t be treating this person like royalty, you’re done. Accommodate any requests as much as you can and it will make a world of difference. Don’t haggle over something that may cost a couple hundred extra dollars.
- Spoil your talent. Once the contract is finalized, remember that a happy celeb will do a much better job for you. Investigate hotel rooms, plan secure exits, find out the celeb’s meal preferences, and make sure their favorite brand of water is readily available. I’ve done anything from making sure the New York Times is in their room every day (and we were in Iowa) to finding out what their favorite M&M’s were, and leaving a stash in their room. You’ve got to have every step of a celebrity’s experience planned out and managed to perfection. It’s always a good idea to hire an experienced publicist or talent coordinator to make sure everything runs smoothly. (If you’re not sure who to use, call a local publisher. They’ll know who the best folks are.)
- Negotiate the public relations side of things. Don’t assume you can do as much PR as you want. Have the interviews and any possible media worked out ahead of time. There’s nothing worse than having a reporter show up that doesn’t get a chance to sit down with the star. Again, this is why an experienced publicist can be so helpful and worth every penny.
Getting the right celebrity can be a huge boost for your product or service but be aware of how much time and money you’ll spend to make it work. I would love comments about celebrity appearances you’ve hosted – nightmare stories are always fun but we can always learn more from what you did right!