Should You Hire a Celebrity to Endorse Your Business?

by Kevin Casey on April 23, 2012
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Business owners know the limitless value of positive word of mouth. But is it worth paying a celebrity to generate that buzz?

Endorsement deals cost money — sometimes millions of dollars — and imprudent business owners can get burned. Nike can afford to hire Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, and a litany of other NBA superstars to help sell a product line. You, on the other hand, probably can’t. Yet plenty of smaller companies use paid endorsers, although they’re often lesser-known stars.

Todd Greene, founder of HeadBlade, has done deals with professional and Olympic athletes John Salley, John Amaechi, Al Harrington, and Zach Lund. All four men shave their heads, which is what HeadBlade is designed for. (Greene himself recently made GQ’s “The Bald 100” list, as did Lund.) Greene, who takes extra care to ensure the investments pay off, recently shared his rules for successful endorsements with the Intuit Small Business Blog.

1. Only do “authentic” endorsements. Greene’s pitchmen must use his product or he says their endorsements will ring false, no matter how well-known the people are. “I’m not going to pay someone to shill my stuff if they don’t believe in it,” he says. Greene recently turned down an offer from boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s representatives. “He doesn’t use my product, he has his own barber,” Greene says. “That’s a road to nowhere.” Zach Lund, however, is an authentic customer. The U.S. skeleton racer was disqualified from the 2006 Winter Olympics after testing positive for the main ingredient (a steroid-masking agent) in Propecia, which he was taking to combat hair loss. He later began shaving his head with HeadBlade and competed in the 2010 Games.

2. Don’t give your company away. Thanks in part to a healthy dose of positive press, Greene is often approached by agents and managers on behalf of their celebrity clients. Some ask for an ownership stake in HeadBlade as part of an endorsement deal. That’s a no-go for Greene. “If I had given away stock to every single guy that approached me, I wouldn’t have a company anymore,” Greene says.

3. Be a small piece of a larger puzzle. Don’t expect your product or brand to become synonymous with an endorser, such as Nike and Michael Jordan, or try to control every aspect of their image or business. Greene says he’s happy to have HeadBlade be a small part of “Team [Celebrity].” Focusing on your core business will save you headaches and help you stick to your limited budget, he adds. “You want to see if you can ride a train that they’re already on, as opposed to them getting on a train that you’re supposed to drive.”

4. Don’t over-ask or over-promise. An easy mistake for a small-business owner to make is to promise the endorser the sun, moon, and stars — and expect them in return, too. Greene recommends starting small and keeping it simple. HeadBlade, for example, can’t afford TV ads like some larger companies, so Greene adjusts his approach accordingly. A single photo shoot for a print advertisement or an autograph-signing appearance can go a long way. Another tip: Be sure to factor in the innate lag time involved in creating and running ads into your contracts; otherwise, you may use up half your time under contract just waiting for the first ad to run.

5. Deal directly with the celebrity. “You want to have the relationship with the athlete or celebrity, not with a friend of a friend of a friend,” Greene says. Every layer between you and them — managers, lawyers, and so forth — can make the deal more complicated, expensive, and likely to fail. Building a personal connection, Greene says, increases the odds of a successful deal for both sides. (This is usually easier if you’re not going after A-list stars.) This holds true while under contract, too. For example, Greene sends Al Harrington a quick email preview of any new HeadBlade ads that feature him before they actually run and hears back directly from the basketball star. “I don’t want him to be surprised,” Greene says.

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