Does your charity need the celebrity factor?

Lately there has been some interesting debate about charities recruiting celebrities to support their issues and how much it genuinely benefits campaigns.

Marina Hyde in the Guardian wrote this great piece that highlights the downside of chasing the celebrity supporter, and there is very little here I disagree with, but as Marina points out celebrities do bring media attention to an issue that may previously have been ignored. Its a depressing but true fact, as anyone who has tried to get media coverage for their issue can testify: Add a bit of showbiz glamour to your campaign and its more likely to make the news.

However, charities need to think carefully about the merits of using celebrities as spokespeople. It seems relying on celebrity supporters (as the article demonstrates) could actually be a turn-off to the general public. Not to mention the time and resources taken up with trying to liaise with busy celebs or their PRs. I must confess that on occasion my heart has sunk in a meeting with a client when somebody has claimed “we need to get a celebrity on-board”. We always try to explore whether this is the most beneficial use of resources and if so, which celeb would be the best fit for the campaign. Where the celebrity in question has a personal link to the issue or is really an ‘expert’ in a related field (such as an author heading up a literacy and numeracy campaign) it can be incredibly powerful – this is why Jamie Oliver’s campaign on school dinners was so successful.

The Hepatitis C Trust is a long time client of ours at Principle and are particularly deft at the securing the right kind of celebrity support. Sadie Frost has been a long time supporter and champion but also has a personal link to the issue – at a recent Parliamentary event she met an MP who said to her “so you’re the celebrity they’ve bought in then?” but she was quickly able to articulate the main issues of the campaign and the reason for her support (she tragically lost her father to the disease). And this really is the crux of the matter: any campaign spokesperson, whether famous or not, really has to be credible and knowledgeable on the issue. Its not just about taking a pop star out to Africa anymore, the charity-giving public are much more savvy and deserve to be treated as such.

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