Dancing with the stars? Cast a celeb as your charity spokesman

Nov 26, 2012
Dancing with the stars? Cast a celeb as your charity spokesman
Olympic gold medalist/Hampton native Francena McCorory poses with Cox Communications GM Gary McCollum and mascot "Digeez" at Cox Charities' September golf classic in Virginia Beach.

Hitching your wagon to a star - be it a Hollywood actress, hip-hop mogul or hockey player - can create Oscar-caliber buzz for your business, especially if the collaboration involves philanthropy or humanitarian work.

Indeed, teaming up with a celebrity is usually a win-win for the charity's recipients and your company's receipts.

"It's always beneficial to have a big name, because it draws in people to your cause," said Kate Meechan, corporate relations manager at Volunteer Hampton Roads. "Sometimes people are just interested in meeting, say, [rapper and Virginia Beach native] Pharrell Williams, but then they make the connection with the cause instead of the person. It's definitely a great marketing tool."

She and other experts explained how to dance with the stars for a good cause:

Approach "homegrown" celebs. Your chances are better with a local TV anchor or athlete, for example. But don't rule out superstars with roots in Hampton Roads. They frequently give back to their communities.

Nate "Danja" Hills, a music producer for Britney Spears, Usher and Madonna, recently distributed Thanksgiving turkeys to low-income families in his old Virginia Beach neighborhood.

"The smiles on the faces of the people and watching them enjoy themselves made it all worth it. I've never felt more successful!" he tweeted on Nov. 17.

Cox Charities often recruits celebrities for events, such as Olympic gold medalist and Hampton native Francena McCorory. She appeared at a September charity weekend in Virginia Beach, which included a golf classic and concert by Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish.

"Working with celebrities allows us the opportunity to reach additional audiences, mainly through the individual celebrity's fan base," said Sarah Weaver, public relations manager, Cox Communications. "We are able to help others understand Cox's commitment to the communities we serve, which in turn can help to drive business to Cox."

Tap personal connections. That's how Tim Harris got Spanish actress Penelope Cruz to join his company's international food drive. Harris and his family own La Tienda, a Williamsburg grocery business that sells gourmet imports from Spain. Longtime supporters of Virginia foodbanks, they are now exporting those efforts to Cruz's native country, which is undergoing its own economic crisis.

"A family friend knows her," said Harris, who grew up in Spain. "She's done a lot of work with hunger in the past. He said, 'Why don't we see if Penelope's interested in getting involved?' She said yes almost immediately."

Launched on Nov. 8, "Campaign for Spain" raised $5,000 in its first three days for Spanish food- banks, Harris said. The campaign, which continues through Jan. 31, includes a thumbs-up from Cruz on its website: "Together," she is quoted, "we can bring assistance to those families who need it most."

Find a common denominator. Do you and a celebrity have a mutual interest in a specific issue, such as helping the homeless? If you appeal to a pet cause, they're more likely to respond.

"Choose a celebrity who shares a similar passion or philosophy when it comes to giving back," Weaver said. "If you're investing in the use of a celebrity, be sure you're able to leverage the partnership and make the 'spend' worthwhile for both you and the community you serve."

La Tienda lucked out with Cruz, who had previously done a PSA for the United Nations World Food Programme.

"Penelope's arguably the most well-known Spaniard in the U.S.," Harris said. "Certainly her name recognition is great, but the fact that she has been involved with hunger relief in the past - it worked perfectly."

Use social media. Many celebrities now have Twitter and Facebook accounts. Some maintain official websites.

To locate agents or publicists, you can use fee-based sites such as the Internet Movie Database's IMDbPro service or www.contactanycelebrity.com. For film or TV performers, try the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, better known as SAG.

And remember: No matter how you connect, your request should be professional, sophisticated and to the point. In other words...

Send a good script. You should explain exactly what you want from the celebrity. Describe the specific role you expect him or her to play.

"Make sure that you can identify what you actually want them to do," said Louisa Strayhorn, executive director of From One Hand to Another, a Virginia Beach nonprofit founded by Pharrell Williams for disadvantaged kids.

"You need to have an outline in terms of the strategy," she said. "Don't just call them and say, 'I want you to be a spokesperson' but you don't have a plan about how that's going to happen."

Above all, be genuine, and don't waste their time - or yours.

"Celebrities, just like everybody else, don't like to be used," Strayhorn said. "You need to find out if your interests are the same as theirs.

"If you don't have common goals and you just pick someone out of the blue, you're starting off on the wrong foot," she said.



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