Star quality Featured

10:53am EDT October 23, 2003
Some products and companies are undeniably linked with the celebrities who endorse them: George Foreman and his grill, Paul Newman and his salad dressing, Joe DiMaggio and Mr. Coffee.

Debby Bleier, vice president of development and executive chef of Woo City Ice Cream, says finding the right celebrity to endorse a product is all about making a good match. That's why she chose Wally Amos, formerly known as "Famous Amos," to represent her line of handmade ice cream, sorbet and tofu desserts.

Using a product spokesperson has a long tradition in the retail market, but as much as a good spokesperson can be a credit to a brand, those relationships can also backfire.

"For example, you may not want Mother Theresa to do a cigarette commercial," Bleier says. "It's important for the celebrity sponsorship to make sense with the product, that the celebrity and the company support each other. You have to know that the celebrity can carry you to the next level, and you have to be aware of your company's responsibility to the celebrity."

Tracee McAfee Gates, president of Diversified Concepts, which represents Amos, says a celebrity spokesperson must believe in the product he or she is endorsing.

"When the occasion arises, they should talk about the product that they represent. They should also be responsible to the company they represent with their good reputation and behavior," she says.

Over the years, she has discovered that once celebrities start promoting a brand, they often look for other products to endorse, especially if there is a backdoor incentive.

"They get very excited because now they're involved in an entrepreneurial venture versus a production venture," she says.

McAfee Gates says there are several ways celebrity sponsorship promotes company growth.

* It raises brand recognition. "It opens opportunities to network in areas you haven't thought of before, because celebrities have networks of friends and fans."

* It gives credibility with vendors. "If you call a vendor and say, 'I need something special done (with a product they have)' -- you might get some resistance. If you call and say, for example, 'I've got (this celebrity) working on this project,' it steps up your vendors to a new level and gets a lot more respect."

* It receives more attention. McAfee Gates says shopping channels are hungry for brands with celebrities attached. "You definitely get easier access to the press if there's a celebrity attached to a product."

McAfee Gates says celebrities are more entrepreneurial today than they used to be. They spend more time promoting brands on home shopping channels because it's a way to generate income that's not as brutal or grueling as shooting films or television shows.

"I believe in the power of celebrity," McAfee Gates says. "Television marketing is a huge opportunity today, and I think more people and more companies need to know about it." How to Reach: Diversified Concepts, (330) 477-2100; Woo City Ice Cream, (330) 262-2435, www.woocity.com


Today's special

Celebrities of all types appear on the small screen day and night, promoting their signature cookware, exercise equipment, makeup, designer clothing and more. Tracee McAfee Gates, president of Diversified Concepts, offers tips for getting a celebrity to endorse your product.

* Don't give up. "If you ask them to promote your product and they say no, they might say yes six months later -- so be persistent," she says.

* Be prepared to educate the celebrity. "Don't take your product to the celebrity and say, 'Pitch my product.' You have to show how it benefits that celebrity, as well as your company."

* Have a cohesive plan. "Don't just toss your product out there. Make sure that you've thought long and hard about all of the details -- what their reimbursement will be, how they'll be taken care of when they are traveling on the road, what are your expectations of them. Remember to focus on the whole image and what you're going to try to build with them."

* Get them involved. "Make it a team effort versus, 'We need you for our product.'"

* Don't treat them like a piece of what McAfee Gates calls talent meat. "Most celebrities don't like to think they're a mouthpiece or a spokesperson. They like to think that they're part of the brand or a part of the company, and it's their choice to endorse the product."