The Power of Celebrity
When you hear the word “celebrity” what comes to mind? Is it fame, power, wealth, glamour and accomplishment? Perhaps it’s all those things and more.
Maybe you follow every move made by your favorite singer, actress or athlete. Or maybe the idea of paying attention to celebrities and their personal lives is a mind-numbing turnoff. However you may feel, I think we can agree we live in a celebrity-obsessed culture.
There is an entire division of media devoted to covering celebrities. From tabloids like “US Weekly,” to broadcast shows like “Access Hollywood,” to mainstream media outlets like CNN with full-time entertainment correspondents, celebrities have become a driving force in our news cycle.
Consider how the Kardashians are covered by the media; it’s with a frenzy that rivals how President Trump is covered. And now it seems those two worlds—the political and celebrity—have become intrinsically intertwined. You only need to flash back a few months to when Kim Kardashian lobbied President Trump on criminal justice reform and helped overturn the life sentence of a woman imprisoned for a nonviolent drug offense. The coverage of
Alice Johnson’s release played out for months and ran the gamut from in-depth news articles on criminal justice reform to photos in US Weekly documenting when Kardashian and Johnson were finally able to meet in person.
Celebrities wield power and influence, and their mere presence commands attention. When a celebrity gets behind an issue or speaks out about a cause, the media and public get interested, and the profile of the issue or cause immediately gets elevated. Depending on the celebrity, it can also bring credibility, trust and other intangible benefits to an issue or cause.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with celebrities and their charities on projects for our clients. I can honestly say that each time it has been rewarding.
One of our clients, Wesley Family Services, has a young woman, Cassie Bruno, as its client. Cassie is blind, epileptic and on the autism spectrum. Wesley Family Services is a therapeutic support and behavioral healthcare agency headquartered in Southwestern Pennsylvania that provides services to people of all ages who have intellectual disabilities, are on the autism spectrum, need additional educational services or are navigating the challenges of a substance abuse problem or a mental health diagnosis.
Wesley Family Services’ Creative Arts program has transformed many clients’ lives through its innovative and fun approach to music therapy. At a music recital sponsored by Wesley, Cassie sang a rendition of “The Climb,” a hit by Miley Cyrus. Cassie blew the audience away. Through a lot of hard work and pursuing a variety of avenues, this young woman’s rendition was sent to Miley Cyrus and her team.
After hearing the performance, Miley Cyrus wanted to show Cassie how she was touched by the tribute. Cyrus sent Cassie an autographed T-shirt and a personally handwritten note. Having an international pop star take the time to show her support was amazing – and we were able to create a communications strategy around the presentation of Cyrus’ gift to Cassie.
We wanted the local area to know about how the Creative Arts program made a difference in Cassie’s life. So we planned and secured an exclusive local news story on Pittsburgh’s ABC affiliate that reached the audience we wanted to target. The story subsequently garnered national exposure on more than 25 news stations across the country.
Having Miley Cyrus involved helped us make that a reality.
Another of our clients, Walmart, donates millions of dollars each year to charities throughout the Commonwealth. Charlie Batch, former quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a legend out here. Batch grew up in Munhall (a community right outside of Pittsburgh) and played for the Steelers for over a decade. He never forgot his hometown roots and started a charity, the “Best of the Batch Foundation”.
His foundation—headquartered just a few blocks from his childhood home—works to improve the lives of children and families in distressed communities by building character, self-esteem and appreciation for education. The organization helps thousands of local kids (and teachers) each year by providing free school supplies, mentoring programs and sports camps. Batch’s wife, Latasha Wilson-Batch, is the executive director and has an extensive educational background and career.
She also happens to shop at her local Walmart Supercenter for school supplies, and that’s how our client and the foundation crossed paths. Walmart decided to donate $25,000 to help the foundation provide free school supplies to additional area students and teachers. As a result, we worked with the foundation’s leadership team to plan a volunteer event where their staff and local Walmart managers and associates teamed up to stuff backpacks. No doubt, Charlie Batch attending the event and packing backpacks helped us get coverage. By securing broadcast and print coverage of the event, we both highlighted Walmart’s generosity and showcased the ways the Best of the Batch Foundation makes a difference in our community.
When it comes to celebrities, the attention they are able to attract is unmatched. Their opinions on brands, style, issues and causes matter to the public. Partnering with them it has helped us tell our clients’ stories and reach more people.
Tips on Celebrity Engagement
You might wonder how to get a celebrity to lend support to your efforts. And if they do agree to get involved, what are the next steps? How can you use their fame to draw attention to an issue or a cause without exploiting them as an individual? The answers might actually be easier than you think. Here are a few tips:
First, and while it might sound cliché, celebrities are real people. And they’re reachable. They have management teams and some run their own charities and companies. The contact information for most celebrities and their teams is likely out there in some form—you just have to do your research.
Second (and most importantly), if you’re able to get access to the celebrity or their charity and get on their radar, the hows and whys have to be evident and make sense—how did this celebrity get interested in this issue and why is he or she lending their name and support?
And third, be clear with your expectations. Do you want the person to give an interview, be present at an event or simply engage with your client on social media? Celebrities and their teams understand the “power of celebrity” better than anyone, but you have to ensure they see the full picture of why you are approaching them – so be honest and don’t leave out any details.
Caitlin O'Connor is a Senior Associate in Ceisler Media's Pittsburgh office.