I recently sat down to talk with Jonathan Pony of Bailey Brand Management, a commercial talent agency that represents celebrities for advertising, marketing, and branding opportunities. 

Jonathan and Bailey Brand Management have worked with several high profile celebrities with advertising and branding opportunities, including Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, and Zoe Saldana. He willingly shared insider information related to how celebrity representatives decide on brand partnerships, advertising opportunities, and marketing opportunities for their celebrity clients. 

The Inside Scoop on How Talent Agencies Choose Branding Partnerships for their Clients 

Commercial talent agencies represent several different celebrities that might be interested in a wide range of branding partnerships from different industries and business niches. Certain celebrities are obviously a natural fit for a potential advertising opportunity (think Zac Efron promoting a line of Vegan restaurants), so brand managers need to develop a solid understanding of how their particular brand “fits” with a given celebrity. Communicating the parameters of the campaign and how the certain celebrity fits within those parameters is paramount for success. 

Obviously particular clients will have particular interests, topics, subjects, or causes, etc. that they are interested in. Everything we do or anything that a client does needs to have the: “Why?” factor, like: “Why are they doing a particular campaign, or partnering with a particular company or brand?”

Obviously, any celebrity partnership for an advertising or branding campaign will require some sort of compensation that should be negotiated from the outset. However, Jonathan made it clear that talent agencies understand that there are other considerations beyond financial compensation that are important to their clients. For example, a certain brand that commits to giving back a certain percentage of every sale to a certain charity or organization might spur interest with a celebrity that is drawn to that charitable cause.

The financial aspect is one thing, but perhaps there is a really interesting story behind the brand or the founders, perhaps there’s a really awesome cause-oriented aspect or social component that is very interesting to a client; helping others in need is a big one for clients, and giving back. That’s the biggest thing. It’s not always financially-driven.

Clarity and Transparency when Reaching out to a Celebrity Representative

Before reaching out to a certain celebrity, you need to narrow down the list of potential candidates that you feel would work well with your advertising campaign and subsequently secure the contact information for their representatives. Next, creating a clear and transparent introductory email is the best strategy to open the doors to a potential partnership. Clearly communicating what you want to accomplish with the branding campaign and the role that the celebrity would play will allow the representative to quickly decide whether or not a partnership is feasible for their client at any given moment.  

We are always happy to have conversations, and to educate brands and those who are making the decisions at brands on what it would take to partner with any celebrity. Obviously we can only speak to our clients, but there is a general basis for what a celebrity is looking for or what a representative of a celebrity is looking for. From us to a brand, the biggest things are: “What do you want to accomplish? What is the goal of partnering with this celebrity?”

Jonathan let us know that from his perspective from within a talent agency, it is important for a brand manager to have a clear and concise idea related to their goals for the campaign and the objectives for any potential partnership with a celebrity that he represents. This clarity and transparency can allow an agent to know who you are and which of their clients might be interested in what you are proposing. The questions that he recommends a brand manager respond to before ever reaching out to a talent agency include: 

  • What would you want this celebrity partner to do on your behalf? 
  • What kind of services would you want them to perform on your behalf? 
  • Would you want them to appear in commercials, or in advertising and promotional collateral? 
  • Would you like them to appear at events? If so, what kinds of events? If so, how many events? 
  • Are we talking about a one-time, one-off deal, or are we talking about a one-year relationship or a multi-year relationship?”

Being able to clearly provide answers to these questions from the outset will allow the celebrity representative to have a clear context for what you are expecting from the partnership. Learning the art of creating clear and concise introductory emails that briefly explain the who, what, where, why, and when of the brand partnership that you are proposing can certainly help to get your foot in the door when approaching with a proposal for an advertising partnership.  

It’s nice to have a brief summary. It really works either way. The more information, the better I think personally. You don’t want to over-inundate and type paragraphs and paragraphs and paragraphs; just like with any other cold outreach. If there is a way to summarize and make concise your main points in order to garner enough interest to then further discuss – that is the sweet spot. Typically we like to have the main points.

The Question of Pricing

It can obviously be hard to know how much to offer a talent agency who represents a specific celebrity. You don’t want to sound offensive offering a pittance, but at the same time, many companies, and especially small startup brands, have very limited budgets to start with. Having an introductory knowledge related to what a certain celebrity might expect to earn from a partnership can help your proposal be taken seriously from the outset.

Jonathan also mentioned that smaller brands and startups shouldn’t be afraid to go beyond the typical financial compensation. Offering alternative forms of payment such as equity in a small, startup brand might appeal to certain celebrities with business or investment interests. Offering equity can help to alleviate some of the financial burden of an upfront guarantee and you might be lucky enough to find a celebrity partner who believes in your business vision, your product, and the future of your company. 

While having a celebrity as an active investor in your brand might help to create mutually beneficial advertising partnerships down the road, Jonathan advises that brands should not expect celebrities to be intimately involved on a daily basis with promoting the brand or product.

A celebrity, keep in mind, depending who it is and where they are in their career, also has an incredibly busy schedule with a lot of people to do things on behalf of. To be involved every single day on the day-to-day operations just might not be realistic. It’s dependent on the person, as well as the expectations of the brand. 

Closing the Deal 

Jonathan makes it clear that the more complex arrangements and partnerships between celebrities and brands can tend to be harder to manage. However, the more time and effort that is put into the branding partnership, especially at the beginning stages, can lead to a successful long term partnership that is mutually beneficial.

In many ways, especially as it pertains to an equity deal, but this also carries over to larger ambassador and spokesperson relationships, is: It is exactly that – it is a relationship like any other, and the bigger ones tend to be more like marriages. You’re investing a lot of money and time on both sides, and you want it to make a lot of sense for you personally and for your brand (on both sides; both the celebrity brand and the corporation) and make sure that the relationship is one that will bear fruit on both sides, and hopefully will continue for many years. 

It is also important to understand that priorities for certain celebrities are changing all the time, and brands can also have changing situations that may put stress on a potential partnership. There are several reasons why deals may fall through and identifying those potential problems can help to move the process forward smoothly.

Some brands are reaching out way far in advance of when they actually want to procure somebody, which is always good. Some brands are reaching out in maybe more of a hurry because someone has dropped out or production timelines have been pushed up, or for whatever reason – they may run out of a particular marketing budget for a quarter or something like that, where they’re looking to get some additional value. It could be a variety of reasons and things.

The Difference between Working with Celebrities and Influencers 

With the rise of social media and its effects in the advertising world, many brands mistakenly reach the conclusion that working with celebrities is similar to the work they have done prior with social media influencers. Jonathan, however, identifies this tendency as something that can hurt a brand´s chances of creating a successful partnership with a celebrity. 

While a celebrity can have a lot of influence, they are seldom an “influencer”, while it is possible that an influencer can sometimes be a celebrity. A celebrity may not resonate as an “influencer”, because traditionally this term is predominantly given to social media personalities and / or bloggers. Traditional influencers seem to mostly (if not wholly) generate income from branding and marketing partnerships, while the income of a traditional celebrity can come from a variety of places such as film, television, and otherwise. Often times, working with a traditional celebrity is more expensive, with larger rights over approvals, usage, and even overall campaign direction or concepts. When approaching a celebrity, I would be prepared to expect that they will also have their own vision and ideas, and that you should be very open to compromise.

Making the decision between working with influencers and celebrities offers both advantages and disadvantages, and will largely depend on the particular brand, the direction that the company is going, the vision for the current advertising campaign, and other factors. 

For example, let’s say you’re extremely data-driven and you know what is working for your company from a numbers and data standpoint, and that’s where your focus is – that will lead you to the right decision for your brand. If you’re going more off of gut-instinct, intuition, or just relationships; someone who shares your vision and who you relate to on a personal level – I think you may be more inclined to go elsewhere. However, it is such a personal decision and one that is a large investment that you want to make sure you’re making the right decision.