Gaining promotion via celebrity endorsements is nothing new. Ever since businesses began advertising and marketing, celebrities have been paid to promote products.
But what if you’re a startup business with limited cash? Paying tens of thousands for endorsements is out of your scope, yet that’s exactly what your more established competition will be doing.
Despite only launching in 2015 Vitae London has managed to secure endorsements from the likes of Richard Branson, Paloma Faith, Emeli Sande, and Philip Schofield. A broad range of celebrities, I’m sure you’ll agree. And Vitae sells high-end watches – one of the most established markets on the planet.
So, how did we do it, and how can you get celebrities to endorse your brand?
How do you find and contact the celebrities?
There wasn’t ever going to be just one approach that worked for us. Some celebrities are great on email, others seem only to check Twitter, and busy celebrities are really hard to pin down.
We started by doing our research. The plan was to identify those celebrities who shared similar interests to us – watches, fashion, and supporting children’s charities, particularly those based in Africa. We found celebrities from the African diaspora had a particular kinship with the continent and were especially keen to support us and our philanthropic aims. What’s more, followers of these celebrities often share similar values, making them our perfect target audience.
Tip #1: Create a list of celebrities to contact who share similar beliefs and passions, divided into sectors and celebrity status. Reach out to them with a short, friendly message clearly outlining your idea and proposal. Follow up if they don’t reply, but don’t spam them with messages.
Reaching out to those celebrities through social media bagged us endorsements from the likes of singer Emeli Sandé and radio DJ Yinka Bokinni. From there, word spread quickly.
Vitae grew, we supplied more school uniforms to children in Africa than ever before, and soon Richard Branson took notice. I was invited to become a Virgin Startup Ambassador and meet Branson at his house. He seemed impressed with the business idea and the watches themselves, going on to personally endorse the brand on a number of occasions.
With those key pillars in place, even more celebrities found out about the brand and wanted to get involved. I even met several celebs in the States recently while I was doing a bit of a tour, so the movement is truly international.
Tip #2: Focus on nurturing good relationships with a few big-name and/or well-connected celebrities at first. Not only will they lend you more credibility when you meet other celebrities, but they’ll also tell their connections, growing your supporter base organically.
All that being said, sometimes it’s simply about being in the right place at the right time and grabbing the opportunity. I’m a man of faith so I can only explain it as the hand of God, but I’ve had some lucky and surprising encounters. For example, I happened to run into rapper Big Sean in Nandos in London, of all places, bumped into Philip Schofield in a Vineyard in Cape Town, and I bumped into Romelu Lukaku outside a restaurant in New York. None of these meetings were planned, but once I meet them and shared our vision they were incredibly glad to be involved.
How do you get celebrities to engage with your business?
Everyone we’ve interacted with has been extremely positive about the business. They love the style of the watches and the simplicity of the design. But, more importantly, they were inspired by the fact that we’re using a fashion brand to change lives. They’re often surprised with the power and simplicity of our business concept.
Tip #3: Develop a clear and compelling value proposition. It really comes down to what they call the ‘elevator pitch’ – if you can’t explain it fully and clearly in a sentence or two then your message can get muddled. Make it easy for them to say yes by offering a clear and concise proposition.
What you have to remember is that celebrities get asked for endorsements every day – you can’t expect them to support your brand simply because you asked nicely. They’re busy people. If you want them to sit up and take notice, then you have to have a unique and compelling selling proposition. Something that makes you different and interesting.
For us, it’s the charity element. We support local South African charity House of Wells in their mission to get poorer kids into education. But we don’t talk about “giving 10% to charity”, because it lacks tangibility. We talk about giving kids two school uniforms, allowing them to attend school and get an education. People can picture a kid at school and what that means to that child and their family.
Tip #4: By supporting a cause through your business, you give celebrities a clear picture of the values with which they’re associating. It’s also an extra incentive to get involved – not only are they supporting a new business, they’re supporting a great cause too!
My advice would be to pin down what makes you unique and develop a clear value proposition before going out to celebrities for endorsements. This will make it easier to identify celebrities who align with your brand and makes your messaging to them simple and effective.
Why did Richard Branson swap his watch live on stage?
I was selected by Virgin to become a Virgin Start-Up Ambassador and had the opportunity to meet Richard Branson at his house…but I forgot to take a watch with me to give to him! I was gutted at my missed opportunity.
As it turns out, the guys at Virgin were impressed with both the business and my public speaking ability so asked me to be on a panel with Richard Branson.
Fast-forward to a few months ago and I’m getting ready for my big appearance. I made triple-sure that I took a watch with me this time. I gave him the watch in front of a live audience at the panel discussion. In turn, he not only paid for the watch with a wad of cash, he also gave me his watch in exchange!
It was a great moment and one I’m fortunate to have captured on camera. No doubt that will go down as one of the high points of my career!
If I had to sum up my advice in a single word it would be: belief. If you truly believe in what you’re doing, that energy, that enthusiasm, will become infectious. Everyone you meet and speak to about your idea will share your excitement and, most importantly, will come to believe in you as well. And celebrities are just like other customers – if they believe in you and your brand, they will support you.
For a list of celebrities endorsing Vitae see: https://www.vitaelondon.com/pages/wallofvitae