Making the Most of Celebrity-Cause Relationships

“Who are you wearing?”

It’s the most common question on Hollywood red carpets each awards season — until this year. The new question? “Who are you with?”

Understanding the power of celebrity to bring attention to often hidden issues, Meryl Streep, Michelle Williams and Amy Poehler were among several high-profile actors who turned the spotlight on individual activists and their causes at the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards. For those few precious red-carpet moments, millions around the world had the opportunity to hear about issues that advocates had been championing for decades. It’s reasonable to expect that we’ll see the same strategy play out when the Academy Awards take place this weekend.

These pairings are an effective way to maximize non-profit/celebrity partnerships, but understanding what both parties — cause and celebrity — want out of a relationship is key to making it work. In our more than three decades of working with artists, actors and other well-known individuals, we’ve developed some impactful artist-relations practices that increase trust and participation among high-profile spokespeople.

Start with respect. “Celebrity” can be seen as a term of disrespect for those who have spent a lifetime honing their skills, whether in acting, music, art, sports or another field. Instead, refer to high-profile individuals by their profession — artist, actor, athlete, author, etc.

Know the limits. Most stars are indeed “just like us.” They struggle to balance work and family, are on the road frequently and have financial commitments. They have very little time to give and even less time to travel — no matter how much they believe in a cause. Think through how an ask can be accomplished without travel or with just a few hours of obligation.

Understand roles. High-profile individuals have a team, like most organizations, and it’s important to know who to talk to about what. Agents are responsible for helping clients find and negotiate paid work, meaning that they’re rarely involved in any pro bono work for charities. Managers are responsible for the long-term career goals of their clients, including finding ways to help them support causes they care about. Publicists also can be helpful, because they’re hired to find ways to help the actor or artist stand out.

Make the most of the investment. If you succeed in attracting high-profile supporters, help determine how they can best promote the issue, perhaps by discussing a personal connection or showcasing stories from your organization. Offer to introduce them to someone who has first-hand experience with the cause. Provide basic talking points and offer to conduct a short briefing by phone about your cause. Provide sample social media messages and suggested placement schedules.

Consolidate media requests. Most celebrities are used to doing “pressers” for a finite period on one project or issue. They need to get into a specific frame of mind for media interviews, so it’s overwhelming to think of doing one or two a week over the course of a month. Instead, in cooperation with the artist’s team, identify a two-hour period where he or she can do a teleconference or webinar with several reporters at one time — or back-to-back 10-minute interviews. Ask the publicist or manager what interview set up is most comfortable for the artist, as well as whether you should serve as a moderator.

Educate internal audiences. One of the most exciting aspects of working with a celebrity is the chance to meet someone famous you admire. The problem is that fawning over high-profile supporters trivializes their very real commitment to your issue. Institute a no autographs or photos rule with your staff and volunteers, and tell the artist management team about your dedication to their comfort and privacy.

Eliminate surprises. No one likes curveballs, and many artists, actors, athletes and other high-profile personalities can be uncomfortable in public situations, particularly when they’re asked to speak impromptu. They’re often trained in a completely different field that includes cue cards, rehearsals, sound checks and takes. Ensure that you and the management team have discussed all requests and expectations, and provide a detailed agenda at least a week before the event.

Don’t make assumptions. Some artists love to talk to their fans, while others would prefer to avoid distractions. Never get between a celebrity and fans. Managing the fan relationship is the team’s job. Your job is to determine logistics and walking routes in advance with the team to avoid crowd encounters, if that is their wish. Remember that everyone has a camera now, and you don’t want to be photographed or taped acting rudely on behalf of an artist. No one will know that you’re from the charity, and you risk ruining the artist’s reputation and your relationship.