If the Kate Moss scandal of 2005 showed anything, it was the power of celebrity endorsement. Three companies immediately opted out of their contracts with the supermodel after a tabloid published a photo of her allegedly snorting cocaine. Burberry, Chanel and H&M all panicked that she would bring their brands down on her fall from grace. Conversely, when celebrity endorsement works, it can be a dream partnership between brand and personality and the result is, quite simply, a huge upturn in sales.
Little wonder that celebrity endorsement has become a hugely important part of retail PR. "It's known as the halo effect because the aim is for some of the celebrity's glamour to rub off on the product," says Tony Bradley, president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.
Rose Bentley of Chambers Cox PR explains, "We live in a much more celebrity-led culture than ever before. It's not so much, 'What style will suit me?' but 'Can I wear what Jennifer Aniston is wearing?' Just look at most of the women's magazines - they all focus on what the stars are wearing and what products they are using, right from Jennifer Aniston to our home-grown soap stars."
It's not just fashion either. Lately, technology has adopted a new celebrity face, with Arsenal striker Thierry Henry promoting Logitech iPod headphones, U2's Bono creating the black and red U2 iPod, fashionista Paris Hilton lending her face to the T-Mobile Sidekick II, and musician and presenter Myleene Klass drawing attention to the Nintendo DS. All of which goes to show that from a PR point of view - as well as from an advertising and marketing point of view - celebrity endorsement has to be a key part of a retail strategy.
If you work in retail PR, much of the work is opportunistic. "The most recent example of this for our company was a member of Girls Aloud wearing something made by Lejaby, which is one of our clients", says Rose Bentley. "We had to react quickly, calling the women's desks of the press saying, 'This is what she's wearing and this is where you can get it'."
Alice Clements of Wildwood PR adds that you need to get quotes as and when you can. "We look after the PR for the i-deck, a stereo sound system for iPod, and as part of our PR campaign, we have got celebrities including Sadie Frost, Jools Holland, Edith Bowman, Graham Norton and the whole of the West Ham United team to put their name to it."
But for PR agents keen to build that perfect relationship between a celebrity and a brand, most of your work will be in the matching, as Karen Campbell-White of Brands2Life explains. "You need to use a credible celebrity that sits comfortably with your brand, so ideally, you should test the celebrity with an audience focus group. You also have to make sure the celebrity is one you can work with. Some are notoriously awkward."
That's why the skills you'll need to work in the area of celebrity endorsement include exceptional interpersonal skills, influential and negotiating skills and being quick to spot opportunities. Good writing skills are also important, as are lots of enthusiasm and creativity. There are three main employers you can work for - a PR consultancy, an in-house communications department for a store such as Harrods, or for an individual company like Lancôme. The typical salary for an account executive is £16,000 to £23,000 but at the senior level, you could earn between £35,000 and £50,000.
Most employers prefer a degree but entry without one is possible for a lucky few who work their way up through the secretarial route or as a PR assistant. Above all, you'll need as much experience as possible, so get some work shadowing or work experience sorted out asap.
Name: Abigail Townsend
Occupation: Freelance window dresser
Qualifications: BA fashion design
"Celebrity looks and endorsements are really crucial to my work. It's important that I know who's representing what as a lot of the shops I do displays for have working relationships with certain brands. Sometimes, that gives you a quirky angle in. For example, the Calvin Klein adverts are so strong and so recognisable, and you can play on those in your window displays. Or the Juicy Couture thing, when J-Lo and Coleen were going round in those velour tracksuits like ones you used to wear as a kid. Associations like that when clothes, celebrities and image mis-match are funny, and I can use that in my work. You've got to have a sense of humour with these things! And it's recognisable, so people stop and look and hopefully laugh and then, ideally, check out the store. At the very least, they should remember it. Endorsements, marketing and promotion in retail increasingly go hand-in-hand."
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