When Brian Smith, founder of UGG Boots, was pitching to a major media outlet, it wasn't his presentation or campaign that actually sold the media outlet on the boots. In fact, the person they were supposed to pitch to wasn't even available and he was given two minutes to show what he had. As they flipped through his folder of promotional materials, the editor stopped on an image of Pamela Anderson wearing the boots. A week later, UGG boots were at the center of a feature about celebrities and the growing trend of sheepskin products.
Welcome to the Real World
How this accidental feature happened, which is really what made the UGG brand what it was before Smith sold it, is actually a fairly accurate representation of how inconsistent the world of movie or tv placement and celebrity endorsements really is. I always say hope is not a plan, but in this case, it may actually be part of the plan. Sarah Shaw is a third generation entrepreneur and celebrity designer, and the Founder of Entreprenette and Sarah Shaw Consulting. She spends her time coaching her clients on the steps to take to shorten their learning curve, staying focused on their core strengths, and getting their businesses into the spotlight. Shaw pointed out, during our conversation that media exposure used to be for sales, but today, media exposure is for legitimacy and credibility.
Speaking of Celebrity Media
Back in the 90's, I got my first product in Wired and featured, and today I have to admit, it's so much more difficult. Shaw pointed out that her experience has been the same. Her first product, a handbag, was featured in the Legally Blonde movie, but today the Hollywood product placement offices are more bought than anything. Add to that the market saturation and level of competition in most marketplace categories, it seems that the biggest challenge facing entrepreneurs is being seen and heard, which tells us there are definite benefits to celebrity endorsements or people with more exposure than you, and placements, if you can make them happen, just to be heard above the noise.
So, What Can You Do?
Shaw and I had a very honest conversation about the challenges and benefits of getting sales and brand awareness through the use of celebrities and product placement. We even discussed how hard this has become with the pay-to-play model with product placement on movies and tv; and how hit or miss and slow the process is. These barriers to entry don't mean this route is impossible, and we can certainly see the value if this route pays off, so I wanted to break down the top three things you should know going in, what to expect, and how to handle it all.
You need to be market ready. Shaw's passion in helping entrepreneurs get their products out of their garages and into magazines or the hands of celebrities is no easy feat. And this goes for any expert or any entrepreneur really, but if you are approaching her for a consult, do your legwork early so you can make the most of your time with said expert. Do your market research, have your manufacturing and packaging sorted out, knock out those early stages because the next steps are not going to be short or easy.
There are no guarantees. A celebrity has to like whatever you send them enough to wear it on the street, or to put the item on their own child, and let them be photographed by paparazzi wearing those items. No amount of consulting can decide whether or not you are as on target as you need to be . And honestly, when a product goes viral, no matter how much research we see, there's still nothing that truly discerns what will take off one hundred percent and what will fail one hundred percent. I saw Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard promoting Lazy Readers on Instagram, nobody could have ever predicted that promotion, ever.
Hollywood is a club. Part of the reason Shaw is so successful at what she does is because there are clear barriers to getting to the elite, the television execs in charge, and so on. You have to be prepared to be met with friction and dead ends along the way, especially if you are going the route alone, and be willing to stay the course, even when you hear no after no after no. "We've landed celebrities, such as Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie, and even Oprah, for our clients, and then we leverage that celebrity angle for press and sales, maximizing that successful connection."
Act fast. If you are going this route of trying to get endorsements or even television placement, make your list of who or what is the best fit, and act fast. Sending your product too late, which could be overnight in the land of tv and celebrities, will lead you to a dead end. Once you've narrowed down your target, take action.
Don't Forget the Follow Through
It doesn't stop with the endorsement either. Shaw's goal with her clients is to follow the process through, all the way to the end, and consults on what they need to do after the endorsement, or after a celebrity buys, to make the most of the traction. A lot of entrepreneurs are unsure of what to do in these situations and often don't act quickly enough or make enough noise to really benefit their product and business.