Business development · 8 October 2015

The secrets to winning celebrity endorsements from the likes of Richard Branson, Jennifer Lopez and David Gandy

Co-founder of The Flash Pack, Lee Thompson, caught the attention of Richard Branson with this selfie from the top of Christ The Redeemer statue in Rio De Janeiro Picture credit: The Flash Pack www.theflashpack.co.uk - please link online
Co-founder of The Flash Pack, Lee Thompson, caught the attention of Richard Branson with this selfie from the top of Christ The Redeemer statue in Rio De Janeiro

Winning celebrity endorsements can be a sure-fire way to achieving publicity – and doesn’t always have to be a costly process. Business Advice spoke to several businesses that caught the attention of some big names, to find out how they succeeded.

Like many budding businessmen, Lee Thompson is a huge admirer of Richard Branson and had been for years. Unlike many other new businesses, Thompson’s travel company The Flash Pack, won an endorsement from the Virgin founder himself. It came about thanks to Thompson’s own adventurous spirit – six months into his business, he was aware of the need to find a “huge idea to tell the world about The Flash Pack”.

Inspired by Branson’s notorious love of stunts, like the British Airways “can’t get it up” balloon over the London eye, Thompson wheedled his way into persuading the archdiocese in Rio de Janeiro to let him climb the Christ the Redeemer statue. His photojournalism background didn’t hurt, and “I climbed to the very top, popped out of Jesus’ crown and snapped a selfie capitalising on the two biggest trends of 2014 – selfies and football.”

Timing as with most PR stunts was crucial, and releasing the photo two weeks before the World Cup saw it go viral with over 100m views, coverage across numerous publications, with Thompson appearing on BBC and CNN. A tweet to Branson, with a nod to him as the inspiration was retweeted extensively, before he replied “I loved it and I’m really jealous!”. Virgin then wrote articles about it, with Branson himself also blogging about the savvy idea.

The association with Branson wasn’t just effective but long-lasting too. The Flash Pack made it to the top ten of Virgin’s Pitch to Rich competition and just missed out on first place during public voting. While attempting to win the attention of voters and further wow Branson, Thompson sent a “Flash Pack Galactic” cardboard rocket into space with a helium balloon, complete with a foamex cut out of Branson. Thompson used a GoPro camera to track the balloon.

richspace2
Thompson impressed Branson again with another stunt – this time involving the Virgin founder himself

richinspace

It served as a cheeky nod to Branson’s Virgin Galactic project, which has signed up 700 customers for sub-orbital trips. While he couldn’t comment during competition, Branson loved the idea. As Thompson put it, “you’ve got to be creative to reach out to people like him”.

PR and marketing stunts are one way new businesses with constrained finances can start turning heads at an early stage – and you don’t necessarily need an expert for it, just different ideas and some creativity. Thompson’s efforts worked so well because they tied in with the message he wanted his brand to convey. The Flash Pack offers adventure holidays for both groups and solo travellers – “infusing the soul of a backpacker with the style of a jetsetter”, and the Christ the Redeemer picture was an effective way of visualising that.

It also, of course, relates well to Richard Branson and his daring attitude to business and new ventures. Thompson feels this is important if you’re going after a celebrity endorsement – if you want someone in particular to endorse your business, make sure you know how to appeal to them. “Do something relevant to the celebrity you are trying to work with and impress them with something amazing. Richard Branson has always done attention-grabbing marketing and that’s what we do at The Flash Pack,” he said.

Another small business that tied up well with a suitable celebrity was high-protein, low-fat ice-cream brand Wheyhey when it caught the attention of supermodel David Gandy. One of the co-founders Greg Duggan, was a former model and met Gandy through a mutual friend at V Festival in 2013, where they discussed the product.

Wheyhey founders Damien Kennedy and Greg Duggan
Wheyhey founders Damien Kennedy and Greg Duggan

Gandy invested in the brand that year, telling Vogue he liked to support “new, innovative British people and brands”, describing Wheyhey as “a guilt-free answer to one of our favourite treats”. The result was pretty instantaneous.

“Our followers on social platforms pretty much doubled which exposed us to a whole new audience,” Duggan explained. An increase in press coverage followed “as everyone wanted to know about the protein ice-cream that had David hooked”. Gandy’s endorsement of Wheyhey also reflects the importance of utilising any and all contacts – networking may be an old route to success, but it’s certainly not a stale one.

As Duggan pointed out, such meetings often snowball into more opportunities. “Through David’s contacts in the fashion world, we were able to get Wheyhey involved in London Fashion Week,” he said. Models and attendees were given the ice cream at numerous big name events.

Gandy's endorsement has done wonders for the brand
Gandy’s endorsement has done wonders for the brand

For Wheyhey, the endorsement came about quite quickly as Gandy was won over by the product. “It was so easy for David to recommend Wheyhey as he loved it,” Duggan agreed. “Make sure they are the right person for your brand, look at your target consumer and your target market and ensure they fit the bill. They should be an asset to your brand and open avenues.”

Endorsers can be particularly lucrative for fashion and jewellery businesses – a picture of a celebrity wearing an item can generate attention among both their fans and the wider public if the images are widely used in the media.

Jesper Nielsen, the founder of Endless Jewelry, was all too aware of this.

The Danish entrepreneur previously credited with turning Pandora into the huge jewellery brand it is today, has set his sights similarly high for the new project. In its first year, the business has managed to open in 3,300 stores in 17 markets. A canny route to consumer attention was getting Jennifer Lopez on board.

While other businesses win endorsements by a clever use of marketing, detailed research on which celebrity would suit their brand and a targeted approach, Nielsen secured Lopez by seeking her out as a brand ambassador and raising the funds to secure her as such.

Read on to find out more about the pros of working with Jennifer Lopez and how timing can be key to an effective celebrity endorsement.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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