Many of us in the PR/communications industry believe we need a top celebrity or someone in the public eye to gain the most attention for our messages. We often overlook the power of an unknown spokesperson to break through the clutter.
During the launch of our Fight Arthritis Pain campaign last week, I was captivated by an unassuming ambassador—a soft-spoken woman from Wakefield, Rhode Island named Robin.
Robin had some difficulty getting to the podium. She started her remarks by bravely describing how she was a born athlete, an avid runner since childhood. After sustaining a number of knee injuries in her teens, Robin was diagnosed at age 30 with osteoarthritis and poignantly talked about how that impacted every aspect of her life – from her job to her ability to perform day to day tasks that we often take for granted. Now in her 50s, Robin has become a walker and is limited to exercise in a warm water pool and bicycling. However, she works as an aquatic physical therapist and exercises five days a week, which helps increase her mobility and reduce the pain and disability of her arthritis.
Robin’s story was incredibly moving and inspiring. It was obvious that the audience instantly connected to her and it was the most compelling part of the program. Robin is not famous or well-known – she’s just someone who is living with a disease that affects one in five Americans. Yet, she was the ideal spokesperson for our campaign message, which communicates that “moving is the best medicine” for osteoarthritis.
For sure, celebrities can also be very effective spokespeople for social messages. A celebrity can significantly increase visibility for your cause and help boost fundraising efforts. Look at what Katie Couric did for colorectal cancer. The number of colonoscopies increased by 20% in the year after her an on-air screening. Katie lost her husband, Jay Monahan, to the disease and has been committed to the cause ever since. And Lance Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer, raised more than $325 million through his foundation, as well as extraordinary awareness for cancer prevention. In fact, some experts believe that people like Katie and Lance may have done more for public awareness for cancer than most scientists.
And with the evolution of social media, and the public’s desire to follow celebrities’ every move, a celebrity’s involvement can help you reach millions of people instantly with your messages. Remember Ashton Kutcher’s challenge with CNN on Twitter, which ultimately benefited World Malaria Day.
However, there are some pitfalls to consider with celebrities. Depending on the issue, Americans may feel they can’t relate to a celebrity’s story since he or she may have access to greater resources, and you risk the chance that the celebrity will overshadow your issue. Also, you may have to pay for their involvement (although some may waive their fee.) It can also be challenging to recruit a celebrity for your program.
But, when there is a personal connection to a cause and the spokesperson is credible, it can have a great impact, regardless of whether or not the spokesperson is well-known.
I did some searching online to find good resources with tips on how to choose the best spokesperson. I found that it’s not a topic that is covered often. Hope this helps. Here are a few key things to keep in mind:
- Make sure he or she has a Good Connection to Your Cause: Does your spokesperson have a strong personal story that will resonate?
- Think about Your Target Audience(s): Is your spokesperson relevant to your target audience or demographic?
- Credibility: Is your spokesperson credible? What is his/her motivation for getting involved? Is it for pay or to promote a book? Or to get some good PR? Do a good background check.
- Make sure Your Spokesperson is a Good Communicator who is Committed to Your Cause: Is your spokesperson media savvy? Will he or she stay on message or do they have their own agenda? Be careful about not positioning your spokesperson as a medical expert if he or she is not.
- If You’re Paying Your Spokesperson, make sure the ROI is worth it: Sometimes celebrities, top athletes or political figures require payment for doing interviews/events and other activities. Make sure it’s worth the investment before you commit.
As a start, be clear about the objectives of your communications program and what you’re hoping to accomplish before you make your choice. In the end, an unknown spokesperson such as Robin may have the greatest impact.