The power of a celebrity

Celebrity has a unique power, today I was privileged to collaborate with Nigel Howle PR supremo as he developed the fantastic article below. It starts by considering Marcus Rashford’s recent success in changing government policy and goes on to focus on how celebrities can help not for profits and other good causes make a difference. You can find more about Nigel's work here.

Rashford scores for holiday hunger relief but what can charities learn from his success? The success of Marcus Rashford’s campaign to get free school meals is rightly gaining huge praise right now. With experience in the business of charity PR and the relationship with celebrities, I thought it worthwhile giving it some thought here and I have asked grants and fundraising expert Andrew Heaward to add his insight – thanks Andrew. There was a makeshift banner put up in one of the most deprived wards in Greater Manchester on Tuesday (16/06/20). Hung from the “Welcome to Wythenshawe” sign, it stated “Rashford 1, Boris 0.”

The Manchester United striker spoke powerfully on how he watched as his mum struggled to put food on the table during holiday periods when children don’t get the benefit of a free school meal. Fortunately, for children across the UK, despite the trappings of fame and fortune, he didn’t forget. Rashford’s campaign forced the Government’s hand. On Tuesday morning, a host of Tory MPs were dispatched to the news channels to say the long-standing policy of not replacing free school meals with vouchers during the six-week break, would not change. By mid-morning, that stance had crumbled. Children of poorer families will get £15 a week in vouchers, not a huge amount of money, but surely enough to see families who often visit local food banks, heave a big sigh of relief?

Footballers often try to perfect the Cruyff turn but there’s a new kid on the block – the rapid political u-turn.

I have worked with charities, some had celebrity backing, some didn’t, one was even founded by a former footballer, even more famous than Rashford. In my experience, celebrity status certainly opened doors, both with potential big donors in the City of London and politicians in nearby Westminster. I have been involved in events in the historic library at Lloyds of London and in the committee rooms of the Houses of Parliament.

Here in Staffordshire, we have seen the power of local lad Robbie Williams’ Give It Sum fund and, until coronavirus intervened, he was meant to be back in Burslem this summer to stage a concert for charities at Vale Park.

Having worked to find patrons for charities, here’s a few things to consider:

  • Think about who you want to attract and target hard

  • Always look for a good fit, for example, are you looking for a local celebrity, an actor, a sports star or maybe something more niche? A charity with a health or science brief may be best served by targeting a TV doctor or scientist, such as Prof Brian Cox, or a TV star with a science angle, maybe Dara O’Briain?

  • Marcus Rashford is an excellent example of someone ideal for a charity focusing on poverty relief. His personal story of growing up with very little will attract media interest for your good cause.
  • What value can the celebrity add? Yes, just a well-known name will boost your funding, but what more can they add? Do they have a passion for your cause? I came across a very good example, while working on PR with Stafford-based A Child of Mine. They had attracted the support of actress Keeley Hawes who passionately believed in their cause. She wasn’t a patron, she wasn’t going to turn out at a lot of fundraisers and charity balls, but she was very happy to do voiceover work on radio and social media adverts – how much would it cost to get Keeley Hawes to do this for a business and would she do it? Probably not.

  • Does the person need to be famous? Not really. I worked with an acclaimed war photographer who suffered serious injury while working in Afghanistan. His ability to tell his story and camera work opened doors and helped to raise funds.

  • The willingness to get involved is the key to a good relationship. You may attract a celebrity who is happy to have his or her name as patron on your letterheads but has no real interest in doing more, so do your homework. Some people may genuinely be too busy, perhaps it may be wise to find a lesser name who will roll up their sleeves and help?

  • And a word of caution, don’t just say yes. I recall being warned off a couple of well-known names whose behaviour may have brought a charity into disrepute. Your reputation is your most valuable asset.

Finally from me, consider the influencers, not just the celebrities. For example, while working on PR in the humanitarian charity sector, we were able to forge links with relevant Parliamentary Select Committees and were even able to get involved with an awareness raising event in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster.

Start with getting a working relationship with your constituency MP. What are their interests? Who can they influence? Can they unlock doors you’d otherwise never get through?

If you get at least some of the above working well, raising your charity profile through PR, and getting more interest on social media. should be much easier.

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