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  • Paul Jankowski

8 Critical Steps To A Successful Brand/Talent Partnership

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 26: Ariana Grande arrives at the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Done correctly, the right brand-talent partnership can be a very successful tool in building brand equity and establishing believable connections with customers. On the other hand, the wrong partnership can be devastating to a brand.

Thoughtful planning, leveraging existing brand assets and using the right team to secure/activate the talent relationship is critical.

Over the last two-plus decades, I’ve paired dozens of brands with talent partners. Some of those partnerships include Beyonce/Verizon and Samsung, Taylor Swift/Yahoo-Pepsi, Blake Shelton/Pizza Hut and Pepsi, Jason Aldean/Mountain Dew, Lady Antebellum/Lipton, Elvis Presley/Reese’s, and, announced last week, Lipton and country mega star, Luke Bryan. These pairings have generated billions in impressions and have had a direct effect on driving incremental sales.

An estimated $50 billion is being spent globally on event sponsorships and talent partnerships. This number has risen over the last few years, indicating that brands are seeing big returns from these alliances.

Example Of An Avoidable Bad Partnership

Sadly, there are many bad brand/talent partnership examples to choose from, but one that is a head scratcher is the Starbuck’s/Ariane Grande mega-gaffe.

Ariana Grande partnered with Starbucks to launch a limited release drink. The “Cloud Macchiato” was reported to have an espresso base with a white foam layer and caramel sauce drizzled on it.

Sounds delicious, right? Unfortunately, Starbucks made a Grande mistake. Fans almost instantly recognized that Ariana would never drink the beverage herself because she’s vegan and the signature foam topping and caramel sauce could not be made from vegan, non-dairy ingredients. Additionally, this oversight caused big operational issues as fans asked Starbucks baristas to make the drink vegan (which was impossible).

This is a perfect example of poor planning, using the wrong person/agency to do the deal with Ariana and a woefully inadequate amount of common sense. Could’ve been a great partnership, until it wasn’t.

You Only Have One Shot

Get it right the first time, because you only have one shot. There are many important factors to consider when putting brands and talent together. The merging of two distinct, unique brands takes careful planning and agility to handle the inevitable mid-relationship adjustments.

Here are the steps your brand should take when considering a talent partnership.

1. Consult an Expert

A regular occurrence, I remain shocked at the folks senior brand decision makers empower to cut deals on the brand’s behalf. Having the wrong person/agency sourcing talent is a guaranteed fail. Not only from a brand image POV, but the additional fees/costs are significant. This approach is a train wreck waiting to happen and way too common.

Make sure that whoever is heading up the talent search understands the needs of all stakeholders. Don’t trust this extremely important piece of the brand’s strategy to a member of the brand team because “they know music or sports.” I’ve seen countless deals come to a miserable end because the wrong person supervised the talent relationship.

Your advertising agency is brilliant at what they do, but if they don’t have deep, personal experience in the entertainment space you are putting your brand at risk by enlisting them for this initiative. Even many so-called “entertainment agencies” aren’t really qualified. Calling a record label or booking agent on your behalf to find talent puts your brand on their agenda. That’s the wrong side of the agenda. Your brand should be driving the conversation and not be at the mercy of someone else’s priorities. The result of that approach can get you stuck in a bad talent relationship, overpaying someone who doesn’t align with your brand and causes more ill will than positive traction.

You will spend more money on damage control and take years off your life dealing with repercussions if you don’t enlist an expert.

2. Understand What Motivates The Talent: It May Not Be Cash

Not all talent is motivated by cash. Smart ones leverage the non-cash value their brand partner offers, such as promoting them in non-traditional retail or digital channels. That is the secret to successful brand-talent partnerships; knowing the key trigger points for each talent partner and having the ability to satisfy their needs.

Getting to this point of understanding requires a relationship with the talent and their team.

Leveraging a brand’s existing media/promotional assets will have a significant effect on mitigating the amount of cash required for the talents’ fee. Millions in talent fees can be saved by leveraging existing media assets that provide incremental value to the talent.

3. Go Directly To The Talent

All talent has a few layers of “people”: personal managers, business managers, booking agents, publicists, record companies, lawyers, et al. We’ve found the most cost-efficient way to acquire talent is by dealing directly with the talent’s personal manager. Many brands will employ a talent-acquisition agency that will then call booking agents, or they might reach out to a record label or publicist.

This approach adds unnecessary layers between the brand and talent while adding cost through additional commissions.

4. Consider Their Values

The most important thing in deciding who to work with is finding talent whose values align with your brand. This is a partnership, so when you hire a spokesperson you are telling your potential customers that this person represents your company and its values. Dig deep into your partner’s background and don’t take their representatives word for it … do your own due diligence, or get someone who knows the entertainment landscape to help you. The last thing you want to find out (via TMZ) is that your new talent partner is not portraying an image worthy of your brand.

5. Define Your Objectives/Agree On Common Goals

Once you have talent that is the right fit, discuss your objectives. The best talent partners want to know what’s expected of them beyond a photo shoot and some social posts. Don’t be shy in making your expectations known. You may be surprised in how much more engaged the talent becomes when they know what the brand is trying to achieve.

6. Think Long Term

Unfortunately most big brand planning cycles aren’t set up for multi-year talent partnerships. This greatly limits the effectiveness and sends a confusing message to your customer, especially if they live in the New Heartland. Heartlanders build long-term brand relationships so they would expect their favorite brand to do the same with the talent that is representing them.

Structure deals that allow for a multi year partnership, at the brands’ option, should the talent not live up to expectations.

7. Stay Close To The Deal

When the deal is done and the checks have been written, the rubber starts meeting the gets real, real fast. This is where doing a deal without the unnecessary layers of people and fees really pays off.

Brands need to be as close to their talent partner as possible. This is critical, especially when additional requests outside the contract are made to satisfy unforeseen needs (i.e. additional meet and greet passes in the corporate HQ market, a change in what talent will do during a production day). This happens with every deal we’ve ever done. With a direct relationship with the talent and their personal manager, these requests are much easier to satisfy.

8. Measure Everything

Sure, it’s intuitive to talk about measuring the impact of these partnerships, but you’d be shocked to know how few brands actually do it. Once the objectives are determined, a baseline of key performance indicators should be established. The impact the talent relationship has on incremental sales, earned/paid media impressions, and social engagements are a few indicators that paint a broad picture of the campaign’s success.

There you have it. Key points you need to account for as you shepherd your brand into a partnership with talent of any level. The impact the right partnership can have on your brand is significant. Follow these steps and you’ll greatly reduce your chances of being in a Starbucks/Ariana scenario.

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