For Startups In Search Of A Celebrity Partner, Go Beyond The Name

Editor’s note: Sameer Mehta is the CEO and co-founder of 12Society, along with celebrities Nas, Michael Strahan, Nick Cannon, Tim Lincecum, Blake Griffin, and Kevin Love. Follow him on Twitter @SameerSociety.

I recently had a chance to sit backstage at a sold-out Nas concert and listen to him talk about his upcoming tour dates and all the stories that come with it. It was a pretty cool moment for a young entrepreneur who grew up a Nas fan. However, it wasn’t all play. Between sets and amid screams of the crowd, we reviewed the mockups for our new site design and specs of featured products.

Nas is a 12Society co-founder, and his image and insights are an integral part of the success of our young business. As one might imagine, though, Nas and 12Society’s five other celebrity co-founders have pretty crazy schedules, so bringing the boardroom to each of them is a small price to pay to have access to their genius.

celebtechWhen collaborating with celebrities for business, you’ll be expected to go places and do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do. In return, you’ll find that you’re getting way more than just a pitch person. Many of them possess knowledge and experience with situations that most traditional entrepreneurs have never envisioned. Winning a gold medal and releasing consecutive platinum records takes the same entrepreneurial spirit as a young, college grad joining an incubator.

I have been fortunate to help change the landscape of e-commerce with their help, and have come across many things that I think will help early founders looking to involve their business models with talent. Here are some factors to consider when trying to land the perfect celebrity endorsement.

Find The Right Person

A dicey celebrity-product endorsement can be disastrous to your credibility, as forcing a user to stomach an awkward connection speaks down to his or her intelligence. You want your celebrity to be an aspirational figure in the communities your company is looking to target — someone who embodies the spirit of your branding.

The process of finding celebrity co-founders for 12Society was a rigorous one. We are a subscription-based lifestyle company for men, where customers receive a monthly box of products selected by our celebrity curators. Image for us is everything. Bring the wrong celebrity into the mix, and we risk alienating our subscriber base.

To remain a celebrity today means you’ve been deemed interesting in the face of unprecedented, multi-platform competition. Since we are attempting to literally box coolness each month, it was imperative to find celebrities not only at the forefront of cool, but whose coolness projected well into the future.

Once we found the right one, others soon followed. When NFL legend Michael Strahan signed with 12Society, it was like having a celebrity endorsement for other celebrities. NBA superstar and 12Society co-founder Blake Griffin said “if Michael is in, I’m in” when we approached him about the partnership. That’s the power of lasting social capital.

Mine For Diamonds In The Rough

If landing the A-lister of your dreams is not initially feasible, whether because of lack of access or lack of funding, remember that celebrity stature is relative. The explosion of niche means there are lot of people who wield incredible influence among small communities, be it a parenting blogger or a YouTube sensation. Reaching out to micro celebrities can yield a really high-quality endorsement — and at a great price point. Partner early with the right micro celeb, and your brand is in on the ground floor with the next big thing.

Know Where To Look

Established entrepreneurs, particularly in Los Angeles, have often amassed several high-profile contacts. Tapping into your social circles for an introduction to the right celebrity is certainly an ideal opportunity; granted, the chances your buddy knows the perfect candidate to endorse your brand aren’t particularly high.

I’ve found great success in pitching directly to talent agencies. As tech companies and e-commerce startups continue to demonstrate success, agencies are becoming more receptive to seeking these types of opportunities for their clients. Agencies have also become increasingly aware that, as businesses and entertainment become more niche, commercial endorsements from multinationals are much harder to come by. Plus, getting an equity stake with the right startup can offer long-term financial stability, as well as immediate boost to their client’s profile.

Make An Offer They Can’t Refuse

Offering equity or co-founding stake not only sweetens the pot for celebrities you’re trying to partner with, but it will empower them to go the extra mile for you if they do. Athletes and actors are very competitive by nature. The same passion that fuels them to be successful in their respective realms will often translate to their business ventures, especially if their image is inextricably linked to your brand.

Our celebrities with 12Society, for example, aren’t going to put something in a box going out to thousands of people if it’s going to reflect poorly on their sense of style. In the process of celebrity recruitment, we sought people with well-noted passions in fashion, style and technology.

Aligning your company with a celebrity whose off-camera hobbies coincide with what your business offers will certainly make the pitch easier. Also, tailoring your pitch to demonstrate ways in which your company can complement his or her side projects is a major bonus.

Part of our pitch to Nick Cannon was how 12Society was a natural vehicle for him to promote his NCredible headphone collaboration with Monster. Once we got him on board, we were floored by the amount of energy he put into working with us.

Remember The Team

Giving equity to a manager or agent of a celebrity may feel like too big a step for your company. Getting the celebrity motivated, as well as the people around him, will get you a better outcome. Go through the process and see if you can pinpoint that key person – then make him your influencer.

A celebrity endorsement no longer means mere brand association. A socially savvy star can directly drive customer acquisition. And if all your stars align, your business will truly begin to shine.