The Cost: Celebrity-Cause Relationships

The Telegraph reported Jimmy Saville, Top of the Pops presenter and host of Jim’ll Fix It, raised over £40 million for charities including Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the National Spinal Injuries Centre and St. Francis Hospital.

In the U.S., Lance Armstrong raised over $325 million for cancer awareness and research through his charity organization Livestrong.

If we look at the numbers, it’s hard to argue that both of these celebrity endorsers didn’t do well for their charities. However, with such a favourable light so closely attached to each of these celebrities, charities need to carefully consider what it means to take on a celebrity endorser.

Not only do charities reap the benefits of fame and notoriety passed down vicariously through their celebrity, they also inherit any negative backlash that arises should the celebrity fall from grace.

Potential Advantages Potential Hazards Preventative Tactics
Increased attention -media and public awareness Overshadowing- celebrity takes attention away Pre-testing and careful planning
Image polishing- soothing a previous incident Public controversy- celebrity scandals or bad behaviour Buying insurance and putting clauses in contracts
Brand introduction- celebrity promotes a product Image change and overexposure- charity becomes too closely linked with celebrity and values lost Explaining what their role is and putting clause to restrict endorsements for other brands
Brand repositioning- celebrity makes a product more desirable Image change and loss of public recognition- charity becomes too closely linked with celebrity and public can’t identify the product Examining what lifestyle stage the celebrity is in and predicting how long this stage will likely continue
Underpin global campaigns Expensive Selecting celebrities who are appropriate for global target audience, not because they are ‘hot’ in all market audiences

Adopted from Erdogan, 1999. ‘Celebrity endorsement: A literature review.’

The brand-celebrity relationship causes consumers to associate the product with high-quality. This is a phenomenon that Edward Bernays, an early pioneer of public relations, attributed to unconscious and powerful internal motivators that caused people to act in a certain way. Their inner desires fuel their actions.

Celebrity- cause relationships are especially important to charities because the majority of their support comes from the monetary donations they gain. Now, it’s even more important for charities to devise a way to bring in more donations in the ever increasingly competitive non-profit sector.

According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of people donating to charities is down by 3% and the amount of giving is down by 20% from £11 billion in 2010-2011 to £9.3 in 2011-2012.

In the U.S., the number of people donating is up 4%, however, in a slow recovery from the recession, giving is still $11 billion below what it was before the recession said Reuters. With less available donation money going around, non-profits have to fight even harder, and smarter, about get funding.

In the article ‘Charities need to rethink celebrity’ in Third Sector the author wrote about how important the celebrity-cause relationships have become, especially within the last 10 years. Within this time period, many charities began hiring employees to handle celebrity relations for their organizations. (Reuters, 2012)

LexisNexis, a database of UK newspapers, conducted a survey of their database about the correlation of celebrity and charity newspaper coverage. From their research, they found that ‘celebrity is more likely to be mentioned in articles about charity than in articles on most other topics, but this is no longer a growth industry.’


Articles that mentioned celebrities from a charity standpoint peaked in the early-mid 2000s, and are now declining.

However celebrities don’t have as much pull on the public as they used to. In a survey conducted by nfpSynergy, a research consultancy group for non-profit organizations, the results showed:

…just 3% of people say (or admit) celebrity support would make them likely to trust a charity. This was from a prompted questionnaire where they could select as many as five responses. Our research also indicated that only 31% of people were aware of any celebrities who supported a charity, down from 62% in 2008. Evidence would suggest that celebrity endorsement is not raising awareness.

This challenges PR practitioners to think about how their roles will change over time. Identifying overshadowing, controversy, and image change in relation to the public helps to frame what skills might be necessary in public relations. Preventative measures will help public relations practitioners soften a potential crisis and keep their supporters on board. Having a plan on hand is essential to the success of the organization.

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