Recently AMA Atlanta and Hothouse hosted a signature entertainment marketing event, gathering a panel of branded entertainment and sponsorship marketing thought leaders to talk about how they put star power to work for brands. It should come as no surprise that the theme of the night was authenticity. Star power works best when it just feels right, which is why you’ll never see Paula Deen selling tofu. Moderated by Melissa Proctor, Chief Marketing Officer of the Atlanta Hawks and Phillips Arena (who started out many years ago as a Miami Heat ball girl), the influential panel featured John Shumate, Director of Marketing at PepsiCo; Marta Cyhan, Chief Marketing Officer at MAC Presents, a firm that creates experiential brand activations using exclusive relationships with artists and brands; and Bo Heiner, Senior Vice President at Octagon Consulting, a sponsorship marketing firm.


Here are the four key takeaways:



Authenticity is king.

Celebrity propels brand awareness quickly, but it has to be authentic. If the influencer is excited about the partnership, that’s going to make the relationship feel more organic. If the brand has to beg a celebrity to be a part of the campaign, it’s probably not going to feel right to anyone – including your customers. Hard data is important, but with influencers, it doesn’t rule. Quantitative information about your audience, what celebrities they follow and their Q Scores are important — but there comes a point when you have to look at qualitative factors. When thinking about the influencer, how do they feel about the brand? Do they use it? Do they enjoy it? Marta Cyhan, CMO at MAC Presents, cites an activation with the band Imagine Dragons. The band paired up with Southwest Airlines to take their biggest fans on the Destination Dragons tour with them. Southwest flew the band and their fans around the country to four venues that helped launch Imagine Dragons’ career. And the band loved it, posting about Southwest on their social channels, and even playing a Live at 35 concert while the plane was in midair. Not only did Imagine Dragons get to promote their new album to their biggest fans, their fans got to interact with them, and Southwest Airlines millions of media impressions worth of brand love. Take a look to see how far an authentic relationship can take a brand.

It’s not about sponsorship, it’s about partnership.

Athletes and sports drinks are an obvious sponsorship match — but when an elite athlete sees the relationship with a brand as a true partnership, marketing magic can happen. Shumate, Director of Marketing at PepsiCo, spoke about the relationship between Peyton Manning and Gatorade. Manning has a long-standing relationship with the brand, drinking Gatorade on the field to refuel during games. So Gatorade leveraged that authentic partnership to reach his fans in an emotional way, by showcasing some of the hand-written letters Manning has sent to his friends, fans and coaches throughout his career. The result was the heartstring-pulling Dear Peyton campaign.  Shumate also noted that Pepsi has gotten creative about their partnerships with music, with the youth-focused brand always in touch with the latest in entertainment. So Pepsi partnered with the TV show Empire, and made a commercial based on fictitious hip-hop singer Jamal Lyon’s storyline from the show. Not only did they demonstrate that Pepsi is connected with hot new artists, but Empire got a boost as well.

Do the homework.

Because celebrity partnerships complement what you’re already doing with your brand, your target audience should always drive the decisions as to what’s relevant. Proctor, CMO of the Atlanta Hawks and Phillips Arena, talked about the success of the Hawks Sprite Concert Series. The target audience for the Hawks are next-generation Atlantans – young, multicultural and ensconced in the hip-hop culture of Atlanta. So the Hawks brought in big names in the Atlanta scene like T.I., Big Boi and Silento to perform after select games. The artists promoted their albums, and ticket sales increased on the nights a concert was tied to a game. You may remember when Cindy Crawford graced the covers of Special K cereal in the early 2000’s. Cyhan tells us how Special K had been in a freefall, but used research to tap into female mindset about their bodies. They found that women are ALWAYS on a diet, not just around New Year’s resolution time. They also found out that Cindy Crawford was trying to lose weight after having a baby, so they put her on the box with messaging that eating right wasn’t about losing weight, it was about being healthy. And when they suggested that replacing two meals a day with Special K to get healthier (and maybe lose some weight too), sales increased.

Every deal is unique.

Bo Heiner, CMO of Octagon Consulting, points out that musicians are different than chefs, who are different than athletes, who are different than actors. He goes on to share that each of these celebrities has their own set of considerations during negotiations. Some of them might want to be involved in the creative process, and some may want to even create content themselves. With social media, there may be opportunity to leverage millions of social followers – making it essential that the influencer’s posts feel authentic. Heiner recommends that budgets be set aside to activate celebrity partnerships beyond just the cost of the sponsorship deal. He notes that you can’t depend solely on a celebrity to create your content – you’ll still need to spend production dollars to produce high quality campaigns. And in negotiations, you’ll want to consider the whole cost – including first class travel, wardrobe, riders and more- not just the cost of the celebrity’s name and likeness. The evening provided a wealth of information on using star power to boost brands. We learned that though there’s no secret formula to drive brand love with celebrity, the partnership should always feel organic. Cyhan sums it up by saying that if the relationship isn’t authentic, you’re simply not going to get the results you want.