How one brand secures celebrity endorsements on a shoestring - and how you can too

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Gaining promotion via celebrity endorsements is nothing new. Ever since advertising began celebrities have been paid to promote products. But what if you’re a business with limited cash? Paying tens of thousands for endorsements is out of your scope, yet that’s exactly what your more established competition will be doing.

A new study by Rakuten Marketing suggests that UK marketers working on influencer programmes are willing to pay Facebook celebrity influencers up to and in excess of £75,000 for a single post mentioning their brand. In the case of premium fashion marketers, the payable fee per post rises to over £160,000, highlighting the perceived importance of social media by professionals working for high-end retailers.

But despite only launching in 2015, Vitae London has managed to secure endorsements from the likes of Richard Branson, Paloma Faith, Emeli Sande, and Philip Schofield. A broad range of celebrities, I’m sure you’ll agree. And Vitae sells high-end watches – one of the most established markets on the planet.

So, how did we do it, and how can you get celebrities to endorse your brand?

  1. Research

We started by doing our research. The plan was to identify those celebrities who shared similar interests to us – watches, fashion, and supporting children’s charities, particularly those based in Africa. We found celebrities from the African diaspora had a particular kinship with the continent and were especially keen to support us and our philanthropic aims. What’s more, followers of these celebrities often share similar values, making them our perfect target audience.

Reaching out to those celebrities through social media bagged us endorsements from the likes of singer Emeli Sandé and radio DJ Yinka Bokinni. From there, word spread quickly.

  1. Build on your success

As Vitae grew, we supplied more school uniforms to children in Africa than ever before, and soon Richard Branson took notice. I was invited to become a Virgin Startup Ambassador and meet Branson at his house. He seemed impressed with the business idea and the watches themselves, going on to personally endorse the brand on a number of occasions.

With those key pillars in place, even more celebrities found out about the brand and wanted to get involved.

  1. Grab opportunities

Sometimes it’s simply about being in the right place at the right time and grabbing the opportunity. I'm a man of faith so I can only explain it as the hand of God, but I’ve had some lucky and surprising encounters. For example, I happened to run into rapper Big Sean in Nandos in London, of all places, bumped into Philip Schofield in a Vineyard in Cape Town, and I bumped into Romelu Lukaku outside a restaurant in New York. None of these meetings were planned, but once I meet them and shared our vision they were incredibly glad to be involved.

  1. Ensure you have a clear, simple message

Develop a clear and compelling value proposition; your ‘elevator pitch’.  If you can’t explain it fully and clearly in a sentence or two then your message can get muddled. Make it easy for them to say yes by offering a clear and concise proposition.

Remember, celebrities get asked for endorsements every day – you can’t expect them to support your brand simply because you asked nicely. They’re busy people. If you want them to sit up and take notice, then you have to have a unique and compelling selling proposition. Something that makes you different and interesting.

For us, it’s the charity element. We support local South African charity House of Wells in their mission to get poorer kids into education. But we don’t talk about “giving 10% to charity”, because it lacks tangibility. We talk about giving kids two school uniforms, allowing them to attend school and get an education. People can picture a kid at school and what that means to that child and their family.

  1. Always be prepared

I was selected by Virgin to become a Virgin Start-Up Ambassador and had the opportunity to meet Richard Branson at his house…but I forgot to take a watch with me to give to him! I was gutted at my missed opportunity.

Later, the guys at Virgin asked me to be on a panel with Richard Branson.

Fast-forward to a few months ago and I’m getting ready for my big appearance. I made triple-sure that I took a watch with me this time. I gave him the watch in front of a live audience at the panel discussion. In turn, he not only paid for the watch with a wad of cash, he also gave me his watch in exchange!

It was a great moment and one I’m fortunate to have captured on camera. No doubt that will go down as one of the high points of my career!

  1. Believe

If I had to sum up my advice in a single word it would be: belief. If you truly believe in what you’re doing, that energy, that enthusiasm, will become infectious. Everyone you meet and speak to about your idea will share your excitement and, most importantly, will come to believe in you as well. And celebrities are just like other customers – if they believe in you and your brand, they will support you.

For a list of celebrities endorsing Vitae see:

Will Adoasi is founder of Vitae London.


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