On and Off the Field: What Makes a Great Celebrity Marketer


Shouldn’t the Super Bowl MVP automatically be chosen to say, “I’m going to Disneyland!”? And shouldn't the Super Bowl quarterbacks be the natural choice to appear in the annual pregame "Got Milk?" USA Today print advertisement?

If athletic performance alone dictated marketing success, those questions could be answered with a simple "Yes."

But on-the-field athletic success does not always equate to off-the-field marketing fame. If it did, athletes such as Tim Duncan and Pete Sampras would have been as marketable as Shaq and Andre Agassi.

In my opinion, marketing success is determined by a combination of seven factors.

1. Personality Traits – Marketers look at an athlete’s personality in two distinct ways. First, and naturally, brands want to work with trustworthy, relevant and brand-appropriate people. These traits come shining through during the execution of the program (especially if there are changes in the program midway through it, and one needs the talent to bend a bit). In our business, we are always sharing our thoughts about which celebrities are the “good guys,” as well as descriptions of the personalities of their representation teams. Deals can be complicated, and you want to work with people you will trust. Second, there’s the very important IT-factor, an undefined trait that some celebrities possess which generates an abnormally high volume of attention and buzz (cue: Kim Kardashian and Anna Kournikova).

2. Geography – Fortunately for NFL players, their team’s location is less important than in other sports because of the national popularity of the game. In other sports, the top players on their teams in Indianapolis, Green Bay and/or Denver would never have had the marketing success of Peyton Manning, John Elway and Brett Favre. That said, players in New York and other major markets do have an advantage because of their markets' size and media influence. Tiki Barber is a prime example of one who was never in the top five players in his position during his career, but his NY geography increased his marketability into that category.

3. Price – Athletes' marketing success is often controlled by their agents. On one hand, agents can demand too much and miss out on opportunities for clients. Or sometimes they will lower their client's price, believing (and hoping) that the program’s potential success and marketing spend will help propel the athlete’s awareness, popularity and their next deal.

Super Bowl, Super Sports, Super Bucks - A CNBC Special Report
Super Bowl, Super Sports, Super Bucks - A CNBC Special Report

4. Social Media –One of the first questions brands ask now is “How many followers do they have?” When evaluating an athlete's social-media presence, I am interested in not only the number of followers but also the type of content they write and the quantity of their posts. As more campaigns are releasing You Tube videos, the ability for talent to push these out through both social media and media interviews is a real consideration. But don't overvalue these videos; you still must measure their value against the cost of the talent.

5. Passions/Hobbies – There are a number of programs that are based on an athlete’s association with a particular disease/illness, charitable cause or even a hobby. Relevance is important to a campaign because it adds a level of authenticity.

6. Media Bookability – While some may still think advertising is the only way to market a brand, today there are many more celebrity-PR programs using spokespersons than there are celebrity-advertising campaigns. It is now necessary for talent to be of strong interest to media and available for interviews. It’s also imperative that the talent not have participated in another branded PR program in the previous three months before yours because if so, the media wouldn't be interested in the same talent (and thus, your program) at that time.

7. On-the-Field Success – Of course it matters! Without some on-the-field success, the media and public wouldn’t be familiar with a celebrity’s story. But it is still one factor. I promise you that is not why New England Patriots WR Chad Ochocinco has done work for McDonald’s , Degree, Motorola , Mad Chad iphone App , "Dancing with the Stars" and even the "Wonderful Pistachios" TV spot. For Chad, his personality traits, media bookability and social media prowess have driven his marketing success.

David Schwab is the managing director of Octagon First Call, Octagon's celebrity acquisition and engagement division. He analyzes the value of spokespeople for brands; leading the recommendation, contract negotiations and management of the celebrity-portion of the campaigns. Follow him via twitter @david_schwab.