In their book, ‘Black Tie Optional,’ Harry A. Freedman and Karen Feldman explain how to use celebrities at fundraising events…
“For the group whose organizers are determined to land a big star to perform, list all those who might be interested in the charity and might also be in the vicinity around the time of the event. Then it’s time to invite them to appear. A group representative could take the usual route and call a booking agent. Don’t. He is a middleman who generally makes 10 percent or more of the amount he books the celebrity for, and so is looking to get the highest appearance fee possible. The booking agent negotiates with the agency that represents the artist. The agency also gets a percentage, so the agent there will also want to get the highest amount possible. Then the agent from the representing agency goes to the star’s personal manager, who also get s percentage…
Get the picture?
Now there are three people between the organization and the celebrity, each of whom is interested in making as much money as possible. This route ensures the organization will pay top dollar.
It’s possible and not all that difficult to reduce the number of middle-men. First, if someone in the organization knows the star, ask that person to explain to the celebrity the charitable cause and its mission. This works best if it’s a charity in which the celebrity is interested.
‘Unless the celebrity is really involved in the cause and has a personal reason to be there, I’d recommend not doing it,’ says Shelley Clark, vice-president of Lou Hammond and Associates, Inc. in New York City. ‘You’re not just buying someone’s presence.’
Charities seeking a price break will fare best by going through a celebrity’s publicist. Most celebrities have a publicist, whose job it is to get the star media exposure. The publicist gets a standard retainer, rather than a percentage of the star’s bookings. Celebrity Service lists the publicists, business mangers (for legal and accounting matters), and agents that handle each star. But even for those who don’t subscribe, there are ways to get to the star.
If a celebrity doesn’t have a publicist but appears on a network television show, that show will have a publicist. Contact the television network and ask. The network publicist can usually help make contact with the celebrity’s personal manager. All shows go on break for part of the year. Find out when that is and see if the star might be available to travel then.
That may seem a fairly straightforward process, but it’s not. A star’s personal manager is generally the toughest person to contact. Most rarely return calls to people they don’t know. Persistence is often the key to getting through. Start calling well in advance, and always leave a message. o not be rude. Politely tell the person who answers know that someone from the organization will continue to call until the person reaches the personal manager. There is an organization of personal managers that maintains a membership list. Sometimes the star’s agent can supply it.
For almost any celebrity, contact the union, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) or the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors (AFTRA). Both SAG and AFTRA have offices in New York or Los Angeles, and someone there can supply the name of the publicist or personal manager.
Having obtained the proper contact, make that call count. Persistence is more important than genius. It may take multiple calls to get through. As with personal managers, be polite. Just make it clear that someone will keep calling until they get to talk to a person who can give them an answer. Remember that publicists and managers may get as many as 500 calls a day, so there is only a minute or so to make the plea. Plan what to say. (Writing out a script is a good idea). Make the pitch concise, and make it clear what’s in it for the celebrity. Those who do their homework will mention why they know the person might want to help, and that they are in town (or nearby) the day of the event.
‘It’s not about flattery,’ says Shelley Clark. ‘I wouldn’t even talk about how much publicist there will be. Get the fit out there. Give a sense of the event, the worthiness of the cause and why you think that cause would appeal to this particular celebrity.
After getting a verbal agreement, follow it up with a formal letter of agreement, or ask for a written contract.
Ask the star’s publicist for a schedule of performances, then schedule the event around those dates. In New York City, for example, many charity events take place on Monday nights because Broadway actors are off then and thus are available for special appearances.
Just as important is to fin out what dates to avoid. Don’t schedule a sports event – or anything else, if possible – on a weekend when there’s a big game. That would be a supreme waste of star power. And check to make sure the event won’t fall on a religious holiday.
Getting a commitment that a star will appear is only half the battle. Making sure the contact doesn’t leave the group vulnerable – or committed to spending money it doesn’t have – is vital.
Thoroughly check the celebrity’s standard contract, or have a lawyer do so. IT should state that the celebrity is attending for free (or whatever the agreed upon price is) and who is paying for extras (travel, room, and food, including what will be provided for those traveling with the star). Be specific. For example, if the group does not plan to pay for long-distance phone calls, damaged hotel furniture, or room service, state this clearly in the written agreement, give a copy of the agreement to the hotel’s front desk, and request that the general manager sign it.
Do the same thing with limousine companies. Make it clear what the charity will be responsible for, and stipulate that the limo should get cash or credit cards from their customers for anything beyond that. Some entertainers are infamous for taking advantage of charities this way.
Fundraisers unfamiliar with large-scale celebrity events can make very expensive mistakes. For example, a fundraiser new to such events cost his charity money by not getting the deal in writing with the management of a hotel at which a special event was held. A few weeks after the event, when the bills came in from the hotel, there was an additional bill from room service for $4,000 in champagne and caviar – charges racked up by the backup singers of the entertainer who performed at the event. The charity paid these unanticipated expenses out of the money raised that evening, rather than harass the celebrity, who had given an excellent performance and helped attract a sell-out crowd.
TIP: Be sure that all hotel personnel – including the catering director, front desk manager, and general manager – are informed in writing as to what expenses the charity will cover.
If there are musicians involved, know that instruments the group will have to provide and how many hours of rehearsal the charity must pay for. The rider should clearly state that the entertainer is responsible for paying for any rehearsal overtime beyond what’s been agreed to.
These contracts can be mind-boggling to those unaccustomed to dealing with them. It’s easy to miss something critical. That’s why it’s worth spending the money to have an attorney review the agreement. Another option is to ask a local concert promoter to be on the planning committee to provide free advice on such matters.
After lining up the star, reduce costs by getting things donated. Some hotels will provide free accommodations, and sometimes airlines will cover tickets. (Make sure these tickets are cancelable or can be changed, because they may need to be.) Sponsors love to have their pictures taken with celebrities. If possible, get the star’s photo taken at the host hotel or with personnel from the airline sponsor.
A travel agent can be a great committee person and can assist in obtaining tickets and with complicated travel arrangements for celebrities and their entourages.
Like your mother, celebrities appreciate being met at the airport, staying at the locations they prefer, having rooms ready when they arrive, and having any special needs dealt with in advance. When Dick Clark and his wife, Kari, were to be in South America the week before the annual Bob Hope Gala of the National Parkinson Foundation in Miami, Kari asked if she could send their formal clothing in advance. The event manager picked it up. Since they were to arrive at 3 a.m., the Clarks plane to take a cab. But the event manager, who was familiar with the airport, knew he would have an easier time navigating than they would. He met the Clarks’ flight, took them right to the limo, and on to the hotel, where they had already checked them in and hung their clothes in the closet. As a result, they were able to get some much-needed sleep before the event. Kari was so pleased she wrote the event manager a note of appreciation letter.