Four Questions To Ask Yourself When Licensing Celebrities Or Music

Four Questions To Ask Yourself When Licensing Celebrities Or Music

This is a re-post of a blog article written by Matthew Chung, Manager, Communications & Content, Association of Canadian Advertisers, following MCA’s recent webinar where Pat Murphy and Debbie Pearce advised the audience on licensing celebrities and music


There are a lot of benefits to having a trendy celebrity or trending piece of music in your ad – attracting new customers, improving brand recall and ultimately, driving more sales. Not to mention you get to brag to your friends later that you rubbed shoulders with an Oscar or Grammy winner.

But not all celebrity endorsements are created equal, particularly if the celebrity doesn’t match your brand strategy, says Pat Murphy, founder of U.K.-based production specialists Murphy Cobb & Associates. Murphy says that before a marketer enlists the services of a movie or sports star, or writes the chorus for “Whole Lotta Love” into their ad, they first need to ask themselves some tough questions.

  1. Is This The Right Choice? Murphy said it’s important to do research – both internally and with your customer – before choosing a celeb or track, to ensure they align with your objectives.“You’ve spent months, maybe years making sure your brand strategy is correct, so the last thing you want to do is hire a celebrity or have a piece of music that isn’t the absolute perfect fit,” Murphy said.Along those same lines, it’s crucial that the celebrity or piece of music is “clearly central to the compelling expression of your idea,” Murphy says, adding it’s easy to fall into the trap of writing to fit the celebrity or piece of music rather than putting the brand at the centre of the campaign.
  2. Do I Have Any Leverage? Figuring out what leverage you have to lure a celebrity or record label may be the most important part of negotiations, Murphy says. “Before you even pick up the phone to an agent or a music company, you need to think about what you have that might be interesting to them, and create a competitive environment.”

    That can mean pitting two A-list celebrities against each other (“They don’t want one of their competitors or one of their mates getting the job,” Murphy says). Offering access to any assets your company may have that can broaden a celebrity or band’s exposure (say, funding a documentary), may help to land a good deal.

    Murphy also says working with up-and-coming talent that are hungry for exposure is also likely to result in a more favourable price. Lastly, Murphy and Debbie Pearce, a music consultant with Murphy Cobb, recommend giving the agent, record company or publisher lots of advanced notice so they have the opportunity to capitalize on the release of the ad campaign – synchronizing a new album launch or autograph tour, for instance.

    Whatever you do, don’t tip your hand, Murphy advises. He recalls one agency that sent a script for a space-themed spot to a record company with the title Space Oddity at the top – leaving no doubt about what song they were looking for. “And the price [of the track] was reflective of that,” Murphy says.

  3. Who should negotiate the deal? The choice is yours, with benefits and drawbacks to each – but when considering whether negotiations should be handled by the agency, procurement, marketing/corporate communications or an external consultant, Murphy says to think about the four stages to the process – including pre-planning, research and recommendations, negotiation and contracting, and implementation.
  4. What Next? The work is really just getting started once a contract is signed, Murphy says. You’ll need to involve your legal team, make sure your agency is a counter-signatory to the agreement and that your communications team is also on-board and ready to promote the new agreement via social and PR.You also need to think about how you will manage the video shoot or recording itself, which Murhpy and Pearce assure, “Everyone and their dog will want to attend.”The standard rule for the shoot should be that only people with jobs to do attend and they should be advised to not ask for autographs.

Other things to consider:

  • It’s wise to involve everyone who will have to approve the campaign from the start to avoid running into approval trouble toward the end, Murphy says.
  • The agency should be told to keep a running reconciliation, alerting you to any extra costs as they are incurred.
  • It’s also important to keep track of when the deal you’ve struck expires, so you can make sure your ad isn’t still on the air past that date.

Common mistakes to avoid:

Not knowing what role the celebrity or music will play: A heavy investment has been made, so it’s important to understand what the celebrity/music’s role is in the campaign, Murphy says.

“Will they have a minimal part to play? Will they work across numerous ads or is it a one-off? Will this person become a key brand equity? If that’s the case, the way you contract the person or music is going to change.”

Not knowing the investment you want to make beforehand: It’s also important to know the size of the investment you want to make, Murphy says, because the first offer you put on the table is not likely to be the number you will agree on. You should decide how much you can afford by reverse-engineering – rather than calling up the music agent and asking “how much is it going to cost me to work with [insert celebrity]…” you should decide what part of your budget is sacrosanct first.

Debbie Pearce

Debbie Pearce

Pat Murphy

Pat Murphy

As a general rule, Murphy says that about 10% of a campaign budget could be reasonably allocated to the celebrity talent cost – but that can vary a
lot – there are a lot of peripheral things that come along with it – baggage, hangers on. Make sure the quoted number includes all the associated costs.

Like what you read here? ACA members can learn more by visiting the ACA Webinars archive and downloading the video recording of Murphy Cobb’s recent webinar on licensing celebrities and music.


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