It is no secret that any brand, fashion or otherwise, can supercharge marketing with celebrities and athletes endorsements, and lead to a huge boost in revenue and media attention. Take the example of the ABC drama “Scandal,” starring Kerry Washington; the wardrobe Washington and her coworkers wore on the show became so highly sought after, the pieces were posted to social media, and eventually inspired a line to be created with The Limited. And, of course, there is the infamous “Kate effect” and the ever-growing “Meghan effect,” which refers to the fashion and media influence Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle have on whatever brand they choose to wear. However, that doesn’t mean that getting a celebrity or professional athlete to work with you is always easy. In our Mingle Mastermind Session, our featured panelists, PR expert Eddie Rhodman, Jr and celebrity shoe designer, Etu Evans, discuss how to begin marketing with celebrities and athletes to supercharge your brand and create a lasting relationship that works for all parties involved.
Marketing with Celebrities and Athletes from a PR Perspective
Panelist Eddie Rhodman Jr. has a lot of experience working with celebrities and professional athletes. In fact, he has made a career out of it. Rhodman is a business and entertainment consultant and works with celebrities, executives, and athletes to build their brands. He is also the founder of Rhodman Enterprises and a Board Member at Black Public Relations Society Los Angeles. One of the main aspects of his job is to get athletes and celebrities contracts with brands, including fashion brands.
Rhodman, who does work primarily with athletes, will be the first to say that the partnership between the fashion industry and professional sports is one that meshes really well. “A lot of athletes or celebrities will go from no money to new money, and they have to learn to start dressing the part,” said Rhodman. “You have to understand how you want people to see you outside of your office, whether that’s a field, a court, a movie set, whatever.”
And that’s where designers and other fashion industry professionals come in. “When you become a professional, it becomes all about how you want to exude your brand when you meet people,” said Rhodman. And as well all know, personal branding is more important than ever in this network-driven world. That being said, marketing with celebrities and athletes should be a win-win for all parties involved; by promoting their personal brand, they are promoting your business brand. As Rhodman says, “If you exude a lifestyle as a professional in whatever career you’re in, you should always look the part. You are your brand every time you talk, meet, Zoom, interact with anyone.”
For Rhodman, this lifestyle of exuding his personal brand came early one. “For those of us who went to church, you can’t step into a church and not be dressed to the 9’s, so for some of us, it started by going to church,” said Rhodman. “At church, you wore your Sunday Best. Then your Sunday Best turned into your business best, then your business best turned into your cocktail mixer, so there are some ways culturally we can understand the importance of being well dressed.”
And while understanding the importance of being well dressed is an important first step, actually doing it is not always easy. That is why marketing with celebrities and athletes can be so beneficial for fashion professionals AND whoever they are working with. Who can dress someone better than a designer or a stylist or some other industry professional? This can especially be true when working with athletes who have a hard a time finding clothes that fit their body. “I’ve had clients that wear a variety of sizes, often rare sizes,” said Rhodman. “My clients all want to be innovative and different, and unfortunately, some brands or designs are not made for them. So, they need to have someone make something creative that fits their body.”
If you are a designer or stylist or really any industry professional hoping to work with a professional athlete, this has to be something you keep in mind. When marketing with celebrities, you also have to keep in mind personal aesthetics. “Something you see a lot with athletes and celebrities, they want to be the first to wear something, but they want to wear it confidently enough that it makes others want to buy it,” said Rhodman. Just like anyone, someone in the spotlight wants to wear something they feel good in, especially if they are influencing others to wear the same thing.
So, with so many industry professionals looking to work with a professional athlete or celebrity, how do you get on their radar, and vice versa. According to Rhodman, it’s a long process that begins early in a career. “If you’re doing a great job working for your client, you’re always engaging, reaching out saying ‘this is my client, watch their work, watch they’re reel, watch them on this show or in this game or in these playoffs,’ so that when it is time for an event or something, the designer can say ‘oh yeah, we’ve been watching them and now we have something designed strictly for them.’” Basically, as soon as Rhodman lands a client, he’s already looking to make connections within the fashion industry.
In fact, one of the toughest situations to be in is to be trying to dress a celebrity or athlete last minute. “When you need a designer to dress someone, the worst thing is when you reach out last minute. Miracles can happen and I’ve seen it, but it is just the worst time,” said Rhodman. “You’re calling in favors, calling anyone you can, trying to rush everything.” That’s why industry professionals are also encouraged to take those early steps that Rhodman does. If you’re a designer or stylist or even a blogger, reaching out to someone like Rhodman who represents a celebrity or athlete is a great first step in establishing a connection that could lead to real opportunities.
Of course, like any business or marketing move, this process of creating connections and seeing the results can take time. “Working with a celebrity is an investment, and just like any investment, there’s no guarantee it’s going to pay off,” said Rhodman. “You have to know that if you want a person with influence or a publication with influence to promote you or your brand, it is an investment.”
For example, most designers have learned that getting a solid return on investment can take months, even with the influence of social media. “First the client wears it, then we get some press about it, then we get some fashion bloggers talking about it, then other retailers like department stores start paying attention, then people start to buy it,” said Rhodman. “It’s a process that can take 3 to 6 months. That doesn’t mean that the investment doesn’t pay off, and many designers will tell you so”.
Marketing with Celebrities and Athletes from a Designer Perspective
Etu Evans is a celebrity shoe and accessories designer, style correspondent, and founder of the Solesville Foundation. He has designed for Beyonce, Halle Berry, Sharon Stone, Queen Latifah, Cynthia Bailey, Michael B. Jordan, John Singleton, and many others. Evans and his designs have been featured in German Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Essence, GQ, In Style, Ebony and Black Enterprise.
Evans began designing in college after his girlfriend left a bottle of fingernail polish on his desk. “I was bored and needed a mental break. I grabbed a rock off of the stoop and painted it with the fingernail polish and thought, ‘this would make a cool earring.’ So, I showed it to a few people,” said Evans. This led to a booking doing accessories for an off-Broadway show, and eventually a celebrity birthday party.
The journey wasn’t always easy though, and Evans took some odd jobs before officially launching his career. “I knew I wanted to do shoes but I didn’t have the money. I was a little discouraged and had to give myself a little pep talk,” said Evans. Eventually, a job that involved working around fake flowers led to the big break he was looking for. “I asked if I could keep the one’s [fake flowers] that were going to be thrown out, and started making hats. Those took off, and that was kind of the official launch of my accessories.”
Now that Evans has successfully established his brand, he has been able to design for both retail and major celebrities. “When you’re designing a collection for retail, it’s a very educational process with learning about different materials or skins or whatever goes into the product,” said Evans. “In comparison, when designing for a celebrity you’re looking primarily at what they specifically want, when they want it, exactly how they want it.”
And while Evans admits that designing and marketing with celebrities is fun because of the press and marketing opportunities, there is an incredible amount of work that goes into the process. “You have to realize what goes into it and be prepared. There can be a lot of back and forth as events change or new opportunities come up. You need a good budget to support any changes that may come up,” said Etu. Considering the many opportunities a celebrity can have to work with designers, it is understandable that capturing and holding their attention is one part of the process. “It’s always exhilarating. But when you land a celebrity client, it’s kind of like catching a fish, you still have to get them off of the hook. There’s a lot of finagling and a lot of wiggling.”
In fact, Evans once experienced a situation in which a musician changed her mind last minute in regards to what she was going to wear to a shoot. “This musician actually saw one of my designs in a European editorial and wanted to work with me. So, for a month her team worked all day every day with around seven racks of clothes to get ready for this shoot she had. The day of the shoot comes and she says, ‘I only want to wear his boots, they’re hot,’ [referring to Evan’s design].” In the end, the musician only wore a thong, a bomber jacket, and Evan’s boots, and threw the rest of the clothes aside”, which obviously upset all of the other designers who were being considered for the shoot.
And that is the most important lesson when designing and marketing with celebrities. “Just because you get the opportunity to design for a celebrity doesn’t mean it’s going to be selected and they’re going to wear it,” said Etu. “To make it in this business, you have to have a lot of vision, a lot of stamina, and a lot of self-belief to get to the place you want to be.”
In addition to dealing with the ups and downs of an indecisive client, Evans reiterated the point Rhodman made, that dressing celebrities, especially athletes, can involve a whole different design strategy and process. He revealed this by holding up a shoe mold that takes up his entire Zoom screen. “This was a challenge, this was a 21 medium,” said Evans. “When working with an athlete or celebrity, you don’t always know what challenge is going to come through your door. When you’re talking about athletes, generally, they have greater equity of ground share. So, for this one, I had to find leather and build the design up to deal with what I call the Etu vegetable melody: corn, onions, and bunions. Those are just some of the challenges in designing for athletes.”
Most importantly though, when marketing with celebrities, the designer has to understand the industry in order to be successful. “Education is important. You have to know what’s going on in fashion. It’s a business, it’s trendy,” said Evans. “You have to find out who’s hot in terms of celebrities and stylists and keep up with who’s dressing who. And just because they’re a celebrity doesn’t mean they’re the best fit for your brand.”
Evans and Rhodman, who just started a men’s accessories line, shared some designs. The first one (and my personal favorite) was a suede, calf-high stiletto boot in a rich cognac color. The boot included studded embellishments and a purple bottom that Evans says is “attributed to royalty.” There was also a custom-dyed python duffel bag with tassels, and an incredible tube-shaped snakeskin clutch Evans referred to as a “daily news clutch.” Evans also featured a suede men’s derby dress shoe in chocolate, and a fuchsia pointed toe stiletto booty with black stone embellishments. He finished with a stunning jewelry collection that he featured at fashion week.
Viewers were also able to see one of the first vests Rhodman has designed for his collection. “One great accessory for men in business is the vest. We have created a line that allows buyers to create any kind of custom vest,” said Rhodman. “It’s all about your personality and about your detailing. So, you can customize and create your own, or you can buy one of the ones we’ve already made.”
Do we sense an Evans/Rhodman collaboration here in the future? We can only hope and pray to the fashion gods!
Ten Tips and Tricks for Supercharging Your Marketing with Celebrities and Professional Athletes:
- Be Patient. “It can take time for the media to catch on, for people to notice. Fashion is a process and and investment. But the long-term ROI with the right marketing campaign and a lot of hard work really pays off.” – Eddie Rhodman Jr.
- Give Back. It can be incredibly expensive to get a celebrity to wear your design or attend your event. That’s why, according to former model and fashion show producer Catherine Schuller, charity work can lead to great networking opportunities. “If you host an event and it touches the heart of a celebrity, they’ll come and waive their fee. You still have to take care of them with a VIP room, but it can lead to great connections.” – Catherine Schuller
- Look for Connections…Any Connection! You really never know who’s going to lead to that next big break. Just ask Etu Evans! “I have a list of celebrities that I’d like to work with. So, I look at them and I look at their circle and figure out how I can infiltrate that circle. It could be through a stylist, a colleague, an event or a party, or sending out a PR correspondence, which is actually how I got started.” – Etu Evans
- Reach Out EARLY. If you’re interested in dressing a celebrity or inviting them to an event, reaching out around a year in advance is what PR expert and CEO of DCG Media Dee Rivera recommends. “You have to start a year in advanced if you want a celebrity at your event or if you want to work with them for something specific. Create very specific swag for the celebrity you want, and then reach out to them and their team with a nonprofit component or a glam day or some kind of incentive.” – Dee Rivera
- Have the Budget. It can be tough to get there, but it is important to have the right finances in order to work with a celebrity. “You have to have a budget where you can travel. With celebrities, you’re not just designing in New York. There may be a photoshoot in Europe or some other travel opportunity.” – Etu Evans
- Be Ready to Negotiate. Creating a contract to work with a celebrity can be a long, complicated process. Just ask fashion and corporate lawyer Shirin Movahed. “Every contract will be very different depending on the talent and what kind of celebrity a brand wants to work with. The key though, is that once you get all of these things in the contract, you still have to be ready, and you have to have a backup because there can be additional wants or needs or they can back out. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” – Shirin Movahed
- Have a Strong Team. Working with a celebrity can involve a lot of travel, and just a lot of extra hours in general. “You need to have a team that is strong enough to carry your business operation in your absence, and that will support you and understands your vision.” – Etu Evans
- Have a Plan, a WHOLE Plan. Having a celebrity wear your design can be a great opportunity, but you have to understand how to maximize the marketing opportunity. “You need a plan, you have to know what you need to get out of the celebrity. It can’t just be ‘oh great, you got that one photo,’ you have to know how to leverage the opportunity.” – Melissa Shea, CEO of Fashion Mingle
- Always be on the Lookout. Pay attention to who’s trending, who’s starring in the next big thing, who just got signed to what team, etc. “Make sure you’re always looking at who’s the next celebrity. If you find somebody that you start with from the beginning and they make it big, you can really make it big.” – Dee Rivera
- And Most Importantly, Stay True to You. “Working with celebrities is all about accommodating, but at the same time, you have to set your boundaries. There does have to be mutual respect. You have to consider who really represents your ideals.” – Shirin Movahed
Make sure you tune into Fashion Mingle’s Mingle Mastermind webinar every Friday at 1PM EST. You can register in advance here or watch live on Facebook. Click here to watch past webinars. Join the fastest growing network for fashion industry professionals at www.fashionmingle.com and mingle with our Mastermind panelists!
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