Reputation Risks

Risks of Celebrity Sponsors

Companies should review ‘what if’ scenarios before attaching products or services to a celebrity sponsor.
By: | April 8, 2015

While the use of celebrities or sports figures may generate publicity around a product or service for a company, not all of it is good publicity.

You only have to open up a copy of the newspaper to read about scandals engulfing stars such as Bill Cosby, Brian Williams or Tom Brady with the New England Patriots’ and the “Deflate-gate” saga.

Sponsors have reacted by withdrawing their support, most notably in the NFL, where domestic violence allegations hanging over the sport prompted Procter and Gamble to pull the plug on a deal to supply players with pink mouthguards during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and cancel all on-field marketing.

The risks for any sponsor associated with this type of negative publicity are infinite, said experts, often resulting in the cancellation of lucrative advertising and marketing contracts, ultimately costing the company millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Worse still, the sponsor may be forced to pull its product from the market altogether, with the end result that millions of dollars are wiped off its share value.

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Lori Shaw, executive director of Aon Risk Solutions’ entertainment practice, said the main risk of hiring a celebrity to endorse a product is the unexpected or disgraceful behavior of that individual, or unforeseen events such as death.

“The first step is to analyze the potential risks; discuss ‘what if’ scenarios; outline the financial consequences; and to be aware of the risks that can be avoided, those that can be transferred contractually to the celebrity or talent, those that can be transferred to insurance and the risks that must be retained,” she said.

Shaw said that companies need to take a holistic approach to their branding and marketing activities in order to assess the potential impact of any adverse publicity on their balance sheet.

Nir Kossovsky, CEO of Steel City Re, a corporate reputation measurement and risk management specialist, said there are two instances when a company should walk away from a sponsorship.

“The first is if the costs of a parallel communication strategy coupled with the direct costs of sponsorship outweigh the value of the expected gain.

“The second is if, on objective reflection, there is a compelling case that the average stakeholder will hold management culpable for an adverse event no matter what the management says to the contrary.”

To mitigate against these risks, corporations are increasingly turning to specialized insurance plans and writing clauses into their contracts allowing them to cancel a deal if the celebrity is considered to have acted in an inappropriate manner that may damage the company’s brand.

Alex Wright is a U.K.-based business journalist, who previously was deputy business editor at The Royal Gazette in Bermuda. You can reach him at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]