Learnings from the Sundance Film Festival

awards seasonYou’ve probably realized by now that we’ve hit the core of awards season, where we find water cooler talk (or in our New York office’s case, kitchen talk) centered around ‘how gorgeous did so-and-so look last night?!’ and ‘I cannot believe that movie didn’t win!’ Or even, ‘how funny were Tina Fey and Amy Poehler… they should totally host every single awards show!’

But the one thing that ties this exciting time together is America’s inherent love and admiration (and sometimes obsession) for the glamorous lives of our nation’s celebrities.

Now, for many PR practitioners, tapping into this wondrous world of the Jennifer Anistons and Angelina Jolies can mean effective results for our clients (and really good Brangelina vs. Braniston battles, too). The right celebrity endorsements can increase awareness, amplify social engagement and even drive sales… if done correctly. However, as the value of celebrity endorsements continually changes, we’ve learned that you may not necessarily need a traditional contract to do so.

Last weekend, my team and I embarked on what’s become a purposeful tactic for putting brands into the hands of celebrities without the hefty price tag and questionable ROI. We represented one of our CPG clients as a sponsor at a style lounge during the Sundance Film Festival. The event united an exclusive group of brands with well-known celebrities and prominent media.

The event provided us with ample opportunity to demonstrate out-of-the-box thinking by launching our client’s new products in a creative way. We drove trial via on-site sampling, put product in the hands of influential personalities and secured (and still working on obtaining) media coverage with national outlets that will broaden awareness for the new offerings.

To this end, we learned a few things that will set you up for success should you choose to move forward with a program like this:

1. Understand why you’re there

Before you even begin planning, you need to make sure you’re aligned on your purpose for executing this event. Is it for top-tier media coverage? Do you want to put your product into the hands of influential directors and producers? Is social engagement the end game? Outlining exactly what you’re hoping to get out of this activation will help set expectations and pave the way for easy decision making on site.

2. Make your space memorable

People like interesting photos. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. So why do we sometimes insist on sticking with a plain table top and step and repeat? For our space, we worked with the PadillaCRT creative team to develop a branded rug and scenic backdrop. We also chose to forgo the table and rented shelving to display the products. Our creative display became a talking point with celebrities and media, created an open space that encouraged organic photos and made for entertaining imagery that enticed media.

3. Determine the role social will play

Will you tweet at celebrities? Can you post the celebrity photos on Facebook? Will you live post or do you need to wait until the next day? These are questions you need to ask before you get there. Develop a social process. Align with your client on how social will work and select who will approve the photos, who will post the photos and if necessary, who will take the photos.

4. Own your space

You’ve sold this program in, but you need to prove it was worth the client’s dollars. If you don’t like a photo taken with a celebrity, ask to take it again. Work with the on-site photographer to determine the best angle. Decide whether you want the celebrity to hold your product or pose in a certain manner. Also, take into consideration which shots are ‘no-no’s or whether there are celebrities in attendance you don’t want representing your client’s brand.

5. Be a media ninja

Not only do these style lounges attract the rich and famous, they draw in influential entertainment media like Access Hollywood, Huffington Post and People. If media coverage is a priority, you need to be on top of it. You have about 30 seconds to talk about your news, but several days to follow up. Create an elevator speech and make sure you get their card because post-event follow up is paramount to success.

So, there you have it. As the awards season continues on, think about what you would add to the list.