< Back to all blog posts

Beyond 'Star Trek': The PR Power Of Star Power

Author: Curtis Sparrer
November 28, 2018

Star at BosparRecently, I had a dream come true. Bospar had the privilege of working with a star I have idolized for years: George Takei. Yes, that George Takei! George rose to fame as Hikaru Sulu, the helmsman of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise in the original “Star Trek” television series.

Yes, that’s the same George Takei whose Facebook page has more than 10 million followers and who is a champion of LGBT rights, an internationally acclaimed and award-winning human rights activist, a tech guru, and prodigious producer of humorous political commentary.

As part of what was called “Team Takei,” we worked closely with George to provide public relations support for the launch of his paid augmented reality app, House of Cats. The augmented reality app allows users to add dialogue to the character “Trumpy Cat” — be it the president’s tweets or words of their own — and place him anywhere. Takei is quoted on the app’s website to say: “This is, without a doubt, one of the most absurd and tragic moments in U.S. history. We should feel upset about some of the things that are happening, but we created this app so we can laugh about some of the more ridiculous stuff.”

So, is dealing with a star very different?

Thanks to a PRWeek interview with George and me, I have been inundated with the same question from starstruck colleagues, friends, family and even a few causal strangers: “From a PR perspective, is it really different working with a star?”

The short answer is “not really.” The long answer is that it’s different because, with a celebrity client, especially one with a significant online following, comes broader and higher expectations. It is not different in that all of the planning and execution work that goes into maximizing a newsworthy event — and its follow-up — is virtually the same no matter who the client happens to be. 

While much can depend on where on the spectrum of divine/diva an individual client or organization falls, the checklist for visibility optimization and sustainability will not stray from PR best practices. As I have highlighted in several previous Forbes posts, PR’s critical role in successful brand stewardship and attention to the details of processes and relationships matter. And when working with a star, these factors are no less important.

The following are some tips for working with a celebrity.

  • Identify all key audiences and the type of “voice” that is appropriate for them.
  • Know who the influencers are in the target audiences and thoroughly understand the status of current relationships with them, what they are working on and what floats their boats.
  • Have talking points ready for your star, and remember that practice makes perfect when it comes to interacting with the media — be it trade or general business press.
  • Devise a “breaking news” strategy that fits the product, person and “surprise” factors that are predetermined as critical success generators.
  • Set expectations based on key performance indicators, with milestones for good, better and best.
  • When good news hits, be ready to make it go viral as soon as possible — breaking news does not live long in the digital age.
  • Constant situational awareness is a prerequisite for success.
  • Work around their schedule — they have a ton of stuff going on.
  • Don’t forget to memorialize your moment of immortality — you never know when it will happen again. (I made a video, and it’s one of the most precious things I’ve done in my life.)

Dealing with a star is different. They are both familiar and not. You come in with a lot of preconceived ideas about what they’re like. Fortunately, with George Takei, the preconception was that he would be utterly charming — and he was! But you’re likely to go in with a sense of reverence and even nostalgia for what they remind you of.

We are only a couple months into the launch of House of Cats, and it is a runaway hit. There are obvious reasons, including George’s star power and a reality TV president who is the gift that keeps on giving for those doing parodies and send-ups of all types — standup comedians, bloggers, internet-centric satirists, and cartoonists.

Anything that George Takei does — as with many other top celebrities — is, almost by definition, newsworthy. However, as we have pointed out before, no news outlet wants to be an also-ran, particularly on a surefire big story. This is why even celebrities appreciate the value of having a well-conceived and executed PR plan.

In fact, that is the major lesson from this experience. Just because the House of Cats proceeds are going to a refugee humanitarian organization did not, and does not, mean that getting the word out properly and obtaining a ton of downloads is not business. It is a big and serious business.

My final bit of advice for those of you who are lucky enough to find yourself in a similar situation is to ensure that you have a positive and professional experience. Make sure you’ve done your homework before the first meeting and know what they’ve said and done and what their concerns are. And above all, treat them with respect. They’ve done something most people haven’t to get to where they are.

For me, this experience has been doubly gratifying because I got to meet and work with one of my idols. Our passion for a mutual cause is being sustained, and we created differentiated value to keep hope alive and money flowing. Plus, we are having fun! The star I wished upon is making one of my dreams come true.

This article first appeared in Forbes.