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Celebrity endorsements: Essential or expendable?

Last month I discussed our approach to our annual budget, one aspect of which is considering how much we spend on sponsorship and influencers to engage with the Christopher Ward brand.
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When it comes to celebrity endorsements, the sheer cost of a major one is often enough to convince a company that sponsorship is out of the question.

Yet this needn’t be the case. At Christopher Ward, rather than engage with pre-packaged celebrities, we run a “Challenger” programme on a far more modest budget.

The Challenger Programme is born out of our core ethos – that we, as a challenger brand, like to do things differently. Crucially, it enables us to have an ongoing narrative and dialogue with our target audience about something else that interests them, and us, as well as watches.

The programme nurtures people with world-class talent, whether they be Olympic athletes or adventurers, who may need a helping hand achieving their ambitions.

This could range from a sportsperson suffering from a lack of funding to an explorer’s need to raise their profile, for example.

None of our challengers have received other considerable backing or been born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

The three criteria to consider with any celebrity endorsements are:

(1) What does the endorsement look like?
(2) What does it cost?
(3) How do you approach it?

When it comes to choosing who should promote our brand, we have five rules that we always follow for celebrity endorsements:

Ethos

As we see ourselves as a challenger watchmaker, it follows that those who endorse the Christopher Ward brand must share the same values – notably an underdog spirit and a desire to push boundaries. Challenging the status quo is part of our fabric – so it must be part of our ambassadors’ fabric, which is why partnering with a costly “big name” is nonsensical for us.

Value

The value of the partnership needs to be shared. We look for a partner to broaden our image and speak to new audiences, to the same extent they look to us for commercial support or to elevate their profile.

A healthy partnership is one therefore where both parties are equally benefiting and feel equally valued.

Timing

Every story has an arc, and it is vital that engagement with a potential sponsor or ambassador is at the right time in their story arc.

For example, it doesn’t make sense to prematurely partner with a potential Olympic athlete four years before the games. However, doing so two years before offers the opportunity to share their journey as they head towards their peak.

Utility

An influencer or ambassador’s ability to naturally communicate a brand message is hugely important. The more gifted a communicator they are, the easier it is for them to tell a brand’s story and create a narrative that is of interest to that brand’s customer base.

In 2017, the digital arena and social media are increasingly the default platforms by which to tell stories, and so when we consider potential sponsors, it is highly favourable if they are also digitally savvy.

Longevity

When a sponsorship agreement comes to an end, you ideally want to be able to continue your relationship with an influencer, even if on a reduced level. As such, we have a stable of Challenger alumni that we maintain a strong relationship with.

Of course, it doesn’t always go right. Where we have come unstuck in the past is by not being thorough enough in our due diligence. One of our Challengers was a world champion when we started working with them, but before long they fell out of their sport entirely, for example.

There is always the danger in any form of sponsorship or endorsement programme that you are not recouping your investment. But by keepings costs low, risks can be minimised.

Supporting a Challenger for two years generally costs us the same as ten of our lower priced watches, a figure we recuperate over that period thanks to their increasing awareness of our brand.

But of course, the programme is also an investment in the development of a game-changer – something that really can’t be measured in hard financials alone.

These five rules have generally served us well at Christopher Ward. We’re careful not to overload ourselves with too many ambassadors at any one time, and the rigour in our selection has been vindicated by the fantastic success of some of our Challengers.

Take Will Satch, for example, who we have been proud to support since 2015 and who rowed his way to a gold medal at Rio 2016.

It doesn’t always take a global company with a limitless budget to make celebrity endorsements work. There can be innovative and affordable alternatives that a business can take to promote their brand.

Mike France is co-founder at Christopher Ward

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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About Author

Mike France

One of the leading retailers of his generation, Mike France operated from his early thirties at board level for several blue-chip companies (BHS, Sears, Debenhams) before becoming CEO/co-owner of the world renowned educational toy brand, Early Learning Centre together with his business partner, Peter Ellis. The pair sold the business in April 2004 and within weeks came up with the idea of launching the world’s first pure-play online luxury watch brand. He is also on the advisory board at Kurt Salmon Consulting and has previously held various non-executive roles as varied as Premier League football clubs (West Ham United) and in several private equity ventures.

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