Cause for Celebrity or Celebrity for a Cause?

Rita Tateel, President, The Celebrity Source

photo: The Celebrity Source

Many thanks to Rita Tateel, The Celebrity Source’s President, for sharing her expertise in both celebrity endorsement and nonprofit with us this week in the following interview.  Rita has a wealth of experience in helping nonprofits, foundations, and corporations get together with celebrities to amplify a cause’s voice.

3ST: How did you get into this field?

RT: I have a Master’s degree in Social Work.  I started in the non-profit world, among other things teaching lay volunteers how to raise money and heading up a speaker’s bureau.  That’s when I first encountered celebrities.  When I left the non-profit field I was contacted by someone who had an agency matching celebrities specifically with non-profits.  He needed my expertise with non-profits and asked if I would come work with him.  I did and loved it so much that I became a partner.  The partnership lasted 3.5 years when I decided to go out on my own and created The Celebrity Source.  That was 25 years ago.

How did celebrity and nonprofit come together? 

My past work with nonprofits—plus, while the majority of my company’s clients are corporate, at least 75% have cause-related marketing/corporate social responsibility as part of the mix.  It’s not accidental.  When a corporate brand comes to us one of the first questions I ask is whether there is a cause tie.  If not, I will always encourage them to do so and even brainstorm ideas with them.  Celebrities like making a difference, plus supporting causes has become an important component of their own brand image.  When celebrities support causes people pay attention.  When a brand benefits a cause, consumers buy. It’s a win-win-win situation, what’s not to like about that?  Plus I can’t help it…non-profit support is in my DNA!

Can you share an example of a celebrity/cause pairing that worked really well?

We have so many but here are two of my favorite examples: Basketball legend, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, matched with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, sponsored by Energizer brand batteries.  The PR/marketing campaign was called “Change Your Clock, Change Your Battery”.  The key message was to change the batteries in your smoke detectors whenever you changed your clocks to “spring forward or fall back.” Why Kareem as spokesperson?  His house burnt down and firefighters did not have enough notice to save it because the batteries in his smoke detectors were worn out!  This was an authentic, credible celebrity match for this campaign.

That’s what’s so important about aligning a celebrity with a cause: The celebrity match MUST be authentic and credible in order for it to work successfully.  It’s what we help our clients do.

The second example is for DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS), and a variety of celebrities and fashion designers.  This fundraising event was called “Canine Couture” when “dogs takeover the catwalk,” with canine fashion creations presented by legendary designers such as Pamela Dennis, Carolina Herrera, Donna Karan, Nicole Miller, Todd Oldham and other fashion icons.  Celebrities who walked the runway with their own pooch, decked out in the most amazing fashions, included  Edie Falco (“Nurse Jackie,” “Sopranos”), Cathy Moriarty (“Once Upon A Time in Brooklyn,” “Analyze That,” “Crazy in Alabama,” “Raging Bull,” etc.), Robin Mattson (“General Hospital,” “Days of Our Lives”) and Sigourney Weaver, among others.  The event was a huge success, from both a fundraising and media draw standpoint!

How about one that didn’t?

I honestly can’t think of an example that we were involved with that didn’t go well.  But in general, problems occur when causes don’t either hire a professional to do the celebrity research, outreach and coordination, or if going at it alone, they don’t make sure there aren’t elements which could derail the program (e.g. celebrity has a substance abuse problem they didn’t know about, celebrity is overexposed in the media and therefore can’t get the media placements the non-profit hoped for, the celebrity is difficult to work with, etc.).

What tips do you have for an organization looking for a celebrity with whom to align its cause?

The celebrity match MUST be authentic and credible in order for it to work successfully.  It’s what we help our clients do.  I also have 7 Essential Tips that I share to help guide them.

About our friend, Rita: Rita Tateel is president of The Celebrity Source, an agency which matches celebrities with corporate and non-profit clients.  She is also the co-founder of the Association of Celebrity Personal Assistants and a two-term past president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.  You can learn more about Rita and The Celebrity Source at