At this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, there are an abundance of talks centred around creative collaboration between brands and talent – from Helen Mirren discussing her partnership with L’Oreal Paris and their joint effort to redefine diversity, to Viacom’s Niels Schuurmans talking to A$AP Rocky about his ground-breaking deal to become the media company’s creative director, which saw the rapper develop original and branded content for in-house agency Viacom Velocity.
Whilst these sorts of brands are leveraging the entertainment value of their collaborators, there are an increasing number of successful partnerships between brands and talent that go beyond the realm of the traditional celebrity endorsement – the talent equity partnership.
There often comes a point in a brand’s lifecycle when it seeks inspiration from an individual. Whether it’s their style or their tone of voice, there’s a time when that brand wants to align itself with talent from another area of business. From Oprah Winfrey and Weightwatchers, to Pharrell Williams and G Star RAW, brands are creatively aligning with talent and their persona, adopting their demeanour and tone of voice in return for a stake in the company.
ITB recently forged the partnership
between Atom, the UK’s first mobile-based bank, and entrepreneur, philanthropist, musician and consumer technology investor, will.i.am, who’ll provide the brand with an external perspective on culture, philanthropy and technology in his role as Strategic Board Advisor. The partnership was celebrated this evening at a launch party for Press at London’s Ace Hotel.
Rather than a traditional celebrity endorsement, an equity partnership is incentivising talent to really move the needle and make a business grow. In any case such as this, the talent becomes an intrinsic part of the business. These partnerships work best if you’re able to be nimble and, as is the case with Atom and will.i.am, if it’s an organic fit with strategic initiative at its heart – a start up bank that can grow with the insight and expertise of talent that’s in it for the long haul.
But not every celebrity is right for an equity partnership and, equally, neither are brands. One of the key responsibilities is to recognise when these deals work, and what he pros and cons are. A large corporation who will only offer few shares will never be able to make the most of talent because their corporate structure prevents it.
For a nimble, independent brand, however – there is a huge upside to aligning with like-minded talent, namely the ability to take advantage of a dedicated audience-base and to make the most of their influence. When managed properly, brands can benefit from the advocacy afforded by their partner way beyond the traditional celebrity endorsement deal and tap into a whole new reach, resonance and relevance to which they were previously not privy. In fact, it’s a sentiment echoed by Nick Jonas who, speaking at Cannes Lions Entertainment on Wednesday, said: "Collaborating with a start up is kind of a dream situation. I think long term when looking at partnership opportunities... and prioritise equity over a pay check up front."
A longer-term partnership between brand and talent also means that the brand can get the best out of a traditional endorsement, but with the ability for this to evolve as the relationship matures. It’s not just a ‘flash in the pan’ exercise, but rather one which gives customers time to see an authentic relationship grow and understand that authenticity behind a set of shared beliefs. What’s more, when talent is truly incentivised, they tend to outperform their contractual obligations and go above and beyond to support their partner.
There are cons that you have to be careful of, too, such as the possibility of the talent overshadowing the brand, particularly if you’re too aligned with a single celebrity who my alienate other audience segments - you’re in danger of pigeon-holing your brand if you align too closely with one person.
The key to a successful talent equity partnership is taking your time. Talent has to be willing to come to the table before a deal is struck. Take Pharrell Williams’ successful partnership with G Star RAW, the Dutch fashion brand, for example – a deal sealed by including Pharrell in the conversion from day one. By possessing knowledge of his investment in Bionic Yarn, we understood what he feels passionately about and were able to engineer a fruitful, emotional connection between talent and brand that was beneficial to both parties.
ITB’s role within the entertainment industry means we’re constantly having these sorts of conversations either directly with the talent or with their teams to understand what makes them tick. When building and managing these relationships, your finger has to be permanently on the pulse. This is what we do day in and day out: aligning brands with the right talent in ways that are mutual beneficial to both parties. Forging a successful talent equity partnership is the pinnacle of that.