Drive the most out of your celebrity endorsements

February, 16 – BY TAM SANDEMAN – This month saw the appointment of Australia’s golden boy of tarmac, Formula 1™ hero, Mark Webber, as official ambassador for Qantas, as the airline broadens its activities beyond the Melbourne Grand Prix itself.

It got me thinking – are companies that are making what I’m sure is a significant dollar investment, really truly leveraging the value of the ‘tool’ they have at their fingertips?  Yes of course, all organisations don’t miss a trick when it comes to offering prizes in the form to tickets to sporting events, but are internal communicators missing a trick when it comes to their role in trying to communicate messages which inspire greater effort and engagement amongst the workforce.

Individuals in the public eye, renowned for success and working hard to be ‘above average’ provide a fantastic, and cost effective method (vs. the thousands, sometimes millions spent on celebrity endorsement) to tell stories and inspire people to operate at their best in the workplace.  Especially organisations undergoing major change.

So where to start?  Given these decisions (and the associated dollars) usually come out of a marketing or brand function reinforces the need for the internal communications team to have strong relationships with senior marketeers.  We must educate them gently on the power of internal storytelling.  We should remind them about the importance of negotiating some simple internal communication activities as a fundamental in their contracts.  We have to reiterate its not about internal ‘marketing’ – that posters and DVDs aren’t enough – its about stories.  Analogies from stories which will inspire our people to be their best, to be on brand, to help deliver the company goals.

Imagine getting the opportunity to hear first hand from Mark Webber himself:

  • About the pressure he is under – how he copes, how he picks himself up, how he learns from mistakes;
  • About the importance of teamwork – How F1 is clearly not just a one-man game – while drivers get all the limelight, it remains a team sport. Every piece of an F1 car must be exactly right to enable the machine, and its driver, to operate at its best – much like a well-oiled organization
  • How every pit-stop needs to be a perfectly timed, millimetre perfect piece of choreography.  A far cry from the chaotic disorganized pit-stops of the 1970s, this parallels the importance of executional excellence for many organisations – and just how strategy is turned into business success
  • The need to be flexible – the variables thrown into F1 by the weather – the need to change tyres to suit wet or dry weather patterns – translating into the need to adapt, not to expect the norm

It’s easy to see the analogies are endless – but relevant.  Very relevant to today’s operating environment in many industries

Storytelling is still one of the most powerful ways to communicate a message.  People remember stories, they don’t remember facts.  They like stories so they can learn from other people’s experiences.

If done the right way, utilising the power of storytelling by our marketing properties really can help inspire performance, drive collaboration and encourage people to innovate and move outside their comfort zones – but only if you use them properly.

I’ve witnessed just this business success when a large FMCG partnered with Aussie legend Steve Waugh when facing some major organisational change.  Capturing hearts and minds was going to be the key to overcome significant change resistance, and they did this carefully and credibly using the power of the analogy.  The business change (which was a major technology change over 23 sites in Australia) was cited as fastest in its world globally – and significant weight put on the way the internal communication and the change management was carried out.  It’s simple.  It works.

So, as a reminder, to get the most out of a major association, remember to consider the following:

  • If you haven’t spoken to the marketing team for a while – go and have a chat
  • Ensure internal engagement activities are written into contracts – as a must have not a nice to have – talent is usually happy to do them
  • Get to know your ambassadors, understand where the true value lies in their own storytelling.  You have to understand your own organisation’s stories first – then and only then can the power of the analogy work at its best
  • Give as many people as possible in the organisation an opportunity to hear them first hand.  Don’t let it just become a poster campaign

Even better will be if Mark Webber wins in Melbourne… now that really would be a dream come true.