Staff Writer
Nov 8, 2021

World Cup 2022: Finding your perfect match

A good celebrity partnership helps sell your product; an exceptional celebrity partnership helps empower your brand identity in the long-run. We spoke with Entourage’s head of talent Rob Hughes about how brands could engage with sports talents for World Cup 2022.

(from left) Usain Bolt for Avatrade; Mike Tyson for GOD55; Virgil Van Dijk for Just Eat; Thierry Henry for Heineken
(from left) Usain Bolt for Avatrade; Mike Tyson for GOD55; Virgil Van Dijk for Just Eat; Thierry Henry for Heineken

The sway celebrities hold over their fans and the public remain undeniably strong. In an increasingly crowded business landscape, brands need to ensure they are partnering with the right talent in the right way to stand out from the competition. 

Partnering with the right talent will be a priority for brands who are looking to capitalise on the fervour of World Cup 2022 - a once-in-every-four-year sports event that doubles up as a key marketing exercise for many brands. 

With less than 12 months to go until the FIFA World Cup, we spoke with Rob Hughes, head of the talent division at Entourage Sports & Entertainment, a global partnerships agency specialising in the procurement of headline sporting talent for leading brands. 

The agency has been responsible for leading celebrity partnerships across the APAC region including Lionel Messi and Mengnui Dairy, Thierry Henry and Heineken and Roberto Carlos and Air Asia to name but a few and global partnerships with other sporting royalty such as Mike Tyson and Usain Bolt.

Roberto Carlos is AirAsia's global ambassador 

Rob, has the way brands work with sports stars and celebrities evolved over the years – globally and in APAC? 

Most notably, there’s more importance on the credibility of the talent in relation to the specific brand or product they’re endorsing or associating themselves with, the consistency of the narrative which underpins the partnership and ultimately, its authenticity. 

Celebrity partnerships have long been established as a successful marketing route for brands, and while the power of celebrity influence on consumer behaviour remains, the market has become more and more saturated. With the rise of influencer marketing and an increase in ‘talent-led’ promotional activity, consumers have evolved and become somewhat de-sensitised to the notion of traditional celebrity endorsement. We’re also far more aware, even if we don’t know it, of paid objectivity and its presence can significantly limit our receptiveness and subsequently the partnership’s positive impact. 

As a result, brands have had to evolve. More consideration and attention are placed on prioritising other attributes rather than profile alone, which is no longer the number one determining factor when choosing the next face or faces of the brand. 

This authenticity you talk about is often cited as a key campaign differentiator. Do you see this with your partners? How do you ensure authenticity in your partnerships?

Almost all celebrity partnerships with headline talent will make some sort of impact and drive awareness to some extent, however, for a brand looking to translate a meaningful and lasting message, and achieve positive influence over existing or new consumers, it will be authenticity which makes the difference. 

Authenticity is now central to consumer sentiment, and it is this demand which has brought about the increase in brands side-stepping traditional celebrity or athlete partnerships for the deployment of influencers and content creators through targeted campaigns. Consumers are now far savvier, and brands that are simply attaching themselves to a headline name and using them in a badging exercise is perceived as shallow and inauthentic. 

However, history has shown when there is a genuine consistency between the values of the celebrity and brand, it can be an incredibly powerful tool, particularly when working towards a mutual cause. Not just for the brand but for the celebrity as well. A truly successful celebrity-brand partnership should enhance both brands, which is why we emphasise the importance of a creative collaboration to our clients. 

Mike Tyson is a brand ambassador for GOD55

Brands that recognise this will reap the rewards, steering clear of the idea of a transactional IP buy to work collaboratively with us and the talent. Ultimately, this will not only increase the appeal of the overall proposition to the talent, but also ensure its results are credible and effective. 

Usain Bolt is a brand ambassador for Avatrade 

We add most value when we work end to end on a project and it’s during the initial ideation phase where our involvement can be vital to ensuring the partnership’s authenticity. 

Our field of expertise is the procurement of athletes, particularly footballers, who continue to have great appeal across APAC, and as such can be extremely beneficial to emerging regional brands and localised campaigns from global brands. 

We make sure to know the individuals behind the athletes (or player) just as we understand every aspect of our client’s DNA. This insight and knowledge allow us to strategically and accurately identify the talent that aligns best with the brand’s values, messaging, tone, and personality. 

A recent example of this was whilst sourcing talent for McCann London’s Just Eat Euro 2020 campaign. As the owner of a successful restaurant chain, Lukas Podolski has a vested interest in this brand sector. We were able to incorporate this into the campaign, through further integration across Just Eat’s platform. In this instance, we knew Lukas was the perfect fit for the brand. He was energised by the partnership due to the multi-level engagement and connection with the brand, and his shared passion and understanding of the sector meant he was able to communicate the brand’s messaging seamlessly and effectively.

Covid-19 has caused huge changes in the advertising and marketing industries including the shift towards digital and year-round engagement opportunities. How has that affected the way brands work with talent?

Due to the limitations imposed by COVID-19, the journey to digitalisation of events and virtual campaigns with celebrities was expedited, and despite restrictions around access, many celebrities had never been more available or willing to work. 

Technology has advanced to the point where, for example, mobile phones can record high-quality audio and video content, and celebrities were able to use this time, and newfound brand trust, to demonstrate their ability to self-produce and record creative and engaging content for brands from their homes. 

A congested calendar extremely limits availability for physical filming days and in-market activations on the other side of the world can be particularly cost prohibitive. 

These major changes to the production landscape provide an exciting opportunity to engage with talent more frequently, and as a result, could bring Asian brands and Western celebrities closer than ever before.

A great example of how to use this to your advantage was by Heineken in South Africa, who we helped engage international football legends for their UEFA Champions League campaign led by M&C Saatchi. The campaign was entirely digital, involving remote self-filming from the talent, virtual fan-engagements, and direct interaction through social media. As a result, we were able to involve more talent on a more frequent basis, creating an unforgettable experience for their consumers. The campaign involved international names such as Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas and Michael Owen. 

Obstacles always bring about innovation, and I think this was true of how brands worked with talent during the pandemic. The flexibility and creativity shown by brand teams at times was exceptional.

With Asia at the forefront of technology, emerging market brands should see this as an opportunity to lead the way for celebrity collaborations. 

What are some best practices when considering or working with talent?

Collaborate. Don’t approach it as an ad buy. We’ve recently seen some great examples of partnerships and the results they can deliver when there is a vested interest from the celebrity or when they have an active role in the creative direction of the brand or the campaign. I’m not suggesting relinquishing equity or replacing creative directors, but having talent contribute to the campaign does bring about authenticity and consistency.

Lionel Messi is an ambassador for Mengniu Diary

Keep an open mind. It’s so easy to become obsessed with the idea of using a specific individual despite them not necessarily being the best fit. It’s an easy trap to fall into, particularly with athletes, due to favouritisms towards a sport or team. A frequent assumption is that an individual’s persona is the same ‘off the pitch’ as it is on. This misconception can often lead to a clear disconnect between the brand and talent. 

And what are some things to avoid?

To use a football expression, ‘Don’t shift the goal posts’. Nothing can be more damaging to a harmonious celebrity collaboration than post-negotiating on terms once everything’s agreed. Typically, this happens when certain aspects have been overlooked during the negotiation. This can be prevented by working with a specialist like us.  

Never assume a talent is out of reach. By working end to end from creative conception through to production with our clients, we are able to construct a partnerships that would be appealing to talent who may initially seem out of reach. We love working with brands whose ideas match their ambition, as do celebrities. 

World Cup 2022 is coming up. Why would you encourage brands and agencies to get in touch with Entourage when considering using talent?

Getting the right talent is fundamental to the success of the partnership or campaign and just as you would use specialists in all other aspects of the project, we are specialists in what we do. The procurement of marquee talent can be a very complex process, whether that be athletes or celebrities from other industries, and can be challenging for emerging Asian brands who mightn’t have the relationships or experience to navigate.

I’ve talked about the importance of careful selection of talent, but it goes way beyond simply having a black book of contacts. Looking ahead to World Cup 2022, which regional brands should look to capitalise on, understanding the football landscape, long standing relationships, credibility amongst players and their representatives and importantly for emerging brands, how to position it and the knowledge of players’ market rate is invaluable. 

I think there can be a tendency for brands and agencies to get too concerned over costs of outsourcing the service and completely overlooking the protection against overspend that our expertise ensures. 

And it doesn’t end with the talent delivery. Our Partnership Management division enables brands to activate highly effective multi-level partnerships that leverage the talent across a range of channels. 

We will help bring the partnership to life, whether it be through branding, consumer activations, hospitality, or experiences with talent, maximising collaboration and supporting brands to create a deeper and more meaningful connection with consumers. 

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