Emma Usher is founder of RunRagged, the UK’s leading celebrity consultancy and The VIP Suite, a platform that gets brands into the hands of VIPs. Business Matters spoke to her about how to book famous faces for campaigns, starting out in business and Arianna Huffington
What do you currently do?
Our celebrity consultancy books talent for ad and PR campaigns, product launches and events. We’ve been lucky enough to work with some of biggest household names ranging from from Kate Moss, Rhianna and Joanna Lumley through to Wayne Rooney, Taylor Swift and Stormzy.
At the end of the day anyone can write out a cheque and book a famous face but all too often brands make mistakes that result in overpaying, missing out on opportunities to get the most out of celebrities or being let down at the last minute. Usually this comes from a lack of insider experience, not having a strong enough contract or not using the best talent for the job. We guide brands through the process of securing talent for a campaign, however big or small, helping them to avoid the pitfalls and making sure we profile the right names for what they are wanting to achieve.
Off the back of the consultancy we also set up thevipsuite.co.uk – a behind closed doors ‘dating’ website for brands and celebrities – it is an effective way for brands to seed products, services or experiences, to celebrities, helping them find a ‘match’ with carefully profiled names. This forms organic relationships and can create powerful, authentic endorsements.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
I was working as a celebrity booker in television and gave Usher, Kasabian and Lady Gaga their first UK TV appearances. One day I was asked to book talent for the launch of Virgin Media by a friend who was doing their brand PR, she was working with a booking agency who consistently over charged, over promised and under delivered and I quickly realised that I had more contacts from my TV work than the average booker, better negotiating skills, and an insider knowledge on talent that allowed me to manage brand expectations and deliver above and beyond on results.
There didn’t seem to be any boutique-style agencies that worked as an extension of a brand, and really got under the skin of a campaign, the options were very much individuals with a little black book churning out the same list of contacts whether they were the right profile or not, or large agencies using a cookie cutter approach.
The level of expertise and understanding of the talent industry was really limited and it seemed that everyone and anyone could call themselves a ‘celebrity booker’ with little or no experience but a handful of celebrity ‘friends’ to wheel out to events, and some of them made a lot of money out of doing this and just shrugged if nobody turned up with a ‘that’s celebrities for you’ type attitude.
I wanted to create an agency that had core skills of research and negotiation, transparent fees, as well as a finger on the pulse of popular culture to always keep one step ahead of celebrity intelligence so that brands had this resource at their fingertips.
What defines your way of doing business?
We are genuine experts in our field, always feeding our knowledge through research and personal insight, to make sure we are up to date and never rest on our laurels. SMEs can benefit so much from working with influencers – we work to demystify the process for them.
Transparency in all fees and negotiations also sets us apart from other individuals or bookers and we are always very honest with clients in order to manage expectations – if an idea isn’t going to work we will explain why and won’t lead anyone up the garden path, as it just wastes time and energy and can often be hard for a brand to accept not securing particular talent that they had set their heart on, but if they had known it was never realistic in the first place, then it is easier for them to move on and get behind alternative suggestions, rather than always viewing them as a compromise.
Who do you admire?
Arianna Huffington said, ‘We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes – understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success’. These words have helped me to keep going even when I have felt I have taken a wrong turn, to ultimately know we grow and learn from all our decisions and experiences, whether good or bad, and that if we embrace and understand that, we can be successful.
Looking back, is there anything you would of done differently?
I think because the business very much evolved into what it is today, there isn’t much I could or would have done differently, but if I had known what it would grow into, I would have made sure from the start that I had the confidence put a higher value on what we do. In the early days in business it can be easy to under charge and over deliver, and it is hard to break that cycle and reposition yourself, but that is definitely the benefit of hindsight!
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Do your research. Check out your competitors and really understand what you are offering and what makes you stand out and makes you the better option. Have a clear goal in mind and stick to it. Can you sum up your business in one clear sentence? This will give you confidence in what you are doing and will keep you on a direct path, rather than letting potential clients drive you off course in your attempt to win business and keep them happy. If you believe in what you are doing and know the marketplace inside out, you will be well on the road to achieving your ambitions.