Wendy Dutwin has turned a background in film and screenwriting into a role as one of the leading names in the business of high-profile celebrity endorsements.
As the founder and president of Los Angeles-based Limelight Media, which specializes in securing actors, athletes and other celebrities for branded TV/film integration and ad campaigns, Dutwin has worked with some of the biggest names in entertainment.
You may recall Jennifer Aniston’s recent “eyelove” dry eye disease awareness campaign for Shire; country music star Tim McGraw promoting America’s Diabetes Challenge; Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon’s “Aging in Place” campaign; Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine’s appearance in the ADHD “Own It” campaign; or Brooke Shields as the global spokesperson for Tupperware’s “Chain of Confidence” campaign.
Other clients include actresses Diane Lane, Hilary Swank, Blythe Danner and journalist Ann Curry. In fact, Dutwin has been involved in more than 500 campaigns to date. We caught up with her to discuss the new age of social influencer celebrity, what brands should be thinking about celebrities — and the importance of personal passion projects.
brandchannel: What factors help determine the right celebrity brand ambassador?
Wendy Dutwin (right): First, we look at the audience. Who is the brand targeting? What does that (target customer) look like? Is it a young millennial who is in their first job and eating pizza for breakfast or is it a mom of three who can’t find time to shower? We really try to pinpoint the exact person who would buying the product and from there, we try to find relatable celebrities.
Whether it’s actresses who are relatable to those stay-at-home moms or musicians who connect with those up-and-coming professionals, Limelight Media can identify those perfect ideal celebrities and then we go out and find them. We may already know they are interested, or may have their own personal connection, or we may be starting from scratch. Either way, we try to establish it right from the gate and then get to work on finding and signing on the star.
BC: And on the flip side, what are the biggest mistakes brands make when partnering with celebrities?
Dutwin: Not doing their research. We’ve heard the horror stories of working with stars—turns out, celebrities ARE real people, just like us. Some of them make mistakes and get in trouble and unfortunately, it is all caught on camera. That’s why we do all the legwork, vetting the best celebrity for the right campaign. Not every celebrity is right for a brand, and not every brand is right for a celebrity.
That being said, we’ve had our own share of hiccups. We once had to wake up a star at the crack of dawn for a shoot when their alarm didn’t go off or an entire project has to be rescheduled due to flight delays. But at the end of the day, we work with upstanding people who always show up and are beyond professional.
BC: You do a lot of work pairing celebrities with pharma campaigns. How do you know what makes a good celebrity fit for a particular pharma campaign?
Dutwin: We consider ourselves “professional matchmakers” — our eyes and ears are always open to potential partnerships. We stay in touch with the top talent managers in Hollywood so we know what these stars are up to at all times. For some campaigns, we have to do some digging and find out which celebrity has a connection or a good fit here, and would they be willing to jump on board?
With other campaigns, the stars align — like the partnership with Shire’s eyelove campaign and Jennifer Aniston. We were hunting for the right person for Shire when we read an article in which Jennifer mentioned using eye drops for dryness. It was a match made in heaven—and as you can imagine, Jennifer is a dream to work with. She is genuine, authentic and everyone wants to be her BFF.
BC: For the brand that sees a new landscape of social media influencers and online celebrities (some who go from unknowns to infamous overnight), why go for the conventional—and pricier—celebrity spokesperson partnership?
Dutwin: We are seeing an uptick of exposure for those web-based celebs, but it hasn’t replaced the “real” celebrity. Not too long ago, there was actually a stigma for celebrities to join different campaigns and you would see people like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise pushing products or brands overseas. But now, these campaigns are more heartfelt and genuine, so celebrities feel that connection, or they are tied to a cause or they have the condition themselves, like Jennifer Aniston in the eyelove campaign.
Plus, even though they are considered to be the “Hollywood Elite,” they are still relatable and we still look up to them. My grandparents would tell stories of going to the movies, during times of hardship, as a form of escape. It’s the same thing today. Yes, it’s different than a Sunday matinee with reality television and never-ending social media feeds these days, but it is still a form of escapism. Celebrities represent a chance for us to take a break from our lives, which is why brands still see success with those conventional celebrity relationships.
BC: How do your own causes, as a vegan who’s passionate about animal rights, inform the projects you work on?
Dutwin: I’m a nurturer by nature, so whether I am volunteering with pets at the local shelter or working with my clients, I care, I listen and I’m passionate. I see this a lot with women business owners. I hate to stereotype women, but as a gender we really bring a strong sense of encouragement to the business world, without missing a detail.
Plus, the insight from being a vegan and passionate about animal rights makes me more empathetic towards the pharmaceutical projects we take on. I understand the motivation to be healthy, to feel strong in mind, body and soul. I feel a bit more attuned to these needs and it fuels my energy on all projects, personal and professional. It’s an unbelievable sense of accomplishment to know you have given back, while giving your all.