Stars and Execs Talk Branding at Variety’s Business Managers Elite Breakfast

Endorsement deals and celebrity-backed enterprises dominated the agenda at the “Age of Entertainment Influencers” panel at Variety’s Business Managers Elite breakfast at the Montage hotel in Beverly Hills on Nov. 12.

Hollywood stars have always had the opportunity to associate themselves with consumer brands, said Alan Epstein, a partner at the Venable law firm, “but in the past many of them considered it crass to do so.”

How the world has changed.

These days, celebrities go after branding deals with a vengeance, but the panelists agreed that the smart ones tread carefully.

Sarah Michelle Gellar said she’s been approached by many companies such as Maybelline in the past for endorsement deals but often resisted. Today she has started her own enterprise, Foodstirs, a cooking and lifestyle brand focused on healthy baking and food decorating.

“I wanted to create cooler, younger, hipper baking,” Gellar added. “I don’t want to devalue my name. What anyone does has to be authentic and organic to that person’s experience.”

Entertainers should go into branding ventures with their heart, not their head, declared Jaime King. “It doesn’t make sense just to lend my name,” she said, recalling that random pitches have come her way over the years, including one to endorse a brand of bacon. “I don’t eat bacon. I could have made a lot of money, but it’s against my spiritual beliefs.”

“Passion is 100% of any of these business ventures,” agreed Epstein.

Fans can tell when endorsements are authentic and when they’re not. “An authentic message has amazing reach,” said Steve Lashever, co-head of endorsements at CAA. “The results can be mind-blowing.”

But while thousands of concepts for endorsement and branding deals are floating around out there, most never come to fruition. “We rule out 95% of the ideas that come our way,” said Tyler Tysdal, founder of TitleCard Capital, a private equity fund that markets through partnerships with athletes and entertainers.

Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein moderated the panel.

Also at the breakfast, Michael Karlin of Nigro Karlin Segal Feldstein & Bolno received Variety’s 2015 Business Manager Elite Award. He was introduced by Melissa Rivers, who poignantly recalled how Karlin flew to New York to be at her side following the tragic death of her mother, Joan Rivers.

“Joan was a pioneer of celebrity branding,” noted Karlin in his acceptance speech.

He received the award in part for his work on behalf of the Motion Picture and Television Fund.

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