Startups have long sought celebrity endorsements under the misguided notion that the endorsement will equate to the company's success by harnessing the celebrity's star power. In fact, there are many articles on how to attract celebrity endorsers (See here and here) Not surprisingly, offering equity for endorsements is a common suggestion on these "How To" articles. But, companies should be mindful of how they distribute their equity, as a celebrity endorsement does not always work out well for the company (see here).
- Does not require available cash- Many startups are strapped for cash during their first few years, and few can afford the high prices of celebrity endorsements for money. Offering equity for celebrity endorsements may be the only way the company can secure such an endorsement.
- Potential synergy- A well selected celebrity endorsement will create a synergy between the company and/or its products with the celebrity, allowing the endorsement to come across naturally and potentially harness the endorser's fan base. This could lead to greater sales figures.
- Perceived credibility- Let's face it. Customers are more likely to attribute credibility to a company that is endorsed by a celebrity they "trust."
In sum, all of the benefits of getting endorsements for equity necessitate sales increases and discount the loss of equity.
- Being tied to the celebrity- Giving equity for celebrity endorsements, and the extensive marketing campaign required to utilize the celebrity endorsement, ties the company to the celebrity for better or worse. Should the celebrity become embroiled in a scandal, or engage in some manner which hurts their image, the company could also be damaged through its association with the endorser (unless the endorsement agreement contains a well-drafted morals clause).
- Divestiture- Equity for endorsement deals are investments to the celebrities, which can eventually be cashed in. Granted, a well drafted endorsement for equity agreement will have provisions as to how and when the endorser can divest their equity, the sale of the stock can occur at a bad time for the business, ultimately damaging it.
- Less equity can be used for other purposes- By offering equity for endorsements, the company is limiting the amount of equity it can distribute to other channels, which may be more beneficial. For instance, companies can offer equity to woo experienced employees or for venture capital funding. Granted, both of those equity offers have their own benefits and disadvantages, each company is unique, and may be better served by using the equity they would exchange for celebrity endorsements in a different manner.
- Risk- Although some companies have found success with celebrity endorsements, not all celebrity endorsements result in a financial boon for the company. Further, should the celebrity breach their endorsement agreement in some way, the litigation costs could quickly mount for a cash-strapped startup.