Through her Sandbox Studios set-up, former Apprentice contestant Jackie Fast, has become the fixer for new generation of brand relationships, matching celebrity clients with products and finance….
While much of the rest of marketing has become dominated by data-driven decision-making, linking the right celebrity with the right brand remains something of an inexact science.
Sure, there’s a method to it but outside of avoiding the obvious bad calls, and let’s be topical here, like pitching West Ham’s feline nemesis Kurt Zouma, at Whiskas, it’s about the fit between brand/product and famous human.
And while that may sound like rather straightforward and obvious matchmaking, Sandbox Studios boss, Jackie Fast, argues that it is because you are only really aware of the successful brand match-ups and not the duds.
The truth is that most people don’t see the failures because it’s a one-off press release that then never gets mentioned again, she says. However, there is usually a team struggling to gain traction for a couple years before they pull the rug on the project altogether. Most are not natural fits, most do not understand how to leverage these assets in a brand-building way to generate a liquidity event.
Fast founded her first company Slingshot Sponsorship in her bedroom with just £2,000 and a laptop. It grew to working with celebrity clients and FTSE 100 brands by the time it was sold it in 2016. That then launched her into a period of angel investing with everything from a fintech to a wine brand.
I think the trajectory of my career really was founded on my exit from Slingshot Sponsorship. It gave me a bit of a financial buffer to be able to experiment and not be terrified of failure. When I was growing Slingshot, I didn’t have that buffer and so arguably grew at a slower pace than what I can do now.
When it comes to celebrities and brands, it is the elusive element of ‘authenticity’ that is the magic ingredient in a really successful match-up.
Customers are much savvier now, especially younger ones – they can tell an ad from actual love of a brand, she says. It’s not easy to get the conversion brands used to do with just endorsement. Ownership is the next level – it’s the next level of engagement with customers. Customers don’t want to know what you are getting paid to promote, they want to know what you actually use. By putting skin in the game, which isn’t necessarily money – it could be name, reputation or time – that is when it starts to really move the needle for brands.
She cites the Beats brand as the exemplar of artist/influencer branding, with hip-hop icon Dr Dre going on to sell the brand to Apple for an astonishing $3bn. It really doesn’t get much better than that.
I’m a huge fan of Beats, on many levels. The foundation was built on Dr Dre’s expertise – sound. The halo effect, however, was generated through Jimmy Iovine’s network of talent. It worked on every level, which is why it is the holy grail, in my opinion, of a talent-led brand.
When Sandbox Studios makes an investment into a talent-led business, Fast says that it looks at six things (which is more than typical venture funds). You might call them the golden rules of celebrity-lead endorsement.
- Talent – is the talent good, do they engage with their audience, can they convert?
- Community – does the brand have a community, or can it build a community? Peloton wouldn’t be near as valuable if it was just a piece of gym equipment
- Disruption – we get excited by people doing things differently. If they are doing the same thing and just slapping someone famous on it, then it’s not for us. And it’s not usually for the consumer either.
- Category – we like to invest in certain categories which is where our expertise lies (drinks, apparel, media, F&B)
- Team – does the team know what they are doing and have they done this before (or do they look like they can take this brand to an exit)?
- Value Add – this is important for us. Is there an obvious gap with the company that we can add value to. If not, we won’t invest – even if we love the company because our fund’s thesis is that we wholly back our portfolio with actual time and resource in the business. So this is even critical for founders, if founders don’t want us involved or asking questions, then it’s not the right fit.
Sandbox is about more than just matching talent with products, adding an element of financial matchmaking and way-finding as well.
We are the only seed stage fund in the world that exclusively invests in talent-led businesses. We certainly won’t be the only one and there are a lot of venture funds trying to play in this space, but the truth of the matter is that there aren’t a lot of people who can cross over between creative and financial – they are worlds apart.
So it definitely is our secret sauce, but I think the thing that will keep us in business for the long term is our operator perspective. Not only have I owned and exited my own company that I bootstrapped myself, the company in question built brands. That’s invaluable experience in the VC world and undoubtedly ensure founders want to take our money. Because the truth is money is cheap – it’s the people that make all the difference!
The relationship between brands and famous faces is set to intensify, moving way beyond slapping a signature on a tolietry brand, with personal involvement and activity from those big names.
Where we have seen success is with talent that actually get behind the brand and support in unusual ways. Sometimes that is working with our distribution and retail partners to create money-can’t-buy experiences for customers – sometimes it is attending retail buyer meetings. Most recently it helped shave $50k off of a launch budget because we were able to bring people in the room and the PR alone was valuable to the venue in question. Talent goes way beyond reach.
Of course, you can learn more about all this at Elite Business Live, where she is taking part in some of the panel sessions and hoping to shed a little sunlight on the way various industries are diverging.
I am excited to talk about the future of retail and eCommerce – especially where it relates to the new influx of talent and entertainment. These are divergent business models that are merging for the better, but it can be difficult to navigate – even for experienced founders. There is so much opportunity, but also so much risk. I hope to demystify the whole thing – don’t miss it!
If you want to follow Jackie ahead of her panel, she can be found at @JackieFast
Jackie will be speaking on the ‘Turbocharged Marketing’ panel on the 11th March 10am ‘ To livestream this session you can register for free Click here.
If you’d like to pick up Jackie Fast’s book Rule Breaker: Rebellious Leadership for the Future of Work, Elite Business Live is offering a 20% discount. Visit https://www.koganpage.com/ and use code: EBLIVE20