A couple of days ago, I was asked by a designer a very loaded question. Well, I am not even sure if it was a question, more of a predicament she was in. She was chatting with a business coach who was advising her to give her jewelry away to one of his prominent friends. The logic behind this freebie was that she was a prominent figure in her community and could “possibly” drive business to the designer down the road in exchange for a free custom piece of jewelry…
As I was reading the email, I could really sense her hesitation. I started to cringe as I read it, because I remember the days of starting out and even after years of being in business, but facing the same predicament. I know, I know! The question of giving away freebies is always a loaded one. Conversely, the answer is not always crystal clear (everyone you talk to will have a different answer).
In my first business, stylists and PR reps often approached me about giving jewelry away for free. In giving away work for free, my initial thought was that it would be seen on a celeb or someone prominent and the trickle down effect would begin. The hope was that people would bum rush my website inquiring about what they had seen and I would be rolling in the dough from the onslaught of sales. Unfortunately, I can honestly say that “this” was never the case. HMPF…I know!
With all of this being said, we are left with the question: “When you are just starting out, is giving away your jewelry to a celebrity for FREE a good idea?” Since answer is not a simple one, I decided to break it down a bit below.
Donating a bulk amount of items to celebrity swag bags for event gifting suites
Perception: A celeb (or lots of them) will receive your jewelry, love it and wear it.
Reality: Usually, participation in the events is costly. I remember getting pitches for swag bags where the requirement was an investment of a minimum of $5000 plus 250 pieces of jewelry. A designer just starting out can’t afford that and it’s a really poor use of your precious cash flow.
When to do it: ONLY if you have excessive profits, you are growing your brand and the financial and product investment is no skin off your back. I say this because most of the brands that donate to swag bags and gifting suits are HUGE brands. For most designers, probably never.
When to avoid it: Probably always.
Benefit: None especially when you are just starting out.
Donation to an event gift bag
Perception: Lots of people will receive your piece of jewelry and become a dedicated “paying” fan of your work for life.
Reality: think about the last time you received a gift bag. What did you do with the items in it? Sometimes you used the self-tanner or the lip-gloss. If you got a piece of jewelry, maybe you would wear it, but did you go buy more jewelry from that brand because of it? Therefore, on one side you can argue that you are getting a lot of exposure. However, how important is mass exposure if it isn’t translating into sales down the road?
When to do it: Personally, I did participate in events like this when I had a lot of extra samples that I needed to unload. I could write off the donation. Another case when I see this being OK is if you are donating to a specific event in which you will have a captive audience. For instance, my friend at Blooming Lotus Jewelry donated a bunch of mala stack bracelets to the wanderlust festival. The community is her target audience and will be wearing those bracelets. Warning: I wouldn’t expect a rush of new business because of this. People who get stuff for free just like free stuff.
When to avoid it: Probably in most cases, always.
Benefit: Limited and subject to cases where you have a direct captive audience.
Sending merchandise directly to a celebrity or prominent person
Perception: The celeb will receive the piece, love it, wear it every day and talk about how wonderful your work is in front of every media outlet there is.
Reality: Celebs get free shiz all the time. Most of it lands in the closets of their assistants, gets donated to charity, or gets thrown in the trash. Ouch!
When to do it: I would only recommend this if you have a personal relationship with celebrity or their handler and they can actually get your work to the intended person.
When to avoid: Any time you do not have a direct connection to the celeb or their handler. It’s just a waste of your precious resources.
Benefit: Limited unless you have a direct line to the intended receiver.
Sending merchandise to a TV show or Movie Stylist
Perception: Your work will be featured on the big/small screen and you will have a trillion raving fans clamoring for your work.
Reality: if you have a relationship with the stylist and/or they are willing to purchase the merchandise from you, this is a win-win. I actually had a lot of success with this from a PR standpoint. Ideally, you work with stylists who are willing to purchase your merchandise for the show/movie that they are working on. The wardrobe departments have budgets, which is awesome. The stylist might buy directly from you or from a store that carries your work. I also had a great relationship with certain stylists who I gave work too. Because I had developed a working relationship with them, they were grateful that I sent free product and it was featured over and over on the shows increasing my exposure.
When to do this: Once you have a relationship with a stylist or wardrobe person on a movie or TV show.
When to avoid: Any time you do not have a relationship with a stylist or a wardrobe person on a movie or a TV show.
Benefit: Great for exposure especially if you are working with someone who is committed to getting your work seen (and paying for it).
Working on a loan basis with a stylist or PR person
Perception: Loan your pieces to a stylist and they get it on their clients. Once the pieces are worn, your work is returned (or you have the option to gift it if they are photographed in it).
Reality: This is my favorite way to work and I had a lot of success here. By developing a relationship with a stylist, they remember you and will continue to call your work in. I have had several of my pieces worn and photographed on celebrities using this method. Once the pieces are called in, anything that is not used is returned. The pieces that are used are returned after they are worn in some cases. However, often times I never saw them again. In a few cases, the celeb purchased the piece from me or I decided to gift it to them.
When to do it: Anytime you have the opportunity.
When to avoid: When loaning/gifting merchandise will put you in financial hardship.
Benefit: If you have a collection that the stylist adores, you have pretty good chances that your pieces will be seen. It is hit or miss so sometimes it takes a little persistence.
At the end of the day the purpose for giving away anything for free is to create credibility and social proof. Therefore, if you go into a give away situation, you have to keep this in the back of your head and use it as a marketing expense.
The most important thing you should be working on before anything else is generating income and creating profit. Do a reality check and acknowledge where you are spending your time. Getting your work on celebs and prominent people is a great PR maneuver, but you must remember that you are in a business to make money by selling your work.
Act on this: I want to hear your thoughts? What is your perception about giving away jewelry “SWAG” to Celebs? Have you had success that translated into sales?
Bonus points: Tweet this and share this on Facebook.
Do you think Giving Jewelry Freebies to Celebs is worth it? http://bit.ly/OyaHkV via @Flourish_Thrive + @tracymatthewsny
Swag + Celebs: Will it make your #jewelry business money? http://bit.ly/OyaHkV via @Flourish_Thrive + @tracymatthewsny
#JewelryDesigners do you give away your jewelry to Celebs for FREE? Join the Convo via @Flourish_Thrive + @tracymatthewsny http://bit.ly/OyaHkV
Check out this post from my friend Tracy Willard Matthews via Flourish & Thrive Academy-Why giving away your jewelry for FREE to Celebs is NOT all it’s cracked up to be. http://bit.ly/OyaHkV
Know you have she has me thinking….I just read this post via my friend Tracy Willard Matthews from Flourish & Thrive Academy. If you are a jewelry designer, check this interesting article about profits vs. celeb freebies. http://bit.ly/OyaHkV