A Bollywood actress was recently spotted pleading with her manager for a day off. It turned out that the celebrity manager had already committed dates to the advertiser, and couldn't go back on his word. The leave was declined, and the star had little choice but to fall in line.
Gone are the days when it was only about ‘star secretaries’ who would manage dates and act as a cover for sundry other activities of stars. Celebrity management has become a structured operation and stars are more than willing to submit before this new breed of managers. The reason is simple: they are the ones playing a key role in making brands out of stars.
Industry sources say however big a star is, a good celebrity manager can increase the overall earnings of an actress by 60-70 per cent. For the male star, the figure is 40-50 per cent.
Atul Kasbekar, chairman and managing director of Bling!, calls it the talent management business. From what started as a basic deal-making process, it has now evolved into a 360 degree long-term approach which involves decision making from choice of films to events to attend to activities on the social media, PR-related activities as well as the choice of brands stars should associate with.
Hitesh Gossain, Business Head - Percept Talent and Sr. Vice President - Strategy and Business Development, Percept, says a lot of research and detailing goes into it. “It’s public relations, reputation, event and talent management, all rolled into one. Besides, celebrity managers also have a say on their clients’ dress code and behavioral projections,” he adds.
For instance, when boxer Vijender Singh won the bronze at the Beijing Olympics, Percept advised him on how to get a lot of presence in media or how to prepare a pitch for the right brands. His positioning as a representative of a young, growing India got him endorsements from Nike, Mountain Dew, Siyarams and Gillette.
Kasbekar says celebrity managers do put in a lot of methodical work. “When we are commissioned by a company for endorsements, we map the DNA of the brand and identify for them the kind of celebrity that would fit in well as per their budget,” he says. Bling! has of late closed deals for Nestle, Coca Cola, Marico, Samsung and Pepsi, to find the right fit and to manage the relationship with the brand.
The market is also highly crowded. “We have to polish and reposition our clients before offering them for different segments of the entertainment market — from roles in movies to brand endorsements to television and ‘live’ appearances,” says Anirban Das Blah , who set up celebrity management firm Kwan after quitting his partnership with tennis player Mahesh Bhupati. Blah manages about 30 Bollywood stars, including Ranbir Kapoor and Frieda Pinto.
“When Ranbir and I met, I asked him why he wanted to be managed since he belonged to the most-respected Bollywood family. His reply was he wants somebody to keep an eye on the fast changing entertainment industry and watch his back,” says Blah.
Celebrity managers can also play vital roles in catalysing the upgrade from model to actor. Angela Johnson, who was hand-picked by ace photographer Atul Kasbekar at the Kingfisher Calendar model hunt last year, has become one of the most sought after stars in the southern film industry. She is now pitching for a Bollywood debut – and the entire process was carefully planned by her celebrity manager, Bling!.
Firms like Kwan , Percept and Bling! pocket as much as 15-30 per cent of the business they generate as fees. Just the celebrity endorsement space is now a Rs 1,000-crore business, growing at 20-25 percent year on year and attracting the attention of professional managers and private equity players.
“Celebrity management firms need to have their finger in the entire ecosystem,” Blah says. Kwan has its own casting division, ad film production house and public relations, besides a joint venture for management of models. It also has separate companies that manage business in the south Indian markets.