“The missing ingredient in most marketing programs is the celebrity spokesperson. Products don’t create publicity. People do. The media can’t interview an automobile, a loaf of bread, or a can of beer. They can only interview a real live person.
Yet many public relations programs are focused on the company and the new product or service the company is introducing. Sure, the news releases might include quotes from various individuals inside and outside the company, but they often don’t focus on one individual.
‘We don’t want to give one, single individual credit for this marvelous new product,’ goes the refrain. ‘It was a team effort.’
In PR, there is no such thing as a team effort. NBC, CBS, and ABC can’t (and won’t) interview the team. They want to focus on the individual most responsible for the marvelous new product.
The spokesperson is the face and the voice of the brand. The ultimate success of any PR program depends, to a certain extent, on the effectiveness of the spokesperson. Who should be the spokesperson is a critical decision that should not be made lightly.
Who makes the best spokesperson? In most cases, it is the CEO. The chief executive officer bears the most responsibility for the success or failure of the brand.
High-tech companies probably understand this PR principle the best. Virtually every high-tech company has a spokesperson who is almost as famous as the company itself.
- Bill Gates and Microsoft
- Larry Ellison and Oracle
- Scott McNealy and Sun Microsystems
- Lou Gerstner and IBM
- Steve Jobs and Apple Computer
- Tom Siebel and Siebel Systems
- Andy Grove and Intel
- Michael Dell and Dell Computer
In the high-tech field, if your CEO is not famous, it’s unlikely that your company will be famous and successful, too.
What if your CEO is not good at dealing with the media? The fundamental answer is that you need a new CEO. As a practical matter, a company with a wishy-washy CEO should select the person who will ultimately take over that role and make him or her that company’s spokesperson.
Public relations is so important to the long-term success of a company and its brands that the CEO should expect to spend no less than half of his or her time on PR. This is the PR era and it affects the CEO just as much as it affects the rest of the organization.
Look at the big branding successes of the past, and most of them were PR successes. And many of these PR successes were driven by celebrity spokespersons:
- Richard Branson and Virgin Atlanta Airways
- Ted Turner and CNN
- Howard Schultz and Starbucks
- Anita Roddick and The Body Shop
- Donald Trump and the Trump Organization
- Martha Stewart and her magazine, TV show, and product line
- Oprah Winfrey and her magazine and TV show
Building Fast Food Celebrities
One of the problems at Burger King, one of the many problems at Burger King, is the absence of a strong spokesperson. Jeffrey Campbell was on the verge of fitting that role until he departed in the wake of the ‘Herb’ disaster.
Herb, the only person in America who had never eaten a Whopper, was the kind of ‘wild and crazy’ advertising that usually appeals to the creative community. Herb went over the edge, however, and was universally condemned.
What happened in fast food is also happening in slow food. You can’t open a successful high-end white-tablecloth restaurant without hiring a celebrity chef. Not for attracting customers, but for attracting media attention. (How would a customer know that a certain restaurant has a celebrity chef unless the media reports it?) Charlie Trotte, Wolfgang Puck, Alain Ducasse, Daniel Boulud, Emeril Lagasse, Roy Yamaguchi, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten are some of the celebrity chefs that have made their restaurants famous.
High-end restaurants do little to no advertising. Without favorable publicity they would be without customers. But you don’t need continuous publicity. It’s like starting a fire. You need an initial burst of publicity to get the blaze going. Once it’s lit, once an establishment has a substantial number of core customers, word of mouth will keep it alive and well for a long time with no publicity at all.
Building a Personal Brand
One of the fastest-growing areas is personal PR. If you want to get ahead in a corporation today, you need to be personally ‘visible.’ How are you going to do that? By launching an advertising program? Obviously not.
You’re going to do that with personal PR. Speeches that get reported in the trade press. Articles that you write for the op-ed pages. Quotes that reporters include in their stories.
In the educational field, the branding of certain institutions has been the work of a small number of high-profile individuals. Michael Porter at Harvard’s business school, Philip Kotler at Northwestern’s Kellogg business school.
If you are starting a new firm in the fashion industry, it’s almost a necessity that you also try to create a celebrity designer. Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, for example.
Look at the success of Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs and his clothing company, Sean John. Started two years ago, the company currently does more than $200 million annually in sales. No advertising, of course, but Sean Combs has been spending a bundle on PR and promotion, including a $1.24 million launch of his latest line at Cipriani’s catering hall in Manhattan, an event that made the front page of the New York Times. The invitations alone are reported to have cost more than $60 each.