Star Power > Kenneth Hein

These seven celebrities are master marketers. Here’s how to make their secrets work for you.

One can impart great wisdom from Paris Hilton – believe it or not. Taking a lesson from P. Diddy and Johnny Depp is a good idea too. At first blush a socialite, a rapper and an ex-patriot are probably the last people a marketer would look to as role models. However, the fact remains that no one manipulates the media better than Paris Hilton. P. Diddy knows how to create an event that keeps him in the spotlight. And, Johnny Depp has succeeded in creating a mystique that separates him from his competitors. Each of these stars as well as many others understands how to market themselves as a product and a brand. This makes all of the difference between staying on top of the public’s mind and falling to the wayside.

The analogy holds true for successful businesses. The company that is foremost in the client’s consciousness is the one they are likely to use. “The goal is to become a little bit famous,” says Thom Singer, author of The ABC’s of Networking (New Year Publishing, 2007). “It may not be on the same level as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but it is along the same lines.”

Bennett Kleinberg, vice president of Goodman Media International, New York, says for many business owners and CEOs this should come naturally. “Rock stars and CEOs are more similar than most people think. CEOs’ drive and their passion is very similar to what I have dealt with when dealing with celebrities.” Goodman would know. He worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to the Rolling Stones before moving into the corporate world.
Yes, there is plenty that a marketer can learn from celebrities. Here are seven celebrities that you can learn from to make you and your company a star:

Paris Hilton
Everyone seems to have Paris Hilton pegged as the stereotypical stupid blonde. Yet, for having done very little of substance, she is an expert at staying in the limelight. So savvy a marketer is she that The Learning Annex reportedly offered her a cool million bucks to teach a one-hour “How to Build Your Brand” seminar. In a New York Post interview, The Learning Annex’s President Bill Zaner called Paris Hilton a “brilliant entrepreneur.”

Hilton’s brilliance, of course, is her ability to take advantage of the media. “Celebrities use media to get and keep their brand, themselves, before the public,” says Judy Katz, head of Katz Creative Inc., a consultant firm based in New York.

How does a business get a piece of the limelight? While companies won’t likely be the centerpiece of news in a national magazine, there are plenty of trade publications looking for experts to chime in. Not to mention the many Internet sites and local radio shows that are looking for some insightful pearls of wisdom. “These are all ports in the media storm,” says Katz. “You may not get on Oprah, but the Internet is hungry for content. All the stars have blogs (Paris began blogging more than two years ago to promote her appearance in House of Wax), you should have one too.”

Katz says one way to use the media is to piggyback on a news event. If the local talk show says call in with your opinion, do so and make sure to announce the name of your company. Write into your local newspapers op-ed section or write a letter to the editor. If you have the budget, hire a public relations firm, Katz says. “It’s always more powerful when someone calls on your behalf,” she says. “It creates that star quality.”

“Learning how to consistently get your name out to the media and the right people as an expert in your field is the key to success,” says David Moyle, managing partner of the Southern California marketing firm Identity Crisis.

P. Diddy
Rapper/producer/designer Sean “P. Diddy” Combs may not score chart-topping singles as often as he used to, but he is never far from the spotlight. One of his strategies for staying current is to throw an annual “White party.” Diddy celebrates the end of being able to wear white (Labor Day weekend) in the Hamptons with some of his closest friends and an A-list crowd. Everyone is told to wear their whitest duds to come sip Dom Perignon. While Billy Joel isn’t likely to come to your company soiree, it does help to generate attention and goodwill among customers. “The benefits to a grand opening, open house or similar event are networking, sales, image, drawing attention and focus and perhaps some press,” says Wayne Schaffel, head of Public Relations for Less. “And there’s a lot more to be gained by doing something wonderful on a small scale. Unless you throw a lousy party, you have more to gain by doing it. At the very worst, it helps get the word out that ‘you should have been there.’”

For such events, “swag is everything,” says Robert Smith, author of Million Dollar Press Releases: Guide to Boosting Profits Using Free Publicity. “Even in regular business you must have swag that makes people take notice and want to do business with you.”

Schaffel says “a giveaway can help spread the word about your product.” The goodie bag can have anything from product samples (when applicable) to gifts that will serve as a reminder of a good time had by all. The trick is to pick something that doesn’t end up “getting worn by the assistant, best friend, chauffeur or simply left for the catering folks,” Schaffel says.

‘Diddy celebrates the end of being able to wear white (Labor Day weekend) in the Hamptons with some of his closest friends and an A-list crowd.’ One way to avoid this is to make gifts as personal as possible, says Donna Cutting, author of The Celebrity Experience: Insider Secrets to Delivering Red Carpet Customer Service. “If you really want to impress your customer and make them feel like a star, give them something that is meaningful to them personally. Find out what their favorite coffee is, their favorite snack – not the same thing you are giving everyone else. It’s the personalization of the giveaway that really makes it stand out.”

Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp’s popularity lies in his mystique – he never reveals too much about himself, and that leaves fans clamoring for more.

Businesses can gain that type of mystique, too, but not by marketing themselves in the traditional way. Too often businesses are concerned about leading with their products. “They have a tendency to spend all of their time talking about their products,” says Mark Stevens, author of Your Marketing Sucks. “Forget about that and develop a way to build a mystique about your company.”

This can be accomplished by linking up with the influencers in town. Case in point: Richard’s, a clothing store in Greenwich, CT., has become somewhat of a local celebrity mecca (if you include high profile CEOs in the crowd). By greeting customers at the door with a tape measure around the neck and generating strong word-of-mouth among all the right people, Richard’s has become much more than a place to buy shirts. “Stars name-drop, you should too,” says Katz. “Always with your biggest customers, just make sure you ask permission to do so.”

‘Johnny Depp’s popularity lies in his mystique – he never reveals too much about himself, and that leaves fans clamoring for more. ‘Richard’s owner Jack Mitchell went on to write the book Hug Your Customers: The Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results which further cemented his star status.

In terms of promotional products, mystique can be developed by giving an item without a logo. “I gave compasses without a logo on them,” Mitchell says. “People said it ‘was so nice to receive something that didn’t have a name on it.’ They remembered me for it because it became more of a gift.”

Jennifer Aniston
The former Mrs. Pitt appears nude in an ad for Smartwater. Why? Beyond collecting a paycheck she gets to align herself with an up-and-coming brand that carries a certain cache. Marketers can also borrow this strategy by co-branding with products that match their corporate vision. “Strategic partnerships offer a brand badge,” says Joseph Kolis of the urban lifestyle agency Kinetix Integrated Marketing. “Align yourself with companies that are already valid in the marketplace and already have an emotional connection.” A co-branded product allows “the consumer to get you because you’re playing off people who already targeted them.” Whether it’s Nike, Adidas or any of a number of top brands, they are available for imprinting in the promotional products realm.__This can also hold true when selecting a product. Imprinted iPods and GPS systems have been very popular. Stay on top of the trends. “Celebrities always do tie-ins,” says Singer. “Businesses can do the same if their products or services tie-in with something that is currently hot.”

‘The former Mrs. Pitt appears nude in an ad for Smartwater. Why? Beyond collecting a paycheck she gets to align herself with an up-and-coming brand that carries a certain cache.’

Staying on trend helps marketers stand out, “look at the playbook and write a different one,” Stevens says. “It is an industry of copycats. Everyone does promotional products the exact same way. You don’t have to.”

Lindsay Lohan
Aside from her mug shots, Lindsay Lohan always looks spectacular. Whether it’s getting her paper in the morning or running to the ATM, she is always ready for the camera. Businesses should be the same way literally and figuratively. In the literal sense, this means having the company headquarters clean and organized at all times. “If people come into a store or office, it has to be prepared,” says Katz. “You never know where your major hit is going to come from. Someone might come through the door that you never expect and end up being a major business connection. The stars even go out for a coffee run dressed to the teeth so should you. You and your business should always look its best.”

Lindsay Lohan always looks spectacular. Whether it’s getting her paper in the morning or running to the ATM, she is always ready for the camera. This also applies to any and all marketing choices. Businesses do not want anything to reflect badly upon their image so selecting the right or wrong ad or ad specialty can be as damaging to them as another night in rehab is to Lohan.

Adrian Grenier
Every business has to have the right entourage. Like the HBO hit show Entourage, where the main character has a perfect blend of associates with business sense, common sense and no sense at all – every marketer needs people in which they can rely. “Management needs to have a team, a good posse or entourage,” says Len Burnett, CEO of Uptown magazine. “Make sure you have a network of mentors and business owners that you can depend on.”

It’s no different from celebrities who rely on their team for everything from their scripts to which sunglasses are in. “You have to have people involved, consultants in the marketplace you’re trying to penetrate who know it and live it,” says Clinton Sparks, a music correspondent for E! “You need people who know what the customer thinks, what they hate and what they think is corny.”

Shaquille O’Neal
Shaq is a big man with a big marketing plan. While some may have questioned his appearance inthe movie Shazam, there is no question that he has been a powerful marketing force on and off the court. Part of his success lies in a “phone-book sized brand manual” that was put together, says Harvey Hoffenberg, president of Propulsion, who has worked with stars like Donald Trump, Spike Lee and Paul Newman. “It is a foundation or a blueprint about how Shaq was to be marketed so missteps wouldn’t occur and you wouldn’t jump in on something that didn’t fit in with the long-term view.”

From Oprah (who represents power and personal growth) to comedian Kathy Griffin (irreverent, D-List, unapologetic), “the hottest celebrities have a very specific brand,” Cutting says.
Hoffenberg says understanding one’s brand DNA is a good exercise for any business of any size. “Every company should know what they are about. What makes them different? Where do they stand in the competitive environment? The celebrities who really know who they are do the best at marketing themselves – businesses are the same way.”

Businesses need to live this brand identity much like stars need to, Cutting says. “Celebrity brands have been ruined because a star is not living a life consistent with the brand. For instance Martha Stewart’s brand of the ‘perfect homemaker’ changed drastically when she was accused of and convicted of insider trading. Businesses can spend all kinds of money and time cultivating a very specific brand only to have it ruined when they don’t live up to the brand. It’s not just about slogans and logos. It’s about consistency of your service.” _
Kenneth Hein is a contributing writer based in NY.