The Geniuses Of Self-Marketing
People who are ambitious, people who want to achieve something extraordinary in life and are not willing to settle for an average existence, are usually driven by one of three motives: they want money, power or fame. After conducting extensive research and writing several bestsellers on getting rich, I began to take an interest in how people succeed in becoming famous. I started to read and analyze tens of thousands of pages of the life stories of famous people, and it became more and more clear to me that remarkable achievements are only one aspect of why someone becomes famous. There is another factor and it is even more important: the ability to market yourself.
At the same time, learning more about the principles of self-marketing is not only important for people who want to become famous. Beliefs such as “quality alone is a guarantee of success” and “modesty is a virtue” prevent so many people from getting on in life. No matter whether you are an entrepreneur, a freelancer or self-employed, if you are not able to showcase what you do in the best light, if you are unable to ensure that the right people hear about your achievements, you will be overtaken by others who know how to market themselves more effectively. If you are an employee, you will soon notice that you are left treading water as colleagues who do know how to beat their own drums effectively are rewarded with promotion after promotion. You may react with bitterness and complain about how unfair the world (or your boss) is. Or you could subject your beliefs to constant self-critical analysis and learn from people who have mastered the art of self-marketing. In this book you will find portraits of twelve individuals who all have one thing in common: they understood the importance of self-marketing better than almost anyone else and were (or are) geniuses in this field.
This introduction is primarily written for impatient readers, who want to learn about the most important aspects of self-marketing as quickly as they can. For the more devoted reader, I recommend starting with the twelve portraits and then coming back to this introduction to consolidate the most important points. So, it’s up to you now whether you want to skip the next few pages and jump ahead to the first chapter, or whether you can’t wait to learn the most important secrets of self-marketing.
The personalities portrayed in this book could not be more different. Our journey begins with Albert Einstein, the Nobel Prize winner and inventor of the theory of relativity, and ends with Kim Kardashian, whose supposed claim to fame is her curvaceous derrière. And what could possibly connect a giant of the intellectual stage such as Steven Hawking with Muhammad Ali, whose IQ tests were always far below-average, or Princess Diana, whose only notable awards at school were a “Most Popular Girl” trophy and a prize for the best kept guinea pig?
As different as they are, they are all among the small handful of people on this planet to become absolute masters of the art of self-marketing. One might argue that they became so famous simply because they were the best in their respective fields or, like Diana, particularly likeable. And indeed, many of the figures portrayed in this book have accomplished the extraordinary in their chosen professions. But if you take a closer look, you will see that the scale of their fame often far exceeded their achievements. Take Stephen Hawking, probably the most famous scientist of his time. He was well aware that, “To my colleagues, I’m just another physicist, but to the wider public I became possibly the best-known scientist in the world.” An ingenious self-marketer, Hawking enjoyed a far higher profile than many Nobel Prize winners, despite the fact that he never won the Nobel Prize and, to his peers, he was by no means the exceptional scientist the public perceived him to be. For instance, a survey of physicists around the millennium by Physics World magazine did not even place him among the top ten most important living physicists.
Donald Trump likes to brag about his achievements as a real estate developer, but many real estate developers in New York were far more successful than Trump. He has always boasted about his wealth, but year after year the Forbes ranking of the richest Americans has concluded that he is nowhere near as rich as he claims to be.
The same cannot be said for Muhammad Ali. Not only was he the most famous athlete of the twentieth century, he was also the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world three times. His achievements in boxing were truly exceptional. But they were not the decisive factor behind his incredible popularity. Muhammad Ali – born Cassius Clay Jr. – was a major celebrity even before his first successful title fight against the reigning heavyweight champion of the world, Sonny Liston, in 1964. A year before his victory, Time devoted a full front page to Clay. Having analyzed all of Ali’s fights, his biographer, Jonathan Eig, provides an honest assessment: “By all these statistical measures, the man who called himself ‘The Greatest’ was below average for much of his career.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the most famous bodybuilder of all time, was without doubt outstandingly talented. He won the ultimate accolade in bodybuilding, the Mr. Olympia title, on an astonishing seven occasions. But other bodybuilders at the time – including Frank Zane – had more harmonious physiques. Experts agree that Schwarzenegger owed his seventh Mr. Olympia title solely to his celebrity status, not his muscle development. And after Schwarzenegger retired his posing briefs, there were bodybuilders with significantly more muscle mass, such as Ronnie Coleman, who became Mr. Olympia eight times. But unless you happen to be a bodybuilding expert, you have probably never even heard of Coleman, whereas pretty much everyone on the planet has heard of Schwarzenegger. Austrian-born Schwarzenegger was tremendously successful in a variety of domains but, above all, he was a brilliant salesman. In his autobiography, he writes: “No matter what you do in life, selling is part of it … But you can do the finest work and if people don’t know, you have nothing! In politics it’s the same: no matter whether you’re working on environmental policy or education or economic growth, the most important thing is to make people aware.”
Madonna is a magnificent and extraordinarily successful performing artist. According to Billboard’s Hot 100 Artists ranking, Madonna is the most successful female solo artist of all time and achieves second place in the overall ranking, just behind The Beatles. And Time included her in its The 25 Most Powerful Women of the 20th Century list. And yet experts all agree that Madonna’s extraordinary success has little to do with outstanding vocal abilities. Camille Barbone, Madonna’s mentor and early manager, once observed, “Gifted? No. She was a meat-and-potatoes musician. She had just enough skill to write a song or play guitar.” In 1995, Madonna was chosen to play the lead in the film version of the musical Evita. Madonna – world-famous and at the height of her career – enlisted an esteemed voice coach to help improve her distinctly average vocal technique.
One of the most famous social media celebrities of the modern age is Kim Kardashian West. She has amassed more than 162 million followers on Instagram, even more than Lionel Messi (144 million), the record winner of the FIFA World Player of the Year Award with six titles since 2009. On Twitter, Kim has 60 million followers, almost as many as American President Donald Trump (nearly 74 million), and more than CNN’s breaking news feed (56 million). The well-known American TV presenter Barbara Walters didn’t mince her words when she accused Kim of never having done anything particularly special: “You don’t really act; you don’t sing; you don’t dance … You don’t have any – forgive me – any talent!” Undeniably, Kim had failed as an actress, singer and dancer. But like few others before or after her, she mastered the art of self-marketing.
Of course, this book does also include individuals who, regardless of their self-marketing skills, have made unique contributions to the course of human history. This small group of exceptional men and women includes, most notably, Albert Einstein, the father of the theory of relativity. But can Einstein’s scientific achievements explain his fame? Of course not. Even though he fascinated the general public, newspapers devoted extensive front page coverage to his every move and everyone knew his name, hardly anyone understood his theory. Charlie Chaplin, who often appeared together with Einstein, offered the following explanation: “They cheer me because they all understand me, and they cheer you, because no one understands you.” In an interview with a journalist, Einstein once observed: “You ask whether it makes a ludicrous impression on me to observe the excitement of the crowd for my teaching and my theory, of which it, after all, understands nothing? I find it funny and at the same time interesting to observe this game.”
What many people don’t realize is that Einstein, like all of the distinguished figures in this book, spent a great deal of time and considerable effort marketing himself. His fame did not arrive out of the blue and was certainly no coincidence. And it definitely defies explanation in terms of his scientific achievements as a physicist alone, which, after all, no layman can judge.
So, were these geniuses of self-marketing perhaps only the creations of skillful PR strategists and managers? No. Andy Warhol, for example, was more content to have works of art made by his assistants than he was to delegate what was his core competence: self-marketing. Of course, many of the individuals portrayed here also employed expert PR consultants (including Schwarzenegger and Trump), but these were only advisors; they were not the masters, their prominent clients were. I have therefore decided not to include a number of famous people whose celebrity was largely the creation of their managers and agents – such as Elvis Presley or perhaps Greta Thunberg.
The twelve geniuses of self-marketing featured in this book all knew full well how to grab the limelight and turn themselves into distinctive brands. Like every successful brand, they were instantly recognizable and set themselves apart from their peers. They turned specific features of their appearance into unmistakable trademarks – just like products.
Caricaturists do not have to be particularly skilled artists to draw Donald Trump, Andy Warhol, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kim Kardashian or Karl Lagerfeld. In the course of his life, Lagerfeld built his public image – the Lagerfeld brand – around a series of distinctive features. He did not establish his brand overnight or with a single conscious decision – he cultivated his celebrity over the years. “I don’t put on a costume like Charlie Chaplin. My hairstyle, my sunglasses, they have all come to me over the years. Slowly but surely, I have become like a caricature of myself.” As he developed his signature style, a distinctive trademark emerged: the fingerless gloves, the powdered braid, the stand-up collar, the sunglasses and, at times, a fan.
Thanks to his unmistakable hairstyle, Trump certainly makes life easy for caricaturists. His hairstyle reflects his personality: it’s certainly not beautiful, but it’s unmistakable and eye-catching. “Poke fun if you will, but the painstakingly constructed swoosh and the artificial glow of Trump’s coiffure make him instantly recognizable.” says his biographer D'Antonio, “Without it, he might stand in front of Trump Tower and escape notice. With it, he is mobbed. His hair has drawing power, even if he didn’t set out, in the beginning, to cultivate a billboard atop his head.”
Albert Einstein consciously cultivated his image as a disheveled scientist, as an eccentric who attached little to no importance to clothes, detested formal collars and ties, did not comb his long hair, wore no socks and left his shirts open. He fit the cliché, as his biographer Neffe writes, “of the avant-garde artist of science to a T” and was “the ideal object for photographers and reporters and all other priests of popularity with whom he has lived in a strange symbiosis.” Once, when asked about his profession, he replied self-ironically, “fashion model.” Rumor has it that as soon as photographers approached, Einstein mussed up his hair with both hands to restore his quintessential image as an eccentric professor.
In 1957, Andy Warhol had cosmetic surgery, a procedure that was still very unusual at the time. He started wearing toupees and sunglasses. Even though he was already earning well and was certainly able to buy expensive clothes and luxury items, he reworked new suits and shoes before putting them on, until they looked worn out and fitted the image of the eccentric artist. Warhol wore a black leather jacket, tight black jeans (including pantyhose), T-shirts and high-heeled boots. His wigs were silver-gray, his Factory studio was silver, and this was the color of the Warhol brand. On some occasions, he even used make-up to emphasize his Slavic features and paleness.
Steve Jobs also created unmistakable trademarks around his own image. At his product presentations he wore shorts, sneakers and a black turtleneck sweater. His sweaters were designed by the famous designer Issey Miyake and he had about 100 of them made. In a similar way, Schwarzenegger transformed the bicep pose into his trademark. Schwarzenegger had his biceps, Karl Lagerfeld had his braid, sunglasses and stand-up collar, Donald Trump has his hair, Andy Warhol had his wig, Albert Einstein his nutty professor look, and Kim Kardashian has her bottom. When she won the Entrepreneur of the Year award at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards in London in June 2011, interest in her buttocks was so great that they were actually X-rayed to determine whether they were real or contained implants. Kim has always succeeded in attracting attention with spectacular photos that focus on her backside. At one point, even the reputable Daily Telegraph reported on one particular image that attracted an enormous amount of attention: “In September 2014 niche title Paper Magazine created one of the biggest cultural events of the year, and perhaps the decade, when they set out to ‘Break The Internet’ with the help of a naked Kim Kardashian. The image of Kim Kardashian balancing a champagne glass on her perfectly-sculpted derriere accompanied by the hashtag #BreakTheInternet sent a sharing shockwave through the web. The site received over 50 million hits in one day, equating to 1 per cent of all internet traffic that day in the US.”
One of the cast-iron rules of self-marketing is that you don’t need to look better, you need to look different. Kim Kardashian and Madonna are by no means unattractive, but there are tens of thousands of more beautiful women in America. And Stephen Hawking went one further: he managed to turn his disability into an advantage. When asked how he managed to be so well-known, he replied: “This is partly because scientists, apart from Einstein, are not widely known rock stars, and partly because I fit the stereotype of a disabled genius. I can’t disguise myself with a wig and dark glasses – the wheelchair gives me away.” As the publication of Hawking’s A Brief History of Time approached, his publisher understood the marketing value of Hawking’s disability and chose a photograph of Hawking in a wheelchair set against a starry sky for the cover that Hawking himself described as “miserable.” The book spent 147 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, a record-breaking 237 weeks on the London Times bestseller list and has since been translated into 40 languages and sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.
Standing out doesn’t necessarily mean being better than everyone else, but it does mean being different. And being different requires provocation, an art that each of the figures portrayed in this book have mastered. Andy Warhol’s fame as an artist is founded on his ability to provoke and polarize. In 1964, he was commissioned to make a mural for the U.S. pavilion at the World Expo in New York. The painting was supposed to highlight the United States as the exhibition’s host – and Warhol decided to depict the 13 most wanted criminals in the country. In the run up to the Expo, government officials declared that they did not want such images to be used to represent the United States and, two weeks before the opening, Philip Johnson, the pavilion’s architect, gave Warhol 24 hours to remove the offending images. Warhol then made a counterproposal – to replace the portraits of the criminals with 25 portraits of Robert Moses, the president of the World’s Fair Corporation. But this proposal was also rejected. Warhol decided to paint over Thirteen Most Wanted Men with aluminum paint, which naturally attracted even more attention.
Trump also owes much of his success to his contempt for social norms, his rejection of accepted rules of language, his refusal to recognize taboos and his disdain for political correctness – all of which his followers have found liberating. Although Trump has frequently been caught lying, his followers describe him as honest because he always says what he thinks: “I could give an answer that’s perfect and everything’s fine and nobody would care about it, nobody would write about it, or I could give an honest answer, which becomes a big story … I think people are tired of politically correct people.”
Muhammad Ali was deliberately provocative with his pronouncements and loud bragging, fully convinced that many spectators only attended his fights to see him, a cocky young black man, “get his pretty face disfigured.” He embraced the Nation of Islam, an association which – unlike the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. – strictly rejected integration and opposed white racism with black racism. He hit the headlines for refusing to be drafted to the military and for his opposition to the war in Vietnam. Ali’s most famous statement in declaring himself a conscientious objector was “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” This sentence was quoted and printed on T-shirts all over America – it became one of the most frequently cited statements Ali ever made. With these words, Ali aligned himself with the generation of Vietnam War protesters around the world in the 1960s. In 1965, the World Boxing Association and the New York State Athletic Commission suspended Ali’s boxing license. Other boxing commissions followed suit and Ali was stripped of his world championship title. In June 1967, he was sentenced to five years in prison for refusing to serve in the United States military, a sentence he never actually had to serve as it was revoked three years later.
Albert Einstein, like many successful self-marketers, also positioned himself as a rebel. Almost everything he did was designed to provoke and he was not prepared to submit to prevailing norms if he deemed them absurd: “He rebelled against any kind of authoritarian structure: against rigid rules in school and at the university; against the dictates of bourgeois life; against conventions such as dress codes; against dogmatism in religion and physics; against militarism, nationalism, and government ideology; and against bosses and employers.”
Steve Jobs never spoke like the CEO of a major company. He communicated like a visionary politician or the leader of a revolutionary movement. However, he was not planning on changing the world through politics, but with technology. Jobs described Apple’s customers as follows: “The people who buy [Apple computers] do think different. They are the creative spirits in this world, and they’re out to change the world. We make tools for those kinds of people … We too are going to think differently and serve the people who have been buying our products from the beginning. Because a lot of people think they’re crazy, but in that craziness we see genius.”
Madonna realized that provocation and violating social norms is one of the keys to building brand identity. “I’d rather be on people’s minds than off,” was Madonna's motto. While other public figures are afraid of negative press, Madonna saw – much like Donald Trump – that negative press could actually be positive and expand her fan base. “She believed that the more the press dubbed her style ‘trashy,’ the more vociferous the parental objection to her look, it would only encourage rebellious children to emulate her … Her success most certainly validated the blueprint for attention drawn up by Madonna as a child: do something to shock people and, if it’s outrageous enough, it will get them talking. She didn’t care what they were saying, as long as they were saying something about her.”
Madonna’s public provocations mostly revolved around sex, including the frequent juxtaposition of sex and religion. In the video to one of her most successful songs “Like a Prayer,” Madonna kisses a black Christ, is marked with stigmata, has tears of blood streaming down her face and dances in front of a field of burning candles. The video was relegated to late-night MTV and, when church leaders called for their congregations to boycott Pepsi, the soft drink giant swiftly pulled a big-budget TV commercial featuring Madonna.
During her risqué stage shows, Madonna often simulated masturbation on stage and once, during the North American leg of a world tour, Toronto police even threatened to arrest Madonna for obscenity if she went ahead with the show as planned. In Italy, Catholic pressure groups called for a boycott of Madonna’s concerts.
The excitement surrounding Madonna reached a climax in October 1992 when the singer published a book of erotic photographs and text branded with the provocative title Sex. The book was a showcase for Madonna’s erotic fantasies, which were depicted in text and, far more frequently, photographs. In the book, Madonna explained why she was so into anal sex, while extensive photo spreads depicted her having sex with women. Above all, the book was a textual and visual expression of her affinity to S&M practices. Throughout the book, Madonna also appears engaged in scenes of masturbation. The Observer branded it “the desperate confection of an aging scandal-addict.” The public controversy surrounding Sex catapulted the book to number 1 on The New York Times bestseller list.
And Madonna’s career provides yet another valuable insight: Whenever a figure in the public eye is subjected to an escalating stream of criticism, there is always a danger that the provocateur will respond by becoming even more radical and defiant. In Madonna’s case, however, her PR genius comes to the fore and she knows precisely when to back down – or better still – to find a way back into her audience’s hearts. Following the scandal surrounding her book, Madonna set off on a four-continent world tour, which she called “The Girlie Show.” As her biographer Taraborrelli observed, “While still sexy, it was more of an innocent burlesque rather than a blatant attempt to shock. Gone were the hardcore S&M images and the blasphemous religious iconology of the previous two years.”
Many self-marketers became famous as the result of scandals and offensive or provocative subject matter, before later trying to correct their images. One such figure is Oprah Winfrey, who became popular for her raunchy, tabloid-style talk shows. In naturally prudish America, sleazy subjects equaled high ratings. It’s a lesson Oprah learned during her formative years as a talk show host and held to in later years. On one show, for instance, she talked to the “man with the micro-penis.” In another, it was the thirty-minute orgasm. There was no limit to her imagination when it came to sex-related subject matter: men who have been raped; women who have borne children by their own fathers; women abused during pregnancy; female teachers who had sex with schoolboys; a beauty queen who was raped by her husband, etc.
On one occasion she invited nudists onto her show. On another show, she interviewed a woman who had not had a single orgasm during her eighteen-year marriage – together with the male sex surrogate who was giving her orgasm lessons. She interviewed a sex-addicted woman who had slept with 25 men in a single night, as well as three female porn stars, who shared graphic details of male ejaculations.
Later in her career, she attempted to shed this image and declared, “I used to be better sex and perfect orgasm. Then it was diet. The trend of the nineties is family and nurturing.” She started to present more shows on topics such as “How to Have a Happy Step Family” and “The Family Dinner Experiment.”
She also reflected more critically on the kind of shows she had initially been so successful with and admitted: “I’ve been guilty of doing trash TV and not even thinking it was trash.” Winfrey increasingly shifted her focus to more intellectual topics, and even launched Oprah’s Book Club.
Ali was another of the figures in this book who, later in his career, increasingly toned down his political statements. Only rarely did he refer to whites – as he had previously done – as devils. And although he remained loyal to the Nation of Islam’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, he did not talk about his devotion quite as often as before. He no longer visited college campuses to speak out against the Vietnam War and stopped making politically inflammatory statements. “He gave the impression of a man who, above all else, was glad to be a boxer again.”
Ali even went as far as to publicly retract his earlier statement about having no quarrel with the Viet Cong. Now, he declared that he stood by his decision to oppose the draft, but, “I wouldn’t have said that thing about the Viet Cong. I would have handled the draft different. There wasn’t any reason to make so many people mad.” Ali, a hero to the left-wing students of the 1960s, now irked many of his former supporters with his public shows of support for the Republican presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, who was an established hate figure among left-wingers. Ali’s reconciliation with America was confirmed when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, from Republican President George W. Bush in 2005.
Without exception, the geniuses of self-marketing portrayed in this book complained that the publicity they courted had a negative side. But they had chosen their paths themselves and the fame they achieved was no coincidence. One key to their fame was the creative PR stunts they used to attract media coverage.
Andy Warhol became famous with his pictures of oversized Campbell’s soup cans. When his pictures were exhibited to the public for the first time, lined up along the gallery walls like supermarket displays, Warhol was initially ridiculed His paintings were art, Warhol claimed, even if they didn’t look like it. A rival gallery filled its display windows from top to bottom with Campbell’s soup cans, accompanied by the slogan: “The real thing for only 33 cents a can!” Warhol then took a photographer to the nearest supermarket and had a picture taken of him signing ‘the real thing,’ namely actual Campbell’s soup cans. One of the photos was picked up by the leading news agency Associated Press and distributed halfway around the world.
Hawking always came up with new marketing ideas to draw attention to his scientific theories. Other scientists might have turned their noses up at addressing topics such as time travel – and if they ever did, they would have done so in scientific articles in academic journals. But Hawking had different ideas. On June 28, 2009, he organized a party for time travelers in his college, Gonville & Caius in Cambridge, to show a film about time travel. The room was decorated with balloons and “Welcome, Time Travelers” banners. To make sure that only genuine time travelers would come, he decided to send out invitations after the party and announce it on his 2010 TV show. “On the day of the party, I sat in college hoping, but no one came. I was disappointed, but not surprised, because I had shown that if general relativity is correct and energy density is positive, time travel is not possible. I would have been delighted if one of my assumptions had turned out to be wrong.”
On another occasion he made headlines for a scientific wager with the physicist Kip Thorne. They bet on whether or not the Cygnus X-1 system contained a black hole. The wager itself was nothing unusual, but the prize certainly was. If Thorne won their bet, Hawking promised him a year’s subscription to the men’s magazine Penthouse. “In the years following the bet, the evidence for black holes became so strong that I conceded and gave Kip a subscription to Penthouse, much to the displeasure of his wife.”
Muhammad Ali’s ingenuity when it came to getting himself into newspapers and magazines was equally impressive. His spontaneous creativity is perfectly illustrated by the time, early in his career, when he tricked the world into believing that he regularly trained underwater. In 1961, Sports Illustrated assigned a photographer, Flip Schulke, to take pictures of Clay. At one point, Clay asked Schulke which other magazines he worked for. Clay was excited to hear that the photographer’s pictures regularly appeared in Life, the highest circulation magazine in the United States at that time. Clay asked Schulke if he would photograph him for Life, but the photographer explained that he worked on assignment and would have to pitch the idea to his editors, who would most likely turn it down – this was, after all, still very early in Clay’s career. But Clay didn’t let up and asked Schulke about his other work. When the photographer revealed that he specialized in underwater photography, Clay told him a ‘secret’: “I never told nobody this, but me and Angelo have a secret. Do you know why I’m the fastest heavyweight in the world? I’m the only heavyweight that trains underwater.” Clay claimed that he worked out underwater for the same reason other athletes wear heavy shoes when they train. “Well, I get in the water up to my neck and I punch in the water, and when I get out of the water I’m lightning fast because there’s no resistance.” Schulke was suspicious at first, but Clay offered to let Schulke attend and take pictures of one of his underwater training sessions exclusively for Life. Schulke pitched Clay’s proposal to Life, who liked the idea of running an article on Clay’s unconventional underwater training routine. Of course, Clay had made up the entire story, but the success of his tall tale, namely a portrait in the highest circulation magazine in the United States, confirmed the effectiveness of this approach.
Even as a teenager, Arnold Schwarzenegger had an extraordinarily keen sense for unusual methods of self-marketing. One icy cold day in November, Schwarzenegger took a stroll along a shopping street in Munich wearing only his posing briefs. His mentor, Albert Busek, called a few editors he knew and asked them, “You remember Schwarzenegger, who won the stone-lifting contest? Well, now he’s Mr. Universe and he’s at Stachus square in his underwear.” The next day, his picture was in the newspaper. Schwarzenegger was depicted standing in his posing briefs on a construction site, flanked by a huddle of construction workers looking on in utter amazement.
During the presidency of George H.W. Bush, Schwarzenegger was appointed as the government’s “fitness czar.” If anything, his new role was nothing special. The president already had several czars who were supposed to champion different issues, but none of them had managed to attract much attention. Here, however, is where Schwarzenegger’s PR genius once again comes into play. “My own mission,” he explained to President Bush, “should be to get out and promote.” Bush was surprised that Schwarzenegger wanted to travel to all 50 states to carry out his duties as fitness czar. “I love being on the road and meeting people and selling. That’s what I do best.” Normally, the White House press office would have sent out a short press release to announce the president’s new “fitness czar,” and that would have been buried under the pile of many other reports landing in newsrooms across the country. Schwarzenegger, however, suggested to Bush that the announcement should take place in the Oval Office. That, Schwarzenegger explained, would give the press an opportunity to take photographs and should be followed by a press conference where Schwarzenegger could clarify his new role and the President could explain why Schwarzenegger was exactly the right man for the job.
The art of successful public relations is all about formulating specific, memorable soundbites to communicate core messages and getting the media to do much of your marketing work for you and “frame” events in the way you want them to. Steve Jobs was an absolute master at creating short, captivating headlines, as was Princess Diana. Her greatest PR coup was a TV interview about her failed marriage to Prince Charles. She had spent weeks practicing her lines and the interview was finally broadcast on November 14, 1995. On the night of the broadcast, the streets of London were deserted. Twenty-three million British viewers sat transfixed in front of their television sets – and what they saw was a carefully crafted performance that hit all the right notes. Like a PR script, she had developed certain core messages that did not fail to have the desired effect:
“I’d like to be the queen of people’s hearts …”
“There were three of us in the marriage …” (a reference to Camilla Parker Bowles)
“The Establishment that I married into—they have decided that I’m a non-starter …”
(About the motives of her opponents): “I think it was out of fear, because here was a strong woman doing her bit, and where was she getting her strength from to continue?”
She told her story in a way that every wronged woman could identify with. Asked about her own affair with James Hewitt, she avoided admitting to a sexual relationship, deftly brushed aside the question of a physical relationship and shifted to the emotional, saying, “Yes, I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him. But I was very let down.” The public responded as she knew they would. She won their support by making it easy for them to identify with her struggles and her complaints about the “Establishment” that had “decided” she was a failure. And although she was by no means a feminist, she tapped into the feminist zeitgeist by framing any criticism of her as resistance to an independent and strong woman “who was doing her bit” in her very own way. Diana’s core messages had their desired effect. On the Wednesday after the interview aired, a survey by the Daily Mirror showed 92 percent approval for Diana’s television appearance.
These geniuses of self-marketing also realized just how important it is to make the kind of unconventional statements that news outlets will be hungry to quote. In the film “Pumping Iron,” Arnold Schwarzenegger compared pumping up his muscles during training with an orgasm: “Blood is rushing into your muscles, that’s what we call the pump. Your muscles get a really tight feeling, like you’re going to explode ... It’s as satisfying to me as coming is; you know, as having sex with a woman and coming.” He later explained, “To sell something on TV and stand out, I knew I’d have to do something spectacular, so I came up with comments like pumping up the muscles is much better than having sex.”
When it comes to interviews, the individuals portrayed in this book adopted strategies that were very different from the typical approaches prominent figures use when dealing with journalists’ questions. Andy Warhol, for example, was a very difficult interviewee, which actually made him a far more interesting interlocutor. He made a habit of refusing to answer questions, sometimes by simply repeating the question back to his interviewer as his ‘answer.’ Not infrequently he switched roles and began to interview his interviewer. His answers often made no sense, but it was precisely this unusual, enigmatic and surprising aspect that made him such a sought-after interviewee for media outlets up and down the country. Warhol often answered questions with a simple “I don't know.” Here are just a few examples:
“What is Pop Art trying to say?” – “I don’t know.”
“How did you get started making movies?” “Uh… I don’t know…”
“What is your role, your function in directing a Warhol film?” “I don’t know. I’m trying to figure it out.”
Warhol turned his habit of giving unexpected, crazy and provocative answers in interviews into one of his most distinct trademarks. For a 1970s art anthology, renowned artists were asked for their thoughts on other well-known artists. When Warhol was asked about the significance of the abstract expressionist Barnett Newman, he answered, “The only way I knew Barney was I think Barney went to more parties than I did.” And when asked for his opinion of Pablo Picasso, he said, “Ah, the only thing I can really relate to is his daughter Paloma … I’m just glad he had a wonderful daughter like Paloma.”
Einstein was also well-known for surprising reporters with unconventional responses to their questions. When a reporter from The New York Times asked Einstein for a comment on his book, he curtly replied: “What I have to say about this book can be found inside the book.” Donald Trump makes deliberately provocative statements because he knows they guarantee media attention. “One thing I’ve learned about the press,” explains Trump, “is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better ... The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you. I’ve always done things a little differently, I don’t mind controversy, and my deals tend to be somewhat ambitious.”
It is striking that these geniuses of self-marketing are the sources of so many aphorisms, adages and short verses. The pithy wisdoms of Karl Lagerfeld often struck a chord and became familiar well beyond the world of fashion. Almost everyone will have heard his frequently quoted maxims, which included cutting observations such as, “If you wear sweatpants, you have lost control of your life.” From the intellectual giant Albert Einstein to the boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who had difficulty reading and writing, many of these figures published poems and short verses to draw attention to themselves.
One of Ali’s most famous PR stunts was predicting the exact round in which his opponents would fall to the canvas. No boxer before him had ever done this and it created great suspense for journalists and audiences alike. Early in his career, Ali also began to compose short verses, which would later become his trademark. For instance, he told a reporter:
»This guy must be done,
I’ll stop him in one.«
Critics were offended by the fact that Ali would sometimes coast for a full round just to fulfill his prediction. Ali, however, “liked his new gimmick, liked the extra attention that came with his increasingly bold behavior, and he was convinced that publicity would help him get a quicker shot at the championship.” He became even more of a showman and turned predicting when his opponents would crash to the canvas into his USP: “I’m not the greatest. I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ‘em out, I pick the round. I’m the boldest, the prettiest, the most superior, most scientific, most skillfullest fighter in the ring today. I’m the only fighter who goes from corner to corner and club to club debating with fans. I’ve received more publicity than any fighter in history. I talk to re-porters till their fingers are sore.”
Geniuses of self-marketing, as the example of Ali confirms, are not only very sure of themselves, they are also entirely uninhibited when it comes to sharing this with the world. We have all become very familiar with Trump’s boastful pronouncements. No one could be left in any doubt that he regards himself as the greatest in almost every field: “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault.”
Oprah Winfrey’s self-congratulatory proclamations rivaled even Muhammad Ali or Donald Trump. For example, in one interview she explained, "I'm very strong ... very strong. I know there is nothing you or anybody can tell me that I don't already know. I have this inner spirit that directs and guides me... I really like me, I really do. I'd like to know me, if I weren't me.” Lagerfeld once greeted a journalist sympathetically with the remark, “I was once a mere mortal like you.”
None of the figures in this book ever wanted to be mere mortals like everyone else. They believed they were special from the very beginning. One of Steve Jobs’ closest employees once reported, “He thinks there are a few people who are special – people like Einstein and Ghandi and the gurus he met in India – and he’s one of them.” On one occasion, Jobs even hinted that he was enlightened.
The fact that the figures you are about to meet in this book became so prominent was by no means a coincidence, and it was certainly no unintended side effect of their other achievements. Each had an overpowering desire to become famous. Madonna’s friend Erica Bell remembers a conversation they had about what Madonna most wanted from life. “I want to be famous,” was Madonna’s instant response, “I want attention.” When her friend said she was already getting a lot of attention, Madonna replied, “It’s not enough. I want all of the attention in the world. I want everybody in the world to not only know me, but to love me, love me, love me.” In 2000, at a time when she was already incredibly famous, she admitted, “I have the same goal I’ve had since I was a little girl. I want to rule the world.” On another occasion, she confessed, “I won’t be happy until I’m as famous as God.”
All of the figures in this book constantly and consciously sought the company of other celebrities because they knew full well this would propel them to an even higher level of fame. Albert Einstein had his picture taken with Charlie Chaplin, Arnold Schwarzenegger married into the Kennedy clan and Kim Kardashian married Kanye West, one of the leading hip hop and pop musicians in the world. In recognition of his impact on popular culture, Time magazine featured West in its lists of the 100 most influential people in the world for the first time in 2005 and then again in 2015.
Warhol was desperate to become famous. The subject of fame and celebrity occupied him like no other. He became “synonymous with the culture of celebrity-for-its-own-sake,” as one of his biographers wrote. Even as a child, he had an insatiable appetite for movie magazines. He collected “personalized” autographed photographs of film stars. This created a self-perpetuating spiral. He systematically sought out the company of famous people and his rising fame made it increasingly easy for him to meet celebrities, which in turn increased his own fame. As did accepting commissions from famous people, such as the time he worked for the record company of his friend Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. It was Warhol who designed the unusual cover for the album Sticky Fingers with the picture of a pair of jeans on the front and back and a zipper that could be pulled down to reveal a tantalizing glimpse of white underwear beneath. “With virtuosity, Warhol took advantage of the celebrity status of his friends and clients for his own publicity and again proved his impressive talent for self-marketing.” He increasingly moved in celebrity circles, in a glamorous whirl of movie stars, politicians, fashion czars, famous musicians and celebrities of all stripes. He socialized with Liz Taylor, Jackie Onassis, Shirley MacLaine, Paloma Picasso, Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, Yves St. Laurent, Diana Ross, Pierre Cardin and John Lennon.
Every one of these geniuses of self-marketing also earned a great deal of money. Although they didn’t all become anywhere near as rich as Oprah Winfrey, the world’s first black self-made billionaire, they did all earn far more than their peers. Even Einstein and Hawking, who of course did not become nearly as wealthy as Steve Jobs, Madonna or Karl Lagerfeld, managed to earn far more than other leading physicists.
Despite their incredible wealth and celebrity, they always maintained an image of being close to the people – and in many ways they were. The editor of one of Trump’s books recalled that, “Trump had this urge to be a really big name, so he cultivated celebrity. But his lifestyle was surprisingly unglamorous … He was not a big New York socialite, never was. He basically enjoyed going upstairs and watching the tube. What he was interested in was celebrity and his businesses – construction, real estate, gambling, wrestling, boxing.” In many respects, Trump’s lifestyle and interests mean he has far more in common with regular Americans than he does with members of the educated elite. He’d much rather watch boxing, wrestling and reality TV than immerse himself in high culture, read a book or go to the theater. Many working-class Americans want to stay true to their roots; they just want to do so with a lot more money. And this is exactly what Trump embodies, this billionaire who speaks their language and loves the same things they do – quite unlike the intellectuals who regard themselves so highly because they read sophisticated literature or are interested in the arts. Trump has no interest in the subjects intellectuals obsess over. Conversely, he knows a huge amount about pop culture.
Just like Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey, despite her incredible fortune and fame, has always managed to create the impression that she not only has an affinity for ordinary people and their problems, but that she was in fact one of them. And to a certain extent this is true. The problems Oprah had in her private life – especially her weight and diet issues, but also in her relationships – were the same problems so many of her viewers were also grappling with.
And even Lagerfeld, who so often seemed aloof and arrogant, with the air of a nobleman from centuries gone by, struck the right balance between creating exclusive fashion and designing a collection and perfume for the Swedish mass-marker fashion chain H&M. He combined an air of elitism with egalitarian values: “The upper ten thousand have always been the victims of their own snobbery. Only the most expensive is good enough for them. But it is important not to look down on the ‘masses.’ We need to offer affordable options. You can still look chic while buying cheap.” Stephen Hawking also had no problems with appearing on popular television shows and, to the amazement of many of his colleagues, he actually liked giving interviews to tabloid newspapers. At one point, while looking for a new publisher for a book, one of his non-negotiable conditions was that the book should be available in airport bookstores all across America.
Perhaps one of the reasons these self-marketing geniuses remained so relatable despite their pronounced narcissism and extreme self-centeredness was that they retained a certain sense of self-irony and were able to laugh at themselves – or at least pretend to. Lagerfeld claimed that he was always the first to laugh at himself and was convinced of the therapeutic benefits of not taking yourself too seriously: “Everyone can be grotesque in certain situations. If you pay attention, you’ll notice it, too. As long as you are honest with yourself.”
According to the people who knew them best, many of the individuals portrayed in this book never really grew up. It has been said that, in certain respects, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Madonna, Andy Warhol and Muhammad Ali remained like children well into their adult lives. They all had a tremendous desire to be free. They wanted to live their lives without limits and were not prepared to conform to social norms. The German news magazine Der Spiegel described Lagerfeld as the “pioneer of an age in which staging and image are everything. Radical, free and unique.” The same could easily be said of Steve Jobs, Andy Warhol or Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I’d rather not reveal any more of the secrets of these geniuses of self-marketing at this point. Read on for yourself and discover what it was that made these people so famous. I have intentionally chosen not to reveal some of their greatest secrets in this introduction. As you read on through the next twelve chapters, you might want to write them down for yourself. If you too want to become famous, you can certainly learn a lot from these exceptional personalities although you shouldn’t try to copy them.
I have organized the individual portraits by their subjects’ dates of birth, from Albert Einstein, who was born in 1879, all the way through to Kim Kardashian, who was born 101 years later. Perhaps it is a coincidence, although probably not, but this book begins with a man whose achievements in his field (physics) were greater than any of the other people presented here. And it ends with Kim Kardashian, a woman who has mastered the art of self-marketing to such an extent that she has created an entirely new paradigm in which fame is in no way related to conventional measures of achievement.
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