Personal Branding Tips from a Star Publicity Expert

August 10, 2016

10:21 am

Jonathan Hay is a veteran celebrity publicist and music producer, who has been working in the industry since 1995. Since then he has helped kick start dozens of music careers, sold millions of records and generated massive PR buzz for notable music stars like Rihanna, Whitney Houston and a number of other high-profile clients from Sony Music to Death Row Records.

In 2008, he partnered with creative director, Sabrina Hale to start a publicity company. They started with basically pennies in their pocket, a few connections and huge ambitions. Today, Hay owns two companies Jonathan Hay Celebrity, a publicity and strategic marketing firm and Urban Hitchcock, a record label, music production house and merchandising line. He just recently released ‘Deluxe: When Music Worlds Collide' with SMH Records and ‘Deluxe: The Urban Hitchcock LP' with Maynea Records out of Sweden.

In this interview, Hay agreed to share some essential personal branding advice that entrepreneurs can borrow from the music industry.

What are the common mistakes people make early in their careers?

Hay: “In the music business, a lot of the behind-the-scenes industry executives and stars didn't build their online portfolio. And the same is often true for tech entrepreneurs.

While heavily investing into promoting their venture and pushing its name out there, they often neglect the hidden power of personal brand. After all, VCs and angel investors bet with almost equal probability both on the jockey (the founder) and the horse (the company).

Neglecting the Internet and not staying visible online is career suicide. If you're not online, you aren't relevant. Period. You have to constantly stay creative and keep your name out there. It doesn’t only leverage your authority as an industry expert, but also gives your company brand a distinct, attractive face, which customers can relate to.”

What are your essential tips for building and expanding personal online presence?

Hay: “Hire a relevant publicist who specializes in online presence and strategy. You have to get outside of the box with your own personal publicity and marketing campaigns. Vet the prospects carefully and find the person who already has a proven track record.

If you are a publicist and you aren't generating buzz for your own personal brand, then I question what you could do for someone else. We as humans are all instinctively selfish, so if you can't do it for you, how can you do it for someone else.

From a DIY perspective, consider at least the following:

  • Be proactive with the press and outreach. Everyone has a good story to share. Start making contacts, setting up interviews or offering your tidbits of wisdom as an invited expert. Don’t wait till the press magically discovers you one day.
  • Collaborate with other industry experts and mentors. We often receive credit for our friends. Being in a good company and mingling with some big name people is an instant reputation booster. Conduct interviews, round-ups or feature new guests on your podcast/YouTube channel. The music industry has been doing this for ages and this strategy is 100% relevant for startups too.”

What about reputation management? Any particular advice?

Hay: “Watch closely with who you choose to do business with. Backstabbing is common even among friends (remember the Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin story?). So, choose your team very carefully.

Here’s a more personal example: one of my companies, Jonathan Hay Publicity got attacked and slandered online and it deeply impacted the business from a perception standpoint. Before the brutal cyber-attack and smear campaign, the publicity company was getting calls from people like Lana Del Ray and Juicy J for work. Substantial amounts of money were lost as it was a new company that was just really starting to blossom. Wealthy professional athletes and politicians were also in the mix. But these few cyberbullies were relentless and obsessed with bringing us down.

I remember I was going through dangerous stress levels, as even my loved ones were being attacked when I got the call from real estate tycoon Ryan Serhant, who is also a reality show star on Bravo's “Million Dollar Listing”. I couldn't even close a publicity deal with him because we were under personal attack. Yet, I restructured and managed to pull myself together and get my company back on track. Since then, I've been on The Washington Post, Billboard, Jezebel, The Sun, The Mirror and other top media outlets around the globe.

A few months ago, I was called ‘a crisis management expert' by Rolling Stone magazine. I feel like I really only became a true crisis expert after navigating what I went through. I've also got some great help from Hersh Davis-Nitzberg, a top-online reputation manager and Jacob Hagberg, a digital marketing strategist who've also been seen in Forbes. They’ve been a great asset in reputation strategy.

Your reputation is the backbone of your business. One clumsy Tweet or controversial post on Facebook can lead to massive problems.

To draw attention away from the negative content, you should focus even harder on pushing new authoritative content about your brand. Focus on social and user-generated content in particular – reviews, endorsements, and testimonials to reduce the damage.

However, minimizing the impact of negative PR and content is harder than preventing it in the first place. Try not to forget about that.”

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Dianna is a former ESL teacher and World Teach volunteer, currently living in France. She's slightly addicted to apps and viral media trends and helps different companies with product localization and content strategies. You can tweet her at @dilabrien