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How Famous Entrepreneurs Get Publicity

famous entrepreneurs - richard branson













How famous entrepreneurs get publicity and boost their businesses

Whatever business they’re in, it’s vital that business owners and entrepreneurs understand the importance of marketing. Without it they are doomed to failiure. However marketing doesn’t come for free. Or does it? Something that the most famous entrepreneurs have realised is that, next to word of mouth, the most powerful and cost effective marketing tool is publicity. Publicity, the art of attracting media attention, increases brand awareness, which leads to a spike in sales.

As an entrepreneur would you rather fork out thousands for an advertisement in a newspaper or be featured on the front cover editorially for free? Advertising is much more expensive and far less credible than getting media coverage. Although getting publicity takes time, realising that as an entrepreneur there’s no better spokesperson than you for your business, has helped many business people get the edge on their competition.

Here’s a list of examples to demonstrate how famous entrepreneurs get publicity.


Richard Branson – Virgin Group

“A large part of the Virgin Story has been my willingness to be a central character in our publicity. I don’t know how many different outfits I have dressed up in during my business life –probably more than Lawrence Olivier” – Richard Branson
 famous entrepreneurs - richard bransonProbably the biggest showman entrepreneur has been Richard Branson. Blond and adventurous with a mischievous smile, he was always likely to cause a stir in the business world. But having an eye for publicity is really what set Richard Branson apart from many other entrepreneurs. The business world is a serious place. But Branson saw that making fun of himself could land him with a ton of free publicity. The press know that at every launch of the latest Virgin business, Sir Richard is bound to turn up with some kind of costume or stunt. He’s dressed up as a spaceman to launch Virgin Galactic, he’s shaved his beard off and dragged up for the launch of Virgin Brides, he’s driven down 5th avenue, New York in a Tank to try and ‘shoot down’ the Coca-Cola sign in Times Square and he ‘s even bungee jumped off a Las Vegas Hotel. Although thematically it’s repetitive – often a costume, or the model of the moment draped around him, it pretty much always gets him in the paper and that means a lot of people become aware of his latest venture. He always goes after big established businesses that, in his eyes, are under-performing and over charging. That means grabbing market share. There’s no doubt that publicity is absolutely key to that. Branson famously pays his in house PR chief more than anyone else in the business and hires someone full time to come up with and manage his PR stunts.

Despite his success, Branson doesn’t seem to have inspired legions of copycats. He has told a story that a BBC producer once told him that 99 out of 100 invitations to British chief executives to appear on television are refused. Richard always makes himself available saying “With a television spot, you are reaching 10 million people, it would be bloody stupid to say no.”

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield – Ben & Jerry’s

famous entrepreneurs - Ben & Jerry

Ben Cohen and  Jerry Greenfield were always the face of their brand. Their success has been incredible. From starting their first shop in Vermont in 1978, they expanded their ice cream business until selling to Unilever in 2000 for $326 million. A big part of their success was due to the publicity they received. The key to that was being unusual. Ben and Jerry’s always was, and still is different – and being different is always something that’s going to get a journalist’s attention. Ben and Jerry’s insistence on pursuing a green agenda was always something that caught journalists’ attention as in the 80s it was unusual for companies to be interested in things like recycling. Ben and Jerry’s friendly, approachable faces have always been on the front of their cartons. So customers always feel like they know the manufacturers. Their catchy titles for flavours like chunky monkey was something that was always likely to make a headline or to. Sometimes they invented flavours just to capitalise on world events. For example when Wall Street crashed in 1987 they made sure that they handed out free scoops of their latest flavour – Economic Crunch.


Martin Lewis – Money Saving Expert

famous entrepreneurs - Martin Lewis

In 2003 the financial journalist Martin Lewis started a website called for £100. Just 9 years later he sold it for a remarkable £72 million. His success can be largely explained by his ability to remorselessly push his brand in media appearances.

Whenever there’s a story in the media about money, particularly if it affects the man on the street, Martin makes time to respond positively to every media request he can. He always encourages viewers to visit his website – getting the brand to a wide market very quickly. Of course in the early days Martin had to fight to get on the airwaves and into newspapers. But his enthusiasm, growing confidence as as a media performer and a tendency to say yes to most reasonable requests meant that Martin soon became a fixture across all media.

From a business perspective, the real beauty of Martin’s thousands of media appearances are that they have a lot more impact than advertising, and they didn’t cost him a single penny. Here’s a clip produced about Martin’s career. Notice how he references his business many times during the clip.

Anita Roddick- The Body Shop

“if you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito” – Anita Roddick

famous entrepreneurs - anita roddickWhen Anita Roddick opened her first Body Shop in Brighton in 1976 she couldn’t afford advertising. But the environmental and socially beneficial message of her products gave her an angle that journalists were interested in. She managed to get interviewed by local media which helped spread the word and attract plenty of interest in the stores. But it wasn’t just interviews that got the media interested in the Body Shop. Roddick would use any excuse to get the shop’s name in the media. The first Body Shop was next door to a funeral parlour. The undertaker complained that her store’s name would hurt their business. So Anita Roddick leaked a story to the press saying the undertakers were ganging up on a struggling woman shopkeeper. It made it into the local press and attracted a whole new stream of customers, interested to see what all the fuss was about. By 1982 two body shops were opening every month.

Once the Body Shop’s name became nationally famous, Roddick’s support for causes such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International, saving the rainforests and banning animal testing generated a ton of free publicity. These were all causes that a lot of people supported and felt that they could support in part, or at least associate themselves with by buying Body Shop products.

Roddick was a teacher before opening the Body Shop. The enthusiasm and elements of performance that come from standing in front of a class really shine through in her speeches and media performances. Watching this clip and you can’t fail to be inspired by her enthusiasm for her work.

Martha Lane Fox – and Lucky Voice

During the dot com boom of the late 90s Martha Lane Fox became the face of the internet generation. The press were getting more and more interested in the possibility of online businesses that had seemingly come from nowhere to make huge amounts of money.

Martha was a media-savvy good looking young businesswomen. Her willingness to network (going to “the opening of an envelope just to talk about the business” as she put it) made sure she began to spread the word about her business. But it was her image that played into the hands of mostly male newspaper editors who liked to print pictures of attractive young women whenever possible. The dotcom bubble was a big story and there weren’t that many women working in technology companies, particularly not as media-friendly as Martha. In a later interview Lane Fox admitted that the media played a big part in her success: “I used them (journalists) and they used me as well and I think that it was a bit of a quid pro quo….we got help there and we got all that free advertising”.

Her willingness to be photographed and interviewed at every possible opportunity helped push the valuation of the company to £575m and ultimately made Martha Lane Fox very rich indeed.

Watch this clip and as well as hearing about the publicity she gained for, you’ll she get plugs in for all the branches of her current business Lucky Voice at the first available opportunity.

Ariana Huffington – The Huffington Post

famous entrepreneurs - ariana huffington

A big part of Ariana Huffington‘s success was the fact that she was already a journalist, author and former political candidate. Therefore she had a great appreciation of what made a good story and how to get that story in the media. She also knew how to create fantastic online content that was going to get read and shared online. Using her presence on national TV and radio helped catapult her site, into the stratosphere. In february 2011 the website was acquired by AOL for $315 million.

She is the master of the soundbite – a small memorable phrase that you aim to stick in people’s minds. In the following clip from the Ellen show, in order to promote her belief that more sleep benefits people – in particular women, she quips that she wants women to ‘sleep their way to the top’. Notice also how the Huffington Post is mentioned several times throughout the piece.

 Bernie Ecclestone – Formula 1

bernie eccclestone

Given that he started out as a second hand car and motorcycle salesman and rose to be the unquestioned supremo of one of the world’s greatest sports and hugely rich, Bernie Ecclestone has always been acutely aware of the value of being featured in the media. As the effective owner of Formula 1 Motor Racing, he has made most of his vast fortune selling and re-selling the TV rights to the sport. He knows the more exciting the product, the higher the fee. Over his decades in charge of the sport he hasn’t shied away from becoming a character in the soap-opera of Formula 1. Whether it’s complaining about the engines being too quiet, planning a race in a controversial country or staging a fake Grand Prix around the streets of London, Bernie always has a plan up his sleeve that will generate controversy, publicity, and money for F1. He is never afraid to talk to a journalist and is remarkably frank in interviews – which makes journalists come back for more time and time again. He even seems fairly keen to co-operate with journalists if they are going to write negative headlines about him (see the interview with his biographer below). Bernie is a true convert of the philosophy of ‘all publicity is good publicity’.


If you found this article useful, you’ll love our free 4 part video series training that shows you how to get the media’s attention and build your brand. To get that click here.




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  • Caroline Kyriacou

    Thank you for this excellent educational article

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