One of the most fulfilling and exciting opportunities in my career was to work with television legend Johnny Carson. For the five years leading up to his death, I was proud to be Carson’s partner in marketing his video library from his thirty years of hosting The Tonight Show. Working in conjunction with Carson and Jeff Sotzing, Carson’s nephew and president of Carson Productions, we created and marketed one of the biggest selling video and DVD collections in history that continues to set sales records years after its initial release. While the opportunity to get to know Carson and work with such incredible material was a great pleasure, one of the most valuable things I derived from the relationship was observing how Carson, the consummate Warrior, utilized his tools.
Carson was particularly good at building and maintaining his personal brand, which has become one of the most memorable in entertainment history. And this mastery was never more evident than when he passed away. Despite the fact that he had been retired and had virtually disappeared from public life thirteen years earlier, Carson’s death was accorded the massive media coverage and respect normally reserved for presidents and kings.
We all remembered the best about Carson, which I suspect was exactly what he would have wanted. Major celebrities essentially become household brands, but unfortunately when their brands lose their luster and age (as they all ultimately do), most celebrities discard their brand equity, and do anything to stay in the spotlight, often denigrating themselves and destroying their legacy. It is a sad experience to see great actors you once admired relegated to hawking horrible products (though I must admit that in my business I depend on the fact that a few celebrities are willing to take the money and run), or more recently descend into the world of reality shows, where they might consume bugs, move into wacky households with psychos and criminals, or humiliate themselves in some other way just to be on camera. In contrast, Carson was the master at managing his career with elegance, dignity, and an air of mystery that added to his celebrity allure.
Though I never heard Carson specifically address the management of his personal brand, he seemed to intuitively know exactly how to do it better than almost anyone else. Next week, I’ll go into more detail about Johnny Carson’s way in managing his personal brand.