Celebrity lifestyle gurus: Can they build brands that outlive their showbiz careers?

FT
Stories from the Financial Times. 
July 24 2011 7:01 AM

Celebrity Lifestyle Gurus

Can Gwyneth Paltrow and Jay-Z build brands that outlive their showbiz careers?

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Not every celebrity can be a lifestyle guru, says Stone. "We turn a lot of A-listers down [who want to extend their appeal into product lines or lifestyle advice]." He declines to say which stars he has rejected. "Fame is just one aspect of building a brand. You certainly have to be famous, but you also need to find some aspect of your life that resonates with consumers." You couldn't, he muses, ask Bill Murray to proffer advice on ladies' loungewear. Moreover, he says, "The celebrity has to understand it requires work. It's not just a question of them saying, 'Here's my name, God bless you, send me the check.' It can take years before you see an income."

British celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson have both turned themselves into successful brands. Oliver is worth an estimated £106 million. But, unlike Paltrow, they are not selling us their whole lives. The most successful lifestyle guru, Oprah Winfrey, has always made her life a central focus of her work. From an abusive and poor childhood in rural Mississippi, she rose through local and national broadcasters before establishing herself as a talk-show host in 1983, later publishing an eponymous magazine, and starting a satellite radio channel, a film company, a website, and now OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, a television lifestyle network. She was the top earner in the 2011 Forbes Celebrity 100 list with income in the past year alone estimated at $290 million.

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So when, in April, Martha Stewart tweeted, "Is Gwyneth the next Martha Stewart?" it wasn't just the actress's claim to being the new lifestyle expert Stewart was referring to, it was also the potential earning power. Indeed, venture capitalists are rumored to have approached the actress hoping to buy a slice of her brand, and there is talk of launching an eponymous magazine.

The Gwyneth-effect is already under way. It was something La Fromagerie, a cheese shop in Marylebone, central London, discovered to its great delight last month. After Goop's weekly email (sent to subscribers and published on the ­website) featured the shop, there was a "huge spike of interest," says its general manager Sarah Bilney. ­Particularly from "women [in their] late twenties, early thirties."

And when Goop promoted Paltrow's cookbook, My Father's Daughter ("Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family and Togetherness"), there was a "huge, huge jump in its ranking on Amazon and in bookstores," according to Karen Murgolo, her editor at U.S. publisher Grand Central Life & Style. "We've seen it with other books she's recommended on Goop too." (The U.K. version of the book is called Notes From My Kitchen Table.)

What Paltrow is doing, says branding expert Stone, is "building trust." He adds: "If Paltrow asked companies to pay her to appear on Goop she would lose her authenticity. She has to keep her website pure."

Purity isn't incompatible with making money. A Goop city guide app is in the pipeline, which includes such tidbits as Christy Turlington's favorite waxing salon. A reader survey on Goop asks "how would you feel if Goop earned commission for featuring products in the newsletters?" Another question tests how "excited" respondents might be about possible Goop houseware, cooking utensils, and clothing—and checks whether they object to advertising on the site.

The potential market for lifestyle portals is huge. According to Dan Deacon, head of talent at celebrity PR and events agency the Outside Organization, musicians also have a reason to get online as traditional revenues from music sales disappear. "Artists need to broaden their business now, especially in terms of the demise of physical sales and the demise of the high street," he says.

Even though there will be more imitators in the coming months, Stone believes that: "Jay-Z and Gwyneth are on to something—the first ones in are often the most successful."

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