Breathe fire into your image with tips from the dragons’ publicist

Richard J. Hillgrove VI is coming out of the shadows to dissect the finer points of what packs a media punch in a series of talks and workshops on personal PR.

The man in the hat who has stoked the media fires of TV Dragons, hooked up Heston Blumenthal with Little Chef and sat Dame Vivienne Westwood on an army tank, is gunning to make us all experts in how to promote our brand.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a one-person business or heading up a company, you are your best asset. It’s a lesson the super-rich have all had to learn, from Richard Branson to royalty, some of whom Hillgrove once had drinking cheap Aldi champagne at Blenheim Palace.

PR isn’t all parties and champagne, though. It isn’t rocket science, either. Hillgrove believes there are four major keys to unlocking your sustainable media success:

1, Overcoming fear; 2, Authenticity; 3, Personifying a trend; 4, Irresistible story that’s too mouth-watering to resist.

“Your personal image is all about how you inject your personality into your brand, how to give a story wings with that individual touch so that the media just can’t resist the retelling,” Hillgrove says.

Authenticity is the key, as are grit, truth, insights – revelations that lay your soul bare, if you dare. You can leave your hat on, just about.

He adds: “Like the millions of sperm that compete to fertilise one solitary egg, your stories are fighting to be heard in an overcrowded world of multi-channel mayhem. It’s the Quick and the Dead in media land.

“To be heard you need to be fearless as well as innovative. You need to be match-fit to hit that ball into the back of the net and you need to personify a trend, become an emblem of the zeitgeist.”

To top it all, your story needs to rouse people’s emotions. Like in the flag-waving finale of Les Miserables when a child is held high in triumph, your story needs to soar, stand out in a mediocre pool of vanilla press releases.

If you want to make an impact, dry business utterances just don’t hack it.

Of course, fame has its price, but there’s also a huge prize if you’re bold enough to claim it. You might just find the price is right…

“TV fame changes everything. It puts you at the front of life’s queue. You get precious press which is worth so much more than its advertising equivalent that we always compare it to. Your profile blossoms and you become an entity in your own right, no longer sitting on the sidelines.

“For example, when James Caan was bidding for a freehold Mayfair property one time, he was chosen above the 40 others who were in the running, purely because he was a TV Dragon. Celebrity is a different game altogether,” says Hillgrove.

Getting in the game takes work and discipline. When you’re offering the full package, you have to get the packaging right. Your image has to tick all the boxes. Club memberships, charity involvement, people you hang out with, the clothes you wear, places you visit and even how you talk are all part of your personal media Cpanel.

Everything you say and do contributes to a perfectly gift-wrapped narrative aimed at delivering exactly the result you need. Get it right and you can expect your media coverage to go the extra mile on TV, radio, online and, yes, even old-fashioned print.

When Dame Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s son Joe Corré made a bonfire out of his collection of punk memorabilia, the story was a sure-fire cracker. It ran in major outlets around the world with coverage worth around £20 million in advertising terms. We may have been punching above our weight, but the story hit the mark.

The main barrier to overcome when it comes to PR is fear. Fortune really does favour the brave. You also have to be hungry for what media attention will bring you. Yes, you might make mistakes but you learn to ride out the rough and enjoy the smooth as you keep your eye firmly on the prize.

Entrepreneurs will recognise that pattern all too well. In many ways managing your PR is just like running any other part of your business. Your media image is as much a process. In PR, just as in business, deadlines must be met, research done, facts checked and everything should be legally watertight.

It’s a real production number, make no mistake, but once you get to a certain level your media profile can give you leverage.

Hillgrove tells of how James Caan successfully used a TV appearance to secure a return to Dragons’ Den. “By absolute luck one Sunday when I happened to have James Caan about to do a newspaper review on the BBC, I found out that the Sunday Mirror was running an authorised leak that said Caan was to be dropped from the next series.

“I managed to alert him just before he went on air and after he’d reviewed a couple of papers he casually picked up the Sunday Mirror saying ‘This is an interesting story. It says I’m going to be sacked from Dragons’ Den.’ It was a bold move, but effective. As a result, Caan got a cast-iron guarantee that he would be staying on.”

Everyone is now an entrepreneur with a portfolio career. Even John Cleese took part in Global Entrepreneurship Week recently. It’s clear that just as the media has proliferated over recent years, it’s no longer enough to be a one trick pony. You need a stable full of thoroughbreds lined up at the starting gate ready to give the world a run for its money. Then the odds will be in your favour.

Of course, sometimes things backfire and the fairy dust of celebrity doesn’t always open doors, but there’s no doubt a well-managed profile and positive public following can lift you up all the way to the top where you belong. Just hold on to your hats!

Richard Hillgrove speaks at the Like Minds Business Conference on  at 8am on Thursday 11th May 2017.