Anyone with more than a passing interest in public relations and pop culture at large should take a look at The New Yorker‘s fascinating profile of Scooter Braun, a master media manipulator who may be the world’s most successful manager but describes himself as “a camp counselor for pop stars.”
His current claim to fame? An extremely profitable partnership with the world’s favorite pre-pubescent crooner, Justin Bieber.
In case you haven’t heard, Braun is a former Atlanta-based party promoter who worked with various area hip-hop stars and discovered Bieber while browsing YouTube for clips to help promote his biggest client at the time, singer Ne-Yo. After a bit of pleading with Bieber’s mother, he managed to persuade the two to relocate to the ATL and join forces with R&B veteran Usher. This move gave Bieber the credibility he needed to pass muster as a lily-white soul singer capable of reducing tween girls across the globe to incoherent screeches while simultaneously looking innocent enough to win parents’ approval.
Despite appearances, Bieber was not quite an overnight sensation, and the route he took to superstardom was anything but traditional.
Braun’s big message is relatively simple: Identify your brand, build it up over time, and spread it as widely as you possibly can. Some interesting details:
- He began advising Bieber long before approaching record labels to promote him. At first, he focused on expanding the singer’s social media presence and creating a demand for his music. By the time he was ready for the big product roll-out, Bieber already had hundreds of thousands of followers.
- Braun cites the Facebook model of transparency in all things in explaining his strategy: showcasing Bieber’s talent without any of the usual trappings like fancy videos with sets, costumes and backup dancers. These things came later.
- Braun seems to thrive on the contempt and jealousy of others, saying that he often “turns to the shit talkers” to figure out his next move. For example, once critics began pegging him as a one-hit wonder, he decided to expand his portfolio to include the British boy band The Wanted of “Glad You Came” fame and a certain Canadian singer who Bieber happened to hear on pop radio in his home country. Her name? That’s right, it’s Carly Rae Jepsen (apologies for getting that awful song stuck in your head again). Braun used Bieber’s star power and some strategically leaked YouTube clips to push Jepsen and her omnipotent single to the top of the pops–in fact, at one point his clients held the top three spots on the Billboard charts.
- As Braun puts it, the music biz is far from dead–but the real money no longer lies in recordings themselves, and this Svengali quickly looked for ways to spread the Bieber brand: The singer now hawks everything from perfume to bedsheets to the highest-grossing concert film of all time–and his manager has leveraged his considerable earning power to invest in other rising properties like Spotify.
- Braun is involved in nearly every aspect of Bieber’s life. He is both adviser and guardian, treating the star like “a ward” and applying tough love when he misbehaves (which seems to happen quite often).
- Braun looks refreshingly modest compared to the PR men of old: He refers to himself as “a normal Joe” and prefers t-shirts to suits.
The big question: Can Justin Bieber make the move from tween icon to mature pop star? And if Bieber stumbles, what comes next for Scooter Braun?
What do you think? Is he a promotional genius who represents the future of the entertainment business, or is he just the luckiest man in the world?