Name: Max Clifford
Occupation: Public relations (PR) specialist
In the news for: Clifford is an internationally renowned PR guru who is as recognisable as any celebrity in the UK today, thanks to his success over the past 40 years. He has represented some of the worlds biggest stars, including Simon Cowell, Cliff Richard, Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali, Joe Cocker and OJ Simpson.
He has also acted as an agent to many clients who chose to sell their kiss and tell stories to the media. In recent years, however, his focus in PR has shifted and his priorities now lie with the concealment of stories to protect clients image in the public arena.
Barbara Harding (BH): What was your first paid job after school?
Max Clifford (MC): I worked as an apprentice salesman at a department store called Elys in Wimbledon when I was 15. I got sacked after a year for being rude to a snooty customer who happened to know the owner. I was bored to tears with the job by then anyway.
BH: How did you start out in the world of PR?
MC: I was working as a trainee reporter when I was 18 and also wrote a music column for the South London News Group. This brought me into contact with record companies, so I was always ducking and diving in that medium. I was headhunted by Sid Gillingham in 1962 to work at EMI. He gave me an unknown band at the time called The Beatles to launch. I went on their first US tour and it was an incredibly exciting time. My part in The Beatles success was non-existent, but their part in mine was huge, as it opened a lot of doors at a time when nobody had heard of PR.
BH: Has the PR industry changed much over the years?
MC: Now its about protection rather than promotion in terms of creating the right image for clients, no matter what the industry. Image is particularly important for celebrities, members of a political party or the royal family, as the public dont know them as they normally are.
BH: Have you ever turned a potential client away?
MC: Yes, Ive turned people away for many reasons. Some I didnt like or believe in. Ive never had contracts with my clients either, so if people arent happy, they can walk away. Weve never had to pitch for business, as clients have always come to us.
BH: Do you think some celebrities are overexposed?
MC: Yes, it does happen, and the bigger the star the more careful you have to be. With Simon Cowell, we have a six months on, six months off type of working relationship. When he is in the US, we do as little exposure as possible with the British media, and when he comes back, we keep his publicity minimal. Otherwise, people will get sick and tired of him. Timing is imperative.
BH: Do you ask your clients to admit any secrets they may have before taking them on?
MC: Yes if I dont know more about them than anybody else, then I cant do what they want me to do. If Im aware of their past, I can probably make sure nobody else will be. My clients know they can talk to me and I wont sell them out. Its hugely important that I have this relationship with them. If they dont tell me something theyre hiding, there is nothing I can do if it ends up in the papers. Anticipation is the most important part of protection.
BH: What advice do you have for budding PR professionals trying to crack the industry?
MC: PR is one of the most popular courses at university now and I give a lot of lectures on practical guidelines. My advice would be to watch, read and listen to the media and understand it, but practical experience is imperative too. So, go along to a local hairdresser that has just opened up and see if it needs some publicity. Then get busy by calling local papers and radio stations and promoting the salon for a couple of quid. Youll learn a lot and theres no substitute for practice.
BH: Who is the biggest inspiration in your life either personally or professionally?
MC: Ive never had a hero. Having worked with the biggest stars in the world, you soon see them for what they really are. Sinatra was a very kind man and Ali was brilliant to other people, but my mum Lilly and dad Frank were always my inspiration.