When you look at celebrities like Jessica Simpson, Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber, do you ever wonder how they became so famous? Is it because they are better-looking or more talented? No, more often than not, these people have a team of publicists who are carefully and continually oiling their wheels of fame and popularity.
In the case of Justin Bieber, however, he got his start in a very inexpensive way — he became famous after his mom posted a YouTube video of him singing for their family and friends to see. The video went viral and was seen by the singer Usher. The rest, as they say, is history.
Looking for the glow of neon lights but don’t want to spend a lot of green? Here are four frugal ways to get famous.
Do your own PR
Danny Kofke, a special education teacher and author of the book “How to Survive (and Perhaps Thrive) On A Teacher’s Salary,” says, “I have been very frugal in my marketing.”
Kofke’s main way of marketing his book through social media is with the help of e-mail.
The best part is that he has not spent any money promoting himself. All he does is pitch via e-mail and/or telephone. E-mail has been his main source of marketing, he says, but he’s also explored other avenues. “I’ve done a little on Facebook and Twitter, but e-mail pitches have brought the most success.”
He searches for a particular show or people who are a good fit to market himself and his book, and he finds their information via Web searches.
“For example, if I wanted to pitch someone from the ‘Today’ show, I Google ‘Today Show Producers’ and get a list from this search. Let’s say one of the producers is James Jones. I then Google ‘Contact James Jones Today Show’ and usually get some sort of contact info. I then e-mail and/or call that person.”
Kofke reaches out to as many people as possible per pitch. If he has a list of 25 producers from a television show, he e-mails all of them until he gets a response from at least one of them, and then continues to e-mail that person with his updates.
So far, he’s had success. He’s been featured in a number of publications, including USA Today and CNN.com. He’s also been interviewed on more than 175 radio shows and on numerous television shows including “Fox & Friends,” CNN’s “Newsroom” and “ABC News Now.”
Engineer-turned-comedian Dan Nainan says his main tool for marketing himself is YouTube. “YouTube has been great for marketing. One of my clips on YouTube has just surpassed 900,000 views, and it’s been directly responsible for getting me a lot of work,” he says.
In one specific incident, someone saw Nainan on YouTube and booked him for a corporate event in Dubai — they paid him $8,000. He then headed to Hong Kong to perform at a 50th birthday party and was paid $10,000.
He says, “There have been many other shows that I have gotten as a result of that YouTube clip.” Due to his increasing popularity, Nainan has performed at the Democratic National Convention and at three presidential inaugural events, and has performed for Donald Trump.
Nainan says the best thing about the Internet and social media is the phenomenon of disintermediation: “This is where I don’t need middlemen or television to get exposure. In the past, I would’ve had to have an agent see me, who would’ve had to pitch me to Comedy Central to get exposure. With social media, I get all kinds of exposure I never would’ve had, and the cost is exactly zero.”
Blogging into celebrity
Kim Cooper’s grandparents’ blog, The OGs, or “original grandparents,” has had popularity and success but required barely any spending. Kim Cooper and her younger sister Chinta Cooper launched the blog in 2008 with their grandparents Barbara “Cutie” and Harry “PopPop” Cooper, then 91 and 96, to give their family something fun to do together.
Cutie and PopPop would talk about the secrets of their 72-year marriage. Kim and Chinta posted video blogs on YouTube, embedded them in their website, got a songwriter friend to write a jingle about them, and created a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page — which directed viewers to their blog and into their fan stream.
Their mainstream media attention came as a result of one of their fans, an editor at The Los Angeles Times who had been following the grandparents online and assigned an article. “The L.A. Times piece was followed by the ‘Today’ show, CNN, ‘All Things Considered,’ and Japanese, Australian and Thai TV pieces,” says Kim Cooper.
The only money spent promoting her grandparents was $30 for two boxes of business cards for their blog. Sadly, PopPop died in October at 98 years old, but Cutie is still actively blogging as a solo artist.
Social media a key to success
Actively participating in social media since 1995, Shel Horowitz is the author of six books on frugal, ethical and green marketing and is a marketing consultant who advises clients on low-cost methods.
He advises clients to send out press releases that tell “the story behind the story” and are not a mere dry recitation of the obvious.
“Constantly reach out to influencers, mostly giving and connecting on their behalf. For example, make an introduction, retweet a (Twitter) post, comment on other blogs,” he says.
As a result of his efforts, Horowitz says he has at least 50 media interviews in a typical year, 128,000 exact-match hits on Google for his name, and 549,000 (it’s been as high as 1.07 million) exact-match hits for his most recent book title, “Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green.” He’s also been quoted frequently in major media, including repeat appearances in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Three of his four traditionally published books evolved out of self-published books and he has about 4,000 followers on Twitter.
“It’s actually very easy to get media and social media attention, and to become a big fish in a small pond,” says Horowitz. “If you have 30 to 60 minutes a day, you can do this.”