The unmatchable Hollywood publicist, agent and stuntmaker Jay Bernstein has shown us all once again how a true publicity superstar does things with a fitting final stunt. The sadly deceased genius has defied having his inimitable profile smothered even by death himself, and has managed to release his book onto an unsuspecting public from beyond the grave. Anyone who cares at all about the art of truly inspirational PR, from understanding clients to launching groundbreaking stunts, should buy it. Right now.
Being a PR, I just can’t resist a quick plug: those looking to understand Bernstein’s remarkable talents could also do worse than investing in a copy of my book The Fame Formula. In it, I dissect, analyse and celebrate the incredible gift of Bernstein and his ilk for capturing the public, as well as understanding so well the stars they catapulted to fame with apparent ease. Their arts aren’t lost, but they are essential background reading for anyone seeking to make waves in the comparatively anodyne world of modern communications. In these uncertain days in the shadow of a certain Lord L, the lessons of the past have never been more pressing.
Bernstein was one of the absolute greats. Unmistakably, he was a true showman of the kind I’ve always admired. His stunts, which ranged from artificially stoking Tom Jones’s sex bomb reputation with hired pantie-throwers to holding his own-televised- wedding underwater, are now the stuff of legend. Like Jim Moran and other ancient heroes of mine, he was a fabulous ringmaster of publicity and pizazz.
However, for all the hype about him being the ‘inventor of the modern publicity stunt’, his greatest talent was far more subtle. While researching the Fame Formula, he was one of the figures I had the pleasure of interviewing during a stint across the pond. A gent and an enthusiast, he gave up his valuable time without complaint. Upon entering his house- formerly owned by Rita Hayward and site of the first Jacuzzi in Hollywood- my eyes were assailed by a remarkable collection of memorabilia. The place was filled with debris from his remarkable time in the industry.
As a hopeless collector myself I was excited by the sheer volume of it (and I particularly wonder what happened to his incredible collection of stuffed animals), but I was also impressed and touched: these deeply personal items were evidence of the highly developed bonds Bernstein had with his clients. His memories of each and every client were fond, full and nuanced. One particularly memorable moment involved him musing as to what John Wayne might have said if he’d been offered the script for Brokeback Mountain, just released at the time.
He took clients all the way, and each of the crazy stories he launched came from a place of deep thinking, considered strategy and mutual trust.
It strikes me that, while Jay’s stunts place him in the vein of ‘publicist’s publicist’, his relationships with clients offer up lessons to those in any line of work. Brand communications in any field can only work from a basis of deep mutual respect between those working within the brand and those pushing it out. Madness, controversy and conversation spring from narratives mutually developed and sculpted over years- Bernstein knew this, but I fear it’s something we’re starting to forget.