For our first episode, hosts Jenn and Kalli, interview Barry Greenberg, owner of celebconn.com, who specializes in celebrity acquisition. For over four decades, Greenberg has been brokering Hollywood celebrities to television networks, television programs, public relations firms, advertising agencies, corporations, trade associations and charitable organizations. Today, Greenberg spills the secrets on how to effectively manage the biggest names in Hollywood.
ImPRessions Episode # 1 Transcript
Jenn: The glamorous world of celebrities from luxurious partnerships to high profile events, entertainment is one of the most enticing branches of public relations. But beyond the glamour is a fast paced and oftentimes stressful world of managing some of the most challenging personalities in the industry.
Today, we’re speaking with Barry Greenberg, owner of Celebcon.com, who specializes in celebrity acquisition. For over four decades, Greenberg has been brokering Hollywood celebrities to television networks, television programs, public relations firms, advertising agencies, corporations, trade associations, and charitable organizations.
Today, he will share with us the secrets on how to effectively manage the biggest names in Hollywood. Barry, thank you so much for joining us. It’s a pleasure to welcome you to Impressions.
Barry: Well, I’m thrilled to be here. Is this your debut podcast?
Jenn: It sure is. You’re our first guest. You’re our debut guest for our show, so we’re even more excited.
Barry: Why don’t we just build 30 or 40 podcasts around me? I’ll stick around for a few days.
Jenn: All right. I mean, I think we might do that.
Barry: By the way, nobody told me I was giving away secrets today. I don’t know if I want to be giving away secrets, but well, ask away. What do you want to know about the glamorous world of celebrity?
Kalli: So, I think we kind of start at the beginning. You’ve started Celebcon.com over 40 years ago. Tell us, what was that initial attraction for you to celebrity brokering?
Barry: Well, that’s an answer to a two-part question, if you don’t mind my giving it.
The first thing was I was with the United States Air Force in Panama as a broadcaster and some things were going on politically. I won’t get into a lot of details, but I decided that I needed to come back to the States, and I wanted to find a celebrity to be involved with a cause that was very important to me.
And so, I did something you can’t do in 2022, and I picked up the Suffolk County Long Island White Pages, the phone book, and I looked up a singer by the name of Harry Chapin. And the idea of celebrities working for charities, which was the initial five years of the company, was Harry’s idea.
He was always involved with charities and doing work to help people who are needy, and he thought that other celebrities should be doing that, as well and had an idea for an organization like that. So, for years, I would say to Harry, let’s do this.
And he’d say, it’ll never work. Well, a little less than a decade after I met Harry, he passed away
tragically in a car accident. And literally, the first thing that was going through my mind was there never anything stopping me from doing this. So, Celebrity Connection, the original name of the company, was born months later.
Jenn: So, Kalli and I are both from Long Island, so I’m very aware of the Harry Chapin work that he’s done. Correct me if I’m wrong. Was it Long Island Cares, the nonprofit that he started and worked on for many years?
Barry: Well, the original organization, which I think has since the name of Celebrity Connection, my original company, has evolved World Hunger Year. His organization evolved, and Harry and I had a great relationship that involved both philanthropy and politics and music I missed. That relationship very much. We were good friends.
Jenn: You’ve obviously worked with some of the biggest names in the industry. How do you balance the authenticity and the professionalism needed when working with some of these high-profile names?
Barry: When I was in 7th grade, I ran the spotlight for all the stage performances, and I was up in booth and the person who was on stage was being hit by my spotlight.
And I realized somehow in the deep, dark recesses of my mind that you can’t be the spotlight operator and be the person on the stage at the same time.
So, I opted to spend my life pulling levers behind the curtain and I think what’s helped me get through is humility, is hanging back and realizing that it’s the talent that’s important. And all I’m doing is serving a function as the intermediary for the talent.
In your case, it would be functioning as liaison between this very hyper, very complicated entertainment industry and all the representation and the lawyers and the agents and the managers and the organization, charity company or production that you need a celebrity for.
Kalli: That’s interesting and extremely true what you said about being the operator you can’t be in front of the camera, and it really puts you in a unique position. What are some of the do’s and don’ts that you recommend while you’re bridging the celebrity community and agencies like ours, who utilize talent for brand partnerships?
Barry: I believe that no matter who you are on the planet, one of these days you’re going to need or want a celebrity. If you go about trying to access or acquire the celebrity on your own, if you just sort of flail about and start making phone calls, people are generally not going to be taken seriously.
They must traverse all this barbed wire that’s put up between the celebrity and outside communities. And what I’m doing is I’m able to get information that the run of the mill person is not able to get.
The information comes from our 40-year history of building up trust with the people who represent the talent or with the talent themselves. So, what I need to get what I need from the reps are answers and what I need from the companies that we’re working with is a clear understanding of what they’re looking for from the celebrity.
It’s so helpful when the organization understands that this is transactional, that nobody’s going to become their friend. And that I could count on one hand the number of times that people, no matter how well-meaning, do things for purely magnanimous reasons, they don’t.
This is all transactional. How much time do you need? What are you going to do with the product that you create? And how much are you paying me? That’s it. Once you stop reading People magazine or watching fabricated television shows and believe that everybody is just waiting for you to make your request, you will be so much happier in such a better state of mind. Just make it transactional.
I’ve got a hundred thousand dollars; I need somebody to do something for 4 hours. That’s going to live on social media or on the internet or on a TV commercial for six months or a year.
If you can get those factoids together and make a deal, you’ll be so much happier than if you thought, oh, gee, I know this person loves veterans, and therefore I’m sure they’ll accept my phone call and do anything I ask. It’s just an unrealistic posture, right?
Jenn: Right. Absolutely. I think to going back to what you said that was really interesting is brands have always sort of needed that celebrity presence in their marketing since beginning of time, essentially. This isn’t a new concept. You’ve been doing this a long time. So, in the 40 years that you’ve been working in this industry, is there a specific trend that you have seen remain constant throughout business?
Anything pertaining to celebrity partnerships, relationships, any specific types of work with celebrities? I know social media definitely opened the gates to a new world – influencer partnerships and things like that. Anything else that you’ve seen sort of just remain on track through your last four decades?
Barry: Nothing has remained as a straight line. It has all been an upward arc or an upward spiral of complexity. When I started in the industry and I don’t want to play this, oh, my God, I’m so old thing, but when people talked about a celebrity, they wanted Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond or Frank Sinatra, there were fewer people who were considered celebrities.
There were fewer people who were pulling the strings, who oversaw those celebrities, and everybody knew each other.
The world was much less complicated. Now there are many more celebrities, many more people that we consider to be celebrated, people in a variety of different categories of celebrity real life television stars and, you know, and music, people, and influencers. And I don’t want to say everybody’s a celebrity, but I do believe that at some point, most people get their “15 minutes”, and you only must be a celebrity to a particular community. You don’t need to be everybody’s celebrity like Tom Hanks.
You just need to appeal to the one narrow group that you that you’re trying to attract with your product, with your charity, with your pledge drive, with whatever it is you’re doing. The celebrities, the talent, the agencies have gotten bigger.
The law firms have gotten more complicated. The management, the public relations it’s all these barriers trying to keep you away from the celebrity, so that trying to work your way into the celebrity’s world really is a full-time job.
And the most important thing, trying to get a straight answer out of that community is one of the hardest things of all. That’s what I spend my day doing, is trying to get people to give me the simple answers that I need so that I can figure out what to do on behalf of my clients.
Kalli: That makes a lot of sense, Barry and I’m sure your days are extremely busy doing, especially with so many celebrities and influencers that are now available, so to speak, to connect with different brands.
And, with all these different opportunities, how do you scope out which events or partnerships would be a fit for a celebrity that you’re working with? For it to be worth not only your time to make that connection, but also the celebrity’s time and the brand’s time to connect.
Barry: Well, that’s even more. First, we’re going to have to flip that question on its head, because it’s really every event, every partnership, every commercial thinks that it’s entitled to whatever celebrity is on its wish list.
And, oh, my God, how much simpler it is for us when somebody comes to us with a wish list. And it’s not, I want Tom Hanks. You can only get Tom Hanks so many times. And you’ve got to understand it goes back to my original statement.
Nobody is going to do you a favor in any of this. So, we start with the idea that going back to Alice Greenberg, my mother, who had the idea that there was a place for everything and everything in its place.
She was referring to my putting away my socks and underwear. There is a celebrity for every celebrity project. It may just not be the celebrity that you originally envisioned, because the prices of celebrities have to make some sense within the scope of your campaign.
And if you want a legitimately 3, 5, 10 million dollars celebrity and you’ve got $75,000 to spend, you’re not going to convince the $3 million celebrity to do something for 75 grand. You’re either going to have to get out of the celebrity dreaming business, or you’re going to have to modify your desire for a particular celebrity and go look at what the market has to offer.
Jenn: And we know that firsthand experience with you, Barry, some of our clients, their wish list was, how do I say this? A little out of reach. As you know, their budget didn’t really cater to exactly what they were looking for.
And I couldn’t help a lot before when you were saying how there so many new celebrities today in this day and age because it is so true. Like, I have a hard time keeping up with the different names.
And now celebrities’ liberties are even just like social media celebrities. They’re not even part of the music industry or they’re not an actor. They merely create content and get their exposure that way.
So, it’s a much bigger market, which in some ways is wonderful for a lot of businesses, but it’s also hard to keep up with. Right. So how do you keep up with it? What’s, like a day in the life of you working?
And especially since so many things have evolved within the celebrity industry, tell us a little bit about how you work each day.
Barry: My day is going to change considerably. At least I think it is on January 1, because January 1st, Einstein stops giving out free coffee with every order. I just don’t know if I’m going to get up in the morning like I do, go over, buy a bagel, and get a large free coffee with it and then come back and start my day. So, I’m going to have to get back to you after the first of the year and rethink the entire start to my day.
But what I do generally what we do at Celebconn.com is make offers to talent for, you know, right now it’s maybe 30 or 40% actual TV commercials. Clearly half of what we now are some of the 400 to 450 Comic-Cons that take place around the world because there a great and easy source of money for celebrity talent. And then we have a variety of other projects that aren’t Comic Cons and commercials, a little TV show here or a side project there, or favor that I’ll be doing for a celebrity who I’m working with one old friend who wants to get a movie produced.
My business need only have been ten years old if in that ten years everybody had responded to every request I make, most of the time that I spend is going out and beating people over the head for answers that they could have given 30 years ago and that’s what’s frustrating.
We must get clear, concise information from the client. As I said before, what do you want to do? What’s your objective with the talent? Who do you really need? What’s your budget? What are your parameters? How long is this product that you’re creating with the talent going to remain out in the world? Because that term is very, very important to a negotiation.
And once you realize that if I take 4 hours from a celebrity, once you’re past what I call the getting off the couch fee, how much does it take to get a person interested once you get them off the couch?
It really matters if you’re asking them. If somebody comes to me and says, I’m going to need them for one or two days, well, the difference between one or two days for these people is dramatic. You’re going to pay twice, twice as much for two days.
You’re going to pay less for how much you use the product that you’ve created than you are for the time that you’ve taken up or the time that you’ve wasted of the talents if you don’t have a clear idea how long you’re going to need them for. Am I being clear?
Jenn: Yeah, that that makes perfect sense. I mean, you want to make the most of your time, because I’m sure, especially in this industry, working with celebrities, you know, time is money, and you want to be conscious of, you know, what celebrities are doing and how brands are spending their money.
You know, it leads me to my next question. So, as you’re dealing with these, you know, different challenges and partnerships and all the things that go into that, what are some of the ethical obligations that you faced when working with a notable celebrity?
Barry: The ethical obligations? Clearly, we have an ethical demand that the information that we’re being given, that we’re conveying to the celebrity and the celebrities team is 100% accurate, that nobody is going to come in and create a bait and switch with what they’re asking of the celebrity.
We also need the talent side to be clear. You can create a contract between the end user and the celebrity. There are always ways that you can drive a truck through that. So, there must be mutual respect, understanding, appreciation of the two roles.
I would rather have a lower-level celebrity who appreciates getting the work than somebody whose team thinks they’re doing you a favor and is so obnoxious in the process that it makes you wish you had never started the project in the first place.
Jenn: Absolutely. And I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of that, and you’ve worked with a vast majority different types of celebrities. Are there any sort of specific industries or, like, specific types of celebrities that you have found the most rewarding or the most fun?
Are high profile athletes a little bit more excitable to work with? Over? Like you said before, the “Tom Hanks” of the acting world. Any type of celebrities that sort of stand out to you, that when you get there, get a request, you’re like, oh, I absolutely love, you know, the sports, entertainment industry, anything you could shed some light on?
Barry: I’m going to go back to my last question, which is the talent that I most want to work with is the talent and the reps that are the most appreciative of the work. I spent 20 years in the middle of my career still with Celebrity Connection but doing all the talent for Nick-at-Nite and TV Land.
And at that time, there were just a boatload of these classic TV and film people who were well known from decades in the industry but decades before I was working with them. And their level of appreciation for the work that they were getting was you’re unable to put it into words.
They appreciated being recognized. They appreciated having 2000s level income. People would make more money for doing a personal appearance in 2005 than they made for a year in a series in 1970. I’ve been working in the comic con space with a lot of the Doctor Who doctors.
Now, I want to be clear I’ve never watched an episode of Doctor Who, but it doesn’t stop me from doing a lot of business with Doctor Who people. And you can tell that the celebrities made more in a weekend at a comic con than they made in a season as an actor on Doctor Who.
They appreciated the Adam Wests and the Mike Connors and the people that I worked with who were 60s and 70s stars in the 1990s. They were just the loveliest, most appreciative people to work with and those of them that are still around remain in touch and are appreciative now. So that gives me that’s what makes me feel the best.
Kalli: That’s wonderful, Barry and it’s funny that you bring up the cons, I went to Christmas Con this past weekend. If you’re not familiar with it, it is where all the Hallmark Christmas stars come and gather and give the opportunities for fans like me to go and meet them.
I can see with those types of stars that they’re not necessarily the Tom Hanks they’re known to a smaller community. But everyone I met was so appreciative and really willing to spend time with their fans and you could just tell that they really were excited to be there. And there were some charity components, which was really nice. So, it’s really a special relationship that the celebrities have with their fans that they can have it at those cons.
And again, I’m sure to pay for them is also very attractive. So, no reason for them not to participate in things like that.
Barry: As my friend Mr. Pollack will tell you again, this is a long time ago, I co created a course for USC that was about the role of celebrity in public relations.
And the idea behind it was my belief that you can’t talk about the celebrity community and have it been a, be all and end all. Celebrities are people, too. You’re going to find nice ones and mean ones and pain in the butt ones, and you’re certainly going to find, you know, you may have a nice celebrity hooked up with an overbearing and agent or manager.
And it’s a complicated process and it’s not for the faint of heart, not something that, you know, not something that you want to stop your career as a marketing person in the meat packing industry and say, oh, I’m sure I can transition over and be successful in working with celebrities.
It’s its own particular kind of hell. And, you know, I’ve made it made it work for me. I want to go back to question you asked about a typical day in the life, which again, over the last five years has changed a little bit. I would say it’s 50% trying to get answers from people, 20% trying to get good food, another 20% animal crossing, and 10% Rachel Maddow. So that’s my day.
Jenn: Wow. It’s interesting.
Kalli: That is a very interesting day, Barry. And just really diving a little bit deeper into what you’re saying between making the switch to working with celebrities and managing them, what is the difference between brokering them like what you’re doing, and managing them? What are the different nuances between those two things? Because it does sound like there are some complexities there.
Barry: Let’s look at the celebrity community and let’s say there are 1000 people in what you’d consider the celebrity community. To the best of my knowledge, there are literally probably 5 or 10,000 people who could be of interest to any one of your clients or to charities or programs, podcasts, God knows what you’d need. And again, goes back to everybody’s going to need a celebrity at some point.
When I managed celebrities, there were a handful of people that I was responsible for. Those were my people. Six or eight or ten, and I help to guide their career, find them agents, find them publicists, motivate the community so that they would work, come up with deals where, you know, if I can get you this person, would you work with that person?
So that’s an entire dance, and that’s managing talent. That talent is specific to you. When I broker talent, I’m working on behalf of the end user, the public relations or marketing firm, the corporation, the charity, and I’m free to access any celebrity on their behalf.
If you pick up the phone and you call William Morris and say, I need a celebrity, the only people that you’re getting are within the William Morris client list, which is still a single digit list of the celebrity community.
If you ask someone who to represent you in finding you a celebrity, I’m not restricted from going across lines to management companies, public relations firms, agencies across the board and around the world to find your client the talent that they need.
Jenn: Right. The world is your oyster, so to speak. When it comes to that, yes.
Barry: Except I had one really bad experience in Paris where I got sick for a couple of days. I can’t figure out if it was the oysters or the steak tartare, but that’s far behind me now, and we’re back to the world being my oyster.
Jenn: Nothing worse than a bad oyster.
Barry: Nothing worse than a bad oyster.
Jenn: Well, Barry, it has been a pleasure speaking with you today. Thank you so much for the great insight, and. Hopefully our listeners have learned just as much as Kalli, and I have.
Barry: We appreciate it, and if you want to reach us, just go to Celebconn with two N’s .com and we’ll be there for you.
TPG: Amazing. Yes, we’ll drop in the website into our transcript and all our social media and website support. If any of our listeners have any podcast suggestions or want to drop us a line, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you so much.
TPG: Always a pleasure.
TPG: Barry, have a great, great, great weekend. And thank you so much again for your time. It is so appreciated.
Barry: My pleasure.