It can get you attention, and invites, but can fame get you business or improve your worth in the marketplace? In a feature that first appeared in Encore, Megan Reynolds investigates.
Andy Warhol famously predicted that one day, everyone would have their 15 minutes of fame, and in our celebrity-driven culture it seems everyone wants to be known.
Whether you build up your profile day by day, or suddenly find yourself in the spotlight, in this industry, fame is often
a part of the job.
“People get a bit of a thrill seeing someone off the TV,” says music journalist, actor and TV personality Jason “Jabba” Davis who is best known for his role in the TV series Pizza and the 2003 movie Fat Pizza. “It’s a primal thing, we all like to feel known and a part of something. And I get that every day, whether it’s from my garbage man, or the person I buy coffee from.”
But can being recognised by the public help your career?
Anecdotes abound of advertising agencies and regular panelists who have appeared on ABC’s The Gruen Transfer or Gruen Planet winning clients without even having to pitch.
And when Adelaide newsreader Belinda Heggen shot to stardom after making a quip on air that has been watched more than 12 million times, it led to a job in radio when she suffered the fallout of redundancies by Channel Ten.
In the clip, Heggen’s co-anchor Mark Aiston rounded up the sports report with a comment about the Ashes trophy: “I just can’t understand how something so small could be so impressive.” Heggen’s deadpan response followed: “Well Mark, you should know about that.” As a result, Heggen was credited with a spike in audiences, particularly from the highly coveted youth demographic, as the YouTube clip became Channel Ten’s most watched.
“It was really one of those off-the-cuff remarks but it got a life of its own,” says Heggen. “It just goes to show what happens when a news presenter’s personality creeps in.”
After Heggen took a redundancy from Ten less than a year later, she was approached by radio station Fiveaa in Adelaide to host the afternoon show.
“My profile has helped, but only as much as the listeners know me, and they feel comfortable to sample my show. While I’m known for that quip I don’t want that to be all I can offer, I want to be respected for all of my abilities,” says Heggen.
Jonathan Pease, executive ideas director and managing partner of creative agency Tongue, found he had to prove himself as more than just a ‘himbo’ when he featured on Australia’s Next Top Model.
As an advertising and marketing professional with more than a decade of experience managing fashion brands, Pease appeared in three seasons of the show while he was also the director of ideas at Naked.
And often when approaching clients, his reputation preceded him.
“I had one client who is a massive fan of the show so it just made my ice-breaker phone call and the whole pitch process very easy,” says Pease.
“It was a win-win because they loved getting gossip about the show from me and I think we do great work for them. Now we have become very close friends, so it’s really the ultimate. But a lot of the time when I was on television people would think I was just a ‘himbo’ and I would have to prove them wrong, which I did.”
Deborah Thomas, Bauer Media’s director of media, public affairs and brand development, says her role on Celebrity Apprentice is more likely to be seen as a distraction from her main job than a credit in her favour.
Although she has used the show as an opportunity to promote Bauer’s magazine brands, and in turn the magazines to promote the show, she also has responsibilities as a member of the ANZAC Centenary Advisory Board, deputy chair of the National Library of Australia board and a long time member of the board for the Taronga Conservation Foundation.
And although her Celebrity Apprentice fame may have helped her win her seat on the Woollahra Council in September, Thomas says she could not hold her position or be chairwoman of the council’s community and environment committee, and of the Public Art Trust board, if she could not do the job.
“It’s not fame that gets you those jobs,” says Thomas. “If anything, it could be seen as a distraction. The last thing that you want to be seen as is flippant or that you are in any way celebrity-minded.”
Thomas says she was chosen for her role as an advisor to Celebrity Apprentice host Mark Bouris because of her business experience and credentials, but if the tables were turned and she was asked to be a contestant on the show, she would decline. “People can build profiles by jumping off ships in red bikinis or having outrageous parties and getting on A Current Affair,” she says.
“But for me, building a business profile is proving to people step-by-step that you have what it takes to do a job, and making sure you manage and look after the relationships you build along the way. Gaining respect and respecting others is what pays off.”
With 27 years experience in the industry, including a decade as editor-in-chief of the Australian Women’s Weekly, Thomas has appeared on the Today show, was a regular commentator on Nine News and A Current Affair and hosted a radio show.
She also shared her story about the natural birth of her son Oscar at the age of 46 with the Women’s Weekly’s two million readers, as well as in a Foxtel documentary.
“Those kinds of things really establish you with a big audience,” she says.
“You can edit a huge magazine and resonate with a lot of people, and they will remember you, but television is really powerful in terms of people remembering who you are. Go on TV once and more people will comment on that than probably anything else.”
Although Thomas says Celebrity Apprentice may have raised her profile among a younger demographic – her son and his friends watch the show – her professional reputation and connections have proven to be far more valuable.
And her new political career, inspired by former Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull, has brought influencers like David Gonski into her circle, as he is a trustee on the Public Art Trust board she now chairs.
For Pease, the fame of Next Top Model has not been as valuable as the business skills he gained on the show. As well as three years’ first-hand experience in the running of a large-scale reality TV production, he also had the opportunity to interact with the general public in a way he had not experienced before.
“Being out there in malls meeting everyday Australians really put me into the marketplace and I loved that because as a creative, if you’re able to visualise the types of people you’re trying to sell something to, it makes it a lot easier. That was the best business benefit I got out of it, that cultural immersion,” he says.
While the people Encore spoke to that have come to fame as a byproduct of doing their day jobs seem to suggest they could take it or leave it, for Jason Davis, fame is a necessary element to a successful career. While anticipating the release of a new season of TV comedy series Housos, Davis says he does not have as many opportunities now as he did when he was appearing on SBS series Pizza and when the movie Fat Pizza was released because his high profile at the time was associated with high ratings and large audiences.
During down time in between jobs, Davis has watched on as better-known personalities are given opportunities to feature on shows such as Dancing with the Stars. “The more well-known you are the more offers come your way, and then you’re in a position to either turn them down or accept them,” he says. “The whole challenge in any media-related industry is how you can have a life-long career in it. Ideally you want people to always be receptive to hearing about you.”
This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.