It’s awards season—which means we’re seeing a lot of Brand Clooney, Brand Jolie-Pitt, and Brand Gaga strolling red carpets and answering the timeless question, “Who are you wearing?” Of course, not every celebrity can be described as a brand (Brand Streep? Not so much), but the combination of instant recognition, clearly defined assets, and ownership of one’s own image is a powerful tool in a bottom-line-driven industry.
So how do you make the transition from personality to brand? To find out, I talked to Carly Steel, the on-air personality and TV host for TV Guide Network, Dick Clark Productions, and NowLive/Livestream, and a contributor for KTLA’s “Morning News Weekend” and “Good Morning America.” Steel is also a brand ambassador for Audi and Crest 3D White, hosting fashion events on their behalf.
As someone who walks both sides of the red carpet as on-air reporter and as a celebrity herself, Steel is uniquely positioned to discuss celebrity branding. I caught up with the smart, lively Brit—who’s been described as “a cheeky Grace Kelly”— amid the more than two dozen red-carpet events she’s covering in the first three months of this year.
Q: How would you describe your “brand image”?
A: It's odd to think of one’s self as a brand, but I strive to deliver a blend of old school and modern, traditional and innovative—offering a sophisticated, stylish, global perspective with a fun, tongue-in-cheek edge to it.
Q: When you first began in this business, did you develop a brand strategy for yourself?
A: I wish I had been that strategic at 20! Ryan Seacrest has been a pioneer in the way hosts can become a brand and has revolutionized the industry; he’s an inspiration to me. I've always had a keen sense of who I am and the kind of companies I like to work with, so my brand strategy just developed in an ad-hoc manner.
Q: Given your image, what brands are drawn to you—and vice versa—and why?
A: The old adage “like attracts like” definitely applies here. I work with brands that I personally like, respect and believe in. I tend to work with large, higher-end brands, such as Audi, that are international in scope and appeal to a sophisticated, savvy consumer.
Q: Are there certain brand categories that you would not be comfortable representing?
A: Integrity is important. I would never associate with a brand that I wouldn’t personally use, respect or believe in. It doesn't matter how good an actress you are, the camera and the audience can tell if you aren't genuinely enthusiastic about something, no matter how tempting or lucrative the incentive may be.
Q: How did you get the Audi and Crest jobs?
A: Both relationships developed in very organic ways. With Audi, it was all about our shared passion for the film world. They sponsor many of the events I cover, like the American Film Institute Festival and the Elton John Oscar party benefit. I noticed that many celebrities are huge fans of their cars, so I asked Audi if they’d like me to host and produce their video content. From there, it expanded into doing the “in car” interviews with the talent en route to premieres.
My work with Crest
started with Mariana Stanciu, who’s a genius at matching brands with events. She handled brands and sponsorships for Hollywood Life magazine, and we met when I hosted backstage
interviews at Hollywood Life’s Young Hollywood Awards. She liked my on-air style and has referred me to various brands, including Crest 3D White.
Q: Do you find that more and more brands are in need of TV hosts like yourself?
A: Yes, nowadays it’s all about pairing the right brand with the right press opportunity and the right tastemakers, who are usually celebrities. Because brands sponsor so many events in the entertainment industry, they need hosts to cover them so they can have footage from that event to get exposure among their key audiences which will in turn increase brand awareness.
But I think it’s very important for companies to work with people who are known and respected in the industry. Because only a skilled TV host knows how to entertain and inform at the same time—how to get interviews on the carpet with the top talent and create interview content that also incorporates brand messaging through logos or through the celebrities talking about the product.
Q: Do you have a “Team Carly” to help craft your brand strategy and vision?
A: Up until about a year ago, “Team Carly” consisted of me, myself, and my mother! Today I have about a dozen people, including my agent, my manager, and my publicist, Mike Liotta of TRUE Public Relations, who is brilliant at strategically publicizing my shows with the right online, print, radio and TV outlets. Plus, a glam squad of showrooms who help me pull outfits for shoots; three different hairstylists; and someone for make-up. On the production side, I use a videographer and an editor. Gosh, this sounds so high maintenance—at least there's not a Beyonce-style wind machine listed here!
Q: You mentioned online outlets— how important is social media to your own brand’s PR efforts?
A: Social media is paramount. This has been difficult for me because it completely conflicts with my upbringing, which valued discretion! To be discussing what I'm doing all the time and posting pictures of myself— there's something quite cringe-worthy about it. But it’s a necessary evil and, like kale, I'm forcing myself to acquire the taste, because it's important to the outlets and brands I work with that I come with a built-in audience. I'm working on my website, CarlySteel.com, and a blog called 'Scene Steeler,' with streaming-video content. Fans can also chat with me on Twitter at @carlyjsteel. Nowadays, it's not just about how good a job you do … it's about how many people you can reach.
As a marketing and PR professional who’s worked with hundreds of brands (human and otherwise) over the years, I think Carly demonstrates the qualities that create the perfect match of personality + brand: smarts, humor, a strong sense of her image, and an intuitive knack for linking with brands that share her affinity for film, fashion, and the good life. In fact, I recently started following Carly on Twitter and have already decided that my next car will definitely be an Audi and that I need a large cocktail ring to wear on my middle finger when I attend my next black-tie awards show. Maybe in my next life… .