Zack O’Malley Greenburg is a Forbes senior editor and author of the Jay Z biography “Empire State of Mind” and “Michael Jackson, Inc.“. He covers the business of entertainment for Forbes.
Michael Jackson, Inc. was published by Simon & Schuster in 2014.
Interview published in MICHAELzine #6 (2014) :
MICHAELzine : The structure of the book allows us to understand one of the main ideas that guided the project. A chronological approach and 15 out of 18 chapters dedicated to business at the time when MJ was alive. Do you think people misunderstand, even underestimate the importance of the business choices made by Mr. Jackson during his career?
Zack O’Malley Greenburg : Most people misunderstand Michael Jackson as a businessman. Because of the financial struggles he faced later in life, many observers forget the incredible moves he made earlier in his career (buying the Beatles’ catalogue, launching his own clothing line, and so on). In my book, I tried to point out some of the incredible moves he made in the 1980s while building his empire.
The 2nd chapter “Motown University” shows that beyond the talent Michael Jackson had, decisive encounters is what will enable him to acquire formidable strengths in business. Berry Gordy is not the only person to have influenced MJ in his approach to business. As recalled later in your book by Matt Forger, Michael loved studying the path followed by personalities who succeeded in business. But would you say that this encounter, at that moment in the life of young Michael and when B. Gordy was already an outstanding businessman, is the most decisive?
Zack O’Malley Greenburg : I would say that Michael’s experience working with Berry Gordy as a young man was the most important part of his learning process when it came to the business of music. In this area and others, Gordy was one of his most important mentors — probably the most important of all.
Several observers you’ve questioned or that you quote in the book, have no doubt: since very young, Michael had the qualities to become a businessman. We are particularly thinking about the testimony of Walter Yetnikoff mentioned in your book. For our readers, could you give us the essential quality possessed by Michael Jackson to succeed in business?
Zack O’Malley Greenburg : The essential quality Michael Jackson possessed that allowed him to succeed in business was his intuition, particularly when it came to the value of entertainment assets. His advisers told him he was crazy to spend $47.5 million on the Beatles’ catalogue; today, that investment is worth about $1 billion.
You write “Perhaps most Significantly, Jackson Fundamentally changed the formula for monetizing fame forever.” Musical marketing was certainly not born with Michael Jackson. There are partnerships that have existed between singers and big firms since the 1950s (Elvis Presley with “Southern Maid Donuts”), the advertising campaigns for Coca Cola in the 1960s with Otis Redding, Ray Charles, or in 1980 partnerships between Pepsi and David Bowie, Lionel Richie or even Michelob beer and the Genesis group. How did Michael Jackson revolutionize the “monetization of fame”? What differentiates him from other artists?
Zack O’Malley Greenburg : The difference between Michael Jackson and the entertainers who came before him is that he did things on a completely different scale — for example, his L.A. Gear shoe deal promised him $20 million, more than Michael Jordan was getting paid by Nike at the time — and the fact that he usually wasn’t just putting his name on somebody else’s product. With his sneakers, clothing, video games, etc, he was getting paid to help build his own brand rather than somebody else’s.
In 2011, Nicci Gilbert said in an interview about the group Brownstone (signed in 1993 under the label MJJMusic): “I remember the first time that I met [Michael Jackson]. He gave us the advice that, like Coca-Cola; we should always conduct ourselves as a brand. (…) Work on building a brand and building a name that people will remember forever”. The same idea is felt throughout your book about Michael Jackson. MJ was a great artist but he also worked to make his image become a brand. Is this idea the corner stone of the financial empire built by Michael Jackson?
Zack O’Malley Greenburg : Michael Jackson was an early master of branding. His business moves paved the way for modern celebrity-moguls like Diddy and Jay Z. Artists today will continue to benefit from the doors he opened.
Mr Greenburg, Thank you so much for this interview and your availability for the fans of Michael Jackson !
- More about the Author : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zack_O’Malley_Greenburg