The Gossip Artist
The site--where Perez reports gossip, scrawls insults and compliments across celebrity photos, and generally causes a ruckus--has transformed the once-unknown writer into the go-to gossip guy and a budding media maven.
Hilton, né Mario Armando Lavandeira Jr., wasn't planning to reinvent himself when he started his first blog, PageSixSixSix.com; he thought blogging seemed like an easy way to entertain himself and his friends. The New York Post--home of the "Page Six" gossip column--thought otherwise, and handed Lavandeira his first lawsuit. Lavandeira didn't have the resources to fight the suit, so he changed his domain name.
"Changing the website name to PerezHilton.com was actually the best thing that ever happened," says Lavandeira, 29. "That forced me to become my own brand. Instead of being 'that dude from that website,' I became Perez Hilton from PerezHilton.com."
It took 12 months for Lavandeira to start making money from the venture. And it took a phone call from the TV show The Insider asking to feature the site as "Hollywood's Most Hated Website" to make Lavandeira understand how big PerezHilton.com could get. "They asked me, 'How do you feel about being No. 1?' I said, 'Well, I don't necessarily agree, but I'll put it on a T-shirt. I'll make it my slogan.'"
That media savvy and bravado has paid off big-time for Lavandeira. He whole-heartedly embraces controversy ("I'm old school--I think any press is good press."), is unabashedly outrageous, catty and just plain funny when interviewing celebs, and he cites his ability to "give good TV" as a factor in his success. In addition to garnering him guest spots on shows like the The View, these talents helped him land a six-episode series of VH1 specials called What Perez Sez, which started airing in September.
What comes with success like this is accidental entrepreneurship, and for Lavandeira, who also cites his hard work and lack of sleep as success factors, it means playing catch-up. Still the lone blogger on PerezHilton.com, he's branching out further by booking and promoting concerts for up-and-coming artists. Lavandeira's blog posts have been credited with helping spur album sales (after he praised pop singer Mika on his site, Mika's debut CD sold 50,000 copies in its first two weeks). He doesn't cop to being such an influential tastemaker but does say, "I have an opportunity to share, and my readers have the opportunity to receive." Lavandeira's first concert last September sold out in four hours, with no line-up announced and just a blog post as promotion.
He hired his sister to be his personal assistant and moved his mother out to Los Angeles as his second employee. "She'll help me out personally--do momlike things and get paid for it: 'Mom, wash my clothes. Mom, clean my apartment,'" explains Lavandeira with a laugh. He's even moving her into the same apartment complex he lives in, keeping this new family business close.
Lavandeira doesn't release his annual earnings, but BlogAds, the company that sells his advertising, lists a one-week, top-of-fold skyscraper ad at $16,000 for 41 million impressions--and that's just one of many ads on the site. Nielsen/NetRatings showed that PerezHilton.com traffic rose 215 percent from July 2006 to July of this year, and ComScore Media Metrix listed the site as the 10th most popular entertainment news site in August.
It's obvious that Lavandeira has a strong brand on which to build a bright future as an entrepreneur--if he plays his cards right and can keep up with his business's growth. He says he gets approached by potential business partners; his attorney and business manager weed through the requests. "My brand is invaluable to me. I don't think anyone could afford to buy me out," says Lavandeira, again with one of his ubiquitous laughs.
So what's in store for the Perez Hilton brand? "I would like to be like Oprah," says Lavandeira, referring to Oprah's many media ventures. "I would like to be in a position where if I have an idea, I could make it happen. I'm open to new ideas, and I'm not afraid of change, and that's a very healthy thing for entrepreneurs. You've got to change with the times or you become irrelevant."
Wise words for the flash-in-the-pan internet age, where YouTube makes blink-and-you-miss-'em celebrities, lolcats are thought of as high humor for a few months and TV shows recycle the latest viral videos.
With Lavandeira embracing the outrageous--remember, this is the love-him-or-hate-him guy infamous for insulting celebrity offspring while giving a free pass to the celebrities he befriends--and with his keen ability to turn his personality into a brand, he's now the one to watch to see if a no-holds-barred blogger unafraid of offending celebrities can truly become a media mogul.