He might have been a painter at the root, but Andy Warhol can still teach entrepreneurs a ton about revenue growth and publicity, even decades after his death. Warhol knew intuitively how to frame an idea that continually captivated the media’s attention and elevated his brand.
Even more impressive, he found ways to turn that publicity into revenue that pushed his art value to record highs. When I was an executive producer at a television network, I was fascinated by how Warhol was able to tap into that creative spirit and produce ideas we had never seen before. Even today, as the owner of a public relations firm, I see how Warhol’s approach to publicity is applicable to business.
Of course, it would be challenging to place Warhol’s creative and business approach into a textbook, let alone an article. But here are four angles I believe Warhol mastered on publicity and business:
Identify creative people and channel their ideas.
Andy Warhol is probably best known for his “Campbell’s Soup Cans” paintings, but most people don’t know that he didn’t generate that idea. That’s right. His most famous painting was actually another person’s idea.
When he was starting out in New York, Warhol had difficulty standing out among the art circles. He was successful as a commercial artist, but his artwork hadn’t really taken off. But a friend and interior designer, Muriel Latow, charged Warhol $50 to help him come up with an idea that he could execute. According to Vanity Fair, Latow first suggested he create paintings of money. Then, for free, she shared a second idea: cans of Campbell’s soup. The rest is history. One of those paintings was recently sold for $11.7 million.
So remember that as a business leader, you don’t always need to come up with the best ideas. You just need to learn how to identify the best ideas and execute them.
Bend the rules. The business will survive.
Warhol was never afraid to break the rules. His eccentricities were unpredictable while his art always pushed boundaries. But this is a path many business owners are afraid to follow today.
I work with a lot of CEOs and politicians who want to walk the line. They’re afraid their words will alienate people, so as a result, they don’t add new insight to the story, and they ultimately get ignored by the media. Reporters are looking for colorful comments. They don’t want to hear a canned response. They want strong quotes that add insight and color to their stories.
Yes, I know there are stronger boundaries within specific industries, and a quick-witted tweet can get any brand in trouble. Elon Musk, for example, is known for tweets that attract attention — and controversy — and he’s even been sued for defamation for a tweet insulting a British cave expert.
So it’s important to be cognizant of how you’re positioning yourself and your brand. But don’t be afraid to bend the rules every now and then. Look at presidential candidate and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang: He bent the rules in his first debate by not wearing a tie. We’ve been conditioned for decades that presidents wear ties, so he broke those rules. It didn’t take long for people to start talking about his style, which, from my perspective, better positioned his brand with the tech entrepreneurial world. Bending the rules is personal, but if the behavior or expression is slightly off-setting for your industry, you just might be bending the rules.
Become a renaissance, multi-dimensional executive.
Warhol was more than a painter. He was in film, TV and print. He continually dabbled in outside projects that pushed his creative process. But over his career, he remained loyal to his first love — painting.
Last year, I produced an off-Broadway play on the final hours of Elvis Presley’s life. At the time, many business leaders questioned how this “side project” could potentially hurt my PR firm. In hindsight, this outside project developed a new pipeline, vertical and digital platform that I wouldn’t have discovered without this theatrical exposure.
Dabbling in different projects usually comes easy to creative minds, but it can be a little more difficult for analytical, left-brained executives to dive in. I’ve seen this with best friends as well as with clients. The old school rule teaches entrepreneurs to stay focused on the business. And while that’s good advice, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep looking for outside projects that introduce new experiences into your world.
Collaborate and partner with similar minds.
Most artists are protective of their work, fearing collaboration will lead to the dilution of their idea. Likewise, many budding entrepreneurs worry about collaborating with like-minded individuals can lead to someone stealing their ideas.
Warhol didn’t care. He was known for “The Factory,” his New York City studio apartment Biography described as a “mecca for artists and celebs.” Sure, he could have been fearful that an ambitious, unknown artist would steal his verbal idea. Instead, he chose to focus on how business partners, collaborators and even potential competitors could scale his vision to a higher level.
In today’s universe, it’s even harder for businesses to stand out from the noise. There’s no longer one channel to consumers. If Andy Warhol were to enter the New York art scene today, I don’t know that he would have become as much of an icon. However, there is no doubt in my mind that Warhol’s approach to creativity and publicity would drive any business to record profits.