Mario Batali, Michael Symon , Tom Colicchio and a host of other food world top guns owe their celebrity status at least in part to one person: Scott Feldman.
Scott Feldman, founder of Two Twelve Management & Marketing, has had a big hand in boosting some of the hottest chefs into household names. Feldman's niche is leveraging relationships and capitalizing on strengths to build personal brands. We asked him about his role helping to elevate the status of chefs.
RH: How did you end up doing what you do?
Feldman: I've been in the industry since I was nine. I was a Jewish kid working in an Irish tavern that my father had in Rockland, Long Island, and I've loved the business of food and hospitality since that age. I was a bartender, and I started my own catering/mixology company. Then I started a tee-shirt design business. Eventually I wound up working for Ogilvy and Mather, and American Express was a client. After that I spent 12 years at AmEx running the entertainment and restaurant business. That's when it clicked. I noticed hospitality was getting more glamorous, and the Food Network added another dimension. Instead of saying “let's promote celebrities,” I realized that outside the four walls of the restaurant, there are brand-building opportunities. That was five years ago.
RH: And how was the going at first?
Feldman: No one had really heard of managers or agents in this industry. But I had a lot of friends who said they'd like to be part of it. A lot of the business came through word of mouth. I had a strong reputation in the industry, mainly from relationships I had fostered at AmEx. To this day, we are very close to 80 percent of the people we manage. We manage them as if they we were part of their family.
RH: What does a firm like yours bring to the table?
Feldman: I think the biggest thing is a broad-based understanding of the industry and a very creative and strategic portfolio of competencies that allow someone to build their business — outside the four walls of their restaurant, sometimes outside the four walls of their kitchen — exposing them to multiple contacts, multiple disciplines and putting those pieces together with them. We are ruthless negotiators, amazing marketers and great strategic minds, but we need potential clients to buy in. We find out what their true personalities are and what their brand stands for, and we connect the dots.
RH: The popular culture surrounding celebrity chefs is still kind of young. Do you think it's a passing fad, or do you see it continuing?
Feldman: I would never have based a business on something I thought was a “trend.” We don't use the term “celebrity.” These are businesses that have a personality at their hearts. There are multiple opportunities that can be harnessed. If interest in celebrity chefs was declining, I think we would have already seen a downturn. Instead, we're seeing more TV shows and more books, even novels.
RH: What's your take on the Food Network moving away from prominent chefs and more toward television personalities?
Feldman: I think the networks are finding what appeals to a consumer base and finding appropriate talent for the job. As the industry grows, I think that appeal will change.
RH: What kinds of common traits do you see in your clients? What makes a superstar?
Feldman: We are very careful to make sure that our portfolio is diverse, and that each client has what I'll call a brand stamp or personality or DNA that allows us to market them for a specific need, want, desire or objective. That said, bottom line, there needs to be a shining star or marketability. Our job is to idenfity whether a person has that little glimmer in his or her eye or that personality. I think there are different people for different needs. Some clients are better for live appearances than for TV appearances. Some are better at cookbooks and writing. Everybody wants to be a star.
RH: How do you figure out what makes sense for each individual?
Feldman: When we start the process, we have clients fill out a brand survey. It's a point-by-point process that outlines what they want to get out of the relationship. For some it's TV exposure, some want multiple restaurants. It would be shocking for people to know there are lot of people who never want to be on TV, as long as they meet their objectives. It's more than that. It's about having the businesses, the books, PR, TV. It all fits together as a portfolio. We never want any of these people to be a flash in the pan. The whole point in building a brand is building a sustainable business structure for them to be a lifelong success.
In the end we will never go on a mission for someone until there's full agreement. If it's not in your heart, it will not be a good mission going forward. If your vision is to have 10 restaurants, 10 books and 2 TV shows, you need to understand that doesn't leave much time for your personal life.
RH: How does media exposure translate into sales or personal wealth?
Feldman: The approach is strategic. Everything we do considers the bottom line. For instance, every time someone makes an appearance, it's X time away from the restaurant. Does that equation work? In the end, we are about making our clients money. We may do things that don't garner tremendous money, but they will build the brand to make sure in the future it's worth more.
RH: Have you ever fired a client?
Feldman: We don't say “fired,” but there are times we've come to a point in the road where we don't feel the partnership is mutually respected or beneficial. If the goals and objectives are not aligned, there's no reason to continue.
RH: We want some dirt: What really goes on at those Access House events you plan during the big food and wine festivals?
Feldman: We created Access House to put together individual and corporate clients so they could sit down and have a cocktail together. Things happen organically because it's a comfy environment. At one event we had a chef bartending. Another chef and a sommelier were jamming for hour-long sets as our house band. At 3:30 a.m. someone else took a product from one of our partners and started cooking beef sliders in the kitchen. It's a way for people to do what they do in their normal lives, without being asked for an autograph.
RH: What do you like most about your job?
Feldman: I feel fortunate to work with the people I do and be in the world I'm in. There may be parts that sound scripted or straightforward. But that is how I run my life and business. Sometimes I can be ruthless, sometimes sweet, sometimes I sit back and relax. I feel I live in a fantasy world because this job is fun. I had four conference calls this morning with four chefs. They were all extremely happy about the things going on with them. Talking with them about their business is a fun thing.