In the not too distant future when a dogged eared text book on fame is read by a cultural historian referencing the impact of Max Clifford. From that they will ponder on one long chapter. For any student studying the history of public relations now, one common theme can be tracked; those who manipulate the zeitgeist of any media of age understand the need to feed the “herd’s” insatiable appetite for celebrity. Max Clifford, who died yesterday, was that modern exemplar.
Those who can hear the future coming will always profit, and there is proof that in each decade, in every millennium, from Byron to Buffalo Bill, from Marilyn Munro to Rudolph Valentino, Princess Diana to David Beckham, the cult of celebrity has been aided by an arch schemer.
There is a predictable dependency on the culture of celebrity and it has grown steadily over the past 15 years, fuelled firstly by the age of reality TV, then by clickbait, fake news and social media. It’s a history littered with tales of the unfortunate girl or boy next door and a formulaic narrative often skewed for notoriety, tinged with infamy, all from rags to riches and back again. For those in search of the treasures from the “Yellow-Brick road” an accessibility was always mediated, planned for and negotiated by the precursor to Max Clifford.
Max became ‘the brand’ to harvest media at any cost. The man was an anomaly. Not a PR operator exactly, more a dark alchemist - part agent, part deal broker - a one man news agency with a twist. Max Clifford was invented to exploit the voracious tabloid new agenda.
Sanchez, Loos, Katona or Goody were the foodstuff for editors. Clifford made them household names outside the traditional supermarket magazine titles, and didn’t he tell the world how much money he was making on their behalf. As the game changed there was little distinction between stars and celebrities. This new found petty stardom offered no relief, becoming a twisted world driven by spite and all the while a bankable route to a new headline or feature or TV appearance.
The man behind the deal was Max. He was a one man story exploitation machine, where ever there was scandal Max would go. He clearly understood how to extract the most money from the individual at the centre of the storm and was the go-to man for the kiss and tell. The shameless fame seekers knew that Max was the man with the key to unlock the door.
If there is one lesson to takeaway from his career it’s to understand Max’s ability to elongate the narrative and keep a story running. There is no real cash for a one hit wonder. If the narrative ran for weeks, the more money Max could extract. The media fell in line, unconsciously giving him more oxygen and generating his power to filter thousands of potential stories and seed greater circulations. This soft power corrupted and his moral compass demagnetised leading to his downfall.
I’m never one to speak ill of the dead. In this age it falls to others to add their commentary to the death of the “disgraced Max Clifford”. The ill-informed opinion currently etched on the lavatory social media wall, fails to understand the curio that was Clifford. He was a one off. The ‘PR man” who became the story, an enigmatic myth squeezing the last drop from every hapless wannabe. A bloke who developed an immunity to the toxic fallout of the polluted values of an intense, tabloid, reality age. Many were crushed by the dreams they searched, and sadly wished for. He was a dark genie who shaped a toxic fame, few could cope with in the end.
We will never see his like again.
Mark Borkowski is the founder of Borkowski.do. He tweets @MarkBorkowski