Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Alton Brown's "Fanifesto"

Photo from
This week, ahead of a planned publicity tour promoting a new book, Food Network star Alton Brown issued "My Fanifesto" on his website: a list of rules of comportment when meeting him in person.

Before you decide whether this is a bad idea from a PR perspective, give it a read.

Reaction I've seen online so far has been mixed; notably, the Huffington Post considers it evidence that he is "struggling with his celebrity status;" the blog "Comfort me with Offal," written by James Beard Foundation Award for Humor winner, Ruth Bourdain, calls it "a bit douchey."

Is it bad for Brown's PR?

The answer to that depends on Brown's audiences, and how much they expect a cooking show host to give up reasonable courtesies the rest of us are entitled to.

It could also depend on how they react to the Fanifesto's smart-alecky tone, as my Mum would call it, but that's consistent with his television persona. A bit smart-alecky, but in a friendly way. If they like him on TV, I'm thinking its tone shouldn't be a problem.

Should it be bad for Brown's PR? 

I really don't think so... but of course, I'm not necessarily the target audience. We'll have to watch what happens.

There's a temptation to assume every move a client makes that will disappoint some corner of the audience base means "bad PR." But realistically, everything you do is likely to annoy somebody. It's impossible to only do things that are universally accepted and appreciated.

Any move you make could cause someone to grouch, and might even get some unflattering media attention. But that only really matters in the long run if it's going to harm your reputation/relationship with a significant portion of the target audience.

Your turn 

What do you think of Alton Brown's Fanifesto? Reasonable, or "a bit douchey?" And do you think it will negatively affect his image? Comments are open!


  1. Smart-aleck is as close as my mom will get to cursing, I used to cringe when she would through the S.A. bomb! Haha.

    I think all of Brown's requests are fair, especially the statement that "99% of fans are completely cool.". I have, however, seen some crazy, CRAZY fans of celebrities and professional athletes. Good for Brown to make his boundaries public and known.

  2. Smart-aleky! Melanie, I think I love your mum!

  3. Cathy, I guarantee you would. She's awesome. And I suspect she'd get along with Monique's Mum, too! (And will probably be disappointed that I chose to use "douchey.") :S

  4. My little wiry grandmother swears a blue streak. Mostly in French, but she's flexible. Not passed on to my mom, though. There were some words I don't think I even knew about before university. I'm not sure how I managed that. Part of me worries that there are words I don't even know about now....

    Sorry for the off-topic. I should have posted this over on Kenton's swearing post.

  5. I'm a fan of Alton Brown and have always enjoyed his smart-alecky character on TV. But that's just it - I always assumed the smart-aleckiness (autofail on spelling?) was part of the on-camera character that he created for TV.

    I was kind of turned off by this "Fanifesto". Though it stays true to his TV character, I would hope he'd be a bit more down to Earth in real life. Most of what he's saying is common knowledge, and the fact that it's so in-depth gives the impression that he thinks he's a bigger star than he really is. I don't think it jibes with his persona of "just a lowly cook."

  6. Karen: I would have loved to meet your little wiry grandmother!

    Laina: Thank you for this comment - you're helping illustrate my point about audiences' perspectives. We can't assume our audiences feel the way we do - we need to do research (i.e. listen to and engage with them) to be able to predict that with any accuracy.

    My next question for you is: does the Fanifesto turn you off enough to change your mind about being a fan? Are you less likely to watch/enjoy his show, or buy his books? Or speak positively about him to others who might be his audiences?

    These are the things he'd need to consider when deciding whether to issue something that might rub people the wrong way. "How much will it bug them? Is it enough that I'd rather just have to keep explaining and apologizing and/or putting up with requests that it bugs me to have to deal with?"

    This is what organizations ask themselves every day, about a wide range of business decisions. Everything will bug someone... but will this latest thing bug enough people enough that we shouldn't do it?

  7. So the guy's a non-hugger. Fine.
    If I were a fan and planned to meet him, I would appreciate knowing these rules of engagement in advance.

  8. I would keep watching his show, but think twice before going to a book-signing. I wouldn't approach him if I saw him in a public place because I'd be too paranoid about breaking one of his 'rules.'

    I'd probably tell my friends, "Sure, he's funny on his show, but he seems like he'd be a bit of a douche in real life."

    Could be a bit of a double-edged sword - the douchiness will attract some fans, but alienate others.

  9. I thought all of his rules were completely fair. I wouldn't call myself a fan of his work, but if I were, I'd appreciate knowing not to ask him for a hug because it'd help me avoid disappointment if I met him.

    There was nothing at all unreasonable in his post, in my opinion. But I also appreciate his television persona, so it's pretty consistent with my "interpretation" of his personality.

    I often wonder how celebrities handle hugging complete strangers. I enjoy hugs - but I have to know the person fairly well before I'm comfortable hugging them. I generally dislike hugging strangers.

  10. Laina: I think you're likely right.

    Jennifer: It wouldn't be for me, either. I think that's partly behind my sympathy for Alton Brown's position... though I see the risk in his approach.

  11. Next week, I'm going to see Mr. Brown for the 8th time. Yes, I'm a long time admirer, or as Warren Zevon would have said, customer(he hated the word fan), and I live close enough to NYC that when he's doing something there, I try to go see him.
    Even though he pretty much recognizes me now, so much that I get a big grin and "Hello again" instead of the usual "Hi, I'm Alton", I still, when we start to speak, call him "Mr.Brown". I'm old school, I suppose, and it's a sign of respect.Not because I believe he's better than I am, or he's written seven books, or has a show on Food Network. Most of the time, at the end of our conversation, I'm calling him Alton or AB if I'm particularly brave. :).
    That all said, I agree with 99.9% of the fanifesto, and will say, as the author of this article has said, it's "Alton being Alton"
    I don't blame him being wary, as I've seen people step out of line a few times---once I watched as a couple badgered him for no less than four minutes about why he did not travel to the places THEY thought he should have visited when he was filming "Feasting On Waves". While I could see he was uncomfortable, he was never discourteous to them.
    And that I think, speaks to his character.
    Bottom line, don't be afraid to go see him. I really doubt you'll be sorry.

  12. @Laina Hughes Alton has said before that his TV persona is who he is. He's not "acting" or being any different than in rl. What people don't seem to realize is that his fanifesto is about things that have already happened to him. He's not anticipating that he might be approached in a public bathroom - he already has, so he made a rule against it. So there's nothing about him believing he's more of a star than he is. Yes, people have asked him to sign their ferret and their hamster. These requests are not unreasonable and I think it's perfectly fine to set boundaries. This will be my 4th time meeting him, and his can be a bit brash, but he's so caring. Paragraph 4 in his fanifesto is who he is.

  13. Anne and Amy: Thanks for lending your perspectives to the conversation!