The unassuming and slightly nervous man sitting waiting in a Soho cafe does not fit the image of his client, the outrageous pop diva Lady Gaga. He looks more like an indie gig-goer than a flamboyant fashionista. Nor is he the stereotypical bulldog publicist one might expect to be working with one of the world's biggest artists. 'I'm in no way a ball-breaking PRO and everyone knows that,' he confesses.
But Adrian Read, who is 32 next week, is one of the key people to help Lady Gaga shoot to global stardom in just six months. And when he left his in-house role at record label Polydor, last August, to run press at the Darling Department, she moved with him.
Lady Gaga is a media magnet, not least for her bizarre outfits, including a dress made from raw meat. This year the media frenzy has shown no signs of declining as she unveiled her 'Grey Label' collaboration with Polaroid last week, and she is expected to premiere her new single at the high profile Grammy Awards in February.
Read says she is adept at her own publicity but listens to advice from specialists like him. He praises her for grasping how instant news is in today's digital world: 'Pre-Gaga, people would go though fashions in weeks or months. But she can go through three outfits in a day, because each time someone will use the picture. She is aware she can use that to promote the music.'
Gaga is also very active on social media, using them to talk to her 'little monsters' - her fans. At the end of last year, she invited one of the founders of a fansite to come backstage after one of her shows and told him when the next single was coming out - a world exclusive. Read laughs: 'I'd like to make a massive deal about the single announcement through the normal channels, so part of me was gnashing my teeth when she gave the exclusive to "super fan number five". But she really appreciates her fans.'
When Read started working with Gaga in 2008, she was relatively unknown and he was inexperienced. She was only the second artist whose press he had handled, having previously concentrated on online PR. He first met her during a record label press junket for various artists in May 2008. 'I was in a faceless hotel with lots of bored rock stars in their sweatpants being asked the same questions they've been asked for years. I walked into this giant room to meet the label's new artist, and there she was, in a full-on homemade catsuit with a lightning bolt drawn on her face. I thought she would either be a spectacular success or a spectacular failure, but either way it was going to be interesting and fun.'
He asked to work on her UK launch, and instead of promoting her in the mainstream media like the US team, he focused on niche press; her first photoshoot was with high-end fashion magazine Wound and she performed at nights run by style magazine Super Super. The strategy worked. Six months later, at the beginning of 2009, her first UK single went straight to number one, and made number one in the US, despite it having being released there six months earlier. 'We knew the showbiz and gossip press would follow her because she's interesting, so we didn't court them much. If we had, we'd be more in thrall to them now,' he says.
Read's former boss at Polydor, Richard Dawes, now co-founder of DawBell, says: 'Getting the "cool" press on board early on rather than making it some tabloid madness really set the tone. Gaga has been Adrian's ticket, but he had it all mapped out from the start. He's a smart guy, writes eloquently and is all about ideas.'
Throughout the interview, Read is at times painfully modest: 'My girlfriend is insanely intelligent. I always assumed she'd be the breadwinner and I'd be bumbling along because I never really thought I'd go anywhere. But the plans got disrupted by me doing quite well at something and being able to earn a living through it. Now it's fantastic. I lucked out with Gaga.'
But he appears to be his most vicious critic. He won industry accolades at the 2009 Record of the Day Awards for best PR campaign and best in-house PR person. He also gets glowing reviews from high-profile journalists. The Times columnist Caitlin Moran, who interviewed Gaga, says of Read: 'He's charming, extremely funny and he does that little-practised but wholly effective piece of PR genius: very carefully choose the right journalist for a piece, and then give them as much access as possible. There's only one way to make really great features, and that's it. Don't be fooled by his sleepy-eyed, indie-boy exterior - Adrian Read is shit-hot amazing at his job.'
Maybe it is time for Read to start believing his own hype.
2010: Head of press, Darling Department
2009: National and digital PR manager, Polydor
2007: Digital PR manager, Polydor
2007: Online press officer, Hyperlaunch
2003: Freelance journalist
2001: Regional/student press officer, Wild Promotions
ADRIAN READ'S TURNING POINTS
What was your biggest career break?
It's difficult to pick out any single moment. Landing the job of online press officer at Hyperlaunch was certainly one as it threw me back into music PR after a few years out. It also directly led to my next break, getting a call from Selina Webb at Polydor.
Have you had a notable mentor?
I've been lucky enough to learn from a number of great people, starting out with Dave Roberts in my first PR role at Wild, through to Hyperlaunch's Bev Allen and Matt Brown. Then my colleagues at Polydor, particularly Chloe Melick, Pam Ribbeck and Richard Dawes.
What advice would you give to someone climbing the career ladder?
I'm constantly surprised by how many people work in the music industry without any apparent drive. It's not enough just to be well-connected; you need to have enthusiasm and motivation, because it takes a lot of hard work and long hours for little money before you can get anywhere near to living the dream.
What do you prize in new recruits?
All of the above, plus it helps if they can work a computer and offer to make the tea without being asked.
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