How PR extraordinaire Shep Gordon made Alice Cooper great again

Gordon chats with PRWeek about Cooper's presidential campaigns and how he helped make the rock star a household name.

LOS ANGELES: For the past few months Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have engaged in a brutal melee on-stage to the bloody delight of Alice Cooper fans.

Thankfully, it’s just a long-running joke for the "Godfather of Shock Rock," who has declared he would run for president every election year since 1972, when Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern — hindsight is always 20/20.

"This year, the joke took on epic proportions because everyone hates all the candidates," said Shep Gordon, Cooper’s manager and producer of the last 40 years.

Over the course of decades, Gordon has rubbed shoulders with pop culture’s brightest and most controversial stars. His past clients have included Blondie, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, Groucho Marx, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Raquel Welch, and Roger Verge.

Through it all Cooper has run every four years for the U.S.’s highest office in the midst of politics’ bedlam. This year, he declared Tom Hanks his running mate and rereleased his 1972 song, Elected.

His slogan: "I can do nothing as well as they can do nothing."

His platform: "I have absolutely no idea what to do."

"The obvious thing for Alice to do was come in with this ridiculous desire to be president, which got a lot of attention because this election cycle needs comic relief," Gordon said. "But somewhere there is a measure of truth: this is all insane."

Throw Trump and Clinton into the mix, along with historic levels of unfavorable ratings, and suddenly the joke becomes fresh again. It has garnered headlines, chuckles, even some votes (4,527 as of press time).

But times have indeed changed, Cooper concluded. Once, his greatest appeal was with teenage rebels. Now, it’s with historic audiences and "teenagers by association," Gordon said. As a result, PR around the rock star must change as well.

"That’s what PR, marketing, advertising, should do: define the essence of the brand," Gordon added.

On September 20 he releases his autobiography, They Call Me Supermensch: A Backstage Pass to the Amazing Worlds of Film, Food, and Rock N’ Roll.

In the book, Gordon dishes on his life in PR and the art of the publicity stunt, riffing on the 2014 documentary Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, which was the directorial debut of Mike Myers.

"Rock used to be a badge of honor," Gordon said. "You identify who you are by the music you go see. It started as a hatred of parents, but there’s no fear left in anything. As he grows up, audiences go to him for entertainment rather than social value. He’s iconic."

Turning a "horrible failure" into a "huge win"

"My life has been unique in that I’m always selling someone else’s talent," Gordon said. "My necessity involves other people. My marketing is unique: it is humans, who are different than selling a box of cereal."

Gordon’s career hit a low point in the early 70s when Cooper was scheduled to play his first stadium show at Three Rivers Stadium. The importance of the event was akin to a "Super Bowl commercial," he said. "What’s the story you want to tell?"

Gordon decided they would stuff Cooper into a cannon (or at least a dummy) and shoot him onto the stage to kick off the show.

That experiment failed. The only thing the cannon shot was a shoe.

"It was the worst thing I ever saw in my life," Gordon said.

So did the next experiment, where Gordon convinced Cooper to turn a fire extinguisher into a "giant penis." You can fill in the rest of the details.

That too disappointed.

Finally, Gordon decided to invite news crews to the stadium to interview Cooper and staged a fake explosion. Cooper was quickly taken to a hospital on a private ambulance hired by Gordon, with the aid of some friends he dressed in white.

Everyone watching the six o’clock news witnessed Cooper survive a nearly (not really) tragic accident. He ended up performing that concert to an enthusiastic crowd, under the professional supervision of "medical staff," a hero.

"If you’re going to be an effective marketer, you have to create history," Gordon said. "To do that, you have to work in an environment where you have the ability to fail. You can’t do bold things without failing sometimes. You have to treat it as the end of the road that you have to deal with as an opportunity to win even bigger."

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