How can a small business make a big impact? Max Clifford reveals all.

At Kent’s 2020 Conference and Exhibition last week, Max Clifford, PR Guru, took the speaker stand at 9.30am.

Max Clifford: the early days

Clifford left school at age 15 without any qualifications. The only thing he had going for him was his interest in sport. He was labelled as disruptive and was easily bored. The career advice he’d been given was really unhelpful; he was told to ‘go and do whatever – good luck’.

Because of his interest in sport, he got interested in newspapers and at 17 he got a job as a trainee reporter on the local newspaper. Because he could write, he learned the ropes quickly.

He became the Music Business columnist for the South London News Group and was following and writing about stars from America like Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. Soon after that he was writing record reviews.

Never one to sit back and take it easy, Clifford opened a disco above a pub where, because he was reviewing the record releases from the record companies, he would have a steady supply of free records which he could use in his disco. He could also promote his disco in the paper, so very quickly had friends and fans filling the place!

At age 18 he was receiving £10 as a reporter, but making £60-£80 a week in his disco.

In 1962, aged 19, he got a job at EMI Records promoting bands like the Beatles and singers like Cliff Richard. He worked in the press office – there was no PR industry in those days – but it was through his mentor Sid Gillingham that he got to appreciate the value and importance of contacts.

In 1969, Clifford was instrumental in the career launches of Tom Jones, Cream and the Bee Gees. Wanting to go his own way, at age 27, he formed Max Clifford Associates.  He was promoting arists like Joe Cocker, and Paul and Barry Ryan, and with promoter Harold Davies he got work for Frank Sinatra, who he was asked to look after in Europe. To this day he is still retained by the Sinatra family.

His ‘small business’ has been around for 40 years and he says that he never has a contract with clients, and some of those people have been with him for 10, 20 even 30 years.

What is PR?

Clifford says that PR is about awareness. It’s about knowing what you do and getting the message out there. If no one knows about you, then it’s going to be hard, and we need all the help we can get.

He says that there are many creative, talented PR people out there and for a budget of anything from £5k – £20k you could be getting up to £1million worth of coverage!

He says that editorial is more effective than advertising, and that it’s all about your image: he couldn’t stress enough the importance of image.

He talked about how Rolls Royce had used their customer, Simon Cowell, as a PR opportunity to promote their cars. Everything about Cowell – what you might call his personal brand – successful, opinionated, knows what he’s talking about, rich, knowledgeable – fitted with Rolls’s target market, and not just here, but in America too. The coverage that this has got for Rolls Royce – Cowell often being seen getting into and out of the car – has been hugely successful for them. The message is clearly ‘You are successful – the best at what you do’.

Clifford kept emphasising the importance of recognising every opportunity that you get.

One of his passions is being the patron of the National Children’s Hospice charity, where 50% of the workers are volunteers who go to the hospices and support the children and their families. Many of these families have to cope with years of this nightmare situation. The point that he was making, was that his business (and life) is wide and varied.

He talked about how small businesses are what makes this country work and how important it is to recognise the importance of our role in economic recovery and the success of the country. He said, ‘we are the foundation’. He praised the idea of apprenticeships and the creation of jobs that will come from entrepreneurs and small businesses.

“We need to to be really good at getting the message across”, he said. He feels that this is becoming increasingly important. And in an overcrowded, noisy world, it’s becoming more difficult.

His business has been successful because most of us are not good at getting the message out there.

There followed some questions from the audience

Q: What do businesses need to do to attract customers and employees?

MC: For recruiting, they need to make their business look appealing, exciting and financially rewarding. Their are people out there who want to be able to see where they can make a lot of money – where the big opportunities are.

Q: How can a small business make a big impact?

MC: Involve someone famous. Someone who is in the media spotlight. Be clever about how you go about hooking them in. (Ed. I call this Success by Association)

Q: How can we best select a PR agency?

MC: Look for the successful stories in the media, then talk to the editors to find out who made those stories happen. Ask, ‘who is responsible?’ Then try them out for three months. In that time they should be able to prove their worth.

Q: What would you say to young people if you were giving them career advice?

MC: What have you got a passion for? I love what I do. I looked for opportunities where I could be creative. There are happy people out there doing what they are passionate about; unlike a lot of the celebrities who are ego maniacs and miserable. Find something that really appeals and then make it a commercial proposition. Give it a go. Work hard.

I do 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, and even when I’m on holiday in Mauritius, I’m on the phone!

When I’m asked to talk at Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard, I sign the book and see the other names there: Churchill, Kennedy, etc. and just think about being the lad from a secondary modern. It’s a passion!

Article written by QJ, The Inspirationist. To keep abreast of the latest news and ideas in business and personal development, subscribe to Inspirationist Insights, the entrepreneurs #1 choice for inspiration and cutting-edge vital steps.

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Posted on April 11, 2011, in Be Inspired, Create Your Fame, Get The Results You Want, Music Business. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Hi QJ – thanks for providing this write up. I didn’t manage to get to the talk and am sad to have missed it. Whenever I hear Max Clifford speak on the radio I am struck by how balanced he is – even when representing some of the more ‘out there’ people of the day! PR is a great tool in promoting your business – although I’m also a great believer in making sure there is substance behind the hype.

  2. Hi QJ – I too did not make the talk, which is a real shame. I think Clifford is echoing the “its not what you know, its who you know”. The fact is that small business’s do not generally know how to approach “PR” and would probably gasp at the prospect of going to a professional – the perceived cost would put them off. Like many things it is not necessarily a cost – but an investment. However, the ROI is not always that tangible in these terms.


  3. Hi QJ,
    Thanks for sharing Max Clifford’s thoughts! The article is helpful indeed. Small businesses shall definitely use the PR as a promotional tool.

  4. Hi QJ – Great write up… thank you for sharing this. I never made it to Kent 2020 this year and can see what I missed out on…! It boils down to going for what one loves and applying some quite straightforward and simple tricks to be seen. For a small company I like the idea of involving a famous name and being passionate.

  5. Great – thanks QJ for writing this up as a blog. I was planning to go and see who was around at this year’s Kent 2020 in the elearning and health and safety arenas, but my plans went awry so missed the whole day. I think we can all identify with the Success by Association idea – just need to go and find some famous people – and doing your own PR often results in no PR, or is that just me?

  6. Great article QJ – As Max says, do what have you a passion for! Max is a very relaxed and confident speaker and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. We certainly appreciate what the ‘marketing mix’ can do for businesses, working in the video production industry, and would agree with his ethos.
    PR and marketing is definitely an investment but there are so many tools out there now to utilise that it is foolish not to try them out, and see if the ROI works for you! Companies can for example use sites like You Tube to help spread the word about their video content, and add their You Tube URL and blog address to any news releases.
    Peter Snell of

  7. My friend was at Max’s presentation and found it very inspiring – Max says that PR is about awareness and I would absolutely agree – it is about building relationships with your public and raising your profile. Yes, sales should come as well but if they are your first priority then there are other avenues like advertising that can be more direct. With PR you get more of a slow burn, like a snowball affect of awareness! Social Media is a great PR tool and well – in fact the whole arena of PR is very interactive these days –

  8. Yes, it was a thoughtful session and something of a surprise QJ. You can see my write up of things at


  9. Hi QJ,

    Thank you for the write up and sharing the information with those of us that didn’t attend the talk.

    Did anyone ask if he had tips about getting celebrity endorsements?

    Best regards,


    • Marilyn Hi
      No they didn’t I’m afraid.
      In my experience, you just ask!
      Set out a good story and reason why you and they have something in common.
      Be quite flattering without being sycophantic and just ask them if they will do you a favour.
      This has worked for me on many occasions, even with people who are really ‘famous’ and you’d think, ‘they will never respond’.
      Hope this helps.

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