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Embrace for Impact: My Conversation with Julia Allison

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Julia Allison calls her past romantic relationships "strategic partnerships." Her life is her brand, and her brand is her job.

A Google search of Julia Allison returns 154,000 results and 27,000 people search Google for her on a monthly basis (according to the Google Adwords Keyword Tool). As I walked into her studio apartment/office in Clinton, however, I wondered what it has accomplished for her. My first inclination was to attempt to uncover what she believed her business, NonSociety, actually to be, so that I could easily challenge her business model.

Assuming that she planned to get paid at some point, it made sense to me that she was attempting to position herself, along with her two best friends, as a marketing agency, selling the strategic Julia Allisonization of brands. Even if her approach turned out to be as simple as the celebrity endorsement angle, I was sure she couldn't sell the package to a realistic clientele. My question then became "Does she actually know how she did it? Can she turn cute Sally Cubicle into Julia Allison, or was she born with a unique gift?"

When I asked her what her goal was, she responded that she intended to become a "Mini Oprah." The resolution in her voice almost compelled me to ask her if I could maybe be her "Mini Gayle." Whatever her platform, Julia Allison is in the business of developing Julia Allison, whether it be Julia Allison the dating columnist, Julia Allison the TV anchor, or Julia Allison the "Mini Oprah."

The interesting part is that, while some people leverage their medium (i.e., a job as a dating columnist at Time Out) to reach people, Julia makes sure she's bigger than her medium. Some say she's arrogant to think people are that interested in her life, but all she does is obsessively leverage social media to put it on display. It's our choice whether or not to engage.

She's enchantingly engaging, addictive to speak to, and a master at controlling the message she wants to convey (i.e., her brand).

In the end, she IS the starving actress waiting tables. She's just not waiting for her big break -- she's ensuring that she's able to control it.

Interview Transcript:

JBA: You love press.

Julia: No, I don't. That's a common misconception... I don't think all press is good press.

JBA: Well, if you don't love the attention, why do you do it?

Julia: There's a lot of good attention. I think that any writer wants more than anything for people to read their writing.

JBA: So you're saying you did it all to promote yourself as a writer for Time Out?

Julia: Right. That's why I originally started.

JBA: So that is the brand -- Julia Allison the writer?

Julia: Yes, but the goal was always to entertain...the goal was to get people to read my writing.

JBA: What is Julia Allison going to be doing in five years?

Julia: "Well, I will hopefully be engaged or married...[laughs] eventually I will have a boyfriend at some point. I will hopefully have a television show, and then I'm hoping to become the next Oprah. It's a really dangerous thing to say "I think," so I wanna become a mini-Oprah.

JBA: Why, the weight thing?

Julia: Yeah, great, now I sound like an asshole.

JBA: So how are you going to make money in the next five years?

Julia: Hopefully we'll sell -- well, "we" meaning myself and I and Lilly [her dog] over there -- we'll sell a book, we'll sell a company, we'll sell a television show, and we'll sell a screenplay. That's the goal.

JBA: It is rumored you are leaving Time Out. Is that true?

Julia: I have loved being a dating columnist, but Carrie Bradshaw 2.0 is played out. I think I am columned out right now. My last two things for Time Out are going to be really big. I'm going to be doing 24 dates in 24 hours, and it's going to be a shit show.

JBA: So what is the next step?

Julia: TMI Weekly was just picked up by NBC's new channel, New York Nonstop. We will tape two episodes a week, and we will be on the cable channel and then hopefully in the backs of cabs soon, fingers crossed. NonSociety is my platform for writing, and then, I mean, the real question is, ya know, I've always contemplated doing a book, and I have a pilot at Bravo.

JBA: How does the Julia Allison brand generate or try to generate revenue?

Julia: Oh, that's a good question.

JBA: It should be a good question.

Julia: I have started to do a lot of public speaking. I've spoken to all the senior execs at A&E, and the top three hundred marketing execs at Unilever.

JBA: You had mentioned to me that you were looking to act in some ways like a marketing agency.

Julia: So that's the other thing that NonSociety does specifically. We take the [standard] click-through ad sales and tweak it so it's much more personal -- going out to companies that we actually believe in genuinely and giving them product endorsements. That's a little bit different than the average celebrity endorsement. Obviously we're not, ya know, Jennifer Aniston.

JBA: I know you said you're not on the same level as Jennifer Aniston, but you said it would be a celebrity endorsement, seriously?

Julia: Yeah, so to a certain extent it's because we are well-known in this certain set. For example, I mean we get about 800,000 [the Google Trends for Websites tool revealed this number is closer to 80,000] uniques a month on NonSociety.

JBA: But still, what does a client buy specifically? If they buy a campaign with Julia Allison, what do they get?

Julia: What we did for Kodak, we went to Vegas for the consumer electronics show, and instead of just being like "Hey, there are some great Kodak cameras here," we used them, we lifecasted from the Kodak booth, and we approached it from a ten-prong approach. People look at us like we are their friends, so when we recommend something it has a hell of a lot more value than an ad.

JBA: It is many people's perception that you have created an empire, but again, how are you going to make money?

Julia: There are two main ways to do that. The way you make real money, serious money, cannot be dependent on your own time. It can't be dependent on me writing more articles. You can make what? $50,000 a year? You can found a company where you start to utilize other people's time resources, or you get to a point where you have other people doing great marketing and ad sales, or you can sell it.

JBA: So how is Julia Allison going to do it?

Julia: Through NonSociety.

JBA: When people ask you how you did it, how did you do it?

Julia: I don't follow rules. I think you just have to be persistent.

JBA: What about the personal life stuff?

Julia: What, like fucking my way to the middle? Yeah, I didn't do that.

JBA: You don't think that your romantic past has helped you in any way?

Julia: Technically, it has never been of value. In other words, it's never gotten me a job.

JBA: Well, technically a lot of what you do hasn't gotten you a job.

FINAL THOUGHT:

Her perception of NonSociety as a marketing company and, further, a sellable property (for acquisition and even to acquire prospective clients) is quite a stretch. Her usage of it as a platform to communicate is very effective. I think if Julia stays in the business of creating celebrity for herself, she will ensure that she develops a successful career in entertainment. Her charm is intoxicating, infectious, and disarming. The celebrity of Julia Allison has not peaked.

Jeremy Abelson is the founder of Samson's Barber.