Dancing her brand back into the mind

March 19, 2007

Can Heather Mills dance? Who cares? She entered the fourth season of ABC’s hit reality show Dancing with the Stars, not to show off her dance steps but to rebuild her brand.

Mills was made famous by marrying former Beatle Paul McCartney in 2002 and having his child in 2003. But the marriage hit the skids in 2006 and ever since Mills has taken a pounding by the British press.

The Sun newspaper has written that Mills was everything from a porn star and a hooker to a shoplifter and a gold digger. The Heather Mills brand had a hard time recovering from the PR damage caused by the ugly divorce. Unlike the U.S. public, U.K. people are less forgiving and less likely to give celebrities a second chance. Prince Charles, for example, has fought long and hard for his second chance.

Here in the U.S. and in most other places around the world, while the public loves to bring down a superstar, they also equally as love to see them rise to the top again. Some recent examples: Martha Stewart, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Mel Gibson.

Heather Mills is a young, beautiful, courageous young woman and mother. Having survived a turbulent early life with a mother who left home and a father who went to prison, Mills has made a difference in the world. In the early 1990s, she modeled to raise funds for refugees of the Yugoslavian war. And more recently Mills has become a crusader for amputees after losing her own leg in a 1993 accident in which she was struck by a car.

But irregardless of this, Heather Mills is a person and a brand in trouble. The question is how does she get her brand back on track?

The answer is by following two basic steps.

The first step is to settle the big question of the divorce. This is the open, oozing wound of the Mills brand. An ugly divorce is bad enough, but in her case the ex-husband is honorary royalty who had a much-loved spouse who died and is worth a fortune.

With no prenuptial agreement between the two, much mudslinging has gone on in the media about what will happen to Paul’s millions. How much does Heather deserve and how much will she get? The more damaged her brand the less she will get. So lawyers on both sides went at it, in the courts and in the media.

Luckily this wound has been stitched up with a January 21st divorce agreement between Heather and Paul. Reports say the agreement gives Heather $62 million in cash and property and incorporates a gag order.

The ongoing money battle was the most damaging to Heather and her brand. With this issue over and the gag order forbidding any further discussion of the matter, Mills now has the opportunity to move on and to begin the healing process for her brand.

So what should Heather do next? Well, the second step to repairing her brand is using PR to build support and credibility again. This is the key reason celebrities have the ability to make a comeback, an advantage most of us don’t have. When Peter Bacanovic, Martha Stewart’s broker got out of jail, he had no money, no job and no future. Martha, on the other hand, left jail went on Larry King Live, starting filming her television show and quickly rebuilt her brand.

The public and the media are fascinated by celebrities, so much so that any celebrity has the opportunity to rebuild his or her damaged brand as long as they give the press a reason to interview them again. Stewart had a new show, Clinton had a new cause, Gibson had a new movie.

Astutely, Heather got herself out of the U.K. When you are losing the battle, change the battlefield. The U.S. is a much friendlier place for her to resurrect her brand. Once she is big here she can take that success back to the U.K. Just look at Sarah Ferguson (the former Duchess of Pork, as described by the British media.) Fergie did the same thing by coming to the U.S., losing weight and becoming the face of Weight Watchers.

Tonight, Heather will join the new season of the best TV show for reviving lost-cause careers, Dancing with the Stars. It is both brilliant and funny at the same time. What is funny is that the show is actually based on a BBC show, Strictly Come Dancing.

What is brilliant is that Dancing with the Stars has become an international franchise in 29 countries around the world. Dance Your Brand Back into the Mind is what I like to call the show. What American Idol is to building new stars, Dancing with the Stars is to reviving fallen stars. The U.S. version of Dancing has had such stars as Jerry Springer, George Hamilton, Tatum O’Neil, Jerry Rice, Drew Lachey and Mario Lopez. (All former losers working their way back up the ladder of success.)

So far, Heather Mills is the biggest heavyweight the show has booked, which makes her appearance even more newsworthy. Of course, there is also the fact that she has an artificial leg only, just look at USA Today’s cover story today. It gives Heather something important to talk about while dancing across the stage on such a campy show. The real reason many will be turning in, as one television reporter correctly pointed out is “Everyone will be watching to see if her leg falls off while dancing. We want to see her fall down, smile and then get back up again.”

That is what we all want isn’t it? To see people, especially celebrities, be human, make mistakes then get back up again and succeed. It is the American dream. And I think Heather Mills is well on her way to make her dreams come true with a little help from Dancing with the Stars.