How To Manage A Celebrity's Brand
FC: You were an early Twitter adopter, an early Google investor, and last year you invested in a small mobile video company called Tout and then used it to announce your retirement. Why focus on social media?
O'Neal: There's a lot of big-time people who have others tweet for them, so I want people to know: This is me; this is how I'm doing it. Then when I use Tout on Twitter, people click the link. I've always wanted to be the one that's on the edge of the technological curve. The great Steve Jobs, rest in peace, when the iPhone was first coming out, I used to call him every other day. Can I please get one first? Can I please get one first? He said, "Shaq, I can't, I can't, I can't." He was a great guy.
But you don't just focus on tech; you've become an investor of Five Guys, Vitaminwater, and others. Why such a broad focus?
Magic Johnson told me in 1996, "It's okay to be famous and be well liked, but you got to start owning things." Shaq Inc. is broken up into different silos: the regular endorsements; the Shaq brand, like the Dunkman shoe line; entertainment, like [the ABC show] Shaq Vs.; and social media. I don't look at them as investments; I look at them as opportunities to expand.
How do you protect your personal brand as you align with others?
We always tell the owners of the company, "You signed the right guy." We're going to get the awareness out; we're going to help this company grow. Then we control our own marketing. Every commercial you've seen me in for the past 20 years has been written by me, except the ones on TNT. The way I write them is, I either want you to be informed or I want to make you laugh. If I'm doing a Pepsi commercial, I need you to say, "Did you see that crazy Pepsi commercial Shaq did?"
How many companies have you invested in now?
Let's just say that I have a triple retirement portfolio.
Named NBA Rookie of the Year; goes on to be 15-time NBA All-Star and 3-time NBA Finals MVP until he retired in 2011
Launches low-price shoe line called Dunkman
Illustration by Charis Tsevis; Photo credits: Brad Swonetz/Redux (O'Neal portrait); Chris Walters (O'Neal headshot)
A version of this article appears in the June 2012 issue of Fast Company.