The old adage that “any publicity is good publicity” doesn’t always stand up in a smartphone-saturated world that led to Donald Sterling’s pariah status and the publication of Kim Kardashian’s medical records. But the question remains as to what will happen to Jay Z’s brand, now worth well over $500 million, following a viral video release of him being attacked by sister-in-law Solange Knowles.
The question is especially important when business depends on reputation, as it does with Jay Z. As he himself once said: "I’m not a businessman, I am a business, man."
Public relations experts say the Solange video is not a big problem.
“It was a speed bump, not a sinkhole,” Howard Bragman, public relations expert and vice chairman of Reputation.com, said. “Jay Z has been a kind of gold standard for image, he’s very, very wise about controlling it.”
It’s no wonder, considering how much of his fortune is tied up in his reputation.
Jay Z, born Sean Carter, sold his first album, Reasonable Doubt, in 1996. Today Carter, 44, is worth roughly $520 million, granting him a place on Forbes’ list of the five richest men in hip-hop, just behind Dr. Dre.
But it took a lot more than album sales to reach that status. In 1995 he founded Roc-A-Fella Records, which sold for $240 million in 2007. A year later he made a $150 million deal with Live Nation Entertainment to create his new label, Roc Nation, a “full-service entertainment company.” Last year, the company’s sports arm represented Yankees star Robinson Cano in negotiations for a $240 million deal with the Seattle Mariners.
All this and more depends on the Jay Z brand. His street cred and personal reputation are the driving force behind many of his business ventures. For instance, he was celebrated for being an owner of the Brooklyn Nets even though his stake was a paltry 0.067 percent, according to Business Insider.
It's hardly surprising then that a scandal like the one at the Met Gala could have economic consequences. But experts say it would take a lot more to damage Jay Z’s millions.
“I don’t see it damaging his brand or having any sort of effect on his brand as a one-off,” Ryan Berger, head of Berger Shop, a branding and image consultancy, said.
The video is damaging, Berger said, but not deadly and shouldn’t have long-lasting economic effects. However, if things escalate further, there are some things that could represent a problem in the future.
“The bigger thing would be if there was a problem between him and Beyonce, if that starts to get unrailed then I could see something happening around the bigger Jay Z brand,” he said.
Carter, which remains Jay Z's legal last name, married Beyonce in 2002, and daughter Blue Ivy was born 10 years later. They’re widely regarded as a power couple, and being a family man has become an important part of the Jay Z brand.
But a net worth north of half a billion buys much more than cars, clothes and mansions; it also buys access to the best advice and consultants on how to handle problems, potential and real.
“This is a couple that really gets it. They have smart people around, and when they see a problem they deal with it,” said Bragman. “They handled it about as well as you could.”
One way it was handled was by having the couple recently attend a Brooklyn Nets game and also taking a jewelry shopping trip with Solange, two strategically calculated events designed to pre-empt any bad press.
“We live in a TMZ, social media-driven 24/7 news cycle, and more than ever whatever bleeds leads,” Anthony Mora, president of Anthony Mora Communications, said.
But “because the news cycle is now on steroids and moves so rapidly, the upside for celebrities is that it moves like a quick passing storm," Mora said, explaining that there are many stories that surface for a few days but are quickly forgotten.
“It’s going to cause quite a stir right now, but if Jay Z and Beyonce are able to show a stable front for the next few weeks, the story will quickly start to die down,” Mora said.