Published on May 6th, 2017 | by Landon Buford


Celebrity Strategist & Professional Negotiator Jonathan Hay Speaks with The Hype Magazine

Jonathan Hay (@jonathanhay) is best known for his controversial marketing tactics that helped break one for the world’s most successful artist’s debut single entitled “Pon de Replay“. Yes, I am talking about the eight-time Grammy Award winner Known as simply “Rihanna“. Back in 2005, Jonathan was assigned a task of trying to come up with a strategy to bring attention to an up and coming artist that was signed to Def Jam at the time, but it was through a production company and producers. So essentially during this time frame, she was on a major label, but she was on the shelf. Jonathan came up with a campaign centered around a love triangle between Def Jam’s New President Jay-Z his now wife Beyoncé and of course Rihanna. Jonathan has gone on to apologize on several occasions, most notably with  “Insider Edition” back in 2015.

Jonathan’s music background goes far deeper than just helping Rihanna break into the music industry. He has actually worked at Whitney Houston‘s father’s company John Houston Entertainment and with Michael Jackson’s longtime producers Teddy Riley and Bruce Swedien, and he had an opportunity to send a letter of intent to sign Michael at one point.  In addition, he also had the opportunity to broker a distribution deal with Capitol Music Group on behalf of his former company “SMH Records“.  The Hype Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with The Professional Negotiator and Celebrity Strategist to discuss where he thinks the occupation of  Public Relations is headed in the near future and offered some advice for the aspiring producers looking to enter the production side of the business.

You can read the interview with Jonathan in its full entirety below!

You are known as a celebrity publicist, in fact, you are behind the controversial marketing tactics that helped break Rihanna’s debut single “Pon de Replay” involving fabricated stories of Rihanna and Jay-Z. How long did it take you to come up with the idea for that approach?

The thing about it Rihanna at the time was an upcoming artist and was signed to Def Jam. Jay-Z had just become the President of Def Jam after his split from Dame Dash and Roc-A-Fella Records. Rihanna’s first PR campaign was based on the fact that she was Jay Z’s newest artist.

When you orchestrate an effective publicity stunt you have to make sure the facts are aligned because journalists and other members of the media will do their homework and fact check. So the first person I reached out to was Jennifer Vineyard at MTV News. Remember this was back in 2005 the internet was not as resourceful as it is now, and if you were seen on MTV it could really help launch your career. MTV agreed to give Rihanna some press for her first single “Pon de Replay” and naturally wanted a quote from Jay Z. I was sure it would happen, but for whatever reason, Jay decided not to grant us a quote. I went back to MTV and basically told them that he was busy with his new position at Def Jam and could not get the quote – and they ended up running with the story anyway which was a little blur on her.

Rihanna’s management [Marc Jordan] was all excited and the song began to find its way to radio, but it wasn’t getting the national press we were hoping for at first. That’s when the infamous publicity stunt came into play.

Tell us a little about the actual day-to-day of what you do?

It really depends on what is going on at the time because I don’t have a set schedule. Clients contact me all the time to pitch stories to different outlets, but lately, I have been involved with a lot of creative strategy for different projects. Building your credibility through your back story and executing a well thought out publicity campaign is the best way to achieve this. I am not saying do a publicity stunt, but you need to give the public something that they will click on aka “clickbait”.  Nothing is going to happen right away. It really does take time for these strategic campaigns run their course.

How can the client carry out their half of the partnership in the best possible way?

First off, clients must be patient. New singles are going to take months and months to build. In fact, I have raised my prices to work with clients because I want to see how serious they are and I know how much hands-on work it will take to get things moving in the right direction. Essentially, I know the artist most likely is only focused on the music and the results, not the strategy.

You and your mentor Gary Meeks started a label back in the day and had the opportunity to offer Michael Jackson a record deal during the time he had his public dispute with Tommy Mottola and Sony Music. Now we all know the deal wasn’t sealed, but can you describe the emotions that you felt during this time?  
Full disclosure, I am a huge Michael Jackson fan. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Teddy Riley and Bruce Swedien and have even visited the Neverland Ranch. At the time, I came across an article featured in The Rolling Stone Magazine around 2001-2002 and Michael’s Invisible album was struggling. And when I say struggling, I mean by MJ’s impossible standards. Tommy Motolla put out a quote saying something like “Michael Jackson was hard to deal with and he did not know any labels who would want to sign him.” Something to that effect. That was when our company was brand new and we had some resources and a distribution deal with Select-O-Hits to make Michael an offer. Uri Geller went to talk to Michael on our behalf and next thing you know we are sending a letter-of-intent to Trudy Green. Now if the internet was around back then this story would have been everywhere. It never happened, but it was still a thrilling process.

You had the opportunity to work with Michael’s long time producers Teddy Riley and Bruce Swedien. How influential have they been throughout your career as a notable producer in your own right?

I think the most influential thing I learned from Teddy was his drive and work ethic. What I learned from Bruce the most was some of this studio magic that he did with his drums. Bruce is the great recording engineer in the history of modern music.

Can you describe what it was like working with the late music, great Whitney Houston’s father of John Houston Entertainment?

It was rough during my time with JHE because there was a nasty public dispute between John and Whitney over the $100 million dollar deal with Arista Records. John Houston was very ill at the time and his business partner Kevin Skinner was pleading publicly for Whitney to get her act together. This lawsuit tactic that was orchestrated was really just tough love to try and save her life. Skinner helped them make amends and John passed shortly after that.

Where do you think the field of public relations is headed in the next two years?To be honest, it is being too over-saturated. Every day there is a new publicist or publicity company being launched. It’s the reason I’m starting to lean more towards producing and reality television.

Out of all the accomplishments that you have been a part of throughout your career to this point, which opportunity are you most proud of if you had to name just one?  

I think it’s probably the project I’m working on right now called Daddy Issues by teenage sisters Iliana Eve and DJ Hannahbella. I think it’s the next big thing in music. Iliana Eve is only 14 years old and she just signed a solo two single deal with FM Records – one of the biggest selling pop reggae labels of all-time.

You co-founded SMH Records a Charlotte, North Carolina-based record label. How were you to able to get the attention of Jim Urie the former CEO and President of Universal Music Group Distribution?

I had the opportunity to meet Jim Urie in 2001 and basically, I built a relationship. I approached him with our label SMH Records and he hooked us up with Caroline. I waited for well over a decade to call in that favor. It was amazing to see SMH on the big screen a few months back on BET’s One Shot.


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About the Author

Washington State Graduate Past Interviews include Grammy Award Winner Kenny G, David Banner, WNBA President Lisa Borders, What's Trending's CEO Shira Lazar, Ice Cube, NBC's Chicago PD LaRoyce Hawkins, Family Matters Darius McCrary, En Vogues Maxine Jones, Team USA Track & Field Member Norris Frederick, James Kyson, WNBA Great Lauren Jackson, and more.

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