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Shep Gordon: “Make Parents Angry”

The art of harnessing shock-value.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

Shep Gordon had a knack for “mak­ing par­ents angry.”

Shep Gordon is a well-known enter­tain­ment industry fig­ure renowned for his cre­at­ive pub­lic rela­tions and tal­ent man­age­ment approach. 

Shep Gordon - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Shep Gordon. (Image: Wikipedia)

Gordon gained fame as a tal­ent agent and man­ager for vari­ous high-pro­file celebrit­ies, par­tic­u­larly in the music and culin­ary industries.

Here we go:

Shock-Rock with Alice Cooper

Gordon is per­haps best known for his work with Alice Cooper, whom he man­aged for a sig­ni­fic­ant part of the rock star’s career. 1Beyond music, Gordon also played a pivotal role in pop­ular­ising the concept of the “celebrity chef.” He rep­res­en­ted sev­er­al renowned chefs, such as Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck, help­ing to … Continue read­ing

Shep Gordon and Alice Cooper - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Shep Gordon and Alice Cooper. (Image: Alice Cooper’s Facebook Page)

Gordon was instru­ment­al in devel­op­ing Cooper’s shock-rock per­sona, using out­rageous stunts and con­tro­ver­sial events to gen­er­ate pub­li­city and build Cooper’s brand. 

Such events included fam­ous PR stunts like the “chick­en incid­ent” at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival con­cert in 1969, the Oxford Circus traffic jam, and the stra­tegic use of a bill­board on Sunset Boulevard.

The Chicken Incident

The “Chicken Incident” is one of the most fam­ous stunts in rock his­tory, often asso­ci­ated with Alice Cooper and his man­ager, Shep Gordon. It occurred dur­ing the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival con­cert in 1969.

Alice Cooper - The Chicken Incident - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Alice Cooper and the Chicken Incident. (Image via SickThingsUK)

As the story goes, a live chick­en some­how made its way onto the stage dur­ing Alice Cooper’s per­form­ance. There are vari­ous accounts of how the chick­en got there, with some sug­gest­ing it was thrown on stage by the audi­ence, while oth­ers claim it was part of the band’s own props. 

Cooper, who reportedly had­n’t had much exper­i­ence with farm anim­als, assumed the chick­en could fly and tossed it back into the crowd.

The crowd, how­ever, was less than gentle with the bird. In the con­cer­t’s fren­zied atmo­sphere, the audi­ence tore the chick­en apart. The incid­ent quickly garnered media atten­tion, with reports dra­mat­ic­ally and incor­rectly claim­ing that Cooper had bit­ten the head off the chick­en on stage. 2Ozzy Osbourne, the fam­ous lead vocal­ist of Black Sabbath, is infam­ous for an incid­ent where he bit the head off a bat on stage. This occurred dur­ing a con­cert in 1982 in Des Moines, Iowa. As the … Continue read­ing

This event turned into a massive PR moment. The story con­trib­uted sig­ni­fic­antly to Cooper’s emer­ging repu­ta­tion as a shock­ing and con­tro­ver­sial per­former. It solid­i­fied his image in the world of rock and roll and marked a turn­ing point in his career, gar­ner­ing sig­ni­fic­ant media cov­er­age and pub­lic attention.

Shep Gordon recog­nised this incid­ent’s poten­tial to enhance Cooper’s brand as a shock rock artist. He did­n’t dis­pel the exag­ger­ated rumours, under­stand­ing that the con­tro­versy would only add to Cooper’s grow­ing fame. 

The chick­en incid­ent became a legendary moment in rock his­tory and an early example of how con­tro­versy and shock value can be used effect­ively in pub­lic rela­tions to build a celebrity’s image.

The Billboards on Sunset Boulevard

Shep Gordon’s stra­tegic use of a bill­board on Sunset Boulevard is anoth­er fam­ous example of his innov­at­ive approach to pub­li­city and pub­lic rela­tions. The stunt was designed to pro­mote Alice Cooper and was cru­cial in estab­lish­ing Cooper’s image and fame in the early 1970s.

The stunt involved pla­cing a giant bill­board on the icon­ic Sunset Strip in Hollywood, a loc­a­tion known for its high vis­ib­il­ity and pop­ular­ity among the enter­tain­ment industry and fans alike. 

The bill­board fea­tured an image of Alice Cooper, clad in noth­ing but a snake, which was a part of his shock rock per­sona. This pro­voc­at­ive and con­tro­ver­sial image was impossible for pass­ersby to ignore and quickly became a top­ic of conversation.

Alice Cooper - The Snake - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Alice Cooper and the snake “Yvonne.” (Promotional image via Reddit)

The bill­board not only caught the eye of every­one who passed by but also garnered atten­tion from the media. It was an overt chal­lenge to advert­ising and pub­lic pro­mo­tion norms, fit­ting per­fectly with the rebel­li­ous and bound­ary-push­ing brand that Cooper and Gordon were building.

The Oxford Circus Traffic Jam

In 1972, there was con­cern over slow tick­et sales dur­ing Alice Cooper’s show at the Empire Pool, Wembley. To boost interest, Gordon, along with the band and Beatles asso­ci­ate Derek Taylor, devised a pro­mo­tion­al stunt involving a truck car­ry­ing the image of a nude Alice Cooper with a snake. 

On June 29th, this truck “broke down” at Oxford Circus (not Piccadilly Circus as often repor­ted) caus­ing sig­ni­fic­ant traffic jams and attract­ing pub­lic atten­tion. However, con­trary to pop­u­lar belief, there’s no con­crete evid­ence that this incid­ent received nation­al TV cov­er­age or front-page news­pa­per atten­tion. 3SickThingsUK. (2014). The Billboard Incident. Sickthingsuk​.co​.uk. https://www.sickthingsuk.co.uk/10-trivia/t‑billboard.php

It’s spec­u­lated that loc­al London media, par­tic­u­larly radio, might have men­tioned the traffic dis­rup­tion, and pos­sibly loc­al papers covered the story the fol­low­ing day. Despite the lack of wide­spread media evid­ence, the stunt remained a legendary part of Alice Cooper’s lore for over 40 years. 4The actu­al impact on tick­et sales and wheth­er the show sold out remains unclear, espe­cially con­sid­er­ing the stunt happened just a day before the con­cert.

Shep Gordon: “Make Parents Angry”

Gordon’s approach to PR and man­age­ment was not just about gen­er­at­ing pub­li­city but craft­ing com­pel­ling nar­rat­ives and cre­at­ing endur­ing images for his clients. 

His strategies often involved a mix of tra­di­tion­al media tac­tics and bound­ary-push­ing stunts, demon­strat­ing a deep under­stand­ing of both his cli­ent’s needs and the media landscape.

Make par­ents angry!”
— Shep Gordon, tal­ent man­ager and film agent 5Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. (2023, December 18). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​S​u​p​e​r​m​e​n​s​c​h​:​_​T​h​e​_​L​e​g​e​n​d​_​o​f​_​S​h​e​p​_​G​o​r​don

His life and career were the sub­ject of the 2013 doc­u­ment­ary “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” dir­ec­ted by Mike Myers. 6Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. (2023, December 18). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​S​u​p​e​r​m​e​n​s​c​h​:​_​T​h​e​_​L​e​g​e​n​d​_​o​f​_​S​h​e​p​_​G​o​r​don


Please sup­port my PR blog by shar­ing it with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Beyond music, Gordon also played a pivotal role in pop­ular­ising the concept of the “celebrity chef.” He rep­res­en­ted sev­er­al renowned chefs, such as Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck, help­ing to elev­ate their pro­files and turn them into house­hold names.
2 Ozzy Osbourne, the fam­ous lead vocal­ist of Black Sabbath, is infam­ous for an incid­ent where he bit the head off a bat on stage. This occurred dur­ing a con­cert in 1982 in Des Moines, Iowa. As the story goes, a fan threw a bat onto the stage, and Osbourne, think­ing it was a rub­ber toy, picked it up and bit its head off. To his shock (and that of the audi­ence), the bat turned out to be real and, reportedly, alive at the time of the incid­ent. Osbourne was taken to the hos­pit­al imme­di­ately after the con­cert to receive rabies shots. It became one of the most notori­ous moments in rock his­tory and cemen­ted his image as a con­tro­ver­sial and unpre­dict­able per­former. Much like Alice Cooper’s chick­en incid­ent, the bat-bit­ing incid­ent high­lights the role of shock value and out­rageous beha­viour in the world of rock music, par­tic­u­larly in the heavy met­al genre.
3 SickThingsUK. (2014). The Billboard Incident. Sickthingsuk​.co​.uk. https://www.sickthingsuk.co.uk/10-trivia/t‑billboard.php
4 The actu­al impact on tick­et sales and wheth­er the show sold out remains unclear, espe­cially con­sid­er­ing the stunt happened just a day before the concert.
5, 6 Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. (2023, December 18). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​S​u​p​e​r​m​e​n​s​c​h​:​_​T​h​e​_​L​e​g​e​n​d​_​o​f​_​S​h​e​p​_​G​o​r​don
7 Foster, A. (2017, January 20). The End of a Publicity Era: How P.T Barnum Affected Marketing and PR. Big Communications. https://​big​com​.com/​2​0​1​7​/​0​1​/​p​t​-​b​a​r​n​u​m​-​m​a​r​k​e​t​i​n​g​-​a​n​d​-​p​u​b​l​i​c​-​r​e​l​a​t​i​o​ns/
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

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