Ron Jeremy shares his secrets to personal branding

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From the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, the breakout star explains his preference for licensing deals over ownership, and how he avoids lawsuits.

The adult entertainment industry has created hundreds of "stars," but only a few true icons. Of those icons, none have topped Ron Jeremy for sheer staying power on the pop culture landscape.

From his 1979 debut in the adult film "Tigresses and Other Man-eaters" (maybe don’t Google it at work), the former special education school teacher from Brooklyn had a presence that made him stand out. By the mid-80s, Hollywood and other industries had begun to notice.

Since then, Jeremy has appeared in just about every media you can imagine, in one way or another. He's had branded rolling papers and a skateboard named after him. There is Ron Jeremy hot sauce and beef jerky. His name has fronted a nightclub favored by swingers. And he's the current face of a successful line of spirits, including Ron de Jeremy Rum and Hedgehog Gin.

That's not counting the 116 mainstream films he has participated in (though his scenes have been cut in some) or the dozens of movies on which he has consulted (including "Boogie Nights" and "9½ Weeks"). Nor does it include his stint as an author, his debate tour of colleges with anti-porn crusaders XXXChurch or his rap music video.

It has, by any measure, been an incredible run in the spotlight. And Jeremy knows better than anyone how lucky he has been. His mainstream success, he says, has been equal parts good fortune and careful planning. But the one lesson he has learned is that, for him, staying in the pop culture spotlight ensures the business opportunities will continue to present themselves.

"If you do things that are high profile, that leads the way to becoming a marketer for yourself," he says. "If no one knows who you are, it's hard to market something. You still can, but it's tough. Having the internet on your side helps."

That's a big part of the reason Jeremy obliges almost every request for a photo—and has made a habit of photobombing A-list celebrities when they share a red carpet. Most recently, he wished America a happy 2017 and played harmonica on CNN's "New Year's Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin." 

Ultimately, Jeremy's notoriety and his business success have become interwoven. His status as a pop culture icon brings more business opportunities, while having his face plastered on all sorts of products increases his fame. And while it might seem like he's not especially discerning about who he teams with, Jeremy says he only accepts roughly one-third of the deals he is offered.

"I'm always very leery. I'm always very skeptical," he says. "I want it to do good because my god damned name is on it. I'm invested, because I don't want to have a Ron Jeremy product that failed. I have no skeletons in my closet. Everything I've ever done has made money. It might have fizzled ... but they've all lasted a while."

To keep that streak up, he does business a little differently than other celebrities.

It's important to understand Ron Jeremy Hyatt (his real name) is different than Ron Jeremy, the character. Neither takes themselves especially seriously. And no matter which frame of mind he's in when you speak with him, the conversation is always laced with a steady stream of jokes. But while few people look beyond the physical attributes of "The Hedgehog," Hyatt holds two bachelor's degrees (in theater and education) and a Master's in special education.

He puts that education to use when brokering deals, always insisting on having the rights to see the company's accounting books, even if he doesn't always capitalize on that. And while his name and face might be on all manner of products, it's always a licensing deal. Jeremy never takes an ownership stake in a business.

"I'm very paranoid; I'm afraid of lawsuits." he says. "America is too lawsuit crazy, so with the rum and the rolling papers, with the club—everything I do, I don't own any of it."

Similarly, when he's offered film roles, he says, he takes a flat salary rather than a percentage of the film's profits.

"I want to know if this thing fails, I still get a nice chunk and make money," he says.

He also ensures that the people pitching him as a business partner know their industry inside and out. If he senses the business owners are making up numbers on the spot or that they're making a product that is entirely dependent on the power of his name to succeed, the business relationship will last no longer than an introductory lunch.

If he likes what he hears, though, Jeremy says he pushes his business partners to make any products bearing his name or image a top marketing priority for the company. 

"I make a promise to people: 'I'll make you a deal. You guys keep pushing me to your distributors and I'll stay famous,'" he says. "Because, let's say with my rum, if they put me in the back of the liquor store, you're not going to get any sales and you'll say it's my fault. I say, put me on a display and we're going to do well. And we have—in England, Germany, the US and Australia."