In today’s crowded influencer space, one of the original creators of the personal brand is looking to take back her crown.
Paris Hilton is back on TV screens with a cooking show on Netflix, her 2020 documentary “This Is Paris” and a new reality show about her engagement to venture capitalist Carter Reum on the way. She has a new memoir in the works, has launched podcasts and sold NFT art.
“I built a global business and brand over the last two decades,” Ms. Hilton said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “I wanted to take it to the next level and bring all my companies under one media entity.”
She created her new company, 11:11 Media, with Bruce Gersh, a former Disney and Time Inc. media executive, to cement and expand her brands.
In the 2000s, Ms. Hilton burst into popular culture during the early days of reality television, with “The Simple Life,” securing her image as the quintessential socialite—the partying great-granddaughter of hotel magnate Conrad Hilton. She soon became one of the digital age’s first influencers—before the existence of the term or the proliferation of Facebook or Twitter, let alone the cult of celebrity on Instagram and TikTok.
“Paris is considered one of the first modern celebutantes, which could be defined as a young woman who is not famous for a talent like acting or singing but merely because she is beautiful and wealthy,” said Kelli Burns, an associate professor at the Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications at the University of South Florida.
Ms. Hilton paved the way for others who followed, such as Kim Kardashian and her sisters, Dr. Burns said. While the Kardashian clan’s exploits were widely consumed over 20 seasons of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” Ms. Hilton has also been quietly creating an empire of her own.
According to 11:11 Media, Ms. Hilton has since 2006 built a company comprising 45 branded stores and 19 product lines, which have surpassed more than $4 billion in revenue. She has launched 27 fragrances over the past 15 years and has investments in wellness products and a plant-based seafood company.
But social-media influencers are no longer reserved for the wealthy or the few. Ms. Hilton’s re-emergence comes at a time when influencers, famous for being famous, are the norm. Creating a lucrative personal brand is a highly competitive field. Not only are TikTok influencers half her age signing deals in media, television and movies, celebrities and athletes have also moved toward making brands and companies based on their identity.
Influencer marketing is on the rise, and its market size world-wide more than tripled between 2017 and 2020, said Lubna Nafees, an associate professor of marketing at the Walker College of Business, Appalachian State University.
“‘Paris Hilton and Reese Witherspoon…are present where their consumers are.’”
“Increasingly, consumers are turning to social-media influencers to find products and services that align with their lifestyles, which means brands have to work through this channel in order to be present where their consumers are,” said Dr. Nafees, who studies the impact of social-media influencers.
That goes for more traditional celebrities, too. Basketball stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant mix their star status with businesses that span entertainment, endorsement, investments and other sectors. Actresses Reese Witherspoon and Jessica Alba have built successful media and consumer-goods businesses.
“Paris Hilton and Reese Witherspoon are doing exactly that. They are present where their consumers are,” said Dr. Nafees.
Ms. Hilton said she believes media companies in the future will rely less on legacy brands alone and instead lean more on personalities. “I believe we are living in the golden age of creators,” she said. Competition in the influencer space remains fierce. But Ms. Hilton has a distinct advantage, according to Dr. Burns: She has been in the public eye for more than two decades.
“We’re anchored by a global personality and someone who has true influence over consumers,” said Mr. Gersh, Ms. Hilton’s business partner.
To carve out new spaces, Ms. Hilton has doubled down on her roots in media and fashion and was an early adopter of cryptocurrencies and nonfungible tokens, or NFTs.
“I’ve always been into innovative tech and am an undercover nerd,” Ms. Hilton said.
The heiress and entrepreneur said she believes NFTs are the future of art, in part, because they give power to digital artists and creators of all types to own the use of their work. Ms. Hilton in June became an investor and adviser to Origin Protocol Inc., a decentralized e-commerce platform. In August 2020, Ms. Hilton sold an NFT drawing she made on an iPad of her kitten for charity. The artwork was bought with cryptocurrency.
As for the name of her new company, Ms. Hilton says she has always found special meaning in the time 11:11. “It’s my favorite time of day,” she said. “I love posting on Twitter at 11:11 to remind myself and my fans to ‘make a wish,’ keep taking risks and keep dreaming.”
Write to Talal Ansari at [email protected]
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