If I’m being perfectly honest, I’m not entirely comfortable with the following statement: I admire celebrity gossip website TMZ (short for the “Thirty Mile Zone” that is Hollywood).

While I’ve never been a big fan of traditional entertainment journalism, where publicists share carefully vetted information with the press to garner favorable coverage for their clients, TMZ trades in scandal. It has been responsible for breaking the biggest celebrity scandals of the last 10 years, including the death of Michael Jackson, Mel Gibson’s arrest, the personal troubles plaguing Tiger Woods, and even exposing some of the tension behind celebrity royalty Jay-Z and Beyonce (remember when her sister Solange attacked him in the elevator?). It’s brazen and sometimes, well, tasteless.

Yet we can’t turn away.

While TMZ’s disruption of entertainment journalism is something I continue to wrestle with, the brand they’ve built cannot be denied. And as a marketer? I can’t help but respect what they’ve done. They’re irreverent, tuned in, and in just 10 years their little website has gone from punchline to punctuation mark on today’s celebrity obsessed culture, with a valuation speeding past $55 million dollars.

How did those at TMZ do it?

  • They’ve gone beyond the norm and built a deep network of sources, including entertainment lawyers, reality-television stars, limousine drivers, and court officials to help them keep a pulse on what’s going on, identifying trends and news items in real time.
  • They understood the implications of the 24-hour news cycle, and put it to work. In an industry used to print publications with long lead times, TMZ proved how powerful it is to be timely and responsive, being first on the scene and turning stories around quickly to capture their audience’s attention and loyalty.
  • They dug deep in their data to understand and uncover not only hot topics of interest to existing visitors to the TMZ website, but also segments that could help catapult them into the major media big leagues. From the start, TMZ worked to cater to a market that it’s cornered today: male consumers, many of whom wouldn’t even consider what they’re reading is “gossip.” Today, 42 percent of TMZ’s readership is male.

I could go on and on. Their achievement and sustained relevance is impressive, by any stretch of the imagination. And it got me thinking: Could you apply the same tips, techniques, and logic (without the side of shame) to associations? What if you took some of the same things that helped launch the TMZ brand – the responsiveness, the network building, the understanding of audience and segmentation – to bolster association brands or to transform ones that are lagging?

Join us as we explore this topic in greater detail later this week in our live webinar, Association TMZ: Buzz Building, Hollywood Style.