Sixty-one years ago this month filming began on the epic movie project The Greatest Story Ever Told. The plot was nothing less than the life of Jesus Christ.
A film of such epic proportions mandated an all-star cast, so dozens of name actors were assigned roles. Included were up-and-coming newcomers, established working actors and a few superstars.
Among those in the middle category of established working actors was Telly Savalas, who was cast as Pontius Pilate. He had made a steady career first in radio, then in television and movies, but still wasn’t a top-name star.
Savalas was not blessed with typical leading-man looks and was most often cast in supporting character roles. Now middle-aged, he had lost much of his hair to male-pattern baldness, which lead him to a momentous decision. He decided to shave his head for the role of Pilate, to give himself an authentic Roman statesman appearance.
When filming was completed, Savalas made his second momentous decision: He opted to continue shaving his head.
Here in the third decade of the 21st century, a shaven head is commonplace. Not so in the 1960s. Virtually no one shaved their head. In the acting business, where getting attention is crucial, Savalas hit upon a gimmick that got his talents noticed.
From that point on, he was “the bald guy.” Any bald joke mentioned Telly Savalas. Mention a bald actor, and everyone immediately knew to whom you were referring.
Savalas was never again out of the public eye, and more importantly, never without work.
Savalas has been gone for three decades, but today he is visiting Johnson’s World to teach us all some important lessons. No matter how much or how little hair you have, you can learn a thing or two from his experience.
It pays to stand out. You may be good at what you do, but so are many others. Having an angle, a hook, a gimmick may be just what you need to get yourself or your company noticed.
It pays to specialize. In the movies, everyone is beautiful. In business, everyone has quality, service and price. A niche can set you apart from the competition.
You don’t need to be the first. Yul Brynner had been successfully plying the shaven-head look in Hollywood for a decade when Savalas joined him in sporting a bald hairdo. There is always room for two.
You better be one of the first. I don’t remember who the third shaven-headed actor to achieve fame was, and neither does anyone else. It isn’t unique once everyone is doing it.
A gimmick is good but it isn’t enough. Savalas was remembered for his unusual hairstyle, but was cast in leading roles for his resonant voice and commanding on-screen presence. It wasn’t his smooth head that garnered him an Oscar nomination, it was his smooth delivery. Once you get people’s attention, you’d better have what it takes to follow through.
Are experts telling you that the mere act of pivoting to the hot label or packaging markets will rejuvenate your business? If so, that’s a bald-faced lie. Take the time, think hard, and figure out ways to truly differentiate yourself in your new market.
Take the time now, or later on you’ll be pulling your hair out in frustration.