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Wayne Rogers

Wayne Rogers
From M*A*S*H to Kleinfeld’s, a Brand’s a Brand
by Dale Buss
September 10, 2010

Wayne Rogers still may be best known for his role as Trapper John on the TV series M*A*S*H, but it’s arguable that he’s an even better entrepreneur and brand builder than actor. These days he’s most recognized as chairman of Kleinfeld’s, the wedding emporium in New York that is the subject of a reality show on TLC; as chairman of Stop-N-Save, a convenience-store operator in the Southeast; and as a regular panelist on Cashin’ In, a weekly business-news show on Fox News.


The 77-year-old Rogers also has helped to start or turn around banks, a vineyard, a convenience-store chain and a barge company, each with an eye toward optimizing the brand essence of the property. Along the way, he also has managed to create a personal brand that involves candor, versatility, accessibility — and, of course, wit.

Which role have you enjoyed more – actor or entrepreneur? What are the differences?

As an actor, you’re going to be asked to play parts. That’s a limiting factor, because you’re not the producer or director or writer, although within the acting discipline you can range far and wide. But as an entrepreneur, I can look at anything and say, “What is the ultimate possibility here? And how can I make a buck?” It could be something in real estate or banking or computers, or medical – but it doesn’t require me to have the exact expert discipline to play in that game.

Are you enjoying the brand-building exercise with Kleinfeld?

At Kleinfeld, the brand is much bigger than the store itself. What makes a brand? I think it’s just recognition by the marketplace. What are the implications of that? With Kleinfeld, you start with the fact that it’s the whole wedding, not just the gown. So how can we expand that thought across the whole wedding experience? What other things can you do with weddings? It’s being creative with the brand.

How does the creativity involved in branding compare with the creativity required in the arts, including Hollywood?

Whether you’re a painter or musician or whatever you are, any true entrepreneur is very creative. It’s a clichéd idea that writers and actors are all dope-smoking hippies; at the same time, actors and writers say about entrepreneurs, “You’re all greedy, money-grabbing capitalists who are right-wing Babbits.” Neither is the truth. And there are many common denominators.

How do you relate to the idea of a “personal brand”?

Any brand is dependent on public exposure. The more public exposure you have in a certain light helps you. We’ve become a society of compartmentalizing everything. At a party it’s, “What do you do?” We get categorized by what we do. I’m stumped by that one, if you do lot of things like I do. I don’t have an answer for that. Most people do.

In the case of your personal brand, it’s your personality and your self, and the more exposure you can get for that in an appropriate way, the better. What is an appropriate way? Without a sex scandal, of course. So a great example is Tiger Woods. Here’s a guy who was the hottest brand in the world and he screws it up. The moral side of his life got him in trouble with the business side. Otherwise, your personal brand can be a tremendous marketing tool.

Is the Wayne Rogers personal brand central to your success?

I haven’t really exploited it [for endorsements]. I probably should have, but I haven’t. The only deal I ever made was when IBM asked us M*A*S*H people to help launch some computers [in a series of TV commercials in 1986]. Advertising Age said that it got the biggest response in the history of advertising at that time to a new product. But I was bragging about that to a friend at a party, and he said, “Let me tell you something: You give me even a moron with no personality and, if I spend $50 million on an advertising campaign with him, whatever it is will sell!”

So what does “Wayne Rogers” mean in a branding sense?

I’m not sure I know. What you see is what you get in my case. I’m not very good at disguising my true thoughts and feelings. As a consequence, what you see on the screen or hear in my voice, or when you meet me -- that’s all there is. There is no hidden agenda. And whatever person takes a picture at any given time, at that moment in time that’s who I am. Does that mean I’m different people all the time? I might appear differently in different situations, but fundamentally nothing changes. I can’t be a devious person.

What advice would you give to careerists about building their personal brands?

Trust yourself. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Stage fright is something a lot of people experience. It’s fear of being judged by someone else. I think that comes by way — very specifically — of putting your attention on yourself. If you put your attention outside of yourself, on the subject or person or something other than you, then stage fright goes away.

That means to have confidence in what you’re doing at any moment in time. And confidence enough to say you don’t know something. That means trusting yourself.

And don’t talk too much; listen. My mother always said, “Just remember: An empty wagon makes the most noise.”


Dale Buss is a journalist and editorial consultant in Rochester Hills, Michigan. He's a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and writes about marketing and branding for a variety of publications.

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