Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Leigha Hagood's Handling Her Business

You may remember me writing the story back in June about publicist Leigha Hagood, the 'Olivia Pope of the Hip-Hop World' who had her own world rocked recently when a disgruntled former employee tried to blackmail her.

She derailed the extortion attempt by coming out as trans, and after taking some time to let the controversy die down and let both of us honor previous commitments,  I finally got the opportunity to sit down and have a long chat with Leigha Sunday night.  

In addition to wishing her a happy belated birthday (it was July 24), in that two hour plus conversation she shared some details about her life, what it's like to be a publicist to various personal and corporate clients in Hollywood, and what the initial furor stirred up by the disgruntled ex-employee cost her.

While Leigha is happy she can go about her life from now on without having to worry about someone attempting to extort her as the cost of keeping her previously undisclosed girl like us status quiet, the initial cost of coming out as trans was steep.

How steep?  It cost her three clients, $120,000 of lost business and having to spend time putting her formidable PR skills to work dealing with a PR crisis of her own.

She has come a long way from the precocious kid who grew up in Baltimore.  She graduated from high school at age 15, earned her undergrad degree at Morgan State University and subsequently received a full ride scholarship to Princeton.

But like many of us on our gender journeys, she knew deep down she had to address the gender issue that had been building during her college years.  Before heading west to Los Angeles in 2009 armed with her degrees, a one way bus ticket, $40 and a duffel bag began to transition.

After arriving in LA, she began to make the critical contacts that led to her PR career while working on the development of a show being prepared for pitch to MTV.  She met Gabriel Cannon, the younger brother of Nick Cannon who became her first true friend in Hollywood.  She also met A-list publicist Cassandra Grill-Neiman at that time, which was Leigha's introduction to being a publicist.

"Meeting Gabriel was a pivotal moment in my early Hollywood days," said Leigha.  "I not only gained a true friend, but he helped me along with Cassandra avoid the Hollywood pitfalls."  

During Grammy Weekend 2010 Hagood met A-list publicist Ashley Aristice-Caffey, another person who was instrumental in her development who also subsequently became her best friend in    

NBAAllStar2010.jpgHagood's big break as a publicist came during the 2010 NBA All-Star Weekend in Dallas that led to the signing of her first NBA client.   That initial NBA client would be her introduction into the world of celebrity fixing and crisis management.   From that initial crisis management job came others leading to her current reputation as the 'Olivia Pope of the Hip-Hop World'. 

In 2011 came the opportunity to take on members of the Glee cast as clients and led to her first corporate client courtesy of Keisha Knowles.  "Keisha was the reason the LA Gay and Lesbian Center became my first corporate.client.  She saw something special in me and took a chance on this poor social climbing child," she says with a laugh.

The Gay and Lesbian Center job led to other corporate clients with her star rising, she decided to consider striking out on her own and form her own company. 

By 2012, with her A-list client and corporate portfolio expanding, the kid who arrived in Southern California with just $40 in her pocket had become a millionaire.  But because of the confidential nature of the business, she couldn't  claim credit for many of the things she'd done like getting negative stories spiked before they spread, nipping rumors and negative press before the narrative got entrenched, fixing personal crises and branding and developing new artists for major record labels. 

At this point Hagood began to study the careers of Yvette Noel-Shure and Jenna Fleishman in preparation to start her own firm.  "In a way, Yvette became a mentor to me.  I watched how she handled Beyonce's career and began to realize that I had the ability and skills to take it to the next level," says Hagood..  "She was my role model in learning how to seamlessly put together all those skills I was already practicing and take them to the next level."

Her confidence bolstered by watching her mentor, Hagood formed her own firm which thanks to her work ethic and determination, became wildly successful.   She's worked with 8 Grammy nominated artists. of which two took home Grammy Awards. 

As you would suspect from someone nicknamed the 'Olivia Pope of the Hip Hop World', she has handled her own crisis and is moving forward personally and professionally.

While she's dealing with the legal ramifications of the breached contracts, Leigha's  remaining A-list clients have had her back.  The trans revelation has not changed their perception about Hagood or the quality of her work for them.  Those clients see her being a girl like us as a non issue which is fine with Leigha. 

She's gratified to have received critical support from her clients, her friends, people in the trans community and supportive allies, but she's itching to get back to just living her life and doing a job she absolutely loves.  

Hagood has set a goal of attending a major trans oriented conference in the near future to meet other members of the community, but believes it's not necessary for her to be an activist.

"Those roles are being fulfilled quite well by you, Tona Brown, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Kylar Broadus and countless other people around the nation.  Being trans is just a small part of the many complex layers that make up Leigha Hagood the person," she said. "The best way I can help the community is provide another possibility model as to what we can achieve if given the opportunity and do my job to the best of my ability."

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