What famous friends are for
Philanthropist Scott Lazerson knows everyone from Paris Hilton to Larry King. Now he's charging for introductions.india Updated: Oct 12, 2010 19:22 IST
"I wasn't popular in high school," laments Scott Lazerson. "That's probably what drives me."
No one could say Lazerson, a spiky-haired 40-year-old from Orem, Utah, suffers from anonymity now. Name a celebrity, billionaire, chief executive or just a person you'd like to know, and chances are Lazerson counts them a friend. "[Fill in the blank] is my good friend," is his favorite phrase.
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Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria spent two years helping Lazerson produce a TV reality show about philanthropy. Lindsay Lohan worked with Lazerson on a BBC documentary about child trafficking in India. Larry King? Lazerson used to run his philanthropic foundation. Lazerson even convinced Paris Hilton to visit maternal health clinics for the poor in Guatemala.
A beefy Rolodex comes in handy when organizing a hopping party. But Lazerson has bigger plans: He aims to charge people money for introductions to his Page Six pals.
"I watched so many people around me constantly doing business deals, and that revolves around the fact that they're connected to the right people," says Lazerson. "I thought, wait, I know these same people!"
In August Lazerson snagged his first client, Liberty Tax Service. Martha O'Gorman, the $300 million (revenue, including all franchises) tax preparation company's chief marketing executive, says she was tired of the "grandiose promises" and "red tape and posturing" of expensive but ineffective public relations firms, and was ready to try something different. She'd heard about Lazerson through a franchisee who had known him for years and was familiar with his gift for making A-list friends. O'Gorman thought Lazerson--who doesn't issue press releases and drum up marketing campaigns--might be able get her in front of interesting people, and even stir up some buzz for Liberty.
With Lazerson leading the way, soon O'Gorman was hobnobbing with executives at Fox News and CNN in Manhattan. Lazerson also got her into the "green room" at the Today Show and backstage at The View, where Elizabeth Hasselbeck's assistant showed them around. "I've employed big public relations firms for years, and none of them ever got me into the green room of the Today Show!" gushes O'Gorman. The introductions paid off: Liberty Chief Executive John Hewitt was booked on two Fox News shows, Varney & Co. and Hannity. (It didn't hurt that Lazerson knows Fox Business President Roger Ailes: "His niece, Cathy, is my good friend," he says.)
O'Gorman has contracted Lazerson, at a fee of $5,000 a month, through the end of December. "He's the kind of person who can meet anybody and almost instantaneously strike up a commonality," she says. "I call him The Connector."
The Connector got his start in 1997 in Provo, Utah, where he and his wife, Heidi, had their own clothing line, Snaps & Snails, which they subsequently sold "for much less than a million dollars," says Lazerson. Along the way the couple became "good friends" with a blonde beauty named Shawn Southwick, who later became the seventh wife of CNN talk show maven Larry King.
King was looking for someone to run his philanthropic Cardiac Foundation. Lazerson, a Mormon involved in charity in one form or another since childhood, signed on. Lazerson ran the foundation for two years, corralling everyone from Muhammad Ali to Donald Trump to Celine Dion for appearances at charity functions. "At the time I wasn't friends with any of these people," he says. "I was just being myself."
Lazerson's circle grew fast. In 2001 he began throwing celebrity-studded galas as executive director of the Rose Foundation, which provides grants to local community projects. A few years later he worked with Eva Longoria (a Rose event attendee) to produce a TV reality show about charitable giving. The Philanthropist (not to be confused with the scripted NBC series of the same name) has yet to be bought by a network but is still making the rounds.
In 2008 Lazerson founded Interface Charitable Foundation, which helps small charities get access to celebrities and other deep-pocketed donors. Clients have included Stop Hunger Now, for which Lazerson enlisted Jeremy Piven of Entourage fame, and Lance Bass, formerly of N' Sync, to film public service announcements.
Why the leap from altruism to opportunism? The $70,000 salary Lazerson draws from his foundation doesn't go far when you're trying to support five kids, even in Orem. His pals don't seem to mind. "My friends are 100% supportive," says Lazerson. "They love the idea of my having a business that revolves around the passion I have for connecting people with each other."
Not that celebrity hookups don't have hitches. In 2009 Paris Hilton went to Guatemala to visit health clinics with Lazerson. Apparently tired of her duties, Hilton hopped an early flight back to Los Angeles, skipping a scheduled meeting with the country's president, Alvaro Colom Caballeros.
Another celeb, who Lazerson won't name, refused to fly anything but first class on a trip to help out the impoverished. Sighs Lazerson: "Here I am dealing with malaria nets, and I'm having a phone conversation with someone who won't fly business class."
High-class problems to have.