The Iron Sheik's return to the limelight started with Twitter in the hands of two brothers, Page and Jian Magen of Magen Boys Entertainment, a full-service entertainment company based in Toronto. Their exposure to "the legend," as the Sheik refers to himself, began at home. Their father, a champion table tennis player in Iran, was best friends with Hossein Vaziri (the Sheik's "other" name). Because of this relationship, talent from the World Wide Wrestling Federation (now the WWE) made regular appearances at the table.
The Sheik, now 74 years old, isn't fighting much these days, but has had a remarkable media push: more than 441,000 followers on his Twitter feed, an award-nominated biopic to be released in the fall of 2014, regular features on the Howard Stern and Opie & Anthony shows, and several features in Maxim, Playboy, and other huge publications.
In short: Two entertainment entrepreneurs from Toronto managed to propel a semi-retired wrestler to the forefront of the media.
Here's what you can learn from Page and Jian and the Sheik himself:
1. Nostalgia is a powerful emotional connection.
While quasi-referential moments tend to make customers roll their eyes, the Sheik was a cultural icon many are incredibly endeared to. "People love nostalgia. They love knowing that the person they remember when they were children still exists. What's more important is that he exists with the same fire, drive, and personality," said Page Magen. "Our main goal was to stay consistent. People loved to hate him [in his wrestling days], and we've given them what they remember … The Sheik never missed a beat, never softened up, never changed his mind about anything or anyone. If he hated you--or loved you--he would tell you." The Sheik was always "the legend." And he hasn't stopped reminding people.
2. Keep it honest and real--even if it's a darker story.
It's a common PR mistake to buff away the potentially negative parts of a story. The Magens avoided that, taking the Sheik's fire and bravado from his wrestling days and bringing an emotional tie to the rest of the world.
"We wanted people to celebrate this man and see that he came from Iran with nothing--in search of the American dream. Ironically, he achieved that dream as the most hated man in America," Magen said.
"This was the ignition for us to build and revitalize our fallen hero," Magen said. It meant large amounts of time showing the audience his character in detail--his human side. "You watch someone on TV for 30 years and you think you know him. The Sheik has been full of life in these years and raring to give back to those who loved or hated him growing up," he added
The Sheik himself even has his own advice: "Don't be afraid to say how you feel. Don't give a [expletive] what they think--you be your best, 100% of the time. Then nobody can ever say bad thing about you."
"I love the press because they know I make it and I am the real." This has actually been a continual statement for the Sheik--he is "the real." From years of observing him, one can see that this isn't a brand statement or a planned attack on the media--he simply is, has been, and always will be "the real," not "the fake," to use his own parlance.
It's hard to break away from the mindset that you must always be friends with everyone, but Magen counts a lot of the Sheik's success to his honesty. He allegedly yelled at famous actor Jamie Foxx for not getting him a cold beer. This became a story with AskMen.
3. Don't have a limited mindset.
When asked, the Magen Boys didn't seek to pigeonhole themselves as The Sheik's agents, PR managers or manager in general. "I would say a bit of all three. If you want to be successful in the world of management, you must be able to understand what everyone does. Because we're a boutique agency, we are able to give our clients a lot more attention and time, which gets them better results."
4. Never say never.
When the Magen Boys started working with the Sheik eight years ago, he was in a dark place. "He was battling a few demons that weren't giving the proper message to our audience. [Because he was] our childhood hero, we did not want to put something out to the world that would make him look poorly." The Boys--being too smart to just assume that nothing could change, worked with their childhood friend and found what gave him strength--his fire, his brutality of speech, his general-purpose bombast--and turned him into a media entity.
5. Be blunt, be funny, be you--and answer anything you want to (within reason).
I also spoke to the Sheik directly. His English, while not perfect, plays well into his persona of bluntness and humor--and his willingness to comment on anything. He won't avoid any interview questions. In fact, I was challenged to ask anything I wanted. When asked if Apple was right in acquiring Beats by Dre, he told me "Dr. Dre the real doctor--he can do whatever he want." To him, the WhatsApp acquisition was wrongly priced: "The Facebook smart--but for the 19 billion dollar? I break the [expletive] Facebook back, make everybody happy."
While I don't see him meeting with Andreessen Horowitz at any time soon, the Sheik seemed content with his answer.