- Brian Daniel runs the Celebrity Personal Assistant Network, a recruitment and placement company.
- He was a personal assistant for a decade before realizing a need and starting his business.
- He said demand for his services increased after the pandemic lockdown.
Brian Daniel has led the Celebrity Personal Assistant Network since 2007, connecting established personal assistants with high-profile clients. However, before becoming a seasoned networker, Daniel spent a decade as a personal assistant to celebrities and other wealthy individuals.
Today, he typically handles around 50 placements a year and charges up to $25,000 — sometimes more — to find ideal candidates for discerning five-star clients. He shared how he came to serve the richest people in the world and what prompted him to start his business.
His first encounters with prominent clientele
Daniel was working as a personal trainer in Beverly Hills when a client hired him as a PA.
Both roles, he said, require you to “go beyond the call of duty and go the extra mile.” He said he’s the trainer who’s always willing to meet late at night outside of his usual hours or turn up at the last minute on a Sunday morning when a client needs emergency training.
He’s seen his fair share of clients get by – regardless of the cost – by simply dropping cash. Once, he said, one of his bosses asked Daniel to get him a private screening of a hot new movie within an hour. So, Daniel said, he drove to a nearby movie theater, took the manager aside, and offered to pay him for the cancellation of a show and for each of the 300 seats in the theater. “I suggested he put a sign on the door of a theater saying the projector is broken so we can smuggle the VIP in through the back and he thought about it for a second and then said, ‘I can do that for you ‘” Daniel said.
He had a similar experience with another chef, he said, who asked that he get an In-N-Out Burger location that opens after hours. “I reached into my pocket and pulled out a huge wad of money and said, ‘Give me a number right now and I’ll pay for all overtime plus a special gift for you,'” Daniel said.
Some gigs were temporary, he said, like the Oscar winner he assisted the month before the Oscars, because their main PA was working 16-hour days and couldn’t keep up. “Temporary workers are very common during awards season to help with the extra work,” he added. Other gigs last longer, often two or three years.
Normally, Daniel said, he would find new jobs through word of mouth. But after being exhausted from tireless performances, he decided to headhunter opportunities and delegate the search for a new position – and there he saw a gap in the market and a potential business opportunity. “I’ve had such bad experiences with these headhunters,” he said. “I have decided to start my own business.” Most staffing agencies that hire help for the wealthy specialize in housekeepers and nannies, Daniel said, overlooking the crucial role personal assistants can play in a client’s daily life.
Requests can come quickly – it’s his job to find a match
Daniel said the key to his success is skillful screening: not just of candidates – to weed out staring wannabes – but of clients as well. “A lot of celebrities are very secretive and may be sending emails from a Gmail or Yahoo address,” he said. “But espionage is rampant in this business — other agencies get people to pose as potential clients to find out what I’m about.” Daniel often does research on someone before a scheduled call, sometimes by watching YouTube videos of them so he can verify that celebrity’s voice. He could also suggest a video call to verify identity.
Job descriptions can vary widely, and clients rarely put them in writing — mostly, Daniel said, because the requirements for a role are often subjective and restrictive. “It’s like Match.com but for the professional world,” he said. An early client, he said, went through a list of attributes he would like in a PA: blonde, blue-eyed, very athletic, and feminine. “I said, ‘Would you like to tell me what skills she needs?’ And I get people calling me and giving me size ranges and hair colors — they’re often looking for young people in a certain age range,” he said. Because of these types of requests, he says he tends to turn down about 25%. “They can treat you like you run a modeling agency and I’ll make up an excuse that my plate is full when that happens,” Daniel said.
He never knows when a job opening might arrive. He said he once received an email (Daniel’s website is missing his phone number, so all new clients must email him) at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve from a Grammy winner who — for reasons they never did explained – found himself without PA at that precise moment as midnight loomed. In response to the customer, according to his protocol, Daniel requested a video call. “It rang and I was so nervous my heart would explode out of my chest,” he said. “She was there. I couldn’t believe it.” Within 20 minutes he called her back with a candidate who she hired on the spot – and who kept working for her on an ongoing basis.
His best candidates, he said, have what he calls a “service heart,” or an instinct to do anything. The ability to remain unwavering under pressure is also crucial. “Generally in this industry, everything is done with the utmost urgency and always at the last minute,” he said, citing the legal battle between Lady Gaga and her former PA, which the singer settled out of court, as a cautionary tale that justifies his delicate process. “She had hired her best friend as her personal assistant and you need a PA with some business acumen,” he said. “You need three strong letters of recommendation from the last three employers that show you have the skills and the personality.”
He attacks in advance so as not to waste time
Daniel quickly learned how to make his search business profitable. Often, he said, a celebrity will have a day off and fire someone on a whim, only to change their mind a week later. Any commission only headhunter would have to pay the PA out of pocket in a situation like this, so Daniel refuses to operate that way. Instead, he asks for an upfront payment.
The amount varies by job specification, he said: For a no-fuss placement, like a gig in LA, paying $80,000 as a celebrity assistant charges 25% of annual salary and bills $5,000 to $10,000 upfront to cover his expenses and confirm that it really is an open role.
It incurs more overhead than many traditional headhunters, he added, because the background checks are even more extensive when working with VIPs, from criminal record research to references from previous A-list employers.
His fee could increase for more complicated tasks, e.g. For example, a query looking for someone with a master’s degree who is fluent in several different languages, or someone in a less desirable locale. He said he struggles to fill well-paying jobs when they’re based in the Middle East or Midwest, so he charges a higher fee for his time. He also offers two free one-hour phone consultations for new clients, in which he and the client discuss a specific role in detail. “If you need some coaching to really define it, I charge $300 an hour after that,” he said.
The pivotal point during the pandemic has been personal for him
Daniel said the pandemic had a major impact on his business – many clients laid off housekeeping staff, including PAs, and his business slowed. “In general, the domestic personnel industry was hit very hard,” he said. When a billionaire was given a detailed job description and he worked on it for weeks without finding the right candidate, Daniel offered to tackle the role himself while he kept his search firm running by working with other agencies as briefings for new roles arrived.
He spent six months as steward to a world man while overseeing a quartet of other assistants. Once, he said, they were standing in a rented villa in the Riviera Maya when his employer suddenly decided he wanted to go scuba diving in Cozumel. It was high holiday season and everything was booked out all summer long. But four hours later, after what Daniel described as a marathon of calls from the kitchen table, he had booked the trip. “We found a yacht, a captain, the jet skis and everything we needed,” he said. “It was a great example of the kind of resilience you need to have in real-time.”
Daniel replaced that role with another candidate four months ago after the search business started booming again. “Everything has come back. It was like a blast,” he said, adding that almost all job specifications now include requirements to have received a COVID-19 vaccination and booster. “Really, more than ever, people need someone to manage their lives: the boats, the private jets, the mega-mansions. You can buy your way out of many problems.”