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In the Black

Lee maintains tight control of the Black Widow image.

Billiards and the WPBA Classic Tour brought Lee to the public's attention. Her drive for self-promotion increased her notoriety and eventually wore down George, senior marketing officer for Washington, D.C.-based Octagon, the world's largest sports and entertainment representation and marketing agency.

After some pestering by Lee, George signed her as a client in 1997. Initially, he took a let's-see-what-happens approach, but soon built a marketing plan that emphasized Lee's exotic image as the Black Widow and her enthusiasm for self-promotion and public relations.

"Nobody works harder at this than Jeanette," George says. "In 10 years she has missed one gig, and it was because I cancelled it, because she was so sick."

One of the tenets of the plan was that the public had room in its collective consciousness for a single billiard star. In the 1960s and early '70s, it was Minnesota Fats, and then Steve Mizerak seized the mantle with his Miller Lite ads.

Lee took over from there. She accepted nearly every opportunity that came her way - exhibitions, autograph signings, newspaper interviews, radio spots. The national media bit, and Lee soon was everywhere - appearing on HBO's "Arli$$" and "Real Sports," NBC's "Today" show, in ESPN commercials, and showcased in Sports Illustrated, Tennis, and Maxim, among other magazines. Lee spent well over half of each year on the road, building the Black Widow brand one stop at a time.

By 2001, her income already was in the mid-six-figures. And only a small percentage came from tournament winnings.

"Another element of the plan was, the billiards industry is not where you're going to make your money," George says, noting that winning every Classic Tour event in a single season would barely net $100,000. "We have to find a way to make the celebrity that billiards has afforded you a portal to more mainstream activities."

About three years ago, Lee's marketing plan shifted to leverage that celebrity and gain some financial stability.

George concentrated on deals with long-term legs. That included packaging personal appearances instead of arranging one-off events, and crafting multiyear contracts for endorsements and licensing the Black Widow image to create a regular revenue stream.

Lee used to enter every year with little pre-arranged work. This January, her 2008 planner already was packed.

"Before, it was a desperate grind to continue to build the brand," Lee says. "I didn't know when the next exhibition was coming. ... Now the brand is bigger. The focus is long-term. We're putting together programs, marketing campaigns, which give back to me above and beyond just the money."

It's a canny strategy. Most of Lee's latest deals get her distinctive image out in the marketplace, creating even more exposure for the Black Widow. That, in turn, increases her star power, which enhances her marketing mojo, and so on.

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