Michael McCann was the former Chief of Security of the United Nations and now heads his own company.

When it comes to ensuring the physical protection of a person or a group of people, what is more important—brawn or brains? There is not a day that goes by where we do not hear about security personnel for celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt scuffling with photographers or manhandling the crowd. While it is important to note that physical strength is significant and should never be discounted, thuggish bodyguards who rely on beefy physiques and tough guy attitudes can cause more problems than they solve.

The trend in celebrity and executive VIP protection is professionalism, experience and discretion. Clients should demand well-trained experienced security personnel who are physically fit. However, a 6-foot-8-inch, 300-pound man with a 22-inch neck is not a prerequisite for the best security professional.


Effective security precautions require a conscious awareness of the client’s environment and circumstances, as well as the need to exercise prudence, judgment and common sense. The first step to determine the right security team for the executive protection assignment is the completion of a thorough threat and risk assessment.

Asking questions will help evaluate a situation and determine the exact corrective measure to take. Why is the executive protection team needed? Is it because of a specific threat, or is it due to a specific event? Was the event initiated due to a court order of protection? Does the threat or risk assessment focus on a wealthy, high profile businessperson who is vulnerable to kidnapping or targeted by environmental activists? What is the level of displeased stockholders and unsatisfied customers? Are work-place violence scenarios playing a front and center role due to a firing, demotion or disciplinary action?


It is not unusual for people who want to look “big” in the eyes of others to hire security personnel that are flashy. Rather than hire the most qualified protective specialists, the style-over-substance security shopper opts for the most muscular contenders. However, for celebrities, executive protection may only be needed to limit access to the media and photographers, as well as the fans who wish to see or touch the personality. Advanced planning and sufficient security personnel are critical to ensuring a safety net in these high profile situations.

In many scenarios, there are multiple security threats. The President, the Pope and some A-list celebrities, for example, attract enormous crowds. Thousands of people wish to see, touch and possibly speak to these luminaries. Moreover, these VIPs have significant threats. The security detail must protect them from overwhelming crowds and from assassins. Unstable people eager to make contact often stalk entertainers with large followings. It is the duty of the security professional to deter such people from encountering their idol.

Our goal as protective specialists is to ensure our clients are safe, secure and embarrassment free. It is important, for example, that the security detail know to be on the lookout for the person with the cream pie or the activist seeking to spray-paint fur garments. We also serve as navigators, ensuring that our clients depart from the event rather than retreat to the broom closet. Who can forget that broadcast clip of President Bush as he was leaving a room and attempted to open a locked door. Cameras rolled as the President was put in an uncomfortable position that could have been easily avoided.  We offer a steady arm for a wobbly client to ensure they do not trip, ensure their travel routes are safe and ensure that none of their personal items are stolen.


Does the client go running every morning? Are there children involved? A security team is selected based on criteria such as these. The security personnel must fit seamlessly into the client’s environment. Their clothing and appearance should ensure that they blend rather than contrast with their client. If the client is jogging the security officer should be dressed appropriately. If the client is attending a black tie affair, the protective specialist should be dressed similarly. If the client is not normally noticed, security personnel should not bring unwarranted attention to the client. There are times when a female security professional is preferable over male, and times when both a male and female should be engaged. All of these decisions depend on individual security situations.

When a client is traveling to other countries, the security professional should try to blend in by doing things like using a car that is local to the country rather than renting a big SUV. Ensuring that the protective officer not only knows the city and speaks the native language, but also knows locations of hospitals and emergency facilities, airports and hotels is vitally important.

The protective specialist must know exactly why they are assigned to protect the person and the particular nature of the threat. The client must know exactly what is expected of them. They should be briefed on what security will do in a variety of situations. The client rulebook should include a chapter on what the client should and should not do. Security consultants should never engage in altercations with the media. If the protective specialist is incapacitated or is responding to a threat, the client needs to know exactly what he or she should do, such as retreating to the car, the hotel or their residence.


It is critically important for the security team to visit all the sites the client will be visiting. They should know the location of all entrances and exits, alternate means of egress, medical facilities, telephones and the overall security and safety of the venue. The goal of advanced planning is preventative, to tout wisdom as well as strength. While one security executive is assigned to the client, another advance person will preview the venue, prepare for the client’s arrival and be present when the client arrives. During the event, the advance person or team will be planning for departure. In some cases, alternate vehicles for departure may be required or different departure routes or exits utilized.

Advanced meetings with security personnel may minimize security issues. For example, if an activist wishes to protest the client’s visit, a contact with the activist or their organization in advance may be appropriate. If the activist wishes to deliver a petition to the client, arrangements may be made for the activist to do so. If the client wishes to wear a fur coat, the security consultant may advise the client to be fur-free on Black Friday when many animal activists are active.

There are also times when the media and photographers act beyond the scope of reason and advanced planning with photographers often helps. Determine the number of pictures they may take upon arrival or make alternate photo session arrangements to lessen the pushing and shoving disputes that erupt between photographers and security.

Connecting with the local police department and on-site security personnel is crucial. Ensuring that security lines and barriers are in place with security officers posted on site minimizes the exposure of the client and ensures the safety of the other guests.

We have all seen the images of big brawny men holding umbrellas over a VIP client’s head. When I see these beefy umbrella holders, I ask myself, “Are they well trained with significant security experience? Have they completed a detailed threat and risk assessment and conducted a thorough review of the venue while ensuring advance security is assigned to the site?” If the answers to all of those questions are in the affirmative, I recommend dumping the umbrella and focusing on protecting the client.