By Michal Lev-Ram, writer
FORTUNE -- What was Alec Baldwin doing at a cloud computing conference in San Francisco?
Delighting fans (and getting paid to do so) in an effort to smooth over his most recent public relations flap in which the 30 Rock actor was accused of yelling a gay slur at a photographer. Baldwin disputes the account, but the details mattered little here at the Salesforce.com (CRM) Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, where the actor received a warm reception despite the city's historic role in the gay rights movement.
It helps that Baldwin was speaking to a business audience. A company called ServiceSource (SREV), which sells software that helps corporations manage recurring revenue sources, served as sponsor for Baldwin's talk, entitled, "Breaking Baldwin: The Art and Business of Transformation."
While Baldwin made little reference to cloud computing in his remarks, he did have some advice for the standing-room only crowd of technophiles. "Public relations is an urgent thing," said Baldwin, referencing his recent controversy. "When you have a company, you gotta have PR. I want better PR." The actor also stressed the importance of being decisive, in business and elsewhere. "You strive for the right answers, but once you have it, pull the trigger and go," he told the audience. "The people who succeed are the ones who develop a muscle and make a quick decision."
Despite his PR mishaps and confrontations with the paparazzi, Baldwin's managed to reinvent his career several times, from a daytime soap opera actor to film star to his role on the popular NBC show 30 Rock. He's also hosted Saturday Night Live a record 16 times, starred in his own public radio podcast and launched a short-lived talk show on MSNBC. "My biggest transformation is to avoid things like what just happened to me," Baldwin said.
ServiceSource, a San Francisco-based software provider, said it hired Baldwin to share "secrets of transformation from his long and storied career." But the little-known cloud-computing company wasn't banking on the actor's recent public debacle casting a shadow over its event. In fact, CEO Mike Smerklo told the audience that deciding whether to stick to the program and bring Baldwin on stage was one of the toughest decisions of his career.
It looks like he made a good bet. The audience roared with laughter as Baldwin regaled them with jokes and anecdotes. (At one point, Baldwin jokingly professed his love for his manager, who was sitting in the audience. "I love you, Matt," said Baldwin. "I love you in that way.")
Baldwin also struck a more serious tone as he addressed his recent controversy head on. "If anything I do makes some kid in the heartland of this country who's gay or lesbian believe I'm part of the intolerance," he said, "that diminishes me and that hurts me and makes me feel bad." He added that he should choose his words more carefully in the future.
Not that he didn't take a few shots where he could. "There is a drive-by justice to the Internet society," Baldwin said. "They indict you, convict you, and hang you on the same day."
When asked what he would do next, Baldwin said he was thinking about "getting into this cloud information thing." The audience -- most of them cloud computing execs -- ate it up.
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