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The Top Tens

Ten tips for getting your business on reality TV Add to ...

Whether or not reality TV truly reflects the real world, it does generate real publicity. We spoke to Chuck LaBella, New Wave Entertainment's director of TV development and Stephanie Drachkovitch, co-founder and executive vice president of Studio City, Calif.-based 44 Blue Productions, a supplier of reality, documentary, lifestyle and action-adventure programming for U.S. broadcast and cable outlets. Ms. Drachkovitch is also the creator and executive producer of Peter Perfect, a business makeover reality TV show.

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1. Treat reality TV as a reality. It might just be the future of television. "The European landscape is filled with reality-type programs with the occasional drama and sitcom sprinkled into it," Mr. LaBella says. "I think that's where the American landscape is going at this point."

2. Familiarize yourself with the different shows. This will help you not only determine which one you want to be involved with but also better hone your pitch.

3. Know who to pitch your business to by paying attention to the show's credits. On most reality shows, there's a title for "Talent Producer" or "Talent Executive," Mr. LaBella says. "It is a very small community of people who work on these shows," he says. "Get familiar with those names. If one show does not work out, they will be working on another show."

4. Got a great startup story? Be sure to tell it. You don't necessarily need an agent to get noticed. You just need a good story, so be ready to share the details of your rise to success. "Stories about humble beginnings or inventing something by accident always work," Mr. LaBella says. "The woman who invented Spanx is a great story. The woman who invented White Out is a great story. (She was also mother to one of The Monkees.) Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are exciting because they created empires from their garages. Education and credits can be impressive but a good hook such as a happy accident or coming from humble beginnings is very important."

5. Get ready to bare all. "We cast big personalities," Ms. Drachkovitch says. "We're drawn to people who know how to tell their story with emotion and animation. Be willing to bare your soul, with warts and all. You should be willing to be honest about any mistakes, and about what might happen if your business needs to close. Tell us the emotional stakes."
 

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6. Know a good pitch from a bad pitch. We asked Mr. LaBella for examples of both. Here's what he had to say.

A good pitch: "When I was finding successful entrepreneurs to give away money to worthy causes on Oprah's Big Give, the Maloof Brothers' publicist Troy Hansen called me. All I knew about the Maloof Brothers were that they grew up billionaires and owned a sports team. So immediately I thought 'two rich guys born with silver spoons in their mouths. Not interesting.' However, when I met with them, they told me how their dad instilled common values in the whole family and how they had to work their way up in their own corporation, sweeping floors driving trucks, etc. I had no idea how these two billionaires were basically raised as two blue-collar guys and have always given back and are especially passionate about the inner-city community. They go around to poor neighborhoods and talk to kids and give them brand new sports equipment as well as donate money to community centers. When we met, they actually pitched me the whole idea of how they wanted to give away money on the show. Oprah ended up inviting them as guests on her show as well as Oprah's Big Give. If their publicist had not insisted on me meeting them and explained to me that they were different, my perception of them might not have changed."

A bad pitch: "A very wealthy entrepreneur called me because he basically wanted to be on TV and become the next Donald Trump. He invited me to his home in Palm Desert. It was exactly like Shangri-la. Servants with name tags, great lunch, he showed me photos of him and every living president and even had my car detailed when I was there. No story. Just a rich guy who thought he should be on TV."

7.  Be creative when pitching your business and consider the different options. You could appear on the show yourself or you could have your business's product be part of a reality TV challenge. If you prefer to have the spotlight on your product rather than yourself, follow Ms. Drachkovitch's advice: "Contact the executive producers of the show that interests you and send samples, along with an explanation of what you are willing to do," she says. "In the case of a product, we need to see it, touch it, taste it--whatever the case. Also, producers will need to clear the product use with the network, so things take time. Producers will want to work the product into the storyline organically. If it's not a physical product, but a service provided by a company, we can credit the service provider."

8. Calculate the risk. Reality TV can be a risky business, and you might not be portrayed as you desire.

9. Feel out the producer you're working with. "No producers will allow the participants to control the filming and editing process, so it's important that you have confidence in the production company and in producers at the outset," Ms. Drachkovitch says. "Research clips of other shows that the company has done. Look at the types of shows they do and decide if you like those portrayals. By opening the doors to filming, you're opening the doors to who you are and if you be yourself, candid and authentic, then people will relate well to you."

10. Be ready to capitalize on the exposure that you'll receive--and the surge in sales that might follow. "In preparation of your episode airing, be prepared with a good phone system, a website that is ready for traffic, and make sure you have the ability to quickly fill orders of any product seen on TV," Ms. Drachkovitch recommends. "You might consider taking on temporary help. We've typically seen a dramatic spike in phone calls and website hits, and a 30 to 50 percent increase in foot traffic for the businesses on Peter Perfect, as well as salons featured on our Style Network show, Split Ends."

Lisa Donahue is the owner of For Heaven's Cakes, a bakery specializing in decadent desserts located in Thousand Oaks, Calif. After Ms. Donahue's business was featured on Peter Perfect, walk-in and online business tripled and literally saved the business, she says. Now, business pours in from all over the world, including South Africa and Singapore, and wedding cake sales increased dramatically.

How did Ms. Donahue prepare for her big debut? "I tried to get all my ducks in a row," she says. "Because Peter Perfect airs nationwide, I knew people across the country couldn't come to my cake shop, so I really wanted my online business to prosper. However, our current website was not that advanced. After the show, we received 95,000 hits on our website. We had to make sure our online business could handle the increased traffic.

"To do this you have to have a very sophisticated website. I spent a little more money and designed a second website that was data-based driven and could handle the increased volume. If your product is shipping nationwide, that's what I would recommend. To prepare for the inevitable heavy foot traffic, hire extra people to make sure you have sufficient help. We also printed some catchy T-shirts that say, 'Get Your Cake On' with our logo on the back, which helps tourists recognize us and is a fun souvenir. You need to be prepared for business to double or triple, even if that means spending a few extra dollars."

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