Small Biz Secrets: Getting Booked On Oprah

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What a difference a day makes, especially if it’s a day when Oprah is literally eating up your new bakery’s key lime, cream-cheese frosted cake on national television.

Five years ago Lori Karmel was the owner of a struggling Florida cake business with a catchy name and a small local following. Karmel had purchased the business on a whim after shaking the trees for a nearby bakery that could do better than a standard buttercream cake for her son’s third birthday. We Take the Cake won Karmel’s vote with the first forkful of cream cheese frosting.

By 2004, Karmel’s privately owned Fort Lauderdale company had just turned its first profit: a mere $19. Then came the break. A Harpo Studios employee was listed in the client database she’d inherited. Harpo is home to Oprah, so Karmel promptly shipped off one of her signature key lime concoctions and asked the employee to help steer it to the other side of the building where the diva of daytime TV might get a taste.

“It was like winning the lottery,” says Karmel. Ultimately Karmel’s key lime cake was selected for one of Oprah’s Favorite Things segments. The impact on business was startling and immediate. “The phone didn’t stop ringing for like two weeks,” Karmel recalls. “We all went to bed with telephones ringing in our ears.” In the first four hours after the show aired, the cake maker took 800 online orders—so many that her Web Site server was disabled during the 2004 Christmas holiday season. Nevertheless, sales doubled that year, and today the company—which still sells scores of key lime bunt cakes for every chocolate cake it makes—grosses some $1.2 million annually.

Karmel was fortunate. Many of us have our own innovative products and services to offer but cannot even imagine sitting toe to toe with the star of the highest-rated talk show in TV history. Can we ever hope to benefit from what some like to dub “The Oprah Effect?”

(Check out this MainStreet story about getting on QVC.)

The answer is a qualified “yes,” says Susan Harrow, a San Rafael, Calif.-based media coach and marketing strategist whose 2001 book, "The Ultimate Guide to Getting Booked on Oprah," contains nearly 300 pages of advice on the subject.


One thing Oprah finds it hard to resist, for instance, is a guest who’s learned to fix or cure a serious problem or flaw. “Identify the negative,” says Harrow, also CEO at PRSecrets.com. “How is your house poisoning you? How can skin-care products harm you?”

Oprah focuses on issues that are important to women in the areas of education, protecting women and children from abuse, and the bigger picture involving anyone contributing to the community, Harrow says. Lately, she's also focusing on health, particularly on anti-aging and perimenopause.

“Bring the alert of the imminent danger to children, dogs or women, and then go to the positive,” says Harrow, by explaining how your product or idea solves the problem." If that sounds too simple, remember that Oprah’s most-valued guests share her values and standards, meaning there is often a spiritual theme behind what they do. This means demonstrating that you have been of service to others, and for some time. You’ll want to speak clearly and concisely, and to package yourself and your product beautifully.

To get started (if you don’t know a Harpo insider), click Oprah’s “Be On The Show” link and check out the list of topics the show is currently pursuing.

“I’ve have had clients who have gotten on the site and have gotten a call back in an hour,” says Harrow. If you’re not one of them, consider Oprah’s philosophy: “I don’t dream or want anymore,” she says. “I open myself up. I meditate. And I expect to be put in the best place to be used.”

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