After scoring a coveted spot on The Oprah Winfrey Show, these Inc. 500|5000 companies saw their sales skyrocket.
LightWedge CEO Jamey Bennett was desperate to get his product, a book light, on The Oprah Winfrey Show. It eventually got to the point where the producers called his company to tell them to stop sending samples. Bennett jokes, "Their exact words we're, 'We have plenty of samples, thank you very much.'' When the product was actually featured a few weeks later, it came to Bennett as a complete surprise. His company noticed a sizable spike on the company's website on December 7, 2007. The site, which for the previous three days had averaged $3,700 in sales per day, soared to $90,000 in sales in one afternoon.
What Bennett later found out was that a sleep expert named Dr. Michael Bruce did a segment on Oprah about products that help people get a good night's sleep, and he brought a reading light made by Bennett's Newton, Massachusetts-based company, No. 1609 on the Inc. 5000. All it took was for Winfrey to take the light out of Dr. Bruce's hands and say, 'I have to get one of these,' for sales to go through the roof. Sales continued at more than five times the usual rate straight through the holiday season and well into February. Retail sales of the product at major bookstores increased by a factor of five. Dr. Bruce 'not only surprised us by going on the show,' Bennett says, 'he made a claim about the product that we didn't even know we could make—that the soft, even light that it puts out is not enough to trigger melatonin production.'
For Bennett, getting on Oprah was a major stroke of luck because it seems that most everything Winfrey touches turns into gold. She's one of the most influential personalities in media that has made (and sunk) many businesses. The so-called 'Oprah Effect' can bring fame to an obscure company translating into dramatically increased sales. Even a casual mention of a product, exposed to her 44 million weekly viewers, is a boon for the company that makes or sells that product. Several companies from the 2009 Inc. 500|5000 have been so lucky as to score a spot on The Oprah Winfrey Show over the past three years, perhaps accounting for a great deal of their growth during that period.
In some cases, a PR company helped bring a product to Winfrey's attention, and in others the convergence was pure serendipity. For Ossining, New York–based No. 708 Ecobags.com, which makes and sells stylish reusable grocery bags, it was the former. In late 2006, the 'bring your own bag' movement was just picking up steam. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth was in theaters, sustainability was all over the news, and Ecobags CEO Sharon Rowe had a feeling that it was time for her company to make a dramatic move. 'We hired a PR company,' Rowe says, 'with the single directive: ‘Get us on Oprah.'' In April 2007, the bags were selected to be featured on Oprah's Earth Day episode. The response was immediate—the company was flooded with phone calls and e-mails. At the time, Rowe was working at home with only one other full-time employee. Every time they hung up the phone, it would ring again. Sales tripled, with 2,789 orders in the first week after the episode aired. Rowe adds, 'We were lucky that our website was scalable, and our server didn't crash.'
Nancy A. Shenker from theONswitch was the PR agent that Rowe hired to get her product on Winfrey's show. 'The key to successful media booking of any kind,' Shenker says, 'is really just thinking like a journalist. You can't just call up and say, you know, ‘We've got recycled bags. Does Oprah want to put them on her show?'' Shenker knew that Earth Day was approaching and that there would likely be an episode with an environmental theme. She then engaged a freelancer who had a connection at Oprah and formed an intelligent pitch filled with facts. She sent the producer product samples and let her know that they were flexible about how the samples could be used on the show. She also made it clear that they were willing to provide enough product samples for everyone in the studio audience. They were persistent in following up, but also respectful of the producers' time and opinions. In the end, everything came together perfectly. 'Oprah isn't right for everybody,' Shenker says. 'Sometimes I'll say to people, ‘If you actually got on Oprah, what would you do?'' According to Shenker, Rowe 'had all the right factors that made her Oprah-worthy'—having a woman-owned business, being on the cusp of a new trend, and serving a good cause—in short, having a compelling story she knew would speak to Oprah's demographic.
Pierce Mattie, of New York–based Inc. 5000 No. 1428 Pierce Mattie Public Relations, agrees. His company was responsible for getting a line of clothing from Old Navy on the show last year (and incidentally, even a company as big as Old Navy benefits enormously from that kind of exposure; they sold out of that item the week the show aired). 'A business that appears on Oprah should be one that is sustainable and ready to do mega volume. For a business, it can be a benchmark of a success and can almost guarantee millions of dollars in new revenue," Mattie advises. "However after that one hit has passed, they must have solid legs to keep the momentum ongoing. We hear time and time again, ‘If I can only get my products to Oprah, I can be a success' or ‘I will have a hit on my hands if I can just get this on Oprah.' We typically shy away form those types of clients and advise brands to never build that into their strategy because you are playing with luck, not real planning.'
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