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How To Star in an Ad (Without Looking Like an Idiot)

Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm shares his advice for starring in an advertisement.
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By Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm, and the face of Londonderry, N.H., yogurt company in three television ads.

You have to distinguish between being the client and being the talent. Let the pros do their job. If you don't have the confidence to let that go, then I would say bluntly you don't have the right people. I found it very relaxing. It's so nice to just be bossed around once in a while and not have a responsibility to get it done. And you know that everyone else knows they can't screw this up. So you just do what you're told.

Our ad agency selected the director for our spots, and I can tell you that it's the most crucial decision. The director actually controls everything from your look to the product look and position -- not to mention expense. A really good director will save a lot of money. He or she will get the job done quicker. There are agencies who have different core competencies, and I think it's a little bit like choosing your banker. You have to have some chemistry with the decision maker in charge. If things go awry, you have to have the ability to call somebody and not have it turn into litigation.

I was stunned by the costs. The first commercial I was saying, What is that guy doing? Here is a person standing in the sun holding a shade. Well, he was a professional shade holder and they know what they are doing. Better to take a tranquilizer than to try to micromanage. I was really studying the numbers and I could not make it add up. That is because it doesn't. These people live in this world. It would be like saying, open the hood of your car and find a cheaper way to put that engine together. If you try to build the car from parts it will cost a whole lot more, especially because you are not a mechanic. It's frightening.

I've given hundreds of hours of speeches and have stood in front of audiences ad nauseum so I am pretty relaxed in front of a camera. But if it's your first time, I would recommend that you practice or try it out. If you can't get that line right it will be take after take after take. It can mean a 100% difference in the cost of the event.

You cannot be the judge. You have to trust your gut in terms of the people you are working with. Is that funny or are people going to like that? Defer, defer, defer. I did have a lot to do with the script. I did have a lot to do with picking which approaches were taken. I am a CEO who is very involved on the marketing side because I have a knack for it. But it's a discipline. This thing is about letting go.

I am a fairly fast-moving guy. My employees -- they start running when I say I have an idea; they know it's something I want to implement yesterday. But if you're going to be in your own commercial, you have to surrender to the fact that it's going to take what it takes. If you think you're going to do it while you manage eight phone calls, use your BlackBerry, pick up your daughter from school, and drop her off at soccer, then don't offer to be the talent.

--As told to Nicole Gull

Last updated: Oct 1, 2004




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