I’m going to assume that at one time or another in your life, you have seen a reality TV show, correct? I remember the first season of The Real World on MTV years ago, although shows like “Candid Camera” first appeared in the 1940’s. Over time, these shows have evolved, with the Reality Show genre accounting for approximately 25% of all shows which air on television. Whether you’re into adventure, health, home decoration, or cat fighting women, there is a show for you! NBC, ABC, Bravo, the History Channel and MTV all air shows that are allegedly unscripted and follow people through challenges and daily life.
While everyone wants, and are entitled to, their 15-minutes of fame, I’ve wondered how the stars of the show make any money. Unless your name is Snooki (who will make $100,000 per episode for Season 4 of the Jersey Shore), chances are, the show will at best pay your bills. But reality TV will not make you rich. And then came Bethenny Frankel.
She is bright (graduated from NYU), funny, and will own up to being wrong. There’s no fake, happy face for the cameras or talking behind the backs of cast mates – she is who she is, she owns it and says exactly what’s on her mind (to their face). The thing about Bethenny Frankel that is so endearing, is that she is real. Bottom line.
Growing up in a dysfunctional home, riddled with divorces and neglect, changing schools and moving cross-country twice, didn’t hold her back from finding success, but did seem to give her tenacity. She tried her hand at acting, was a personal assistant (to Jerry Bruckheimer), started an events planning company (first failed business), and went on to sell scarves. She liked a scarf in Barney’s and rather than buying one, she purchased 50 and sold them amongst Hollywood friends. Next up was baking. Making healthy cookies in New York led to a gig on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, where she was nixed and a few years later, her second business, Bethany Bakes went belly up (second failed business). But, she never stopped.
A friend approached her to gauge her interest in appearing on a reality TV show, called The Real Housewives of New York. And here’s where she succeeded, where so many fail: She used the show as a platform for her products. Here’s what she said to Forbes Magazine “It’s really not that easy to get onto TV. I decided to just make it what I wanted it to be. To keep the focus on my brand and to just be me. It was the best decision I ever made.”
So while you and I, the viewers, were getting to know Bethenny the person, we were also developing a relationship with her brand, Skinnygirl. While reality TV launched her into our living rooms, who she is and what she was selling kept the viewer engaged and wanting more. If the TV star is boring or the products are poor, the pole of public opinion will not want more of them, or part with their hard-earned dollar for their product.
The next thing she did was take ownership, with the back-end revenue and stocks. These are the opportunities that will continue to work for people like Bethenny Frankel, Jillian Michaels (who owns the production company that makes and sells her workout DVDs), Justin Timberlake (clothing line, restaurant) and P. Diddy (music, clothing line, record label and his Ciroc deal, where he shares in the company profits) long after their shows have been canceled or their 15 minutes is up.
Bethenny sold her Skinnygirl booze line, but retained the rights to use the name for other endeavors. Brilliant. She now has $55 million in the bank from the sale of Skinnygirl margarita, but is able to use the name to create other products like Skinnygirl lingerie, Skinnygirl supplements or Skinnygirl Personal Training.
Herein lies the problem; where does she stop? At what point will she over-leverage her brand, and ultimately herself, to the point where she is everywhere at once. Using Jillian Michaels as an example, it would be odd if she decided to create a line of high-end heels, to compete with the likes of Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo. Out of her element and her expertise, and she would be spreading her brand too thin, watering down her core competencies. How does Bethenny Frankel or anyone else prevent this from happening?
The answer is simple. By having good people around you. No one who has achieved success has done it on their own–they surround themselves with people who are better than them, in a skill they lack and take their advice.
I like that Bethenny Frankel doesn’t pretend to have all of the answers or claim to be an expert in the endeavors she pursues, she just who she is. And that, is what millions have fallen in love with, Bethenny, the brand. A refreshing dose of authenticity, honesty and legitimate success, in a world of bankrupt, back-biting, have-not’s, has-been’s and never-were’s that seem to populate the saturated ‘reality’ TV market.