An appearance on reality TV can be an effective marketing tool for any business. However, it sometimes comes at a price. There are many considerations for a business to make before exposing itself to public curiosity and scrutiny.
Arizona has seen many of its businesses take the risk of appearing on TV, whether its Amy’s Baking Co. making its now-infamous appearance on Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares” or the bright-eyed youngsters of MistoBox who successfully pitched their business to Mark Cuban on “Shark Tank.”
While the experiences vary, there is a general consensus that the marketing power of reality TV is unparalleled, as not only does it often offer further reach than at the disposal of most small to medium sized companies, it is also completely free.
“Even if you look bad, you still get exposure,” said Connor Riley, co-founder of MistoBox, a company that distributes a variety of artisan coffees to monthly subscribers.
Riley’s experience with reality TV is unique. His business, which he co-founded with Samantha Meis, was started as a project for the University of Arizona’s entrepreneurship program. They were offered the opportunity to pitch their business to the investors on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” a show where startups can pitch their ideas to celebrity investors Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Barbara Corcoran, and Kevin O’Leary.
Given that the show offers an opportunity to gain much needed capital, there was much more at stake than just marketing for Riley and Meis. Nevertheless, he said that the marketing has proven to be significantly more crucial to the company’s success than Mark Cuban’s investment.
According to Riley, when the episode first aired his website crashed after having 100,000 unique visitors, 5 percent of which converted into sales.
“Our business grew 300 percent in a week,” he said. “We’ve had pretty steady growth since and we haven’t had to spend a ton of money on exposure and advertising.”
Riley said, based on his experience, he would recommend any business to give reality TV a shot.
“You have nothing to lose,” he said.
Some would argue on the contrary, however. One factor that seems to change the experience of the business appearing on a reality TV show is the nature of the program itself.
Howard Hughes, owner or Stand-Up Scottsdale, had a markedly different experience than Riley.
“It was ridiculous to see what story was told,” he said. “It was just bogus.”
While he agreed that the exposure was beneficial, he said that there are other factors of a TV appearance that often get overlooked.
Last year Hughes appeared on “Bar Rescue,” a show that renovates struggling bars across the country. While he acknowledged the show did bring the bar exposure, he thinks that the actual changes to his bar might have caused more harm than good.
According to Hughes, the show made a lot of thoughtless alterations, including removing chairs and a grill that had to be replaced.
“We still get five to 10 people who come in each week because they saw the show,” he said. “But, without fail, every single person who has come in, when I give them a tour of the place, they’re dumbfounded by the reality of the changes.”
He speculated that a lot of the changes made were for TV aesthetics, without concern for the actual benefit of the bar.
“They have a story they want to tell, and they’re going to tell that story,” he said. “Had they aired my disappointment in the reveal, people would have got a totally different story.”
TV personality Zane Lamprey is on the other side of things.
Host of shows such as “Three Sheets” and “Drinking Made Easy,” he has acted as the medium of exposure for many small bars across the country.
While filming for “Drinking Made Easy,” he visited several bars in Arizona including Four Peaks Brewery, Aunt Chilada’s, and Chuey’s Mini Bar.
When shooting for any of his shows, Lamprey recognizes the unspoken negotiation between the show and the business. In the ideal “win-win” scenario, the show gets free content and the business gets free exposure.
“We wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t beneficial to them,” he said.
There is a third party involved in this negotiation, however. While the bar would like the show to highlight it’s amenities as much as possible, the program cannot not do so at expense to the audiences enjoyment.
“Our objective is to feature the brewery, but also have fun,” he said. “The TV show has to be entertaining.”
Lamprey said that he avoids scenarios like the one faced by Hughes on “Bar Rescue” by being as convenient as possible for the bar. He makes sure that he only films during off peak hours and does not enter with any kind of agenda.
He said that experiences like the one Hughes faced are frequent with other programs.
“If someone says they don’t want to appear on my show it’ almost always after a bad experience with another show,” he said. “We make sure we’re the easiest show that could ever some through these places.”
Although Hughes said he wouldn’t go on “Bar Rescue” again, he still acknowledged that the free marketing that correlates with a TV appearance is powerful.
“I wouldn’t do a show where they come in and run things how they want again, but I’d do one that just offers the exposure,” he said, adding that despite the annoyance of fixing the damage caused by Bar Rescue’s renovations, Stand-Up Scottsdale still “benefited a little bit.”
The effect a reality TV appearance can have on a business depends greatly on the nature of the show and the business itself. The rewards can be massive though, particularly for a startup that lacks the funds to subsidize a serious marketing effort.
“The opportunity to get the 6 million or 7 million live viewers is something we’d have to spend millions of dollars to duplicate,” he said.