Star Quality

Starring in your own commercials could be the road to fame . . . and fortune.

Have you ever seen someone on a TV commercial and said to yourself, "Hey, I could do that"? Well, if what you saw was a person doing a commercial for their own business, then maybe you should do that.

Marketing pros tell us that when business owners can effectively tell their own story, the consumer develops a personal connection that frequently results in more sales. People like to do business with people they know--even if only through television or radio.

Just ask Sunny Kobe Cook, owner of Sleep Country USA, a 20-store chain of mattress retailers. The Kent, Washington, entrepreneur has been doing her own radio and TV commercials since 1991.

"I started doing my own commercials for economic reasons--I couldn't afford professional on-air talent," says Cook. "It proved to be a wise decision. I'm recognized wherever I go, and people feel like they know me--like I'm their friend."

Starring in your own ads can add sincerity to your spots, create recognition for your company and save you money. But before you start, here are some things to consider:

1. Not everyone is cut out to be on camera or radio. Some people have weak voices or don't photograph well. Get a brutally honest assessment of how you look and sound before you buy air time.

Ask people from your local TV or cable companies for feedback. Set up a time to videotape yourself, and have the professionals size up how well you did.

Most colleges and universities have speech or media departments with instructors trained to help people get comfortable before an audience. Take a class or get coaching from media consultants or teachers.

Contact other entrepreneurs who have made their own commercials. Ask how they got started and who helped them.

Although you have to look and sound presentable, don't feel you have to come across as Hollywood slick. "It is more important to be yourself and do the best you can," says Karen Height, a producer with TCI Cablevision of Colorado Inc. in Greeley, Colorado.

Beyond your appearance and voice, Cook notes, "[you'll be] recognized everywhere--so if you're not prepared to interact with people, whether at the grocery store or on an airplane, don't do your own ads."

2. Expect to spend lots of time preparing. You'll need copywriters and production people. Talk through what it will take to film or record a spot for your company. Local TV network or radio staffs, cable professionals and advertising agencies can help you get started. Talk money upfront so you won't get an unpleasant surprise later.

Provide as much information as possible for the people who will produce the commercial. Make sure they know your main selling points and who your customers are. Watch or listen to competitors' ads, and try to be more creative. Invite production people to visit your business--it can be a good source of video ideas.

Get ad copy early so you have time to practice. Even if you feel totally prepared, ask to have cue cards or a teleprompter available for support.

3. Look good. When doing a TV commercial, dress appropriately. If you're walking through a food production line, a suit and tie won't look right. Conversely, if you're promoting the conservative approach of your accounting firm, a work shirt and jeans won't cut it. Get professional help with hair and makeup.

4. Be knowledgeable. Although you have to trust the professionals with the technical aspects, it helps to have a basic knowledge of what makes a good commercial.

A successful commercial starts by grabbing attention and creating visual or auditory impact. Beyond that, it generates interest in your product or service.

Your commercial should spotlight something that sets you apart from competitors. Finally, there should be a call to action, motivating viewers or listeners to pick up the phone and order or go to your business.

Keep the copy and the concept simple, and your ad will grab viewers' attention, appeal to their needs, motivate them, and connect with them on a personal level never before possible.

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This article was originally published in the May 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Star Quality.

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