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The Real Thing

Can reality shows bring in the dough for your company?

From the challenges on Survivor to the makeovers on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, reality shows dominate the airwaves--and can mean huge exposure for a company appearing in such shows. Sales of GM's Pontiac Solstice, for example, spiked after the car was featured on The Apprentice. But can entrepreneurial companies get in on the action, too?

Absolutely, says Devery Holmes, president and chief marketing officer of Norm Marshall & Associates, an entertainment marketing firm in Los Angeles. "Integration into reality TV programming offers small brands a unique opportunity to reach a large audience."

Entrepreneur Troy Sears found that to be true when his yacht-chartering company, Next Level Sailing, was featured prominently on the San Diego season of MTV's The Real World, which aired in 2004. He contracted with producers to employ the show's cast on his America's Cup yachts. "From the moment the show aired, we went from being in the red to being in the black," recalls Sears, 43. "Our revenue tripled, and we [started] taking reservations from 43 states and seven countries." Today, annual sales are well over $500,000.

Even though Sears didn't initially seek out the opportunity (MTV came to him when scouting out the San Diego area), he discussed the minute details of the contract with producers in advance. And be mindful of the camera. Says Sears, "As long as you control your own conduct, [the editors] can't portray you as something you don't want to be."

That media awareness and seamless integration into a reality show is key, says Ira Mayer, publisher of the Entertainment Marketing Letter, an industry newsletter. "This needs to be organic," he says. "[Your involvement] shouldn't disrupt a program or look foolish, or it ceases to have value."

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This article was originally published in the October 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Real Thing.

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