This column originally posted on Oct. 23, 2014.
There are celebrities that spend all of their time in front of a camera and others that spend it gallivanting about the world. Then there are those that leverage their brand to build incredible businesses and do it with little help from outside players.
Enter Bethenny Frankel, who turned a few years worth of reality TV into an enterprise worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
I connected with Frankel (born Nov. 4, 1970) with the intent to learn how she grew her personal brand to the point that she could leverage it to create a thriving business with endless opportunities for additional product lines. I must say, it was quite a journey.
Here’s how it went down.
Just start somewhere.
After attending culinary school, Frankel went to work in a restaurant that subsequently failed, so she got entrepreneurial and launched a cookie business. Seeing the opportunity to gain access to a wider market, she went on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart to expose her new business and begin building a platform -- the key term here is "platform."
Despite the fact that the show wasn't so hot with ratings -- at least compared to its later Donald Trump iteration -- she finished in the top two. This created the opportunity to further leverage the publicity with regular appearances on The Today Show, only prompting further exposure and opportunity.
You can see that there were building blocks that seem to have been intentionally set in place to gain access to the exposure required to build the brand she wanted -- a healthier, but not extreme, way to enjoy life’s indulgences.
Like all businesses, you must take a risk.
When she had the opportunity to be on the first edition of The Real Housewives of New York City, she knew that it had the potential to be an absolute disaster.
“Although there was a huge risk associated with that type of reality TV, I had an instinct that it would allow me to focus on my business,” she says.
And it did. While the other participants were out buying diamonds -- Frankel was admittedly broke -- she used the opportunity and capitalized as “the first reality star to leverage the show as a platform to build a brand.” That brand was Skinnygirl.
Related: Skinny Girl, Fat Profits
Strategize with flexibility.
The Skinnygirl brand was started with a book, Naturally Thin: Unleash Your Skinnygirl and Free Yourself From a Lifetime of Dieting, into which she “poured her heart and soul.” Frankel realized early on that if she remained completely open and honest with her audience about absolutely everything, they would follow her purely out of the trust that was built. This enabled her to leverage that trust when it came time to sell a product -- initially, that product was Skinnygirl Margaritas.
Frankel says that her particular strategy is “to remain highly flexible so you can move in the moment and make changes quickly.” This strategy worked for her as she inked a deal with Beam Global, which she has partnered with to sell Skinnygirl cocktails for a rather large some of money -- reported at or in excess of $100,000,000.
Do you want to know what Frankel did that happened to be absolutely genius? She retained the intellectual property for the name “Skinnygirl,” allowing her to continue to build the brand into other horizontals while retaining the marketing spend and support that Beam Global was going to put into the line of Skinnygirl cocktails.
“You need to create the opportunity to make sure every partner is motivated to help everyone else," she says. "If Skinnygirl popcorn is doing well, the other products will do well because consumers trust the brand.”
As of now, Frankel's Skinnygirl line includes everything from hummus, dips and salsas to nutrition bars, supplements and shapewear. Heck, she even just released a children’s book, Cookie Meets Peanut. Why, you may ask? Because like all of her other products, it resonates with her audience and brand.
This brings up an important lesson for all businesses, and particularly newer ones. You absolutely must remain true to yourself and to your brand from the very beginning, and if you do this effectively, you might just find yourself in a situation where your audience -- or customers -- will follow you anywhere.