Five Steps to Get on a Talk Show

How to land a spot on the couches of Oprah or Ellen Degeneres.

By Charlotte Jensen

Admit it: You've dreamed of sitting across from Oprah and watching your sales skyrocket after the world's most influential talk show host gives you her seal of approval in front of millions. There's a reason you're dreaming. "The problem with getting on shows like Oprah is similar to the problem high school athletes have trying to get into the NFL," says Marsha Friedman, a 20-year veteran of the public relations industry and CEO of EMSI Public Relations. "Only about 2 percent ever get an athletic scholarship, and of all those college athletes, only 2 percent ever make the pros."

Even though your chances are undeniably slim, it actually is possible to get on Oprah -- or any of the other popular talk shows, including The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Rachael Ray, Good Morning America and The Martha Stewart Show. Plenty of entrepreneurs just like you have landed in front of cameras on TV's hottest talk shows. How'd they do it -- and what can you learn from their successes? Here are five things you need to know.

  1. Start local.
    Become an expert in your field and find ways to inspire media coverage, even if it's just your hometown papers, blogs and local news shows. Building a foundation of media coverage not only boosts your credibility, but also spreads the word, leads to new opportunities and prepares you for, hopefully, what will be your big break. Get journalists' attention by signing up for a free service like Help a Reporter Out and responding to the queries that fit your expertise.
  2. Find a newsworthy angle.
    Your idea is more likely to get noticed if it ties in with current events or trends, and if you've established yourself as the go-to person on that specific topic. "Work to develop stories and angles that will resonate with the media and get them interested in an interview with you," Friedman says.

    Nancy A. Shenker, founder of theONswitch, a marketing and PR business based in Yonkers, N.Y., also stresses the importance of being timely -- "being able to talk about healthy barbecue food alternatives during the summer or child safety around back-to-school season."
  3. Pitch with finesse.
    Ready to pitch your business to producers? Keep in mind their goal is to entertain and inform viewers -- not promote your company. "Reaching the right person is essential," Shenker says. "Timing is very important, as is the quality of the pitch itself." And she would know: In 2008, Shenker landed a client, Eco-Bags, on Oprah's Earth Day episode, "which resulted in a huge boost in product sales and revenue," she says. At the time, reusable, eco-friendly shopping bags were just starting to take off, making the product perfectly timed to get producers' attention.
  4. Be patient.
    Laying the groundwork is a process, and it doesn't guarantee a seat on Ellen's couch. If your efforts at getting noticed aren't working, you might want to consider hiring a well-connected PR firm -- but even then, there's no guarantee. "Professional help can make the process much faster," says Shenker, who already knew which specific producer to approach with Eco-Bags. "And a PR agency will usually connect you more directly with the right people. They can also help you get ready for your moment in the spotlight."
  5. And when the spotlight comes, be ready to shine.
    This is one of those times you can't just show up and wing it. "I strongly urge entrepreneurs to get professional media training, including watching oneself on air and fine-tuning," Shenker says. The practice will help you relax on camera (not easy to do) and convey your key messages effectively. But being a compelling guest has an added bonus, she says. "It may help you get invited back at a later date or have a great clip to use for future pitches." And it's important to make sure your company is ready to handle the inevitable influx of customers that a big talk show spot will inspire. While having 500,000 new orders in a day is a great problem to have, you better be ready to fulfill them.

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