My Brush with “Branded Entertainment”
by Linda Salisbury
It’s tough to get national exposure if you run a small press or you’re an author published by a small press. So why did I turn down the opportunity to appear for five minutes on a nationally broadcast cable show with an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 viewers?
I’ll admit I went through some ego-stroking moments when the email arrived to an account I use through my Web site for my children’s books. It was from the person who schedules guest appearances on an hour-long Florida-based show on the Lifetime Network. He wrote: “I learned of your book ‘Treasure in Sugar’s Book Barn’ through an award that you won, and think that it might be an interesting book for the Lifetime audience. What number can I reach you at?”
The book, eighth in my children’s series, had recently received a silver medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards.
It would be of interest to the show’s audience. Could we talk? How irresistible. A national TV show contacting me because my book won an award.
I was headed for an all-day, out-of-town school program, so we scheduled a phone conversation for the following day, which gave me time to research the show and to watch it the next morning. It is on the air, just as he said.
I looked at video clips from earlier shows and noted that the female interviewers were savvy and vivacious and brought out the best in guest authors and their books. Sounded good. I could see myself chatting about children’s books, so I emailed information I thought would be useful for our preliminary conversation.
I admit that I was wondering where the crew would set up in our living room (my office could never be made appropriately orderly) and how they would feel about driving the country roads from wherever they were dispatched to rural Virginia before daybreak.
Dollars and Sense
The phone call was most pleasant. The producer had read my material, and little by little he filled in the details of “my appearance,” to be booked in the second quarter of the year. He was honest with me and answered my questions.
Reality set in. I would have to make my own travel arrangements at my own expense. The “live” show is taped on Mondays in south Florida. I would be able to use the resulting video clip for YouTube, on my Web site, and in other promotion. No, there would be no payment.
In fact, I would need to pony up (my words) $5,900 for five minutes of airtime.
At this point, part of me was still thinking, Maybe this is good exposure that I wouldn’t get otherwise. But $5,900 plus expenses? Yikes! So much for my brief flirtation with TV fame.
I said I’d have to talk it over with my husband—our company, Tabby House, is a small press. The producer and I agreed to visit again by phone after the weekend. At that point, I’m sure a contract would have been offered and earnest money would have been required.
But common sense quickly prevailed. I looked at the marketing info the producer had emailed about the show—a long list of other authors who had participated, their video clips and their Web site addresses. I emailed several of the ones who had come to discuss either a novel or children’s books (my categories) and heard back from two. I asked what results, meaning sales, they could attribute to appearing on the show. The answer from both was that it had been fun; the hosts were great, but nothing much had happened with sales.
One of these authors was so happy that they liked her book that she’s thinking of returning (and paying another $5,900).
I also studied the show’s demographics. Mostly female. The average viewer is 42.6 years old, and she works. I figured if she was like my daughters of about the same age, she’s either getting lunches packed for school, getting ready to go to work, or watching the national news when this show is on.
And even if she was watching this show, she would probably would not be listening intently to me talking about my Bailey Fish Adventure series for children, no matter how many awards it had won, or about my new humorous novel (Mother’s: A Novel of Hoarding, Friending and Mischief). She’d be opening a yogurt container, brewing another cup of coffee, and changing her clothes for the third time.
The romance was over. I emailed the producer to let him know that we appreciated the offer but it didn’t fit into our marketing plans.
It came down to basic marketing. Did Tabby House really want to invest $5,900 in five minutes of advertising on anything, even the Super Bowl? As authors and publishers we need to focus our efforts to make sure we are reaching our target audience. There are many ways to spend marketing dollars. My novel involves social networking, so perhaps Facebook advertising would be a better way to reach readers with specific interests.
Vanity vs. Value
Until I got that invitation, I hadn’t been aware that people paid to be guests on television shows, although I gather it is becoming more common. I know that some magazines, newspapers, and even radio stations, particularly the smaller ones, have had a quid pro quo for years. Buy an ad, then see your press release or story in print.
Now, I have read several writers’ blogs and posts about the kind of infomercial called “branded entertainment,” and I saw a reference to the show that had approached me. One article talked about how self-publishers are being schmoozed. As newcomers to publishing, they are probably particularly vulnerable to advertising pitches from television. Who doesn’t want to be on Oprah? Could the cable TV and YouTube clips be steppingstones to fame?
This is not a criticism of any particular show or its people. I don’t feel anything was misrepresented; the producer who called me said the words “branded entertainment” during our friendly chat, and even mentioned a few other cable shows that use it. And information about branded entertainment is available on the show’s Web site.
I was surprised, however, at my own vulnerability for a few minutes, since I’ve been in the publishing business for more than two decades and in marketing before that. It’s a vanity thing, of course.
Fortunately, at Tabby House, we do the numbers before we commit to spending money on publicity, promotion, or advertising. Our first consideration is how many books we will have to sell to make our costs back.
Today, there are all sorts of tempting new ways to spend money on drawing attention to our products. And branded entertainment is among them, complete with seductive suitors who will probably be approaching more and more award winners. Branded entertainment may even become part of the marketing packages offered by vanity publishers.
Maybe it will work well for some publishers and authors. But I believe it’s important to do the numbers before risking a retirement fund.
Linda Salisbury is senior editor at Tabby House, an author of books for adults and children, and a retired journalist and freelancer. To learn more: lindasalisburyauthor.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.