It is 7am; I am at my favorite coffee shop and readying for this morning’s shoot. Today, my production company creates another short-form infomercial…my third one in the 2 1/2 weeks of 2015. This morning, it is a cooking item. Although the actual shoot will only take about 5 hours, the scripting, prop shopping, experimentation with the product, vetting of demos and other logistics has taken twice that long over the past week. This leads me to the rather simple point of this blog: utterly thorough and exhaustive preparation.
When you tune into a retail television network, you can tell the difference between those who have invested the time to prepare and those who are relying on their wits to get them through. You can quickly infer the vendors who were involved in the preparation process and those who did little to help their talent. Unfortunately, the later is the norm 50% of the time! Preparation is absolutely critical! Remember, the lens is exactly that: a lens. It magnifies everything, including a presentation that is weakly assembled or a meandering pitch.
You must identify your key selling points in order of importance, create demos that reinforce those key points, come up with a quick catch phrase that reminds your customer about the primary benefits of the item and how it is going to transform their life, get your props in order, do market research on the competition, know how your selling price compares to other retailers with the same item, be prepared with answers to basic spec questions…there is much to do and no good talent steps in front of a camera without a clear and thoroughly premeditated direction. It is the difference between a presenter that a network host feels confident standing next to, and a presenter that feels unpredictable and weak.
That said, I must disclaim those instances when preparation is impossible. Yes, they exist. It is those times when seasoned talent can really shine. An experienced and well-informed presenter can intuitively grab a product and line up the key points in their head on the fly, then produce the verbiage and simple demos to support those key points in moments. I’ve had to do it a dozen or so times when communication broke down in management and I was never informed about a product I was supposed to be representing! It rarely happens, but it does happen. A few times in my career at several networks, I’ve shown up to present one item only to find out I have 2 or 3! I once finished an on-air presentation and was ready to step off set when the host said “…and Cory will be sticking around for our next few products!” I swung my leg in a circle and planted it right back next to the host, having no idea what item was about to be put in front of me! (Outdoor planters followed by fountains and we sold them both out!) These rare instances can and do happen. When they do, authentic knowledge within a specific product category is crucial. However, for the most part, presenters have time and preparation is key.
In the contract I’ve used for years with television product vendors, I specify that I must receive 2 samples of each product at least a week before the scheduled airing. This allows for the prep time outlined above. When I shoot a product video or infomercial, I will not create the final script or schedule the shoot day until I have had the product in hand for at least a week. My company is designed to be very nimble. We can shoot, edit and deliver very quickly…and yes, I have turned around simple videos in a matter of days. But, for the most part, 75% of our time is invested in the prep work and that week of handling the actual product is critical.
This morning, it is fresh salmon filets with broccolini, jasmine rice and onion. 6 different stainless pots and pans, a cooking timer, a white women’s watch, a camping stove, black duct tape, a Sharpie, gel adhesive, tinder fuel and many other props assembled over the past week. The script took 3 revisions to get it perfect. However, my crew is already setting up as I finish my coffee and I will walk in ready to produce knowing our ducks are not just in a row, but standing at attention in full formal regalia with loaded weapons. It is the same for each of the 280+ products I’ve sold on national television.
Whether you are shooting an internet product video, selling products into TV networks, running a table at a trade show or stepping on camera yourself, be prepared. It is the biggest gun in your arsenal!