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How do I get my product featured in a movie, or on a TV show or news program?
Dear Ambitious Advertiser,
Here is the advice from two ProfNet experts, a PR rep and a business owner, who have successful experience breaking into product-placement advertising:
Product Placements: A Business Owner's Perspective
Sarah Shaw, founder and owner of the consulting company Entreprenette, started her own handbag line in 1997, and by using product placements, transformed her $500,000 business to a $1 million business within two years.
Although she's established important connections since then, Shaw originally got her handbags on TV shows and in movies by cold-calling costume designers/supervisors and product-placement coordinators. "Usually product-placement offices only go after mainstream brands from big department stores, like Nike or Calvin Klein," says Shaw, "so as a small company, it's up to you to search them out yourself."
Shaw found the right people to contact by watching the credits of other shows and movies, and then contacting the crews directly at their production offices, "which you can get from calling the studio that produces the show," she says. Nowadays, Shaw also recommends checking the websites of shows and movies, which typically list crew members, or by subscribing to publications like Production Weekly or The Hollywood Reporter to find out about new or ongoing projects.
Although she was competing for placements with major name brands, Shaw's greatest advantage as an entrepreneur was that she wasn't charging to have her products featured. Additionally, costume designers frequently pick unique products, like her handbags, she says, in order to distinguish actors from the masses, since many shows use the same big-ticket items.
It's also important to always ask how the product will be used in the production, adds Shaw.
She typically receives confirmation ahead of time if one of her handbags will be used in a production, giving her the chance to monitor the placement's success. But the success of a product placement in a TV show or movie depends on how well it is promoted, she says. If a product is on a TV show, record the episode or catch stills to promote the placement. If a product is in a movie, it's the same idea -- but usually you can ask for a photo from the production company.
Product Placements: A PR Rep's Perspective
Cooper Smith Koch, founder and principal of the PR firm Cooper Smith Agency, incorporated product-placement services into his business after he was increasingly approached by TV producers seeking products to feature on their shows. Eventually, Smith Koch devoted an entire branch of his business to this area, specializing in particular on getting the products of his home-building and decor clients on TV shows. He works on about 20 product placements every month now, and has had his clients' products featured on every episode ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," as well as on other shows on DIY Network, HGTV, TLC, A&E and Food Network.
"About four years ago, I started proactively going after opportunities, researching who was producing what shows and making a concerted effort to stay in touch with all of the producers of past shows," says Smith Koch. "We work with brands and their PR firms, either subcontracted through the firm or from the brand's marketing director directly, to supplement outreach efforts. We're brought in exclusively as product-placement specialists and work side-by-side with the brand's existing PR firm."
The value of his relationships with producers is the single most important thing he has to offer to clients and production companies, he says. Building trustworthy relationships is nothing to new to PR reps, but Smith Koch says the importance of them is magnified many times in the product-placement arena. "The producers we work with are under tremendous pressure to create good shows on tight timelines and increasingly tight budgets," he explains. "They know that I won't lie to them; they know that I have an eye for what will look good on camera; and they know that I'm stern with both them and my clients when it comes to meeting deadlines, selecting the right products and representing the needs of both parties."
Representing the needs of both parties is also the hardest part of the job, continues Smith Koch. You need to be forceful enough with producers to meet your clients' needs, but still respect that they are making a show and not a commercial, he says. "You can't expect the show to fly your client's banner simply because they donated a few thousand dollars worth of product, but at the same time, the producers know that it's not a charity, and that by donating your product to their show, you expect marketing exposure in return."
Smith Koch mainly deals with "organic product placements," or product placements where no money changes hands. "My client simply provides a product free of charge (or at a steep media discount, if required by the show), and they get logo shots and bragging rights."
It's also important to consider what type of show or movie the product will appear in, says Smith Koch. His company requires information about the story line, and anticipated language, nudity, violence, drug use, etc. "It's not so much a worry that the product will be used negatively," he says, "but rather guilt by association." And what's the point of including your client's product if you can't brag about it afterwards?
The biggest advantage is that the product is integrated into the fabric of the show's storyline, says Smith Koch. But like any other PR initiative, it's difficult to concretely show what the results of the exposure are, he says. Smith Koch does frequently get questions through his clients' websites from viewers and dealers who want to know more about a product. "At the very least, it shows that some people are actually seeing the product and the brand, and actively pursuing it," he says.
"It also shows the dealers and retailers that the brand is actively promoting the product, which in turn helps them sell more of it," says Smith Koch. "While it appears that product placements are a consumer-focused initiative, reaching dealers and retailers and making them feel that the brand is supporting their business is a major element."
And in this day of social media, the show itself is only one element of the potential exposure a brand can receive. Smith Koch frequently post updates and blogs about his clients' placements. "When we know a show is going to air, we alert our fans to watch the show," he says, and that's more exposure for everyone!
If you're a TV producer, or a costume designer for movies, or another type of media expert who deals with product placements, please comment and tell us what it's like from your perspective!