On The Air

By Richard Berman

pay-for-playOver the last 15 years I’ve gotten dozens of the same phone call: “Hi, I’m working on a TV show hosted by [insert name of B-list celebrity] and we’d love to invite your client [insert name here] to appear on the program.” The names may change – the ones I remember most are former general Alexander Haig and retired NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw – but the conversations are all identical. And so is my response: “No thanks.”

That’s because these shows are pay-for-play. I’d call them infomercials, but at least infomercials are honest about their goal of selling products. In contrast, these vanity appearances (often called, “branded entertainment”) make their money by charging star-struck CEOs thousands of dollars to be interviewed on a show that has all of the trappings of a news broadcast or business program. But don’t let appearances fool you – they have zero credibility and don’t do anything other than deflect marketing dollars from other, more effective projects.

The most common pitch for these shows is that they will air on a cable television network. Sounds good, right? Well, not really. The producers of these programs simply buy unused airtime in 30- or 60-minute blocks and string together 3-4 executive interviews to fill the time. That’s why you’ll find these showing at 6:30 AM on Lifetime or 2:30 on Saturday afternoon on A&E – they run when no one is watching!!! Another variation is programs that show on airlines, but it’s the same concept.

The reason that these programs are on the air is because they work…for the producers! There are enough executives who like the idea of being on television with a famous person to support this cottage industry. But aside from appealing to ego, they don’t add any credibility and – most importantly – they don’t support the brand.

If you’re dying to meet Terry Bradshaw, go to an autograph show, but think twice about paying tens of thousands of dollars to be on a show with him.


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