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Business Observer Friday, Nov. 16, 2007 15 years ago

Dating Problems? Just Ask April

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April Masini wants to be the next Dear Abby. One lesson she learned: Don't confuse the search engines.

Dating Problems? Just Ask April

MEDIA by Jean Gruss | Editor/Lee-Collier

April Masini wants to be the next Dear Abby. One lesson she learned: Don't confuse the search engines.

Is a sexual sabbatical ever OK to take in a relationship? While threesomes are often good fantasy material, is it actually a good idea to try them out? Is it OK to talk dirty in bed?

For the answer to these and 1,300 other dating and relationship questions, consider visiting April Masini's Web site AskApril.com.

There's no real big secret to giving advice online, says the Naples resident. "It's mostly common sense." But clearly much of what the conservative Masini says is not politically correct. "I say what people think but they dare not say."

In case you wanted to know, the answer to the first two questions is generally "No" and the answer to the third question is: "If it's working for you, that's great."

In addition to AskApril.com, Masini has also launched DatingDemocrats.com and DatingRepublicans.com, just in time for the 2008 elections. She has self-published and authored two advice books: Think and Date Like a Man for women and Date Out of Your League for men.

She's an aggressive promoter, recently landing as a guest on Fox News' Bill O'Reilly show and appearing in quotes in the sports section of the New York Times. Old Spice, the deodorant maker, hired her to provide dating advice on its Web site.

It helps that the Naples resident has name recognition. Masini trained alongside one of the best in show business: her ex-husband Al Masini, who created such shows as Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Star Search and countless other television shows that earned him 38 Emmys.

April Masini herself was credited with getting the producers of Baywatch to shoot the hugely popular television show for three years in Hawaii instead of Australia. She clinched the deal at the last minute by appealing to legislators and the governor of Hawaii to lure the show with incentives.

Masini is as comfortable talking about hair as she is about the new French president and the politics of Middle Eastern immigrants in Europe. A staunch conservative, she was booed by the audience on the show of left-leaning commentator Bill Maher.

She rolls her eyes when asked about Hollywood liberals. "I've had to leave parties in L.A.," she says. But Naples isn't as conservative as some might think. A resident of the upscale Mediterra community, Masini is quick to say Naples residents are more likely to have affairs than Hollywood. "I've seen more outrageous behavior in Naples than in L.A.," she says.

Teaching men how to date

How does one end up in the dating-advice business?

A few years ago, an acquaintance asked Masini to teach a class about dating at the Learning Annex in Los Angeles. The subject: Teach men how to date women. "I thought she was kidding at first," Masini laughs.

"The class sold out," she recalls. Fifty men from varied interests and backgrounds showed up for a class that cost $29.99.

Masini had been involved in the production of a television show called Supermodels of the World, which the Learning Annex used to draw students. Masini recalls how she prepared for class: "I wrote a script." The number one thing, she counseled rapt participants, is to exude confidence. "Walk over and say hi," she says. "You don't have to be the best-looking guy."

The script from that course became her first book, Date Out of Your League. The 160-page book bills itself as a crash course for "attracting, dating and bedding the women usually confined to fantasies." Her advice is so detailed it gets right down to the socks you should wear (white for exercise, black for everything else. Doesn't get much simpler than that, now does it?)

In 2005, Masini published Think and Date Like a Man, a guide for women. Together, Masini spent $27,000 self-publishing the books. "I've gotten my money back," she says.

Just ask April

Like so many businesses involved in online publishing, it's hard to make money online. "You have advertising, but they don't pay much," she says.

The key, she says, is to build a core of loyal readers. She points to NBC Universal's purchase of a site called iVillage, which has a devoted following among women, for $600 million last year.

For example, she struck a deal with Procter & Gamble's Old Spice deodorant brand to write dating columns for men on the Old Spice Web site. Readers could download coupons to buy her book and link to her site.

So far, Masini estimates she has spent nearly $150,000 on developing her Web sites, which now also include DatingRepublicans.com and DatingDemocrats.com. She has about 8,500 registered users altogether.

Masini learned a hard lesson in Web-site management when the number of unique visitors to AskApril.com suddenly fell from 200,000 a month to 15,000 in a matter of weeks. She had lumped in questions about such topics as pregnancy and children and it was confusing search engines such as Yahoo and Google. The site had to be reorganized to allow for "search optimization" and she's just now climbing back to her prior visitor count.

One of the ways she gets new eyeballs is to generate publicity. She hired a media-relations staff in New York who books her on shows such as a recent stint with conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly. After her appearance on that show, she received more than 1,000 e-mails in 10 hours. She usually receives about 10 to 30 per day.

Even negative publicity can help. She was booed on Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect late-night talk show when she said she would prefer to be rescued from a burning building by a man than a woman firefighter.

Masini doesn't shy away from confrontation. The child of military parents was born at Fort Bragg, N.C. As a young girl growing up in Clarksville, Ga., she says she "always wanted something bigger." With a friend from Clarksville, she began waiting tables in New York City.

Eventually, she started acting in soap operas, commercials, off-Broadway plays and television pilots. She then met Al Masini. "Al asked me to be on Star Search as a spokesmodel. I said no, I'm interested in running your company."

April Masini says her style isn't micro-management, though she says she is a perfectionist. "I will delegate until it's starting to slip," she says.

Still, when you talk to Masini you get a sense that she's determined to fulfill her role as "the new millennium's Dear Abby," according to the cover of her most recent book.

"If I can't outthink you, I'll outwork you," she says.

REVIEW SUMMARY

Who: April Masini

Industry: Media

Key: Online exposure is critical for name recognition.

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