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Act Now!

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 8:41 a.m. September 27, 2013
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Entrepreneurs
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Self-proclaimed infomercial King Kevin Harrington, the idea pitch guru behind 500 products over the last 30 years, launched his entrepreneurial life selling newspapers on a street corner.

Harrington was 10 years old back then, in 1967 in Cincinnati. He would go on to start a driveway-sealing business by the time he was 15. After that Harrington dabbled in the heating and air-conditioning business and in franchise development. And in his 30s, Harrington ran a bar and restaurant in St. Petersburg with some buddies.

Infomercials, though, is where Harrington, who lives on St. Pete Beach and is chairman of Clearwater-based As Seen on TV, conquered his throne. Harrington produced his first infomercial in 1984. The infomercial concept, an extended TV commercial that now hawks everything from arched back stretchers to Zumba fitness DVDs, was then an unproven novelty.

Harrington proved it could work: In nearly 30 years of infomercials he claims to have launched at least 500 products that have resulted in more than $4 billion in worldwide sales. That includes 20 different products that each surpassed $100 million. A firm he founded to produce the infomercials, National Media Corp., was chronicled in case studies at Harvard and MIT.

Harrington, finally, was an original shark on the reality TV show “Shark Tank” in 2009. The show pits investors, the sharks, against entrepreneurs and small business owners who seek funding. Harrington was on the show for three seasons.

“He's captivating,” says Bruce Serbin, a Fort Lauderdale-based media consultant and publicist who has worked with Harrington on Key Person of Influence, an entrepreneur improvement seminar with shows nationwide. “He knows the business and he knows what he's talking about. He gets you pumped up.”

Harrington, 56, recently sat down with the Business Observer, where he detailed his five Ps of product-selling success — no matter the product or industry. The five concepts, part of the Key Person seminars, are:

Anyone selling something, be it a product or a service, should have several pitches at the ready of varying lengths, says Harrington. Lengths should be one minute, 90 seconds, three minutes and five minutes.

Time put into writing the pitch and memorizing it, however, should be infinitely longer than the delivery. “There's an art to the perfect pitch,” Harrington says. “There's an art to being able to get it out quickly and generate interest.”

The art part, he says, is to tell a story about both the problem and the solution while weaving in the business aspects. Emotions can be an asset, Harrington says, especially a nice smile. But he warns against too much emotion: He recalls an awkward moment on Shark Tank when an entrepreneur cried during her pitch. It soured the presentation.

Harrington offers a twist on the “publish or perish” mantra college professors use to advance their careers. In this case, Harrington says publishing, from a book to a blog, is essential to sell on a wide scale.

“We always say if you have book, you can get on radio,” says Harrington. “Radio is always looking for unique and quirky. And that gives you the ability to get your persona out there.”

In 2008 Harrington wrote “Act Now!: How I Turn Ideas into Million-Dollar Products.” The book, says Harrington, drew the attention of talent scouts who work for Mark Burnett, the superstar reality TV producer behind “Shark Tank,” “The Apprentice,” “Survivor” and “The Voice.” A short time later Harrington was cast in the debut season of “Shark Tank,” alongside fellow sharks like New York real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran and fashion entrepreneur Daymond John.

A Tampa connection even awaited Harrington on “Shark Tank's” premiere episode, which was broadcast Aug. 9, 2009. That was in two of the contestants, Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman, who sought capital for their Tampa-based startup, College Foxes Packing Boxes. That business was a spinoff of a company the duo previously founded, College Hunks Hauling Junk. Harrington declined to make an offer to invest in the entrepreneurs.

The productize aspect of selling, says Harrington, is an often overlooked factor in building long-term success. “Productizing is really important,” he says. “Products never sleep.”

Harrington considers productizing the act of turning a unique service or expertise into a tangible product sold long after the creator has moved on to other projects. A good example of that, Harrington says, is the work he did with fitness entrepreneur Tony Little. Harrington produced an infomercial for Little's Ab Isolator workout videos that led to $300 million in sales.

The productizing side of that effort is Harrington took Little's simple workout and even simpler catchphrase, “You can do it!” and made it sustainable. Harrington says he later did similar work with Jack LaLanne, another fitness and exercise guru.

But Harrington emphasizes that productizing isn't only for exercise videos. It works in the massage industry, for instance, and other club-based sales approaches. “I don't care if I'm sitting with a doctor, a lawyer or an air-conditioning company,” says Harrington. “Everyone can productize their business.”

This is the “don't be shy” part of Harrington's five-step pitch plan.

He encourages entrepreneurs to seek ways to raise their profiles and “become Google famous.” The fastest way to do that — land a spot on “Oprah” or “The Today Show” — is a rare occurrence, Harrington concedes, but there is hope. In fact, Harrington says websites like YouTube and Facebook provide countless, inexpensive promotion opportunities.

That's the difference, he adds, between old media and new media.

“Old media is a few channels broadcast to a million,” he says. “New media is a million channels broadcast to a few. That's where people can create their profiles.”

Promotion, says Harrington, trips up many entrepreneurs who have failed to embrace social media. Harrington says that's a mistake. “The world has changed,” he says. “If you don't change the way you always did business, you will be out of business.”

The idea that a business owner should utilize others to leverage the full power of a concept, service or product, says Harrington, should be a no-brainer. “Half of a huge pie,” he says, “is better than 100% of a pie that never gets baked.”

Yet many entrepreneurs, he says, balk at partnerships. He thinks that's because inventors and creators fear choosing the wrong partner or relinquishing too much control. Harrington tells people to seek advice on a partnership, but not to ignore those opportunities.

“I recommend everyone partner,” Harrington says. “That's where a lot of people miss the boat. They are afraid of giving up something.”

But wait, there's more!
Infomercial pioneer Kevin Harrington has been involved with dozens of businesses and thousands of products over the past 30 years. Career highlights include:

  • Founded Quantum International in the mid-1980s. Firm merged into National Media Corp. in 1991, and eventually surpassed $500 million in annual sales;
  • Onetime CEO of HSN Direct, a joint venture with St. Petersburg-based Home Shopping Network;
  • Helped launch the Entrepreneur's Organization, a global support group with 113 chapters in 38 countries and more than 924,000 members;
  • Also helped start the Electronic Retailing Association, which represents the $125 billion electronic retailing industry. The association has more than 450 member companies;
  • Chairman of As Seen On TV, a Clearwater-based firm that sells products from TV pitches;
  • Recently joined the board of Boca Raton-based Celsius Holdings Inc. Firm created and sells what it calls the “world's first calorie-burning beverage backed by clinical science.”
  • Blockbuster products he helped sell through infomercials include the Ginsu Knife; the Great Wok of China; and the FoodSaver.
  • Score with Four
    Entrepreneur Kevin Harrington has helped launch at least 500 products that have resulted in more than $4 billion in worldwide sales. There are four factors he looks for when he judges the viability of a new product. Those factors are:

  • Mass market potential: “If it's too niche,” he says, “you can't make it work in multimedia and on TV.”
  • Problem solving ability: “The continuity aspect of a product is important. If it doesn't work,” says Harrington, “people won't buy it.”
  • Never done before: “Is it unique enough,” asks Harrington, “where nothing on the market is similar?”
  • Enhance the enchantment: Harrington says every product he's had big success with contains a “magic transformation” element that blows people away.

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