CEO Finds Success Pitching Others' ProductsFrom fishing lures to fitness machines, Barbara Kerry has tackled many campaigns in the world of DRTV marketing.
Her company, Script to Screen, is one of the longest-running and among the most prolific production shops in the infomercial industry.
Last year the nine-year-old Santa Ana, CA, company shot 20 infomercials, including a successful show for startup golf equipment manufacturer Adams Golf that helped spur $50 million in sales for Script to Screen.
Kerry, the chairman and CEO, and her husband, Ken, the creative director and producer, had worked as sports producers for ABC-TV in Los Angeles, before entering the burgeoning infomercial industry in 1986.
"We actually got into it when Ken and I were in television production," Kerry says. "We figured we could produce the show and start with our own products."
Their first effort was a series of motivational tapes about positive thinking. "At the time they were a pretty big market," she says.
Big, Kerry found out, did not necessarily mean lucrative.
"We focused on our own products for about two years. That is where we learned the business. But we did not have success with our own products. We reached a point where we had spent all we could afford. It was, however, a great learning experience for us."
After abandoning their own products, in 1989 they formed Script to Screen, applying the wisdom they gained to producing shows for others.
"[The learning experience] gives us tremendous perspective in working with our clients today," Kerry says. "This business requires tremendous commitment. For some of our clients, their entire life is wrapped up in that product. We know how important it is to them."
Testing New Products
Though Kerry recognizes the passion inventors have for their products, it is not enough to ensure Script to Screen's marketing support.
The company specializes in infomercial production but also offers consulting services to help companies understand the intricacies of developing winning shows. Script to Screen occasionally turns down projects, especially if the product lacks quality.
"There have been a couple of golf products that when we took them out on the course and tried them out, they didn't perform," Kerry says. "We had a driver, and when the president hit the ball, the club face caved in. They went on to make a few changes but at that point we were not comfortable bringing it in under our marketing."
Actual use is one approach Script to Screen employs to study products.
"We don't have room to keep all of them in our home but we use them," Kerry says. "That is how we decide on a lot of products. We try them and decide if it is going to be something consumers want."
Though Kerry does not deploy a scientific approach or specific list of criteria to scrutinize products, she does approach the process with qualitative inquisition. Her questions include: "What kind of product is it? Who are the people behind it? Does it do what it says it is going to do? Is there research to back it up? Are we going to be able to tell the story clients want us to tell and make the claim they want us to make?"
Products that have passed the test include a number of top-selling items, including Adams Golf Tight Lies golf club, Fantom Technologies vacuum cleaners, Banjo Minnow fishing lure, Taylor Made golf clubs, Jenny Craig weight-loss products and Hooked on Phonics learning aids. The company also has produced infomercials for Pontiac/GMC, Sanyo Electronics and NordicTrack Inc., among other corporate clients.
"We have had a lot of success in golf and fitness so we tend to keep getting those kinds of clients," she says. "We felt there was going to be great potential in this area of marketing. We've hit just about every kind of category, though."
Despite her many successes, Kerry is still challenged by the work. "You would think after being in the business this long, it would get easier," she says. "But there is so much to this business that has to be done right. You can have a decent show that could fall apart if your back-end isn't together."
First Big Break
Script to Screen's first major success was in the home education category.
"We had worked with a company that talked about doing 'Hooked on Phonics,' and that is when we took off," she says. "We knew once we had a viable product with all the pieces in place we would have a good shot."
Script to Screen generally requires several months of development before beginning principal photography.
"We like to have 90 days from the first creative meeting [where we] learn all about the product, to until getting people to the point where we are ready to produce," Kerry says. "In some cases, less time is required but the project suffers when you do it in less than 90 days. One of our biggest challenges is working against deadlines by which clients want a program by a certain date and they don't bend on it, even if the product is not ready."
Kerry has faced all kinds of travails in running the company, but she finds some serenity in working with her husband.
"Our strengths and weaknesses are opposite one another so we blend nicely on these programs," she says. "It is hard to get away from it all, however."
Kerry says that their 5-year-old daughter appears to have developed an understanding of the infomercial business. "You can't imagine how many laughs we get at home, where we have this child who can do a perfect infomercial pitch."
Born and raised in Pontiac, MI, Kerry graduated from the University of Colorado in 1981 and earned a master's degree in psychology from Pepperdine University. She went into television directly out of college, as did her husband.
She says their experience in sports productions has been a key ingredient in cultivating clientele.
"When we met, he [Ken] was producing a golf show for a 30-minute magazine," she says. "I had been producing sport shows and covering the major sports events for radio and television and I had done a lot of personality profile stuff. With the sports and fitness category taking off the past few years, it has been right up our alley."