Only believers should pitch on TV: Forbes Riley

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If Julia Roberts or Nicole Kidman, actresses who command more than $15 million a picture, walked into Las Vegas' Mirage convention center, fans and paparazzi would swarm them. Yet strolling around last month's Electronic Retail Association conference without even a hint of an entourage was an actress who has hosted shows that combined have generated over $1 billion in product sales.

Forbes Riley has appeared in more than 75 infomercials and 100 commercials, including direct response television hits like the Jack LaLanne Juicer, the Wagner Paint Mate and the MaxiGlide Hair Straightener.

What's made Ms. Riley such a successful host? She believes her genuine curiosity about new products helps audiences relate to her.

"Like the viewers watching at home, I'm looking for things that are going to help me make my life easier and better," Ms. Riley said.

Not only that, she's got a passion for helping inventors market good products - perhaps because her father was an inventor who never really knew what to do with the products he'd created.

"It's ironic that I've made my living from helping inventors bring their products to market," Ms. Riley said. "But I find it really exciting to see someone like John Abdo create a great product and make a fortune from it."

Seeing is believing

Trust is another factor, according to her.

"The host has to inspire viewers to pick up the phone and spend their money," Ms. Riley said. "Audiences today are smart."

Ms. Riley attributes her credibility with viewers to the fact that she won't pitch a product she doesn't believe in.

"I order things from infomercials myself and when I get the package it's like getting a present," she said. "If the product doesn't live up to expectations and then I have to spend $5 to send it back, it generates bad feeling about buying from TV."

Before deciding to take on one of the many products that are pitched to her each week, Ms. Riley investigates other offerings in the same category.

"I want to make sure that the product I'm taking on is the best one being manufactured in that category," she said. "That's why I chose the Jack LaLanne Juicer, for example."

Ad living

With a background in improv and standup comedy, Ms. Riley is used to thinking on her feet in live environments. In fact, she's learned to think in mid-air, selling 8,000 to 9,000 Urban Rebounders a day on the HSN channel while jumping up and down on a trampoline.

Ms. Riley's natural delivery had one filmmaker with little experience in shooting infomercials fooled.

"When I showed up for the shoot and asked to see the script, he said, 'What script? You don't need a script. I've seen your reels. Don't you just make it up as you go along?'"

Therein lies the effectiveness of DRTV.

"If you go into Bed Bath & Beyond, there are 1,000 different products and it's unlikely the sales people on the floor are going to be able to explain the features," Ms. Riley said.

"But if you do an infomercial with a good script and a skilled host, it's like having a 30-minute conversation about your product with viewers," she said.
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