What a difference a day makes, especially if it’s a day when Oprah is literally eating up your new bakery’s key lime, cream-cheese frosted cake on national television.
Five years ago Lori Karmel was the owner of a struggling Florida cake business with a catchy name and a small local following. Karmel had purchased the business on a whim after shaking the trees for a nearby bakery that could do better than a standard buttercream cake for her son’s third birthday. We Take the Cake won Karmel’s vote with the first forkful of cream cheese frosting.
By 2004, Karmel’s privately owned Fort Lauderdale company had just turned its first profit: a mere $19. Then came the break. A Harpo Studios employee was listed in the client database she’d inherited. Harpo is home to Oprah, so Karmel promptly shipped off one of her signature key lime concoctions and asked the employee to help steer it to the other side of the building where the diva of daytime TV might get a taste.
“It was like winning the lottery,” says Karmel. Ultimately Karmel’s key lime cake was selected for one of Oprah’s Favorite Things segments. The impact on business was startling and immediate. “The phone didn’t stop ringing for like two weeks,” Karmel recalls. “We all went to bed with telephones ringing in our ears.” In the first four hours after the show aired, the cake maker took 800 online orders—so many that her Web Site server was disabled during the 2004 Christmas holiday season. Nevertheless, sales doubled that year, and today the company—which still sells scores of key lime bunt cakes for every chocolate cake it makes—grosses some $1.2 million annually.
Karmel was fortunate. Many of us have our own innovative products and services to offer but cannot even imagine sitting toe to toe with the star of the highest-rated talk show in TV history. Can we ever hope to benefit from what some like to dub “The Oprah Effect?”
(Check out this MainStreet story about getting on QVC.)
The answer is a qualified “yes,” says Susan Harrow, a San Rafael, Calif.-based media coach and marketing strategist whose 2001 book, "The Ultimate Guide to Getting Booked on Oprah," contains nearly 300 pages of advice on the subject.