In their place, a new and pretty ugly phenomenon is invading PR. The prospective clients lining up outside your door are ill with a frightening mental illness called Oprahlusion: delusional thinking that a shampoo, DVD, automobile, fast food, plastic surgery procedure, toy, or new product is not only worthy of Oprah's attention, but she's sitting in her Chicago headquarters waiting for a PR person to bring it to her... in person.
It doesn't matter if the prospective client has a pretty good idea or just something run of the mill, they all have something in common. Oprah not only wants it, but she needs it and can't live without it.
It all started about a year ago, when our team was pitching new business and a prospect said, "So can you get us on Oprah?" Then everyone started asking. One caller even asked me about Oprah before he told me what the product was. I hung up.
Here are a few examples of our prospects that one Tellem employee, Neal Turnage, deemed suffered from Oprahlusion: A gynecological device (look, Oprah is in the stirrups on TV); a new shampoo and conditioner (look, Oprah is washing her hair on TV); and a new housing development in Costa Rica (look, Oprah is playing with our monkeys on TV), and so on.
So how does one get on Oprah? A recent article in Ad Age says it better than I can. "'No one tells Oprah what to say,' said one PR pro." Most of the producers don't even have e-mail in media directories.
Example of what might help your brand get on Oprah: Dove scored big on Oprah with three separate segments. Was that because Oprah liked the product, or was it the advertising? According to Ad Age, Dove's parent Unilever spent $16.4 million on Oprah's syndicated TV show, and $32.8 million combined on the magazine and Web site for a total of $49.2 million in the past four years [for the record, Harpo denied any pay-for-play between editorial and sponsorship].
Even without buying mega ads, the cost of getting your product on Oprah - it better be a brand, not just some one-off cookie or necklace - is rising. One "big give" can easily cost your client a quarter of a million dollars in merchandise. So much for those $3.99 baby rattles that would great in the audience's hands.
Out of pure frustration and because this was becoming a game to us to see how long it would take a CEO to ask us about Oprah, about six months ago, we loaded our briefcases with Starbucks' gift cards. If someone did not suffer from Oprahlusion during a new business meeting, the prospect got a gift card. Six months later, we have given out exactly three.
So what is a PR agency to do? Show some tough love? Just say no to Oprah? Hand out discounts to mental health experts? Only time will tell.
Susan Tellem is president and CEO of Tellem Worldwide, a Century City, CA-based PR and publicity firm.