Sharks were circling at the Marijuana Investor Summit—TV sharks. Kevin Harrington, who is well known as one of the original sharks from the ABC series “Shark Tank,” gave the summit’s keynote address on April 21, 2015, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel DIA in Denver, Colorado.
Before “Shark Tank,” Harrington became the father of the infomercial. In 1984, while watching the Discovery Channel—at the time an 18-hour-a-day channel—Harrington said he saw the six hours of static colored bars as an opportunity. Without mentioning how he had the clout, Harrington said he made a deal with Discovery to use those six hours as advertising time; thus, the infomercial was born.
What got Harrington involved in a marijuana summit? Harrington said there is no way there will ever be a cannabis-based business pitching on “Shark Tank,” pointing out that ABC is owned by Disney.
Despite cannabis being taboo on ABC, Harrington is interested. Citing projected numbers compared to the current state of the industry, Harrington said, “If [the industry is] $2 billion now and it grows to $200 billion by 2030, that’s a lot of billions going to be made by a lot of people.” (Technical420 reports that the industry will be at $500 billion in 2030.) Harrington said he came to the Marijuana Investor Summit because he was an entrepreneur who wanted in on the ground floor of a promising industry.
The subjects of Harrington’s keynote speech were branding, making pitches and how to “productize” an idea. The speech was a Power Point slide deck filled with his lessons and mixed with anecdotes, archive footage of infomercials and funny pictures. The messages in Harrington’s keynote address were not particularly groundbreaking, but were useful and inspirational for entrepreneurs looking to get involved in any industry.
Like many speakers, Harrington owes much of his career to charisma and a way with words. Harrington told the audience all the investors on “Shark Tank” used to get high before listening to pitches, but then said he was kidding. Humor was speckled throughout Harrington’s keynote address, and mock book covers such as “Harry Potter and the Mystery of IRS Section 280 E” flashed on the twin screens flanking the stage and helped him win over an eager audience.
Harrington also told an anecdote about visiting Whoopi Goldberg’s dressing room on the set of “The View” after giving a “Shark Tank” product demo. “Let me put it this way: I think [Whoopi Goldberg] would’ve liked this convention,” Harrington said as he described what he saw in her dressing room.
Ultimately, the wisdom Harrington imparted on the crowd was insightful and memorable. Harrington’s first lesson was to create a branding strategy, and in line with his big way of thinking, suggested that a brand should be adaptable nationwide.
According to Harrington, the best way to build a brand is through publishing. Blogs, newsletters and podcasts are all cheap and easy. Moreover, they are new media; whereas a business used to shell out millions of dollars for air time to advertise through a limited number of TV channels, the state of the Internet and advertising on sites like Google and Facebook is a game changer for brand recognition, according to Harrington.
He then explained the importance of thinking things over ahead of time, using what he called the six P’s: “Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance,” as anyone who has ever tried winging it one too many times can attest. An example he gave of a lack of prior planning was a fitness device he backed for an infomercial that was endorsed by Chubby Checker; a man named Chubby is not good for a fitness brand.
Harrington spoke of the importance of finding good people for a business; the specialists instead of the generalists. A successful business is run by people playing the right roles.
The most important part of “Shark Tank” is the pitch, and as a man who successfully pitched the idea of the infomercial to the Discovery Channel, and who listened to hundreds of pitches on “Shark Tank,” his advice about pitching ideas is perhaps most valuable, due to his experience.
Harrington broke the pitch down into three phases, “tease, please and seize.” According to Harrington, what he learned as father of the infomercial was that after a late-night movie ends and the infomercial begins, there are only six seconds to grab the attention of the viewer. In that time, the viewer must be teased into watching longer. He said the best way to do this is to start with a problem.
Next in the pitch is to please, which can be accomplished by showing the solution to the problem and the benefits inherent in whatever is being pitched, according to Harrington. He said the best way to show solutions is through testimonials, and further breaking that down, there are five types of testimonials: consumer, i.e product reviews; editorial or news; celebrity testimonials; professional testimonials, such as those from a doctor or a lawyer, and clinical studies. Testimonials are good ways to give evidence of the efficacy of the product or service, according to Harrington. In this phase of the pitch, the aim is to set the product or service apart from the rest of the field, Harrington said.
Most important though was coming up with an idea to pitch, according to Harrington. The best way is to think in terms of productizing something. According to Harrington, most of the fortunes were made not in gold during the historic U.S. Gold Rush, but in ancillary businesses related to it. Harrington sees the so-called Green Rush the same way. And based upon the buzz following Harrington’s keynote, entrepreneurs sounded ready to build better picks and shovels.