September 2008 - Industry Faces

Beau Rials Evolves Alongside the DR Industry

By Pat Cauley

Electronic Retailer introduces a new column called “Industry Faces” that highlights some of the most talented celebrities and hosts in the direct response television industry. This month, DR producer, writer and host Beau Rials discusses the past, present and future of the industry. Rials and his company have been involved with more than 60 successful campaigns, resulting in over $1 billion of television sales. A radio deejay by age 15, Rials has been in front of a consumer audience long before his beginnings in DR in 1991.

Electronic Retailer: You originally began your career in radio. How did you make the transition to direct response?

Beau Rials: In early 1991, a commercial and film director friend of mine named Mark Solley was hired to produce and direct the Liquid Leather infomercial for Tony Hoffman. Tony was the main host, but they needed someone to help out on some of the segments. I had been doing national commercials for a few years already, so I said: Why not? I still owe both Mark and Tony dearly for giving me a shot. The very next year, Marsha Kent gave me a chance to host a show on my own for a product called Karaoke Classic, and off I went.

ER: Did any of your early lessons in radio carry over to television?

Beau Rials has been the pitchman for over 50 hit infomercial shows and short-form spots.

Rials: In many ways. Because I was from the South, it was more than a little tough to get hired as a rock deejay elsewhere. I was forced to work on losing my southern accent and also to work in radio sales. Selling time on an AM “daytime only” station in Champaign, Ill., could be one of the toughest jobs a person could ever do, but the experience was priceless. I learned how to listen to my clients first and then find a way to help their business. I also wrote and produced nearly all of their commercials. Eventually, I made it on the air in Champaign, then Chicago, and then Los Angeles for 15 years. I found that the same thing that made customers buy ad time from me was the same thing that caused listeners to pay attention to me on the air. My friend and radio mentor Tim Sabean of Sirius Radio referred to it with one word: warmth. Good thing I didn’t lose all of that southern accent!

ER: You’ve had over 50 infomercials and short-form winners including the H20 Steam Mop, Wagner Control Spray, AeroBed, Mitsubishi Mr. Slim, Easy Krunch and Pressa Bella, among others. What does it take for a product to get your stamp of approval?

Rials: The product must do exactly what its manufacturer and marketer say it does, period. If we can’t back up the claims we’re making live, without any nonsense, the product isn’t for me to represent. I not only test the potential products, I live with them until I’m sure they are the real deal. Since I’m usually the “demo person” in the infomercial or short-form spot, I must get to know them inside and out. This comes in very handy when we’re developing the actual demos you see on screen. It’s safe to say that I’m very proud to currently represent 17 products which I truly love!

ER: In your opinion, what are the ingredients needed to make a successful DRTV host?

Rials: A DR host must appear honest, sincere, warm and obviously have tons of energy at certain times. Those are a given. However, the one thing that the greats like Billy Mays, Joe Fowler, Forbes Riley, Nancy Sullivan, Jim Caldwell, Anthony Sullivan, Lise Simms and others have is an ability to think on their feet and adapt to any situation. You have to be a gamer. Remember, we’re shooting a 28:30 show in a few days-sometimes in multiple locations-with a script that is often ever changing. Egos must go out the window. The length of the shoot day must go out the window. As Robert Duvall’s Bull Meechim uttered in the movie “The Great Santini,” “You either hack it…or pack it.”

ER: Since beginning as a host, your role has expanded to other areas of DR production. Which role do you find the most challenging, and why?

Rials: Directing is impossible for me to consider until I’m done in front of the camera. There are so many people who do it so much better and understand it so much more than me. Directing DR is a true art and few have mastered it. There are so many things directors must get right in a very short amount of time. Camera direction, lighting, demos, script issues, client issues and talent direction are just a few of the hundreds of things they must handle in a single shoot day. What’s more, in direct response the director is often the producer as well, which makes it even tougher. These folks go through months of work to put shows on the air, and in my view, deserve all of the financial rewards they get. My contribution is as a host/spokesperson and a writer/con­sultant. I’m there to help with the demos and script, then get out in front and make the phones ring.

ER: How have you seen direct response evolve over the years?

Beau Rials and well-known DRTV host, Forbes Riley

Rials: How long is this piece? How much time do we have? Seriously, it’s moved from the punch line of Madison Avenue to something they must do. Sure, people still make fun of infomercials and short-form spots, but a huge percentage of Fortune 500 companies now make them an integral part of their advertising plans. What’s great is, one week I’ll be shooting a show for some start-up’s dream product, and the next I’ll be selling $4,000 air conditioning systems for Mitsubishi Electric or $3,000 fish finders for Johnson Outdoor. In my 17 years, I’ve seen direct response advertising go from laughing stock to something you better be doing if you’re a VP of marketing. Of course, the presence of these larger companies has driven the price of media sky high as well, and this in turn has lowered media efficiency ratios quite a bit. When Aero Products put our AeroBed infomercial on the air in 1998, it was a steady 7-to-1. Now we’re going gaga about a 3-to-1. The word is out and now the smart ones on Madison Avenue are laughing with us and not at us. I’ve also seen a lot of hotshots come and go. You see new ones every year at our Annual Convention in Las Vegas. One big show and they’re “DR’s Darlings.” You maybe see them at one or two more conventions, then never again. On the bright side, the ones that have thrived and survived are some of the brightest, kindest and most talented people I’ve ever known.

ER: What do you think will happen to the industry moving forward?

Rials: More of what I just mentioned. When large, powerful companies come out with products that are unique and need some explanation, they’ll come to direct response marketers for help. There will always be room for the H20 Steam Mops, Walking Worms, Magic Jacks and the “biz op show” of the day, but the big boys will continue to take more media time. I see DR continuing to grow as an overall part of the advertising budgets of many large consumer product companies. Why? Because it’s working for most of them. Let’s face it-people love to watch infomercials and shopping channels. Billy Mays and Beau Rials get more total face time than Dave and Jay combined, and at last check, QVC was the fourth most watched television network in America.

ER: In your opinion, how does a shaky economy affect the direct response industry?

Rials: Just like when the Internet bubble burst, we’ve seen a lot of wealth go to “money heaven” with this housing crisis. It’s just the way things evolve. Personally, I’ve never been busier or had more shows and spots on the air, so maybe the urgent need to move products immediately has turned the ad dollar in favor of direct response in these tough economic times. All I know is that we’re still solving everyday problems and making ordinary folks’ lives better with the wonderful products we sell. This fact will always make me feel good and proud of our business-and no, I’m not pitching you!

Beau Rials can be reached directly at (941) 737-7994 or at

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