So You Want to be on Oprah?


People often ask me what it takes to get on Oprah. I’ve been very fortunate in my PR career to have had two clients on the show and I can honestly say that there is no tried and true way of making it onto the show. Harpo Productions is an organization of people just like you and me. They are interested in timely, unique and compelling stories that speak to their audience. They want passionate and authentic guests who can give something to their viewers: an inspiring story, a new idea, a new solution to an old problem, something people haven’t seen a million times before. They seek to entertain, inform and, above all, inspire action in their viewers. They never stop at “show me what happened.” They always take it to the next level and ask their guests to share the entire arc of their personal story, from beginning to resolution.

The Oprah Winfrey Show has, in many ways, become the Holy Grail of PR opportunities for publicists and their clients across the country. Why? Well, no other show has such a loyal and dedicated viewership, and ratings have been consistently high for decades. In other words, a spot on Oprah could literally take a company, author, entertainer, whoever straight to the next level– or least keep them there.

So, when potential clients come to me and say “Can you get me on Oprah?” I always have to chuckle a little bit. It’s as though there are a handful of super-publicists who have some sort of golden inside track to each and every producer (and there are a lot) at the show, each one having the authority to make an instant “yes” or “no” decision the second you call their red phone. My answer is always the same: odds are slim, but there’s always a possibility. It depends almost entirely on what your story is.

Here are some important questions to ask yourself if you’re even remotely entertaining the thought of pursuing this ambitious route:

1) Do you watch the show regularly? It’s important that you understand what the show is like today, as opposed to when you were in college. Oprah is a person, and her show topics have evolved and changed just like her.

2) Have you tried to get publicity in other national publications and failed? The sign of a potentially good guest lies in whether or not national magazines or major market newspapers have seen the value in your story. This isn’t always necessary, but it doesn’t hurt.

3) That said, have you already been on a national broadcast outlet? If so, this may or may not hinder your chances of getting on the show. Part of PR 101 is the idea of exclusivity among competing media organizations. So while I wouldn’t advise a client to turn down a shot at The Ellen Degeneres Show, I would tell him that it just might compromise an opportunity to get on Oprah. Only the producers know for certain.

4) Are you simply hawking your book, product or company, or do you sincerely have a story to tell? If the answer is: “yes and yes”, you need to work with an experienced publicist to figure out whether or not your pitch has legs.

5) Do you regularly visit Oprah’s website? If not, you should. There is a section which actually shares information about being a guest on an upcoming show or regular feature. This is great insight into what the producers are interested in.

6) Can someone else lend a third party perspective and maybe tell your story better than you? Producers are absolutely inundated with pitches from individuals, companies, PR agencies, amateur publicists, someone’s uncle, you name it. So how do you cut through that noise? If your work has truly made a difference in someone’s life, encourage her to take action and submit her story directly to the show via the website. They do encourage photo and video submissions in order to get a sense of who might be supporting guests for your story.

7) Have you been media trained? Sometimes this is the last piece of the puzzle that people consider. Producers at any show want to feel good about having a dynamic guest who can speak engagingly and authentically. Media training is not just about “staying on message” though that is part of it. It’s also about 1) talking through what you’d really like to get across before you actually have to and 2) seeing yourself on camera and evaluating your demeanor before you let millions of people do it first.

So take these common sense tips and ask yourself how and if you would be a good fit for the show. Good luck!


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Filed under Media Training, PR for Non-Profits, PR for Small Biz, PR Resources, Public Relations

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