"The biggest thing I've learned in my career is that everything is sold by you, or to you," says TV pitchman Anthony "Sully" Sullivan. "I've really embraced that." Sullivan—who dropped the line "life's a pitch and then you buy" twice in the course of an 18-minute conversation—may be the most prolific pitchman in the business. His company, Sullivan Productions, produces direct-sale ads for OxiClean (which has racked up an eye-popping $1 billion in sales, according to the company), Tap Light, OrangeGlo, Ped Egg, Arm & Hammer, Nair, commemorative coins, and a roster of other as-seen-on-TV products that will change your life for the low-low price of your phone call and a few easy monthly installments.
"David Ogilvy has a very famous quote: 'If it doesn't sell, it isn't creative,'" he says. That includes, but is not limited to twisting mop heads and knife sharpeners—but it also applies to interviewing for a job, asking someone out on a date, or pitching your idea to potential investors. "The difference between making a little bit of money and a lot of money can just be in the pitch," says Sullivan. Here, his best advice to get the job done.
Respect the formula.
There's a time-tested formula for direct-sale TV advertisement, and Sullivan has yet to find a reason to mess with it. "The commercials are very simple but designed with one idea, and that's to get people to pick up the phone or go to a website and order," he says. "We want it to almost have an immediacy of news, so it feels like we're in your living room and we're selling you."
The format's the same every time: a two-minute spot with a set-up—"Are you tired of doing it the old fashioned way? Are you tired of this and that?"—followed by the introduction of the product, a series of demos topped off with a "wow" moment (think OxiClean, when a fishbowl full of murky water goes clear in a second), and then hitting the audience with the price.
"Sometimes people look at our commercials and tilt their heads sideways and go, 'Really? Is that really working?' We've found that the good old, come out of the gate, introduce the problem, have a compelling spokesperson with lots of energy, come up with some great one-liners with a great demonstration, and then a good offer, is enough to make people buy."
Look the part.
You'll always see the OxiClean pitchman in a blue shirt and khaki pants, and that's no accident. "There's a level of comfort that people have with that," says Sullivan. In general, "you want to look sharp, you want to look pressed, you want to look dressed. You want to make sure your nails are manicured, that you don't have hair growing out of your nostrils, your hair is combed correctly, you're wearing something that people can relate to."
Economy of information matters.
A job interview is no different than a sales pitch. You're trying to sell yourself, so it's important to be precise and direct. "Sit down, and [give] a 30-second to three-minute pitch of why I'm right for this job—it's got a little bit of humor in there, and you have one particular reason of why I am the best person for this job, this is who I am, this is what I've done, this is what I can do for you, and keep it very, very succinct."
Then, he says, just end it, "just be quiet," and let your words sink in.
"Don't sell me; tell me."
This is the difference between the salesperson you trust and the salesperson you don't. Says Sullivan, "I actually went out to dinner with the CEO of HSN, Mindy Grossman, and we're sitting over dinner, and she just happened to bring up in conversation that she was on the board of Fisker. She was just telling me about this car, she wasn't selling me at all. 'Oh my god, this car. They use renewable wood, they use renewable energy, it has a solar panel on the roof, you don't have to put gas in it. And I'm taking it to work and I'm plugging it in.' Three days later, I'm at the dealership, and I bought one based on her story."
If you can make your pitch personal, he says, and get people invested in the story as well as in the product, you're halfway home.
What looks like magic is really preparation.
Sullivan will occasionally pitch something on the spot for a party trick, but for the products he's pitching on TV, he's done his research: He knows what the market looks like, who his competitors are, and has the product's functions down pat.
"We will do run-throughs and practice and practice and practice, and make sure that when we add that scoop of OxiClean to that bowl, it explodes in seconds." Almost like magic. "You want to make it look really, really easy, and that's definitely preparation."
Play it cool.
"Acting like you don't need the money," Sullivan says, is the "ultimate confidence. When you have such confidence in your product, such confidence in what it's going to do for you, you're okay with [whatever happens to it]. At the end of the day, you're not going to force somebody to buy it. You really want them to make the decision. You want it to be their choice."
Make 'em laugh.
Every good pitch needs a good joke—and a tasteful one (that means no potty jokes or sexual innuendo). Laughter helps to ease any sticker shock. "We sell products that people don't need—a lot of it's wants," Sullivan says. "It's a laundry additive. Add a little humor in it, and people are okay with it."
[Dry Cleaning Image: Vlue via Shutterstock]