Last night The Hills aired its series finale. As we watched (guilty pleasure?), we really got to thinking about what makes these stars so successful. Their reality fame doesn't just end with the show. After many seasons, they will continue to ride the fame-wave by moving on to different projects and raking in the dough.
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“If you have no talent, you gotta get a gimmick.”
This line from the musical Gypsy could serve as a ten-word career guide for many of today’s reality stars. The smart ones realize that they only have a few years in the spotlight and work every possible angle, whether it be writing books, promoting products or showing up at malls.
What may seem to us like shameless self-promotion is actually a career-building (and career-sustaining) skill. What can we learn from reality stars about seizing opportunity?
1. Leverage Your Platform
Lauren Conrad: Though Conrad is no longer on a reality show, she is the perfect example of someone who used her reality show celebrity to launch herself as an author and designer.
She won the lottery in some ways when she was plucked out of hundreds of kids at her high school to have MTV follow her for two years on their show Laguna Beach. Then MTV decided to pay her $125,000 per episode for her own show, The Hills, as she moved to L.A.
Conrad was smart to exit when she did, way before the show came to a close last evening. The Hills evolved from a somewhat realistic look at being young in a city to unrelatable characters living absurdly. She has managed to resist fading into oblivion by writing two best-selling novels (which are being turned into films) and producing a clothing line with Kohl’s.
2. Sell Your Product
Audrina Patridge, Stephanie Pratt, Kristin Cavallari (the cast of The Hills): These girls are going to push the fact that they are young, fun, California girls until they use walkers. They fulfill their duties as poster children for MTV by attending every awards show, club opening and movie premiere that they possibly can. It will be interesting to see if these girls will keep it up now that the show is over—Patridge has already signed on for a solo reality show about her life.
3. Stay In The Spotlight As Long As You Can
The Kardashian Sisters: They are not actresses, they are not singers, they are not models… and yet these girls are everywhere. Somehow the fact that Kim Kardashian was a friend of Paris Hilton’s made her and her entire family worthy of getting their own primetime slot.
However, the lives of the crazy family became a hit on the E! Network and Kim, as well as her sisters Khloe and Kourtney, are currently doing everything they can to make sure that they stay on magazine covers. Their endorsement deals include hosting gigs and sponsorship from diet aid SlimQuick.
Reportedly, Kris Jenner arranged for Khloe’s wedding pictures to fetch $300,000. The show also allows for great exposure for the family-owned clothing store, Dash, which the girls will need to fall back on at the end of their fifteen minutes.
4. No Gig Is Too Small
Kathy Griffin: Though Griffin is actually a talented stand-up comedian, true fame didn’t find her until her reality show, My Life on the D-List, debuted on Bravo five years ago. This funny lady has always gone with the mantra that for people on the D-List, there is no gig too small.
However, if you have had a hit show for six years, done multiple comedy specials for HBO, and had a show at Carnegie Hall, are you still really D-List? Griffin still brings that humble attitude to every venue and has repeatedly admitted that if you can match her fee, she will perform at your pleasure. Though she has a publicist, she does book signings and sells her own t-shirts and DVDs after her shows.
5. Work With What You Got
Kendra Wilkinson: For all her supposed ditziness, Wilkinson is actually a very smart girl. She knew that she had a pretty face (and a great body thanks to a little money) and she made it work for her. She became one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends without even being a Playboy model, and then E! made The Girls Next Door ,which became a mega-hit.
This allowed Wilkinson to show off her laid-back, sporty-girl attitude to the world. When she left the Playboy mansion to marry Hank Baskett, her career could have been over. Instead she continued her exercise video line and managed to get her own self-titled reality show about her new married life .
6. Wear Many Hats
Tori Spelling: Tori Spelling started her career as a third banana on nineties show 90210, but now she is the star of her own hit reality show. Spelling herself pitched the idea to the Oxygen channel of she and her husband, Dean McDermott, trying to start and run a Bed & Breakfast.
The B&B formula didn’t work out, but Spelling’s charisma and dynamic with her husband did. Now in its fifth season, the show is used as a vehicle to promote Spelling’s clothing line for children, jewelry line, books, and the fact that she could be a professional party planner. Spelling will be getting her own talk show on ABC this fall.