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Queen of infomercials: Liantonio became pioneer in industry with Concepts TV

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Collette Liantonio, the president of Concepts TV, says the crazier the commercial the better.
Collette Liantonio, the president of Concepts TV, says the crazier the commercial the better. - (PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

Having just returned from mountain biking and hiking through Bhutan in the Himalayas, and currently planning her next trip to Iceland, Collette Liantonio shows no signs of slowing down.

Not even the sting of a Portuguese man o' war on a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands could quench her thirst for risk-taking.

"Most of us crave adventure," Liantonio said.

What else would you expect from the woman who took a risk 30 years ago to start her own production company serving an industry no one knew existed?

Today, she is the "Queen of Infomercials" — the person who almost single-handedly created the concept of selling products on late-night TV with commercials so wacky you can't help but watch them.

And, more often than most of us want to admit, buy from them.

Liantonio seamlessly balances her global explorations with being a wife, mother and grandmother while serving as president and creative director of her multimillion-dollar production company, the Boonton-based Concepts TV.

"I'm not quite sure how I was able to do this, mind you, but I've been able to have a wonderful marriage, family, and still a very gratifying career," Liantonio said.

But it wasn't always so easy.

———

Liantonio started a family while teaching English, Spanish, film studies and speech at Rutherford High School and freelance writing.

When a client Liantonio wrote for purchased a direct response company and invited her to direct a commercial, Liantonio jumped at the opportunity despite having no experience.

"I filmed my first commercial in 1979 for a bug zapper — and it ended up being a success," Liantonio said.

Though Liantonio would join an advertising agency in Manhattan shortly after, she couldn't shake the thrill of directing.

"I just loved the idea that you could air a commercial and, hours later, know if it was successful based on how many products you sold and how the audience responded," Liantonio said.

That simmering passion would begin to boil after enduring a terrible commute into Manhattan each morning while being a single mother of two small children.

So Liantonio left her stable job at the ad agency to start Concepts TV in 1983, signing the direct response company that started it all as her first client.

"That company hadn't had a hit since my bug zapper commercial, so it was a good opportunity for me to jump back in," Liantonio said.

Liantonio has since produced more than 3,000 successful commercials, turning products such as Pajama Jeans, Bedazzler, the George Foreman Grill and PedEgg into household names.

Her infomercials have featured dozens of celebrities, including Montel Williams, Joe Namath, Wayne Gretzky and Fabio.

And with more hits than any other company in the DRTV business, Concepts TV has always been a top-10 winner for short- and long-form infomercials.

"I'm known for wacky … campy … memorable demonstrations," Liantonio said.

Like the time she hired sumo wrestlers to demonstrate Furniture Fix, which supports sagging couches, by sitting them together. Or the time she filmed the largest Amish community in Ohio — knowing the Amish cannot look directly into the camera — in a horse barn for The Amish Fireplace.

"It's really hard to get someone to take their credit card out in one minute to make a purchase," Liantonio said. "There's an art to it."

———

If infomercials are an art, consider Liantonio a Picasso — Concepts TV's sales have increased by 35 percent over the last five years in an industry worth billions of dollars.

"Our revenue is not only based on production, but also on a percentage of sales," Liantonio said. "We're only as good as the products we sell … That's why we're perhaps bigger than we appear."

While Concepts TV may seem like a small business located within a Victorian home in Boonton, it's anything but.

The company works with clients all over the world in locations such as Korea, Mexico City, Jamaica, Scotland, London and more. Concepts TV also has the capability to create bilingual commercials for the Hispanic market.

"I only choose to film in New Jersey because … I can pay someone $500 dollars to film in their house for the day. If I were to shoot in Los Angeles, they'd want $5,000."

Some of Concepts TV's biggest clients are mainstream direct marketers, including New Jersey-based Telebrands Inc., IdeaVillage Products Corp., Ontel Products and Tristar Products Inc.

Mike Govindani, one of Liantonio's clients, is a partner at Fairfield-based Spark Innovators Corp., a product development, marketing and distributing firm specializing in the As-Seen-On-TV industry.

"The spots that Collette and her unbelievably talented team have produced for us have been extremely successful," Govindani said. "For the projects we typically hire her for, we expect to sell a minimum of 2 to 3 million units of that product in the first year — and that's on the low side of what she can bring in."

John Santilli, senior vice president of operations at King of Prussia, Pa.-based Lenfest Media Group, chooses to work with Concepts TV in New Jersey because of the collaborative nature of its team: "They incorporate our ideas and apply their direct response knowledge and creativity to them … Collette and her contributions are a big part of our continued success."

———

Liantonio has a master's degree in theater education from New York University, so it's no wonder she runs Concepts TV team like a theater group.

"The idea of a cohesive, loyal team is all important to me," Liantonio said.

She also takes her staff away on yearly company retreats, which in the past have included beach vacations in Cancun, spas in Arizona and sailing trips throughout the British Virgin Islands.

Concepts TV currently has 12 employees and one staff member in LA, where Liantonio plans to grow the West Coast business by putting another full-time production team on the ground there.

With such great employee benefits, job security and mentorship opportunities, it's no surprise Concepts TV continues to grow — and is still considered a leader in its industry 30 years later.

In a traditionally male-dominated industry, Liantonio has earned more than 100 industry awards — and she'll be the first woman inducted into the DRTV Hall of Fame in just a few weeks.

She has long been a strong advocate for female leadership and entrepreneurship. She serves with several organizations including the Women Presidents' Organization, a nonprofit membership community for female presidents of multimillion-dollar companies, which provides peer advisory groups to accelerate business growth.

"You'll be respected if you know what you're doing, because you can't argue with success," Liantonio said.

Rated one of the 25 most influential people in her industry and one of the state's Top 150 Women Entrepreneurs by New Jersey Monthly, Liantonio has no intention of retiring.

"I love what I do — because we make a little magic here."

Thirty minutes at a time.

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

 

The perfect pitch
After more than three decades in the business, Collette Liantonio knows how to make infomercials that get results. Here are some of her secrets:

1 Competitive pricing and premium offers
"And that's not all!" really does work.

2 Great products — that's where it all starts
Collapsible hose? Yes. Collapsible drinking cup? No.

3 Compelling, creative exposition, including testimonials
Yes, the testimonials are from actual users (really), and yes, they really work.

 

Getting the sale
"You must call now … don't wait … limited-time offer."

OK, all that's not necessarily true.

In fact, more people buy As-Seen-On-TV products from retail stores than from television. For every product bought directly from an infomercial, at least 10 of those products will be purchased in-store.

In other words, "As-Seen-On-TV" products are actually bought after they're seen again in stores.

 

Measuring the metrics
According to Liantonio, direct response marketers typically buy play time on national cable markets during "relaxed" time frames throughout the day — 8 to 11 a.m., 12 to 3 p.m., overnight — when there's no dominant competition.

After a two-week period, success can be calculated by cost-per-order. If marketers pay $10,000 dollars for TV time and receive 10,000 orders, that's a $1 dollar cost-per-order.

Based on the numbers, companies can then decide whether to change price points or offers — or increase or decrease the number of times the infomercial runs.

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Meg Fry

Meg Fry

Meg Fry covers manufacturing and retail. Meg joins NJBIZ with past production experience in the arts, film and television. She continues to write and market her own spec scripts and screenplays. You can contact her at megf@njbiz.com or @MegFry3 on Twitter.

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