“People, we are live in 3-minutes!” shouted the producer from across the room in a tone that hinted at the chaos and revealed the collective concern. The date was February 28, 2020. The time was 6:57PM EST. And the location was QVC Studio Park in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
In the summer of 2019, a BILLY customer brought to our attention that QVC was launching an effort called The Big Find. And what is The Big Find? Well, per QVC's Chief Merchandising and Commerce Officer in the US, “The Big Find is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for entrepreneurs to share their stories with an audience of millions across our QVC and HSN platforms. We’re looking for entrepreneurs who are passionate about their products, have great stories to tell, and are engaging storytellers. This initiative is part of our ongoing commitment to bring our customers more discoveries while increasing our product differentiation."
Sold. We are in. And by amazing coincidence, the selection panel for The Big Find came through Seattle.
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On Friday, August 16, 2019, the selection panel was set up at the Seattle Zulily corporate office. We had applied online a few weeks prior and had the good fortune of being selected to move forward and interview with the panel. Expecting to be grilled, like a Shark-Tank-type setting, we prepared our pitch numerous times. When the interview finally came, we learned we had 10-minutes to complete our presentation. With cameras rolling, we entered the room and took our spots in front of the panel of six. As we began unpacking our story and describing the brand, we demonstrated the functionality of the shoes and our vast assortment of styles. Pacing ourselves to use the full 10-minutes, we were about 4-minutes in before one of the panelists interjected. “Here comes the grilling,” we thought. But instead, we were hit with a pleasant surprise that totally caught us off guard. “Congratulations! You have won a Big Ticket!”
“Wait, what? We were just getting warmed up!” I replied, trying to gain my composure from the abrupt shock of good news. They chuckled. And we left the room with a big yellow ticket in hand, as if we were Charlie on our way to the Chocolate Factory.
* * *
The following month we visited QVC, my first trip to the great city of Philadelphia. We met with the buyers to plan out what shoe styles to launch with, followed by a larger conversation of what to bring in as we continue to work together. It was a wonderful foundational meeting that we look forward to building upon. And after the meeting, we naturally did the Rocky Steps and raised our arms in victory.
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In December, I returned to QVC to get trained up by their production team and veteran hosts like Mary Beth Roe, who is an absolute delight. I also had the amazing opportunity to meet Liam Bourke, VP of Global Multimedia Development at Vionic. Liam has had many opportunities to be in front of the camera through the years. Liam acted as a mentor of sorts for me on how to position and respond while live on air. The information was invaluable, but also very straight forward: have high energy, smile, follow the host, look at the camera, track the red light, and refrain from looking at the monitor.
To bring texture to that advice, within the studio, there are around six cameras moving around from all different angles. The camera that is showing the live feed will have a red light above it indicating it's the camera to focus on. Below many of the cameras is a monitor, which is basically a television showing what the viewing audience sees at home. The danger in looking at the monitor is you loose eye contact with the camera, which means you lose eye contact with the viewer. If speaking at the monitor, you are seen looking down as if you are having a conversation with the viewer’s kneecaps. It is a big no no. But can be very easy to fall victim. Think of the monitor as the sun—quick glance if you must, then look away.
“The conversation is with your two best friends," said Liam, "the host and the camera.” Seems simple enough, right? Until you are hit with the gravity that the cameras represent millions of eyeballs.
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We received our air-date announcement while I was attending a conference in New York City. And I know exactly where I was when we got word. The conference had completed the day before, so my wife and I thought we would take our then 13-month old kiddo to the iconic keyboard in the floor of FAO Schwarz. With hopes he would join Tom Hanks in a go at chopstix, our son instead crawled the length of the board, meandering on and off the keys as he randomly pressed forward. It was awesome. And in that moment, QVC reached out.
* * *
Committing to the air date, I set up a make up appointment, my first. And it was a memorable one. I’m sure I looked silly squirming in my seat as the brush to set the foundation came uncomfortably close to the underside of my eyes. Then I thought of how eye-liner is applied [cringe]. I have a new respect for those that wear makeup.
The show date consisted of two programs. The first was with Jennifer Coffey, an 8-minute plug featuring our Women’s low top BILLY Classics. Here is the clip:
In preparation, I met with Jen a couple of hours prior to to the show to go over the brand story and characteristics of the shoes. Then it was hanging out in the green room waiting for go-live.
The green room was a cozy place. Basically an open room with a couch and chairs facing four different television screens, all airing and supporting QVC and QVC2 programming. Along the hallway entering the space were shared dressing rooms for guests to get primped and prepared. There were a bunch of guests. Many were seasoned. But then there were newbies like myself unfamiliar with the surroundings or process. Whatever the level of experience though, all were super supportive of each other and freely offered up words of encouragement. For us neophytes, it felt like a tight-knit family of warmth and kindness.
At 2:37PM EST I was live on “The Perfect Accessory with Jennifer Coffey”.
At 7:27PM EST I was live on “The Big Find Recap Show” with Gabrielle Kerr. This airing was focused on our high tops and ran for 12-minutes. Here is the clip:
My plug, and “The Big Find Recap Show” as a whole, went off without issue, at least from what I could tell. But leading up to it all, it felt a little bonkers. Let me do my best to paint the picture.
First off, QVC is live. And by live, I mean really live. There are no prerecorded shows or even a 5-second delay between real and what the viewer sees. It’s the real deal. If something goes wrong, the viewer will see it. If the guest or host goes into a coughing fit, the viewer will see it. If someone gets unruly, the viewer will see it. On stage, you are completely exposed with no place to hide.
The part that is wild, for the millions of people tuning in on the other end of the camera’s airways, within the studio their was only the host, me, a couple models, and a few producers. That is it. In other words, the studio is empty and millions of people are looking in. The cameras are operated by a separate control center within the QVC campus. In a nutshell, you are basically having an engaging conversation with the host while tracking which of the six moving cameras has the shot. And while one guest is wrapping up, another is on-deck to get into place seamlessly. Typically there is a transition video between guests, which allows the new guest to say hello to the host before becoming their new best friend. It was so surreal. And I loved every bit of it. And then for all the time it took to get organized, prepared, dolled-up and mic’d, in a flash the airing was over and it was on to the next thing.
First it was preparing for Jen. Then it was airing with Jen followed by preparing for Gabrielle. Then it was airing with Gabrielle followed by a close-out interview via live-Facebook feed. And then when it was all over, I gave a few hugs and then got packed up before getting picked up by my wife and kiddo to return to our hotel.
On the drive back, my wife asked how it went. She had been glued to the TV all day so she wouldn’t miss it. There was so much I could have said to start the conversation—so much I had just experienced that still had me memorized. So what was my reply? Well, it went something like this:
“QVC is incredible.”
As I expanded on my explanation, I referred back to three minutes before the Big Find Recap went live. From the perspective of an outsider in the presence of the unknown, it resembled complete chaos. The opening scene included Gabrielle walking backwards down a hallway with Big Find winners lining the walls. There were two immediate challenges. One, the hallway was still an active hallway meaning anyone could accidentally and unbeknownst to them walk into a live scene. And two, there were Big Find Winners set to be on-air immediately after the opening scene who were not yet mic’d up. And speaking of mic’d up, with seconds before 7PM, one of the other hosts started doing one of those yell-at-top-volume-yet-not-make-a-sound-things to one of the producers while frantically pointing toward Gabrielle indicating her mic was not turned on. In the nick of time, her mic went live as the cameras pushed through the doors to see Gabrielle welcoming millions of viewers tuning in. As she backed down the hallway (in heels!), she never broke eye contact with the camera. She even made it past me without issue, which was at the narrowest point and the most precarious. A minute later, her dialogue was done and the programming cut to Mary Beth Roe on set with one of the Big Find Winners featured that evening.
I was in awe. For what felt like a train-wreck in our midst, all the final parts came together in literally a few minutes. I was thoroughly impressed. The peeps that make up QVC definitely know what they are doing. And, not to mention, are so kind and genuine. I do hope we have the opportunity to come back and present. It was such a joy.
* * *
Upon returning to the hotel, we came through the lobby en route to our room. To the right was a giant television running QVC. To the left was the front desk. Behind the desk was a gigantic human—the kind of dude you want on your side should you encounter civil unrest. Calling from his station, he asked, “Hey, I saw you today. Do you have men’s shoes in a size 14 EEE?”
I responded with a grin, “Yes, sir. We most certainly do.”