How Bethenny Frankel Turned Reality Stardom Into a Business Empire

The Real Housewife on expanding her Skinnygirl brand

I t's a well-known fact that reality stars, despite the authenticity implied by the genre's name, often turn out to be very different in real life than they appear on TV. This, however, is not the case with Bethenny Frankel, who, in person, is just as high-energy and candid as she is on The Real Housewives of New York. It's exactly this type of unapologetic realness that has helped Frankel transform from television entrepreneur to business mogul in six short years.

"We had been watching Bethenny from afar, and we had been very impressed with what she has been able to accomplish with her shows as well as with the Skinnygirl brand," said Spencer Fivelson, senior brand manager, Orville Redenbacher's. "We were looking for a strong strategic partner that could unlock mutual value and introduce the brand to a new segment of consumers, and Skinnygirl was a great opportunity for us to get more targeted and speak to millennial women."

"Consumers have voted that Skinnygirl is not only a legitimate business, but a powerhouse brand at this point," said Chris Raih, co-founder of creative agency Zambezi. "You add up the convergence of unscripted TV, better-for-you food and drink options, elevated basics and targeting of the female consumer, and Bethenny is on the surfboard just riding the tsunami of all of those trends."

Last year, Frankel made the decision to return to the Real Housewives franchise following a four-year hiatus that included a short-lived syndicated talk show. When Bravo first pitched the idea, she said, "I was just kind of sick of all of it." But eventually, she decided, once again, that the business opportunity was too good to pass up.

"I felt that I had been off of reality TV for so long that they didn't really know me anymore," Frankel said. "So many women have gone through what I've been going through"—a reference to her recent, and very well-publicized, divorce—"and [going back on the show] would be a great way to connect with them."

This time around, the stakes are also higher thanks to Frankel's business relationships. But none of her partners, at least so far, has taken issue with her involvement in dinner-party catfights or profanity-laced confessional interviews. "They know that's who I am," she said, although, she added, "If we stop moving product as a result of me being on the show, then I won't do it."

With a revived TV career, 11 product lines currently under her belt and a 12th—single-serve coffee pods—on the way, Frankel is now faced with the challenge of assembling the many parts of Skinnygirl into one well-oiled machine.

"I really want to keep it cohesive, so I'm taking back a lot more control," she explained, noting that she recently hired her own in-house PR and national sales team. Skinnygirl has also been holding regular brand summits where all of the company's partners can come together to discuss strategy and cross-promotional opportunities.

Another major focus of Frankel's has been creating a more effective digital presence, which will include consolidating the multiple Skinnygirl websites under a single umbrella site, as well as building an online community where fans can find and share lifestyle content around the brand.

And still more products are in the works, with Frankel mentioning her interest in frozen desserts, breakfast foods and fitness apparel. (Contrary to reports in Us Weekly, there are no current plans for Skinnygirl marijuana.) Of course, with that kind of expansion comes the risk of diluting the Skinnygirl brand. "It's going to be on them to be judicious with the collaborations they take on," warned Raih. "If they want to last, they should not lose sight of what made them great to begin with."

Frankel is well aware of the risk, noting she's turned down countless opportunities for products that aren't the right fit, including shoes and fragrance.

"I'm not going to do anything that I don't feel organically connected to," she said. "The Skinnygirl Margarita proved one thing, that I do understand what women want."


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