Home Shopping TV: Life as an On-Air Guest/Spokesperson

Admit it. You’ve probably watched a few minutes (if not hours) of home shopping TV channels. It’s a 365/24/7 business that’s come a long way since the days of Precious Moments statuettes and lava lamps back in the 80s. Mike Rowe would know… that was his job – before Dirty Jobs came along. These days, channels like QVC feature high energy daytime cooking, garden, and beauty programs that rival The View, The Chew, and Live with Kelly & Michael.

In all those shows, hosts welcome the audience to an hour (or two) that’s a jam packed party with guests sharing cool products and guess what… viewers get a sneak peek. Makeup, beauty, home, garden, indoor, outdoor… You need it – they got it. Welcome to the world of home shopping!

How I Start Early Mornings at QVC

How I Start Early Mornings at QVC

When I got the call in 2011 from QVC that they were interested in me as on-air guest, I had no idea what I was in for. I’d watched a little home shopping here and there, but most of the time, it was while spending time at my best friend Jenny’s house. Her TV only goes to three things: Barney (she has a 5 year old), HSN or her favorite: QVC. She knows all the hosts and most of the guests. She told me, “you need to do this, Hil… this is SO up your alley.” I spent 15 years as a TV host, news anchor and correspondent, got paid to play (and talk) as a product specialist for Hasbro, and “got the phones ringing” as a travel correspondent during PBS pledge drives, so Jenny’s excitement got me wondering… how different could home shopping really be?

Oh – and the chance to talk about cool new stuff just as soon as it goes on the market? I kind of get giddy! I mean, what’s not to love?

On the QVC Garden Set

On the QVC Garden Set

Honestly, there’s something special about the home shopping industry. And at QVC, it wasn’t just a “come on board, you’re on the air” kind of deal. Before I could even hit the airwaves, I trained. Every product I share on “The Q” demands a lot. I research, I get to know my vendors, I use the items and understand them. No prompters. No gimmicks. This is the real deal. Fortunately, I’ve had a great support system at “The Q”. Not to mention… a lot of fun. Just take a look behind the scenes. From the entire home and garden division, to everyone behind the scenes and in front of the cameras, I’ve learned a lot over the last few years. I asked questions – they shared answers.

Taking a Photo Break Before "Garden Party with Carolyn" Begins on The Q.

Taking a Photo Break Before “Garden Party with Carolyn” Begins on The Q.

Now, I’m the one being asked questions. People in the talent community are always asking, “what’s it like?” and “how do I get to be an expert or on-air guest?”

Good news! I’ve got the answers – and then some!

Meet Mark Lubragge (or as I call him – my biggest cheerleader in home shopping). He’s been there for me since day one. From connecting with the right vendors, to putting a critical eye on my on-air appearances, Mark is truly someone whose insight and opinion I trust. He’s part of QVC’s Talent Management department and has seen a lot of QVC hopefuls during his time at the network. And from a guy who once presented himself (over 100 products for 45 different companies), he’s got it down. Mark answers some of the most common questions and corrects misconceptions about the home shopping TV world. He also shares the best tip for QVC talent (or anyone else): Be Yourself.

HILARY: There’s a difference between Program Hosts and on-air guests that many people may not know. Can you explain?
MARK: Our program Hosts are QVC employees who host shows and welcome in on-air guests. They are experts across categories. On-air Guests are inventors, creators, product experts and spokespeople who explain and demonstrate product in a particular category.

HILARY: You were an on-air guest yourself. How do you think that helps you in your current position?
MARK: In my current role, I train and develop on-air guests to improve their presentations and increase their productivity. Having walked in that world myself, I certainly have an appreciation for how difficult the role can be. Think about it. As a Guest (or Host), you have to introduce your product to the viewer, help them understand it, build a connection with them, keep them engaged, and move them to the point where they place an order … and you may only get 6 minutes to do it! That’s a great challenge. It takes a lot of focus and preparation, and having successfully done it myself really helps me shorten a Guest’s learning curve.

HILARY: What led you to make that change?
MARK: QVC has a fantastic energy and a culture that just draws you in. During my years on-air, I was always excited to walk through the door – even at 3:00 AM! I changed careers so I could be here more often, to be a bigger part of our cause.

HILARY: If someone has hosting experience, why would they need to be “certified” when they start working with a vendor?
MARK: The trust our customers place in us is paramount, and we work hard to safeguard against a vendor or on-air Guest violating that trust in the interest of making a sale. Our certification process educates our them on the best ways to speak to and connect with our viewers and preserve that trust. We want to ensure that anyone coming on-air here serves our customers first. That is really what certification is all about.

HILARY: What if someone has NO hosting or on-camera experience but wants to give it a try? What would you tell them?
MARK: By all means, try! I had zero experience and auditioned on a whim. I was on-air two days later and remained on-air for 9 years (results not typical). If you have product or category expertise, are able to explain and demonstrate product in a meaningful way and can excite others about the item you are presenting, please audition! We would love to give you the opportunity to engage and educate our viewers. Check out the QVC careers page to learn how to submit.

HILARY: In the home shopping TV industry, do you find it’s helpful to have a sales background? Can that make up for a lack of TV experience? Are some people you see just naturals?
MARK: I can’t speak for the other networks, but for us, having a sales background is not a prerequisite for success. The people who come on-air here are just that … people. They are people who engage, educate and share what they know and love about a product. Thinking you must “sell” on TV to sell on TV is more often the mindset of failure here.

HILARY: What’s the most creative audition submission you’ve ever seen? Worst?
MARK: We don’t get much in the way of creative or zany. The bigger issue comes from people assuming that Home Shopping talent is supposed to act a certain way, and their auditions end up looking like a parody. We don’t want talent straight out of central casting, acting like a home shopping Host or Guest. We want real people, people whom you would happily welcome into your home when the TV is off.

HILARY: There are many product categories at QVC. Can an on-air guest be in more than one? If so/if not, why?
MARK: The credibility of Our Guests is very important to our customers and our customers come to know and trust our Guests because of their knowledge and expertise in a specific category. To maintain that, our licensed Interior Designers, for example, can present home décor items, should not also presenting cookware. Likewise, our Chefs can present toasters, teapots and truffles, but not toys, tablets, tulips or tools.

HILARY: If you were to offer one piece of advice to someone who is interested in becoming a host or television guest expert, what would it be?
MARK: Forget the stereotypes, be the real you, connect with the viewer, know your product and do your homework.

As I tell my students every week in class, the best you can be for anyone is to be yourself. It’s amazing what shines through when you allow your own light to be seen.

About Hilary Russo

Host, Journalist, Spokesperson, Lifestyle & Design Expert: QVC Home/Garden Guest Host, Professor, Adventure Seeker & of course... Renaissance Woman - I'm a city girl with my pedal on the metal.
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