Oprah’s Favorite Things List: What does it take to be chosen?

March 25, 2022 | lora reuther

By: Martin Stein

It’s the golden fleece of publicists, the one placement that is said can make fortunes and turn a side gig or fledgling business into an overnight success: being named one of Oprah’s Favorite Things. For me, it was a client of mine called Wonderffle, a simple but clever device that lets people make Belgian-style waffles filled with any sort of food they can imagine: from bacon and eggs to apple and cinnamon to chocolate and berries.

So, what does it take to be chosen? Making noise, being heard by the right people, and being persistent…oh and you need to have a really great product, of course!

One of the first things I did upon being given the account was to pitch it to all of the suitable magazine editors. I always try to make this my initial effort since magazines work on such a long timetable, planning stories out a year at a time. The sooner I can let them know about something new, the better the chances of them having time to discuss it in their planning meetings. Among those magazines, of course, was O, The Oprah Magazine for Oprah’s Favorite Things.

The Wonderffle story had a lot going for it right out of the gate. It was invented by a software developer in Texas, Mike Bradford, after he tried the classic Southern dish, chicken and waffles, for the first time. He loved the meal and set to work with the goal of creating a way to make the dish portable so it could be eaten by hand. Everyone loves a fun inventor story. The fact that Mike’s business was new and small was also a selling point, as O’s editors were on the lookout to highlight small businesses. And the fact that the Wonderffle is a kitchen gadget — always a popular category — and that it was versatile enough to be used for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert added to its appeal.

It also didn’t hurt that some of the staff may have recognized the Orca Communications name from a recent Oprah’s Favorite Things winner, My Audio Pet, and its second version, My Audio Pet TWS, which also was named one of Oprah’s Favorite Things in the following year.

However, we didn’t start working with Mike on Wonderffle until August 2020, which meant that O had very likely already closed its holiday issue. That did not deter me. I sent them my pitch anyways and then turned my attention to other opportunities that would be published more quickly — newspapers, television and online outlets. But Team Oprah eventually came calling in July 2021 with news that Wonderffle was under consideration and they requested a sample.

Garnering immediate interest from some large outlets gave the campaign momentum in between pitching Oprah and the exciting request a year later – with stories appearing in Live Naturally Magazine, Men’s Journal, Hunker, Your Tango and Steamy Kitchen. Then in February 2021, a full segment on a show called “Deal or Dud” on KDFW-TV, the Fox affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth, the country’s fifth largest market.

Along with Wonderffle’s built-in appeal (small business, kitchen gadget, etc.), getting this initial press was crucial in not only attracting the attention of O’s editors but the third-party endorsements also gave them confidence that this was a well-made product with wide appeal — and isn’t that the purpose of public relations?

Just because nothing can ever be easy, the biggest challenge wasn’t to get interest from top-tier outlets (it seems everyone loves waffles); it was to get the samples into their hands. The COVID pandemic was well underway so Chinese factory closures and international shipping problems meant that Wonderffle’s inventory was in a constant state of flux. Getting stories like the KDFW one often led to sudden increases in sales. Along with direct-to-consumer sales from Mike’s own website, he was listed on Amazon. Usually. When his inventory dropped too low, Amazon would hide his page. While I had the link as part of my pitch so that journalists could still find it, they’d also find that Amazon had it listed as out of stock.

When the O favorite things issue hit newsstands, the outcome was amazing for our client, with its first day outselling the previous best day by more than 10 times, and the second day doubling that new record. The power of Oprah still stands! But the real accolades must go to the business owner for understanding the great possibilities of PR and maintaining patience through the process — this game-changing placement did not surface until a year and a half after he started his campaign!