Lessons I Learned by Playing a Doctor on TV

Lessons I Learned by Playing a Doctor on TV

David J. Katz 04/04/2018 5

I’m not a doctor, but I played one on TV. Really.

25 years ago, I sold consumer products, mostly luggage, to HSN and QVC. I hired a “guest host” to appear on-air, to work with the network “show host” and to demonstrate our products. One day the guest host was delayed, and I ended up with make-up on my face, a microphone up my shirt and an IFB in my ear.

There’s only so much you can say about luggage. After over 100 guest appearances, I got bored. My show producers and directors got bored. And, more important, my audience got bored.

“Try something new,” was suggested. Back in the day, I was a pre-med student, studying neuroscience. I spent a summer working in a hospital. I still had my lab jacket and a stethoscope. The “Luggage Doctor” was born.

Our engineering team sawed a suitcase in half, and stitched it back together loosely, with a few light threads. I placed the “stunt” luggage on a gurney, covered it with a sheet, and rolled it onto the set.

“Let me show you,” I would say, “the anatomy of a healthy suitcase.” I uncovered the suitcase, and proceeded to use a (dull) scalpel to peel back the outer skin, cut through the steel frame, reveal the components and lining, while describing the inner workings of luggage, rarely seen in public. These shows sold a lot of luggage. And, I got to play a doctor, on TV.

When you’re on-air with these extraordinary networks, a director is shouting instructions in your ear through your IFB. “Close-up on your right hand in 3, 2, 1… keep still.” Or, “don’t forget to mention the self-mending zippers.” Or, “Did you hear the one about…”

You have three, or more, large rolling cameras moving around you. Some are robotic, operated from the control room, some are handheld and move in for close-ups on your face, products or surgical technique.

And, there are monitors facing you, displaying a dizzying array of camera angles and, most important, graphs and statistics: customers online, callers on hold, available inventory, sold inventory, and more. This data is updated in real-time. This is an invaluable tool, and a great distraction.

  • Lesson One: Learn to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, or the camera. Imagine your customer is on set with you. Speak to this virtual customer, off camera, and to your show host, on camera. Make it real.
  • Lesson Two: You meet some very odd people in the green room. Sometimes, you’re the odd one. (And, theatrical make up looks really strange when you’re off-set.)
  • Lesson Three: It’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s about the audience, the customer, understanding their needs, solving their problems.
  • Lesson Four: Different times of day there are different show hosts, and these hosts have distinct audiences who loyally tune in. Each show host has a persona, and so does their fan base. Play to the unique attributes of the audience. It may be about function, or fashion, or whimsy, or family… It may be down home, or fast-paced, or educational.
  • Lesson Five: Use the monitors. The real-time stats are incredible tools. The Luggage Doctor had to find a balance between “entertaining” and “selling.” Some story-telling was great and captivating. I heard this from callers… and I also saw the immediate drop-off in orders. The audience was so enthralled, they didn’t call or click, they just watched. Some features I demonstrated lit up the incoming order stats, and others fell flat, all live, in real-time. (Well, almost live. There is a 6 second delay.) I adjusted my dialog, tempo and demonstrations to respond to the audience and the incoming data, to leverage the effect of “stimulus and response.”

These lessons have served me well as I work today with the world’s leading brands and retailers, in-stores and online… and occasionally on TV.

  • It’s about the customer, determining and satisfying their distinct needs. Customers are not segments, they’re people. Tune the brand, product and message to the customer.
  • Be entertaining, have fun. But not too much fun.
  • Different niches of consumers require unique targeted marketing.
  • Data is a valuable tool. Embrace information, make fast informed decisions.
  • When you wear a lab jacket, people pay attention. (I’m thinking about replacing my blazer.)

© David J. Katz, New York City


Note: None of these images are of me.

© David J. Katz, New York City

David J. Katz is chief marketing officer at Randa Accessories, an industry-leading multinational consumer products company, and the world’s largest men’s accessories business.

His specialty is collaborating with retailers, brands and suppliers to innovate successful outcomes in evolving markets.

David was selected by LinkedIn as a “Top Voice in 2017.” He has been named a leading fashion industry “Change Agent” by Women’s Wear Daily and a “Menswear Mover” by MR Magazine.

He is a public speaker, co-author of the best-selling book “Design for Response: Creative Direct Marketing That Works” [Rockport Publishers]. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, The Huffington Post, MR Magazine, and WWD.

David is a graduate of Tufts University and the Harvard Business School.

He is a student of neurobiology, consumer behavior and “stimulus and response.” The name Pavlov rings a bell.


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  • Beth Finch

    Valuable lessons

  • Harry Jenkins

    Would love to play a doctor

  • Martin Winkel

    Thanks for sharing these branding lessons

  • Jeff Miller


  • Nirvik Mahin

    Learned so many things by reading your article

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David J. Katz

Retail Guru

David J. Katz is a "LinkedIn Top Voice in Retail," a best-selling author, a frequent public speaker, an alchemist, and the chief marketing officer at Randa Accesories, a leading multi-national consumer products company, and the world's largest men's accessories businessHis specialty is applying insights, data, story-telling, technology and analytics to influence consumer behavior. He helps retailers, brands and suppliers create successful outcomes in evolving markets. David has "hands on" experience with P&L, M&A , Leadership Development and Digital Transformation. He has ongoing collaborations with global brands including Levi's, Polo Ralph Lauren, Dickies, Tommy Hilfiger, and Columbia Sportswear, And, he works closely with leading retailers including Macy's, Kohl's, JCPenney, Amazon, Nordstrom, Walmart, Target, Costco, Hudson's Bay, Liverpool, Debenhams, David Jones, Printemps, & El Cortes Ingles. Named a fashion industry "Change Agent" by Women's Wear Daily and a "Menswear Mover" by MR Magazine, he has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Business Insider, The Huffington Post, and other publications. A frequent public speaker, he is co-author of the best-selling book "Design for Response: Creative Direct Marketing That Works," and has written many articles on marketing and consumer behavior. David has been elected a "top writer on fashion and Innovation" by Medium. A graduate of Tufts University and the Harvard Business School, in neuroscience and marketing. He studies, and applies, stimulus and response. The name Pavlov rings a bell. Note: Alchemy is a science or philosophy that transforms something ordinary into something meaningful, often through mysterious means. David studies consumers, identifies "jobs to be done," adds products and brands, stirs the caldron with a bit of marketing catalyst, and via transmutation, creates... retail gold.

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