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I recently spoke to former Bethenny Frankel, an entrepreneur and star of The Real Housewives of New York. Frankel, who left Real Housewives in 2019 after appearing in eight seasons, built her business empire, which she says was her intention even before being on TV.
“I chose to change the course of my career and focus more on business and philanthropy and not entertainment, entertainment (and) dramatic antics as a business,” Frankel said.
Frankel said she initially turned down the opportunity to be on Real Housewives, but eventually accepted because she wanted to promote her business, which includes cocktail mixes and shapewear. She was also the only cast member to negotiate a deal where Bravo would not receive a share of all profits from his business.
“I immediately understood the value of using television back then as a vehicle to promote what you do,” she said. “I was a pioneer in this area…being one of the first to really monetize reality TV in this way.”
Frankel, who has a new book called Business is personal: The Truth About What It Takes To Succeed While Staying True To Yourself spoke about the decision to leave reality TV, her various ventures, and what she sees for the future of the creator economy.
“Long before any reality TV personalities, period, I had already transformed a brand, a successful cocktail brand, and landed on the cover of Forbes magazine,” she said. “I have always taken my business and my career very seriously. It always came first. It came first before salacious entertainment and drama.
Frankel has several products that she sells to her fans. Aside from her Skinny Girl Margarita, most of her product ideas come from a desire to break into a new space or from interesting people approaching her.
“A combination of people approaching me and me wanting to do something in these spaces, but usually just good partners approaching me,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Okay, that’s a great idea. “”
The rise of TikTok stars like Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae is largely due to the transformation of the retail space, Frankel said. The decline of physical stores and the growing popularity of direct-to-consumer retail and e-commerce channels have created an opportunity for new influencers, she said. And as their popularity grew, they were able to bypass traditional TV production companies and stream directly to their fans.
“So now (influencers like) Charli D’Amelio…they’re going direct to consumers and creating their own TV show, it’s their own network,” she said. “‘I’m the one entertaining you, my own reality show on my terms.'”
While Frankel has worked with different companies in the past to promote their products, brand deals are rare for her now. She won’t work with a company unless it’s to promote a product she’s truly passionate about, like Madison Reed’s hair dye.
“I’m not on the benjamins,” she said. “I mean, I like the tweens, but it’s been proven by me walking away from multi-million bucks on TV that money isn’t what drives me.”
Since leaving reality television, she has made money from her speaking engagements, her investments – which include real estate – brand promotions and her licensing business. Frankel has no agent and makes most of her business decisions herself, although she sometimes consults with her editors or her fiancé, who is also an investor.
Frankel said she doesn’t regret leaving Real Housewives, but she could return to television in a completely different way.
“I don’t regret leaving the Housewives. I have every chance of going back if I want to. The door is open there,” she said. “I honor the time that I lived there and I thank Bravo for the platform and the launchpad, and I never forget where I came from, but I don’t want to go back and I’ll probably be on TV again , but not in the way I’ve been on TV before.
This interview originally appeared in The Creators, a newsletter about the people who power the creator economy. Get it in your inbox before it goes live.