Published on: Sunday, Nov 14, 2004
Polks help drive RV show on Outdoor Channel
By Dan Trigoboff
Canada-based TV producer Rob Engman was looking for someone with expertise on recreational vehicles, who was also comfortable on camera and with video production. It's a rare expert who can offer wit, wisdom and whimsy while talking Winnebagos.
He found what he wanted in Fayetteville.
Mark Polk, says Engman, was just a good fit. Polk runs the RV information video company RV Education 101 with his wife, Dawn, from their Fayetteville home and their own RV. Engman, who had sold his TV show "RVTV" to cable's Outdoor Channel, wanted someone who could answer readers' concerns about RV equipment, maintenance and lifestyle issues.
''We didn't really consider anyone else," said Engman, speaking from the offices of his company, Bullet Digital, in Toronto, Ontario. ''We were looking for someone who had experience being in front of a camera; someone who was knowledgeable and personable" said Engman.
Polk has been providing video instruction for RV users since 2001. The three- to four-minute RVTV segment, called ''RV Savvy," beginning in January, will likely be the only regularly scheduled (non-news or sports) television programming originating from Fayetteville.
No RV traveling was necessary for shooting the spots. Although an avid RVer, Engman passed on taking his own new vehicle down the U.S. East Coast and flew into town last month. Engman and a small crew stayed with the Polks, said Dawn Polk, and filmed all of the segments for the first season within a few days. Engman, who hosts the show, said he and Polk developed a solid on-camera chemistry, and the two men did a lot of ad-libbing during the segments.
For RV Education 101, the arrangement with Bullet Digital is a promotional vehicle built around recreational vehicles. Although no money is changing hands, the Polks believe the wide cable exposure will bring lots of business.Mark Polk says he got into the practice of trading information for exposure early in the company's history. Without money for an advertising budget, he began writing articles for RV specialty publications. The articles have been distributed widely, he says, and his company has also been featured as a story subject in the targeted publications.
As a businessman selling highly specialized information, Polk says he's careful not to give away too much with all his articles and TV spots. ''We want to give away enough information to make people want more. The videos we provide are 60 minutes in length; the segments on the show just touch on small portions of what we do on the video."
Moreover, he says, the exposure feeds the business by opening the company up to more feedback. With each article, he says, "People send us questions." Much of the RV Savvy segments, he says, were generated by questions the show had received during its first season in Canada. More feedback, he said, will generate more ideas on which to expand the business. ''We're hoping to get lots of feedback," he said. ''We think we're going to get a ton of ideas and questions; more than we can handle."
The strategy so far has been working, said Dawn Polk, and the company has gone from averaging about a hundred videos a month in its first year, to about 1,200-1,500 a month today, with titles such as Travel Trailer 101, Motor Home 101 and Pop Up 101, and each priced between $20 and $30, depending on format.
Much of the market currently is for wholesalers, such as RV dealers, said Dawn Polk. The Polks are hoping the cable TV exposure will expand their retail marketing. In addition to their name and Mark Polk's persona attached to the spots, the show and its website will feature information and links for distributing RV Education 101's VHS and DVD products.
Some of the segments are narrowly focused, such as battery charging or maintenance. Others are as far-reaching as the weather.
RV travelers need to know local weather conditions when stopping overnight Polk said. And they need to check on contingencies when checking into a campground, he said. ''Do they have an emergency evacuation plan, or a shelter to protect people? Or do you have to make your own? You'd be amazed at the number of RVers that don't take that into consideration."
And, he adds, ''an RV is the worst place you could be in really bad weather."
An RV expert
During the show's initial season on Canadian television, Engman said he was aware of Polk's work and had considered using him for an RV expert spot. Instead, he used material and expertise supplied by an RV manufacturer sponsoring the segment.
This time Engman picked his own expert, he said. But he wouldn't mind a sponsor for the segment.
It would be nice, both Polks and Engman agree, if the RV show caught on as a cable staple the way home decorating or other lifestyle shows have. ''I heard about the show last year," said Mark Polk, "but it only aired in Canada. I was thrilled when Karla (Engman, Rob Engman's wife and partner) contacted us."
Other producers and other cable networks have tried, but so far only the show RV Today, on OLN (Outdoor Life Network) has survived, Polk notes.
Mark Polk is hopeful that the show will pick up sponsors and make it to that coveted second season. ''That's Rob's challenge," he said. But Engman's already shown he can sell the show, as he did to the network for the first season on U.S. television, Polk noted. If the show makes it, Polk said, he wouldn't hesitate to continue offering his bits of RV advice and plugging his videos at the same time.
Business editor Dan Trigoboff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 323-4848, ext. 486.
2001/2002/2003/2004 RV Education 101