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How Bethenny Frankel grew her influencer business to $3.2 million a year after leaving reality TV behind

Madeline Berg   

How Bethenny Frankel grew her influencer business to $3.2 million a year after leaving reality TV behind
  • Bethenny Frankel first became famous through reality TV and now has a lucrative influencer career.
  • The former "Real Housewives of New York" star disclosed her 2023 earnings to Business Insider.

Bethenny Frankel was once famous just for being a Real Housewife. Now, she's cashing in as an influencer — something she uses English muffins to demonstrate.

A couple of weeks ago, she posted a video to TikTok. With her trademark mix of fast-talking brash honesty and humor, she slammed the Thomas' English muffin sleeve.

"Can we improve this package?" Frankel ranted. "This is really from the dark ages. Fred Flinstone is eating an English muffin like this."

In return, Thomas' sent her a box of products, including blueberry English muffins, which she said her 13-year-old daughter loves.

"It doesn't matter if I hate on or love on, people are into it," she told Business Insider.

Despite her cutting takes and, at times, brutally truthful opinions, people can't seem to stop talking about — and following — Frankel. They have been for the past 16 years since she first hit the public eye as the outsider on "The Real Housewives of New York," which she left for good in 2019. (For about a year, she's been in a public feud with the show's network, Bravo, and went on a quest to unionize reality TV stars last summer.)

Now she's earning seven figures annually from social media — more than she earned per year on Housewives, she said. (She's never disclosed how much she made on the show, but said it was millions.)

In 2023, her first full year of embracing the status of "influencer," Frankel earned $3.2 million in endorsement deals, according to documents reviewed by BI. Brands like L'Oreal and Dunkin' pay five or six figures for promotion by Frankel on TikTok and Instagram.

She has 3.3 million and 1.6 million followers on the platforms, respectively, up from 2.4 million and 320,000 in February 2022, before she started posting so regularly, per data from analytics firm SocialBlade. Across all social platforms, her content receives 57.48% positive sentiment — more than the reality star average of 40% to 45%, according to influencer marketing platform Captiv8.

Bethenny Frankel, the "accidental influencer"

Despite her path to that success through reality TV, she calls herself an "accidental influencer."

Frankel has an over-the-top personality and prides herself in authenticity, two trademarks of today's TikTok set. That appears to have helped the 53-year-old in her career pivot.

Her secret, she says, is that she wasn't looking to become an influencer. She was just learning how to do her own makeup after years of having it done for her. After watching beauty videos online, she began posting her own in 2022.

Much of her content hypes drugstore brands and skewers expensive alternatives. La Mer's Crème de la Mer (which retails for $200 for one oz) and Nivea's signature Creme (about $12 for 16 oz) are pretty interchangeable, she says in one video. There's very little editing and a messy quality to her posts; in a recent upload, for example, she had a piece of fluff stuck on her face.

"The more authentic you are and the less desperate you are — if you're doing things you're passionate about and being honest, things will just walk in the door," she said.

It didn't take long for the clips to catch the attention of big companies. In April 2022, she scored her first brand deal with CoverGirl, her representatives said. Since then, she's expanded beyond beauty, reviewing grocery store finds and commenting on pop culture. She posts dozens of videos a week across TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube — and she's approached social media with business savvy.

When brands want to use her existing content in promotions, for example, she requires them to pony up. When they ask her to review products, she isn't willing to accept free stuff or shill something she doesn't believe in, and won't settle for lowball fees — and says she was initially surprised when they were willing to match her understandable high price.

"I don't need the free makeup, and I didn't need the money," Frankel, who maintained ownership of the Skinnygirl brand of food and lifestyle products, said. "I make millions of dollars on popcorn and dressing and shapewear while I sleep."

Frankel's path from reality TV to Skinnygirl to acting

For the unfamiliar, Frankel wasn't just in reality TV — she made Housewives history when she founded Skinnygirl Cocktails and then sold it in 2011. The actual acquisition price of Skinnygirl is up for debate: It was reported to be as much as $120 million, but both the company and Frankel haven't disclosed the final amount, which included contingency payouts based on sales goals, according to SEC filings. The deal was big enough to prompt networks to include so-called "Bethenny Clauses" in reality TV contracts, which require reality stars to give the networks a cut of businesses promoted on air.

Like any influencer, Frankel says she's completely honest about what she likes and doesn't. What's different is there's a lot she doesn't seem to like, which in turn makes her positive reviews and opinions even more valuable. Fewer than 1% of her posts are sponsored, one of her representatives said.

"I left reality TV and honestly thought the faucet would turn off because that's what happens, and I was fine with that," she said. "I can't be bought. Brands maybe find it refreshing."

Despite her entrepreneurial history, she's not interested in starting her own beauty line — a route that many celebrities and influencers, from Lady Gaga to Addison Rae, have tried, to varying degrees of success. She said she turned down a well-known dermatologist who wanted to partner up.

"I'd rather have someone else that's got the big research and development spend millions and billions of dollars on that and let them carry it on their back," she said. "Let me just be the creative and the face and the messenger."

So what is next? At the moment, it's acting. When BI spoke with her, she was about to board a plane to a movie gig.

"When the tables go cold, I walk," she said. "If the tables go hot, I keep pressing my bets. You want to call me? You want to pay me six figures to do a movie? Sure. You want to call me to use my mascara that I talked about that I liked? Great."

For her, is reality over for good? Not necessarily.

"They can't pay me enough, is the problem," she said. "They can't pay me enough money for me to leave this house, get hair and makeup on, go somewhere."

That's not a problem when it comes to making a TikTok.

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