The winner of Intuit’s Small Business Big Game contest will get an ad in the biggest television event of the year: The Super Bowl. A 30-second spot at the 2013 Super Bowl ran a cool 3.8 million dollars, so this a pretty big investment for Intuit, which has partnered with entrepreneur and “The Apprentice” champion Bill Rancic to launch the program.
Small businesses -- with no more than 50 full-time employees -- are eligible to compete, and the winner will ultimately be chosen by a public vote, a la “American Idol,” after Intuit employees narrow down the field.
IBTimes sat down with Rancic (who stars on the reality show "Guiliana and Bill" with his wife, Guiliana Rancic) and Heather McLellan, Intuit’s director of small business, in New York on Wednesday to chat about Small Business Big Game -- and, of course, The Donald. (Unrelated observation: Bill Rancic’s teeth are blindingly white, but not in an obnoxious way.)
IBTimes: Has anything like this ever been done before?
Bill Rancic: To our knowledge it’s the first time it’s ever been done, certainly on this scale. It will be a life-changing event for many people who are involved. Not just the grand prize winner but everyone involved -- along the way there is something that is going to benefit them, so it’s pretty exciting.
It could really change someone’s life.
BR: It can not only change [the winner’s] life, but generations … Most small businesses are family-run. Whoever wins it, their kids will probably take over their business, and then their kid’s kids. This could really change the whole course for generations to come.
When did you get involved and why?
BR: I’ve been working with Intuit for a while. We did a program called Hire Smart, which was focused on helping small businesses hire and grow their business. And now we’ve partnered up on Small Business Big Game -- I fell in love with it immediately. I just thought, ‘my God, the power that this is going to give this small business owner -- a platform to be on the stage with all the big automotive companies and the beer companies; it’s huge.
Apple did an ad in the Super Bowl years ago, when it was in bad shape. They hired Ridley Scott to direct it. A lot of experts say this was a turning point for Apple ... it was a massive turnaround for them, and it was all credited back to that ad. It was a revolutionary ad, and it lit a lot of enthusiasm and excitement around the product, and there was no looking back. Wouldn’t it be magical if something like that could happen to a small business because of this?
Super Bowl ads cost millions of dollars, and Intuit will be footing the bill -- paying the same rates that anyone else would be. Why not just buy an ad for Intuit?
Heather McLellan: For us, we really want it to be about the small business owner. As Bill was saying, it’s a first for the industry, and it’s also a first for Intuit -- we’ve never had an ad on the big game. We could have said, ‘let’s make it about Intuit,’ but at the end of the day, it’s the small business owners we want to put the spotlight on.
I see that there are already tons of people who have signed up. Can you explain logistically how the winner will be selected -- by a voting process?
BR: People can register on SmallBusinessBigGame.com from now until Sept. 22. We’re expecting to get hundreds of thousands of entries. Each business will get 600 characters to tell their story. We’ve got 8,000 Intuit employees who are going to vote and narrow down the pool to the final four. Then we turn it over to America, and then America votes to choose the winner.
Along the way we are going to be giving out 25 thousand-dollar grants to select small businesses. And if you make it into the final four but don’t get the Super Bowl ad, you will still get a national ad that we are going to shoot and produce. It will run on a national platform, just not during the big game. And we are also going to give them business makeovers so they can handle the success that comes with it.
This sounds like it could be the beginning of a new reality show.
BR: You never know!
Is there a certain criteria you are looking for, or a certain type of business that has a better chance of success? I saw that there are a lot of real estate businesses participating -- I wonder if they are thinking they might have an advantage because you’re in the real estate business too.
BR: We want everyone. The only requirement is that you have to be a small business with 50 full time employees or less. I have heard from everyone from floral shops to a guy that designed software to see if kids have a concussion on the football field.
That’s a really good idea.
BR: Right? I wish I’d have thought of that.
What if someone high-profile, like a celebrity who runs a small business, tries to subvert this?
BR: We don’t discriminate. Just because you’re famous doesn’t mean that you can’t participate.
So it will be a 30-second spot. Bill, are you going to be in the commercial?
BR: If they ask me to, I will!
HM: The fun part of it is that the creative is really going to be dependent on who wins. A lot of it is still TBD, depending on whose story we will be telling.
Unrelated question: Have you been in touch with The Donald lately?
BR: I have. I was lucky -- after winning the first season, I got to come back and be a judge for several seasons after that. I was actually supposed to come back this last season but Hurricane Sandy hit, and they shut filming down.
And now my wife works for him. She hosts the beauty pageants, so it’s kind of come full circle. Now we have both worked for The Donald.
Do you consider him a business rival now?
BR: Never. No way. Are you kidding? He’s an ally. He’s my mentor. He took me under his wing. If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t have met my wife. I give him a lot of credit for giving me an opportunity of a lifetime.
The above interview has been condensed and edited.
Register to enter and check out the competition at SmallBusinessBigGame.com. The Super Bowl XLVIII will air on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, on Fox.