Fitness guru Susan Powter is every entrepreneur's dream. And behind her success is Rusty Robertson, a 42-year-old Dallas PR executive who single-handedly engineered Ms. Powter's rapid rise.
"Three and a half years ago, Susan walked into my office and all she wanted was a couple of extra bodies in her exercise studio," Ms. Robertson recalls. "She didn't have a press kit, and I was doing videos for my clients because I wanted to get out of the press-kit mode. The minute I saw her on video, I said, `My God!' She jumped out of the screen."
Ms. Powter's distinctive looks, familiar by now to legions of fans, include her buzz-cut platinum-blonde hair, manic gestures and witty repartee.
The frenetic Ms. Robertson-minus the hairdo-isn't much different in the personality department. But she's transformed herself into Ms. Powter's agent, business manager and image builder.
Fitness-studio publicity led to a stint by Ms. Powter on a local radio station, followed by a regular stint on ABC's "Home" show. That first national exposure spawned an infomercial from USA Direct in December 1992.
Ms. Robertson coined the "Stop the Insanity!" infomercial title that has since become a mantra of sorts for weight-and-health-obsessed women.
The wild success of "Stop the Insanity!" led to a second infomercial last October, just as Ms. Powter signed a lucrative book contract with Simon & Schuster and released a home video series through Time Warner's home video unit.
Last December, the paperback "Pocket Powter" was issued, and this past spring Ms. Powter began writing a syndicated newspaper column. Her pace will pick up even more this year with a syndicated TV talk show from Multimedia Entertainment.
Ms. Robertson estimates that, all told, the Powter empire has generated sales of $50 million to $60 million. And she now spends 85% of her time advancing the power of Powter through her RPR & Associates PR agency.