Getting on TV may seem like a dream, but there are plenty of potentially bad ways to make your television debut – COPS, a “before” picture on the news, an appearance on Tosh.0, or a FOX reality show. Last summer 352 Media was approached with an opportunity to appear on a national stage with a business-focused reality show.
With so many positive examples of how companies can gain exposure through great television, like American Choppers or Undercover Boss, it’s not hard to imagine why we quickly grew excited by the opportunity.
Our CEO Geoff Wilson saw Checker’s/Rally’s CEO Rick Silva following his appearance on Undercover Boss, which Silva believes brought the company exposure equivalent to tens of millions of dollars in advertising. Of course, there’s also the flipside of reality TV – just ask Amy’s Baking Co.
When 352 was approached to be on a show tentatively titled “Office Life” – a cross between Undercover Boss and The Office – both our leadership and staff were understandably excited for the opportunity to show ourselves
off in the national spotlight.
So why won’t you be seeing 352 in primetime next week?
That’s the final show, Does Someone Have to Go?, which came with the tagline Toxic Office. Not exactly the message that we would choose to promote ourselves. Especially at the cost of firing one or more employees.
Obviously, reality shows thrive on drama (manufactured or genuine), but the show was pitched to us as a lot of substance with a little drama, while the producers of “Office Life” were clearly looking for the exact opposite.
Geoff knew that if the show was going to succeed (even as Office Life), it would require buy-in from the staff, a group decision to proceed. And as soon as staff members began to volunteer and work with producers, it became evident that the show we were going to be on would be different than the show we had been pitched.
“I didn’t expect everyone to participate, but I wanted to see if everyone was going to be supportive, even if they didn’t participate,” Geoff said. “There was a real mixed reaction – some thought it was a great idea, and a small handful thought it was a horrible idea. The fact that a group of employees thought it was a horrible idea gave me great pause.”
A final meeting with producers, in which they refused to add a clause restricting a name change of the show, was a final blow to our involvement in the show.
As both Geoff and 352 CMO Peter VanRysdam refused to fire any employee just to meet the whims of the show – even with a $10,000 severance “bounty” paid by the network – the producers showed an early pilot of the show.
That show was, “Someone’s Gotta Go,” an older Fox series which essentially brought the staff together to vote someone off the island.
For both Geoff and Peter, controlling our own message became an important consideration during meetings with the show producers.
“For me, it’s not about trying to control how our company is perceived as much as just wanting to be perceived fairly,” Geoff said. “I’m fine with taking some bad with the good, as long as it’s fair, because I know a fair representation will ultimately make us look really good, because we are really good.”
Once we started seeing applications for employees interested in participating, it wasn’t hard to see that the producers weren’t especially interested in the daily endeavors of a hard-working, creative group of people.
They just wanted to watch us tear each other down, as you can see in the application below.
“Despite our best intentions, we would’ve looked like a group of in-fighting, dysfunctional buffoons,” Peter said. “None of the great things about our company, our people, or what we create with our clients would ever make it out of the editing room.”
No matter how much exposure it might be worth, it’s impossible to tell the story of a company like 352 in a two-hour reality show. Especially a show that isn’t interested in telling stories, only fabricating them.
People say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but they probably had never seen the pilot for “Does Someone Have to Go?”, which is designed to show businesses in the worst possible light: as fighting, dysfunctional buffoons.
“You can only control your message if you’re the one delivering it. That said, you can only go so far on your own while working with a budget,” VanRysdam said. “Shows like Shark Tank have helped launch many brands – even those that don’t get funded on the show. I would never consider a new show like this that I haven’t been able to see on the air.”