Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Undercover Boss"...Good or Bad Opportunity?

By: Angela Walschinski, Account Assistant, Leonard & Finco Public Relations, Inc.

It has long been preached that time spent on the frontline improves management skills and employee relations. However, a new reality TV show “Undercover Boss” has taken this to an innovative level. For those of you who have not seen the show, it is based on the concept of top ranking executives going “undercover” working as frontline employees within their organization.
These executives are no longer sitting back, observing, surveying and reporting their views, they are experiencing them first hand.

As I watched, the thought of how this could be a great public relations opportunity for any company that appears on the show was in the back of my mind. I’d like to believe that the show does more good than bad because it reinforces that a strong organization uses efficient internal communication. Part of that internal communication involves the top executives understanding the job of an entry-level worker, which this show attempts to achieve.

However, the show makes me wonder if the top executive has to go undercover in order to understand job tasks, learn that the company policies aren’t being followed or that front-line employees don’t see promising career paths with the company. What does that say about the company’s communication environment? Could that environment be an obstacle to leaders getting the advice they need? Or on the other hand, what communication changes need to be made in order to keep top executives in touch with how front-line employees are thinking and behaving?

Of course opening your company up to the public also welcomes criticism because companies who participate in reality TV shows have no control over what’s shown in the episode. That’s a gamble in terms of the company’s public image. The owner or top executives have to ask themselves if that is a gamble they are willing to make. If yes, the company becomes vulnerable to the public, revealing everything within its operations.

It’s a public relations opportunity and potential nightmare all rolled into one. The companies on “Undercover Boss” take huge risks by exposing their companies at all levels of employment. But great risk is often met with great reward. The company’s brand is exposed to millions of viewers, business lesson are learned and the company is seen publicly trying to make the working environment better.

In either case, top executives who partake in “Undercover Boss” will most likely discover good or bad publicity, and good and bad things about their companies from working on the front lines. If you were a top executive at a large company, would you appear on “Undercover Boss”? Do you think the experience of being on the show would make the company better?


Abby Gutowski, PR said...

Great post Angela! I LOVE this show's concept and as a PR I believe the companies involved have a better chance at receiving good PR than bad.

It's no surprise to America that executives don't know exactly what's happening at each of their locations or stores. What gives these companies good PR is that they care to find out if negative things are happening within their company. More often than not, the executives find GREAT employees that give the company a good image. And when they find something happening that doesn't represent the company well, they do the work to fix it and make their company better.

This is an amazing PR opportunity for corporations. As corporate transparency becomes more important with the use of social media marketing, exposing your company on television is no different: If you're good at what you do, you shouldn't worry about bad PR. And by being transparent, you can make your company better.

Holly said...

I have to agree to a point with the post above. Being transparent is a great way for people to trust your company and know that you arn't hiding anything from them. However, my biggest beef with this show is that it still is reality TV. I tend to find myself wondering if certain areas they are exploring or discovering is just for good TV or is it really happening in their company?
At the end of each episode the CEO meets with the people he worked with to reveal his true identity. He also goes one step further by giving them more vacation or a trip or something to compensate them more on a personal level. I feel the biggest change they should be doing as a CEO is something to continue benefitting the entire company and not just the select employees that they worked with; even though many have amazing stories.
As a CEO it's a good way for the public to really understand what your company does and who they serve bringing good PR in the long run. Interesting post topic!

Beth said...

I really like the concept of this show too! On one hand I always think it is brave for companies to go on this show since it does point out their faults, but then on the other hand, this show gives them a great opportunity to show the world that they are doing something to make a positive change in their company.

Like Holly said though, I do wonder how they really can pull this off. What do they tell their employees when a camera crew shows up?

But overall, I think it's a great concept and hopefully it will last longer than most reality shows do!

Anonymous said...

A company's brand is exposed to millions of viewers watching this show and so long as it reamins a form of "entertainment" it will draw in more viewers each week.

I guess having viewers see the good, bad and ugly is a gamble you take when you are a CEO. But one worth taking to many - especially when the show is popular!

I agree with Angela that it is a great PR opportunity and a nightmare rolled into one, but I can't say I wouldn't take the opportunity if presented to me.