Matter Chatter

Reality TV and Brand Image

Reality_TV_Collage1Recently, one of my clients was approached with an offer to have their operation become the subject of the producer’s self-proclaimed next reality TV masterpiece. The production company was looking to provide a peek inside the industry, and of course hoping for a cast of characters that could rocket to primetime fame. Frankly, we considered it for a bit before letting our cooler heads prevail. In the end, airing our laundry, whether dirty or starched and bleached to perfection, was never going to help position the brand the way we and our client envisioned.

So, for my client and our PR team, the recommendation was unanimous, but that discussion led me to think about how any organization would elect to jump on the reality show wagon. There is certainly the financial allure. I can see its attraction to the crabbers of The Deadliest Catch, after all when the show first started their industry was just recovering from a massive restructuring that left them with entirely uncertain futures….so heck yeah, cash in baby! Tour the country doing appearances and panel discussions with fans, go for the gold! For these guys the show income is all gravy, they are going to have to catch crab to make a living regardless, so why not!

But what motivates the business owners that appear on shows like Kitchen Nightmares, or Bar Rescue, or Undercover…whatever!? The restaurant business is especially puzzling; do you really want Chef Ramsey coming into your kitchen to find that festering mold pile in the bottom of the walk-in? Didn’t you watch the show before you signed up for this? That’s his thing! Call a cleaning crew in before he shows up!

Sorry…back to my point.

The sliver of upside to a reality TV appearance might be a warranted gamble for a fishing crew that does not rely on public sentiment about their business, but for a PR-dependent outfit like a restaurant, there is rarely enough reward for that risk. (Can anyone argue that they ran out to make a reservation at SUR after watching Vaderpump Rules?!)

Ultimately, reality TV is a better guilty pleasure than profit booster. While I reserve the right to utterly reverse my position, I’d be willing to say that it’s off limits for any company that truly values its brand, what that brand stands for and the credibility of its personnel. If you don’t believe me, just read up about the king-of-all social media meltdowns from this Arizona restaurant owner.

  • Matt Mendolera-Schamann

    I think it definitely depends on WHICH reality show, and who your brand is. You make a good point, that reality TV exposes you – warts and all – and could actually bring to light more negative attention than good in the long run. But there are a lot of companies who are struggling due to tragic circumstances, or challenging economic conditions, or a major change in leadership, who go on reality TV shows and show that they’re just as ashamed about what they’ve become, but ultimately have a heart and soul and background that makes you root for them. Then, when the TV guru helps them get back to basics or realize what’s been holding them back, they return to glory and benefit greatly from the exposure and even notoriety that comes with all the attention. It’s certainly a gamble though – good thing they’ve got a smart team helping them weigh the pros and cons so they make a decision they feel good about. ;-)