Touching television or pure PR?

Ever seen the TV show “Undercover Boss”? I hadn’t until this weekend. I happened to catch what *might* have been the season premiere. The general premise is the big-wigs of major American corporations spend some time on the ground level, interacting with front-line staff and spend a week doing grunt work (or training to do grunt work) in the bowels of their own company.

Here’s a clip from this week’s episode, where the president and CEO of 7-11 takes a ride with Igor, a charming immigrant-turned-truck driver from Kazakhstan.

“Danny” (aka Joe DePinto undercover) comes off as a concerned businessman, who’s bottom line ISN’T the bottom line, but the people who work it.

He watches in amazement as Delores, a 60-something mother of five changes, coffee filters with lightening speed, and greets all the customers by first name. He teases out of her the sad story behind the smiling face: she’s in need of a kidney transplant and won’t take it from her children, in case they have similar problems in the future. She’s waiting for a donor.

He tries to keep up with the budding artist who works in the pastry warehouse.

He plays the white knight when florescent lights burn out and corporate puts the repairs on low priority.

He watches in pained disbelief as countless bagels and donuts are thrown in the garbage instead of being donated to charity.

Etc. etc. etc.

Basically, DePinto finds a gem in every one of the employees he oh-so-serendipitously meets. And at the end, he rewards them in fun little ways for their dedication to the company.

And yah, I’ll admit. I was charmed by the display of employee-appreciation and it put a personal touch on what’s probably the world’s most ubiquitous convenience store.

But there’s part of me that can’t help but feel this is really just a VERY well orchestrated PR stunt. The CEO is likable, he appears to care about the employees he meets, yadda yadda yadda.

The darkest underbelly that came up in THIS episode was a couple burnt out lights and thrown away pastries.

I’d love to see how customer loyalty and business changes after this episode airs. Something tells me 7-11 will do quite well for itself. But maybe that’s just my cynicism showing.

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3 Responses to “Touching television or pure PR?”

  1. Evelyn Says:

    Totally agree! I watched the first two episodes but it seems way fake.

    A CBC show (venture or marketplace, something like that) did the same thing where the CEO of Boston Pizza worked in the restaurant and made changes to a few things that he discovered weren’t working well.

    It was real, the voice-overs weren’t so tragic and annoying, and it was really interesting…

  2. Megan Says:

    It’s both. The only reason a company would agree to do this is because it’s an hour-long ad. And the production company does it because it’s interesting television. Everyone wins. In a manner of speaking. 🙂

  3. Renee Says:

    I like this show, and despite the fact that it is obviously part promotional vehicle…if you’ve seen the episode where the boss of Hooters goes undercover…you’ll realize that it’s not all hunky dorey.

    In fact, that episode displayed some of the worst kinds of employees and practices. Granted, it was Hooters haha…but it was an interesting look at how some middle managers get carried away with their own self-importance.

    I actually think this show is relatively genuine. What remains to be seen though, is what it turns into once others realize what a great advertisement it can be (the ratings are quite high for this show apparently so it will probably grow in popularity with companies).

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