(Editor's note: Our PR firm helps corporations and their CEOs/leaders get on TV and bosses get on TV shows like Undercover Boss. We are unable to help employees nominate their companies for Undercover Boss. CEOs and marketing/PR chiefs should call us if they'd like to be on the show.)
Recently, we received a call in our office from the casting coordinators of CBS’ hit show Undercover Boss. She found us through our blog (which means we’re doing good things as far as search engine optimization), and she noticed that we have some amazing clients. She suggested our clients participate in the show.
Here’s the lowdown I got on how companies get on Undercover Boss:
Stage I: The Screening
First, there is a telephone interview with the vice president of casting and talent relations as well as a supervising casting producer. The first step is to make sure the company being featured is agreeable to the basic expectations/minimum requirements that CBS has for the Undercover Boss format.
The company must have about 1,000 employees – preferably more.
The company must earn about $250 million in revenue. Larger is preferred.
The participating undercover boss must be at the C-level or near it. Higher-ranking bosses are preferred.
The filming and production process requires eight to 10 days of the boss’ time.
At the end of the program, the featured company must give back $200,000 or more in total “rewards” to up to five employees.
Stage II: Showtime
After the initial telephone interview, if selected to move on, the casting producers will fly to the undercover-boss-to-be’s office location and do a sizzle reel (a short, fast-paced video that serves as an introduction). This requires an on-site interview for about 90 minutes and is submitted to CBS, which has the final decision on who is selected.
For the sizzle reel, the producers like to put together childhood and family photos of the undercover boss to help tell his or her story; they value participants with compelling back stories and will use those photos to help tell that backstory. Those same photos will be used in the introduction sequence for the undercover boss during the first scene of the show.
Does it cost to participate?
There are no fees to participate – no media buys, no sponsorship participation, production fees or other participation expectations; the featured company’s only financial responsibility is the reward money given to participating employees at the end of the episode. CBS sells its own advertising and while some undercover companies opt to buy advertising during the program, it’s certainly not required, nor even suggested. That means everything the company shells out over the course of its Undercover Boss experience goes straight back into its own workforce.
The production team spends one to three days with the executive at home, in the office, with the family and capturing his or her life story. This also includes formulating the disguise and undercover process. Those days must be shot consecutively.
Then the undercover boss must work five different jobs in five consecutive days (perhaps not including travel to and from the different job sites).
The job sites may include retail stores, offices and branches, warehouses, call centers, manufacturing plants, distribution centers or may even be on a customer’s or vendor’s premises, and could also include other company events and locations.
How do they select the company employees to work with?
The company’s marketing, public relations or human resources department is fully aware ahead of time of which employees will be participating with the undercover boss, and that information is kept from the Undercover Boss participants.
CBS has full control
It’s very clear to me that CBS has significant involvement and decision-making authority, calling all the shots as to which companies are selected, which undercover representatives are selected and which sites and employees are used for the interviewing process.
Diversity is important to Undercover Boss. The producers like CEOs, executives and employees who represent diverse ethnicities as well as diverse industries. They prefer to work with the founder of the company and especially those executives and undercover bosses who have an interesting backstory, as mentioned. Other requirements for the program include that the company must be headquartered in the United States, and I’m sure if you’re a major brand and the undercover boss runs the domestic headquarters, they’ll probably give that some consideration.
Unexpectedly, they are interested in a financial services company. Other business reality shows tend to shy away from these types of companies, citing that financial services companies are less interesting, more technical and less appealing to viewers at home. Obviously, this opens the doors to a whole new crowd of businesses to share in the kind of publicity an appearance on the show can create.
Why you probably want to do Undercover Boss
Many companies get involved initially because of the amazing branding opportunity and the widespread visibility that comes with being televised nationally during prime time on a major network. What’s more, they don’t even have to pay for that exposure; what bosses pay out at the end of each episode in rewards to employees is less money than what CBS charges for two 30-second spots during the show. Think about that for a minute in terms of visibility and bang for the buck.
The other reason you want to do Undercover Boss
Other companies, while excited about the visibility aspect, see and use this opportunity more as a way to gain insight into the company’s operations and customer relations – not to mention employee relations (see our related blog post on Massage Heights). This is a unique chance for the higher-ups to get truly candid and completely honest feedback from the people on the front lines in a way that they never could from behind their desks.
Why you’ll say you’re glad you did Undercover Boss
According to producers, the real outcome and true benefit of participating, as explained by past undercover bosses, is the ability to give back and make a difference in the lives of employees, who are their most valuable asset and competitive advantage.
The featured company must not only meet the eligibility criteria and be willing to give up its time, but it must commit to the “reward” portion of the show. That’s in the ending of each episode, where the undercover boss reveals himself to the featured employees with whom he worked and offers them financial rewards to help them in their personal situations. This may include a scholarship, promotion, raise or bonus. In some cases, the undercover boss has given a car, a house, assistance with medical bills, a vacation, kids’ college fund and retirement funds. But it’s not just about budgeting the money for the reward. Often the undercover bosses get deeply emotionally involved and desire to give even more than they had originally planned. They’ve connected with their employees on a whole new level and value the experience of doing good things for those associates in need.
When it comes to getting media attention for our clients, Axia Public Relations is among the best in the business. That’s why we specialize in media relations. Whether you want to join the ranks of Undercover Boss or do more of a private experiment, we can help you.
Where does Undercover Boss need to go next?
Bosses: If you're a high-level executive, you meet the criteria outlined above and you want to go undercover, sign up for an initial consultation today to turn your TV dreams into reality with our PR firm.
Employees: If you are an employee, a loved one of an employee or a customer and you want to see a certain company on Undercover Boss:
– Jason Mudd, APR, is CEO of Axia Public Relations. He is an Emmy-Award-winning accredited public relations practitioner, speaker, author and entrepreneur. His public relations portfolio includes work for established national and emerging brands such as American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, Brightway Insurance, Florida Blue, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, It Works!, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Ray Charles, Southern Comfort, Verizon and more. Connect with Jason on Twitter at @jasonmudd9 and Axia Public Relations at @axiapr. Be sure to tweet and share your thoughts below. We’ll read and respond to each of them.