What it takes to get on Undercover Boss with Jason Mudd | On Top of PR podcastBy On Top of PR
September 9, 2020
Jason helps companies get their bosses on Undercover Boss. Learn what it takes to get your company on Undercover Boss and why your company should consider it. Jason is the managing partner of Axia Public Relations.
Jason Mudd, APR is a trusted adviser and dynamic strategist for some of America’s most admired brands. Since 1994, he's worked with American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Southern Comfort, and Verizon. He founded Axia Public Relations in July 2002.
Learn how to get your company’s boss on Undercover Boss.
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Five things you’ll learn from this episode:
What are the producers of Undercover Boss looking for?
How can you get your company on Undercover Boss?
How does CBS select who to appear on Undercover Boss?
Why do I want my company on Undercover Boss?
What coaching process will my company need to follow?
“On-site employees have no idea they’re on Undercover Boss.” -@jasonmudd9
“Diversity is important to Undercover Boss.” -@jasonmudd9
“Undercover Boss opens the door to a whole new crowd of businesses to share the kind of publicity an appearance on the show might create.” -@jasonmudd9
“[Undercover Boss] is a unique chance for higher-ups to get truly candid feedback from the people on the frontlines of their company in a way they would never be able to get from being behind their desk.” -@jasonmudd9
If you enjoyed the episode, would you please leave us a review?
Presented by: ReviewMaxer, the platform for monitoring, improving, and promoting online customer reviews.
- Hi, it's Jason Mudd with Axia public relations, your host for "On Top of PR". We have a solocast today, which means it's just you and me and we're talking about "Undercover Boss". How to get your company and boss on "Undercover Boss". And we're gonna talk about how we help companies get on the show, bosses, we coach them through the process and once the episode is airing live and even before that, we help promote the episode through the power of PR both before, during and after it airs. So if this is something you're interested in, or you just wanna learn more about "Undercover Boss", this is gonna be a great episode for you.
- [Voiceover] Welcome to "On Top of PR", with Jason Mudd. Presented by ReviewMaxer.
- Welcome to another episode of "On Top of PR" I'm your host, Jason Mudd and I'm excited to talk to you today. We're doing a solocast and by solocast, I mean it's just me and you. We don't have a guest today and instead, I'm gonna talk to you about a topic that's on my mind or a topic I think that would be very interesting between just the two of us. So today we're talking about "Undercover Boss". So the good news is that "Undercover Boss" has been approved for another season and my contacts there are telling me that they're currently casting and recruiting for a boss to go undercover. We blogged about "Undercover Boss", a few times on our website, and it is the most popular blog posts that we have because so many people are interested in "Undercover Boss", both as being consumers, employees and bosses, as well as marketers who want to see their company participate in the show. So I'm gonna talk to you a little bit about "Undercover Boss" and we'll see where we go from there. So let's get started. So, first of all, as I mentioned, "Undercover Boss" just got renewed for a new season and I wanna kind of set the stage a little bit for you as to what happens. So let's talk about "Undercover Boss". So first of all, the first step to going on "Undercover Boss" is obviously having a willing boss, a boss who wants to be on the show. You have to have somebody volunteer to be undercover and I think that's a big misperception. We get a lot of calls at our PR agency from employees who wanna be a featured employee when the boss goes undercover. We also get inquiries from their loved ones who are concerned about the conditions that they're working in, or their loved one's work experience at the company. But what I have to make very clear is that CBS and the producers of "Undercover Boss" are not in any way looking to make a company look bad. They're looking to get a boss who is voluntarily saying, yes, I wanna go undercover. And then two, they're going on location to help that boss have an undercover experience and also create an entertaining experience for viewers. So there's no gotcha, there's no surprise, there's no suddenly a camera shows up at a retail store and the boss doesn't realize. So if you watch the show, you clearly get that the boss has agreed to go undercover and they're attempting to help the boss learn more about their company. So let's just talk about this for a minute. The first thing is the screening. So if you're a boss that's interested, you'll typically have a casting interview by the Vice President of Casting and Talent Relations, or maybe a director of casting and talent relations. There will also be a supervising casting producer likely on the screening call. And the first step is to make sure the company being considered is agreeable to the basic expectations and the minimum requirements that CBS has for the "Undercover Boss" format. So let's talk about these flexible requirements, because they are flexible but they're a pretty good finger on the pulse of what they're looking for and if you deviate too far from them, you're gonna get a no. So the company must have about a thousand employees, preferably more but less is still gonna be okay if other criteria are being met. They're also looking for the company to be earning 250 million in revenue or more. And of course more is preferred, just like more employees is preferred and more revenue, more locations, more prominence for the national audiences CBS's preferred but again, they're willing to make exceptions and be flexible as they're going through the process. Also the participating "Undercover Boss" must be a C level executive or near it. Basically, the higher ranking the boss is, the more preferred they have it, whether it's the founder, the chairman, the CEO, or the COO or something like that. But they'll consider an SVP or VP, as long as that person is high ranking and empowered enough to make decisions in the field and to influence and change company policy and procedure. The other thing that's important as far as the flexible requirements go is the filming and production process requires about eight to 10 days of the boss's time. And some bosses just can't afford to be out of the office that long. And by the way, it's not like an eight to 10 half a day. It is a long, eight to 10 days of filming and whatnot. So an eight hour day for those eight to 10 days is the minimum, I'll be honest with you. It's typically maybe a 10, 12, or even 14 hour day for the boss and that may or may not include the traveling to get to and from the cities where the show is being shot in that particular day. And so reality is, you could have a six or 7:00 AM call, which is the time that the shooting starts, or you need to be on the set or on location and then when you finish your shooting at the end of the day, which might be as late as mid-to-late afternoon and then you might be getting on a plane and flying to the next destination. So it's a long day. That's what all the bosses have reported back to me and what the producers tell us also. And at the end of the program, as you know, is the reward segment, which is the most popular part. And the feature company must give back again, under those flexible requirements, about $200,000 or more preferred in total rewards, up to as many as five employees. Now I've watched the show and knowing that information, I've done a little math to see what the value is at the end and not all bosses give that $200,000 but they would really like you to be agreeable to that being the minimum number when you go onto the show, when you opt into the show and I will tell you that their feedback and in my experiences, most of the time, the boss has comes to the table with that quarter million dollar budget or $200,000 and they end up spending even more because they're just emotionally wrapped up in the stories of the employees that they shadowed and experienced during that time. So keep in mind that that $200,000 is not the lowest end but you may feel inclined to give more and you may wanna budget more going in or budget for that number and know that there might be some flexibility. So that's kind of the first stage, is the screening where they really wanna reemphasize these criteria with you and make sure you meet them and that you understand the scenario. Stage two is what I'm gonna call showtime. And with showtime, after the initial casting phone call, if you're selected to move on, the casting producers and a camera crew, or camera person will fly to the "Undercover Boss" to be's office location and do a sizzle reel. And a sizzle reel is a short, kind of fast-paced video that serves as an introduction to the undercover boss. That is used for CBS executives to review and then is later used as part of the bio section of introducing the undercover boss on the actual episode where that boss might appear. So this requires, in order to get that sizzle reel, it requires an onsite interview for about 90 minutes. And then again, that sizzle reel is then edited down and submitted to CBS. And ultimately and this is important to know, CBS has the final decision on who is selected to be the boss. It's not "Undercover Boss", the show producers. It's truly CBS who sees kind of the candidates that are presented from the production company and then CBS gives a thumbs up or thumbs down from there. For the sizzle reel, the producers really like to put together a childhood and family photos of the undercover boss to tell his or her backstory. They value participants with a compelling backstory and will use photos to help tell that story. So you might see on an episode when they first introduced the boss, they show pictures of the grandparents and the parents and the boss growing up and who his or her, you know, family members were and maybe ideally, perhaps the struggle and odds that they had to overcome to be successful in business and in life. Those same photos, again, will be used in the introductory sequence for the undercover boss during the first scene of the show. Another frequent question people ask is, does it cost to participate? There is no fee to participate other than again, giving back that reward segment at the end of the show and the boss's time, and maybe some of his staff time and employee's time to be on camera but there's no required media buy. There's no sponsorship participation. You're not charging any 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. Now, of course, CBS sells its own advertising and some undercover companies opt to buy some advertising during the program to thank the viewers, to thank their employees, to thank CBS for the opportunity but that is absolutely voluntarily. It's certainly not required. It's not even suggested or recommended. You won't even hear from a sales rep who is trying to sell you that inventory. And that means that everything the company shells out over the course of "Undercover Boss" experience goes straight back into its own workforce because that money is just for the rewards segment. Now let's talk about the timeline. The production team spends one to three days with the executive at their home, in their office, with their family and capturing his or her life story. This also includes formulating the disguise and the undercover process for, you know, hair and makeup and the costume. You know, those days must be shot consecutively. Then the undercover boss must work five different jobs over five consecutive days. This may or may not include travel to and from the job sites but you can typically count on being in the field, working five different jobs, you know, one per day, typically over five consecutive days.
- [Voiceover] You are listening to "On Top of PR" with your host, Jason Mudd. Jason is a trusted advisor to some of America's most admired and fastest growing brands. He is the managing partner at Axia Public Relations, a PR agency that guides news, social and web strategies for national companies. And now, back to the show.
- Now let's talk about the location and the assignment. The job sites may include retail stores, offices, branches, warehouses. You've probably seen call centers, manufacturing plants, distribution centers and it might even be on a customer's or vendor's premises. So if you're a home services company and you're visiting people's homes to provide services to them, whether it's repairs or installations or service calls but if you're a B2B company, a business to business company, you may be calling on other companies or going to company events or a company's locations. So that's a really good background there. Let's talk for a minute about how does "Undercover Boss" select the companies to work with. This is where it starts to get a little bit proprietary to their formula but I will just tell you that, your company has a little bit of input, especially up front on where those locations might be but if you opt to not have a direction for that, they will just take a direction. And so it's often good to kind of think ahead of time of where you might wanna be and where you might not wanna go and then offer and recommend some of those locations to the producers. And so we can talk more about that but I will tell you the company's human resources department is often fully aware ahead of time of which employees will be participating but that information is normally and should always be kept from the boss participants, just to keep that distance and keep the integrity of the show. But human resources is gonna know where you're going, so obviously they can alert the local location that it's happening, that it's sanctioned and kind of set some guidelines for participating. But those onsite employees have no idea that it's "Undercover Boss" and that's the whole reason of the show, is for it to be a surprise for everybody, so it's an authentic experience and they have ways of kind of creating a ruse around that and it works out very well. So the other thing is, as I mentioned, CBS has full control. It's very clear 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 shadowing process. So I will also tell you that especially in the current environment but even for the last several years, diversity is important to "Undercover Boss". The producers like CEOs, executives, employees who represent diverse ethnicities, and companies from diverse industries. They're also looking obviously to, just to be very candid, to stay away from the stereotypical white male executive and to look towards younger executives, female executives, executives, with, you know, some ethnicity, maybe even executives who are not, you know, from the United States or are maybe a first generation American looking to get that coveted American Dream. 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 "Undercover Boss", you know, run, if you're a major brand and your domestic headquarters are outside, or your headquarters are outside the US, they may be willing to talk to you about that, as long as you're a household name but you know, somewhat unexpectedly, they are interested in financial services companies. Other business reality TV shows tend to stay away from financial services because they stereotypically believe that financial services companies are less interesting, more technical and less appealing to the viewers at home. You know, I have a different opinion about that. I enjoy financial services companies but, you know, they're just trying to keep it entertaining. It is about ratings and ratings drive advertising. And so it's important that it's relative and relevant to the audience at home and makes them want to watch. Obviously, "Undercover Boss" opens the door to a whole new crowd of businesses to share in the kind of publicity and appearance on the show might create. And speaking of, let's talk about why you would probably want to do "Undercover Boss". To be candid, many companies initially get involved in "Undercover Boss" because they see it as an amazing branding opportunity and the widespread visibility that comes with being televised nationally during prime time on a major television network. And you don't have to pay for that exposure except for what the bosses pay out at the end of the show in rewards to the employees, which is gonna be much less money than what CBS charges for say, two 30 second spots during the show. So if you think about that for a minute in terms of visibility and bang for your buck, it is significant that you would get maybe eight million viewers watching your 40 minute, 42, 45 minute TV show for the same cost or less of just having two two 30 second television spots during that show. So a lot of visibility, a lot of bang for your buck. But here's the thing. The other reason you wanna do "Undercover Boss" is because coming into it, you might be just saying what a fantastic opportunity to tell our story and the visibility and the platform will create for us. And while that's an exciting part about it, the companies really see and use this as an opportunity more as a way to gain insight into the company's operations and customer relations, not to mention employee relations. And so this is a unique change, or chance, excuse me, for higher ups to get truly candid and get complete, honest feedback from the people on the front lines in their company in a way they would never be able to get from being behind their desks. So it really is, when people go on "Undercover Boss", the number one reason they wanna do it is for the visibility oftentimes but the happy accident is they become so aware and gain emotional intelligence about what's happening in the field. As the primary takeaway, they say, I got more out of it myself than I gave. And they also really sense a closer connection to the needs and environment in the workplace. But the third reason that people go on "Undercover Boss" and the one that the producers are really looking for you to express is, what are you looking to improve in your operations? What do you hope to learn from this experience by going on "Undercover Boss"? And so examples might be that we just rolled out a new point of sale system. We just rolled out a new policy that allows for X, Y, and Z. We have new security measures in place. We wanna make sure they're being followed. We have new safety procedures. We have a new delivery system, I wanna make sure it's working. So "Undercover Boss" producers really wanna hear what's changing at your organization that you're hoping to test and see live in the organization during your episode. Let's see and then ultimately, as I mentioned, why you'll say you're glad you did "Undercover Boss", according to the producers and my experience, the real outcome and true benefit of participating explained by past undercover Bosses is the ability to give back and make a difference in the lives of their employees, who are their most important asset and create a competitive advantage for the company. So let's talk about the reward segment one more time. The featured company must not only meet the eligibility requirements and be willing to give up of its time, it must also commit to this reward portion of the show. And it's in the ending of each episode where the undercover boss reveals himself or herself to the featured employees, the shadowed employees with whom, you know, she or he worked and offers them financial rewards to help them in their personal situations. As you know from watching the show, this might include a scholarship or promotion, a raise or a bonus. In some cases, the "Undercover Boss" has given a car, a house, assistance with medical bills or assistance with a loved one who has medical conditions. They've given away a vacation, a kid's college fund, a retirement fund but it's not just about budgeting the money for the reward. Often the undercover Boss's get deeply, emotionally involved and desire to give even more than they had originally planned. They connect with the employee on a whole new level and the employees in general and value the experience of doing things for those associates in need. And often you're finding untapped potential in the market where you can promote somebody or move somebody into a new role, award them a franchise, promote them to a manager. And the bosses just say, they end up just making friends with some really, good quality people within their organizations. So look, when it comes to getting media attention for our clients, Axia, I'd like to think we're among one of the best in the business. We try to focus on being a first class PR firm. And that's one of the reasons why we specialize in media relations. So if you're thinking you wanna join the ranks of "Undercover Boss", or perhaps even have us help you do it as more of a private experiment where it's not being televised, I think we can help you with that. And so we help companies get their bosses on the show. Unfortunately, we don't help, you know, employees get featured or shadowed on the show. If you have influence in your company and you wanna introduce your boss to this solocast, or you wanna talk to your boss about getting on the show, do that but keep it a closely held secret. Don't tell everybody that you're talking to the boss about it, encourage the boss to keep it quiet and talk about it amongst yourselves a little bit and then contact me. I'd be happy to give you a consultation on how it all works and see if I can give you more background information. There's a lot to think about. There's definitely pros, there's definitely cons but most people report back to me that they're so pleased they did it and they would do it again and actually have asked and requested that they could do it again. So that's a good overview about "Undercover Boss". I would say, if you have questions, leave them in the comments, let me know what questions you have. I'd be happy to answer them and talk to you about our recommendations and I'll record another episode, answering those questions for you as well. So thanks for watching today. I hope this was beneficial and helpful to you. And again, if you wanna explore "Undercover Boss", contact me. My email address is J-M-U-D-D at A-X-I-A-P-R .com. That's firstname.lastname@example.org. And just remember, keep it as private and confidential as possible, because the last thing you want is a lot of people knowing that the boss is considering "Undercover Boss", because that ruins the whole point of the show. It truly should be a surprise reveal to everybody. And the boss is only gonna get the absolute best feedback and experience if no one really knows who he is while he's going through that process. One more thing that I forgot to mention. I've had bosses tell me, there's no way I could go undercover. My employees will recognize me. I'm highly visible. I have a unique voice, a unique look, a unique accent, unique mannerisms. Truly, I will tell you, Hollywood knows what it's doing. They know how to do the best with makeup and hair, et cetera. As you've seen in the "Mission: Impossible" movies, they can probably even do a voice changer. But the reality is, I will give you anecdotal evidence that there was an episode where a father who was the boss was sitting across from the picnic bench with his son, who he was shadowing or who just happened to come over during the episode recording. The boss is staying undercover and the son didn't even realize it. Now we all know there's good actors and bad actors in life. And so some bosses are better at this than others but I think that you'll be okay with the bosses, with your boss not getting recognized. We'll talk through it a little bit. We'll let you ask as many questions as you want. We'll talk through the pros and cons but we've addressed all of these challenges before with our clients who had been on the show and I can tell you about their experience. I can tell you about their takeaways, what their concerns were going in and how they ended up not being relevant or how we address them for them. But I will tell you that not every company is gonna be picked. Not every company that meets the criteria is gonna be picked. They're looking for personality, they're looking for diversity and all the things I mentioned earlier and so just because you get picked to do a casting call doesn't mean you're gonna be a finalist but we can walk you through that process and prepare you as much as possible, so you have the best experience auditioning and you have the best experience going through the show, the recording and promoting your episode once it appears, as we've done for other companies. So thanks again for listening. If you have any requests or topics you wanna hear from us, please contact me through social media or email or Axia and request a topic you would like us to record another episode on. Again, thanks for watching. This has been "On Top of PR" with Jason Mudd. I'm your host, Jason Mudd from Axia Public Relations. Be well.
- [Voiceover] This has been "On Top of PR" with Jason Mudd, presented by ReviewMaxer.
Topics: Undercover Boss, On Top of PR, solocast
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