Enterprise: 'Boss' Ups Companies' Image, Clockwork Uses 'Apprentice' To Boost Appeal
Has CBS' "Undercover Boss" trumped the "Apprentice" as a venue for top brass to boost a company's image by appearing in episodes? Corporate branding experts may debate that one as they advise clients going forward.
The new "Boss" offers a risk-reward dynamic as a top executive takes on a disguise and learns about difficulties that front-line employees face. A company's warts and all can be exposed. Still, the payoff can be significant.
When the "enlightened" boss takes off the mask, there are pledges to change policies and rewards are handed to employees, which can dial up the emotional quotient. Plus, participating companies such as Waste Management and 7-Eleven apparently don't pay a cent for the publicity.
It's hard to imagine Donald Trump giving something away for free. Again this season, companies are paying handsomely for integrations in episodes of NBC's "The Celebrity Apprentice," where none of their blemishes are revealed.
Quite the opposite, in fact -- as executives stand next to Trump as he doubles as ardent pitchman. Last month, with CMO Jeff Hayzlett by his side, Trump characteristically called Kodak "a great American company," while saying he is "very loyal" to it.
It's unclear whether Trump uses its digital cameras or he is just thankful Kodak agreed to make an appearance on the show for the third season in a row. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but Hayzlett and his team continue to believe an "Apprentice" integration -- estimated to cost $1 million this season -- delivers value.
"Undercover Boss" and "Celebrity Apprentice" have been running opposite one another on Sundays with the CBS series dominating. Now, another rivalry is emerging that has two companies wanting to wind up in the toilet.
Plumbing giant Roto-Rooter had COO Rick Arquilla getting down and dirty on the April 4 episode of "Boss." Next up, on May 2, the top executive at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing has a role on "Celebrity Apprentice."
CEO Jim Abrams stands next to Trump as the real-estate mogul touts Benjamin Franklin's punctuality promise. If workers show up late, the customer can earn money.
While Arquilla is seen cleaning sewers and drains, Abrams meets with celebrities as he plugs his company. The 62-year-old Abrams also discusses two other businesses he leads as CEO of Clockwork Home Services: One-Hour Air Conditioning & Heating and electrical contractors Mister Sparky.
From a marketing execution standpoint, the "Apprentice" appears to offer more control. Working with Mark Burnett Productions and Trump's team -- as well as NBC, which gets some of the integration fees -- a company can carefully weave a brand into an episode to convey an intended message.
This season's "Celebrity Apprentice" has received some interest with embattled former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich as one of the contestants. (Mostly, viewers find out he doesn't know how to use a computer). Ratings aren't spectacular.
But for a company like Clockwork, which has done no national advertising and has three somewhat unknown brands, the chance to reach almost 8 million viewers can provide some electricity. In addition to Kodak, Snapple and Lifelock are also on the show.
"In my world, with all the brands I represent, the end result still holds up," said Patti Ganguzza, head of an entertainment-marketing agency that placed a client in the show last year. "It creates tremendous excitement at retail."
Picking the "Apprentice" as the forum for Clockwork's national advertiser debut is somewhat surprising, considering it had a combined potential budget last year of $24 million. The company will also run a spot in the episode. The funds came largely from mandated franchisee contributions, but CEO Abrams elected to allow the individual businesses to use the money in their markets instead.
Clockwork's "Apprentice" gamble will also mark a watershed for the show that burst on the scene in 2004. It's the first time a home service business appears and a company attempts to promote three different brands. >
"It's a different kind of company than we've worked with in the past," said Eden Gaha, an executive producer.
Episodes work like clockwork to a degree. Trump praises a company, then executives present a task for the contestants while sliding in a sales pitch. Clockwork's Abrams and CMO John Young asked each team to produce radio spots, one each for its three brands.
Later, the executives meet with both teams to provide in-depth details about their brands. Celebrities ask questions, giving additional opportunities for selling points. When the task is done, executives huddle with Trump to offer their opinions before he heads to the boardroom to fire someone. Since the episode has not aired, Abrams was restrained in what he could say.
While he determined last year that marketing dollars would be better spent on local campaigns, he said a two-hour presence on the "Apprentice" offered a worthwhile opportunity to stretch a message in 2010.
Companies in Clockwork's businesses often attract customers through the Yellow Pages, Internet searches or word-of-mouth. Successful branding has been elusive, although Roto-Rooter executives might disagree.
All three of Clockwork's main brands use a "Time is Money" positioning. If Benjamin Franklin shows up late for an appointment, it pays customers for each minute it is tardy. Mister Sparky will fix the problem gratis.
While on-time service might be easily conveyed in a conventional ad, other Clockwork strengths, such as mandating that employees pass both drug tests and criminal background checks, and undergo extensive training, can be tougher.
"That's a difficult message to get across in 30 seconds," Abrams said.
After having watched a "Celebrity Apprentice" episode last year, Abrams came into a management meeting and suggested Clockwork get on the show. The company has no high-profile media-buying agency. But through an employee's contacts with a local film festival, it found its way to entertainment-marketing agency Ostrow Alliances in New York, which spearheaded the deal.
Abrams is a business veteran -- he took air-conditioning company Service Experts public in the 1990s -- but a show-business novice. He has made no appearances in any of his companies' ads as a bombastic, the-buck-stops-with-me front man.
Like many companies, Clockwork looked to capitalize on its "Apprentice" appearance off the air. Last fall, Trump appeared in a well-received video at a franchisee meeting. And after its episode, it will run a major contest.
In the weeks following the show, Clockwork will look for increases in call volume and Web hits to determine whether its money was well spent. But there is at least one early indication that may be the case: After the show's taping, two celebrities called requesting services.