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October 9, 2010
The Marriage of Reality TV and PR and The Race to the Bottom
 

I am not a fan of reality programming, and if it were up to me, I would live the rest of my life without ever watching a single hour of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," "Jersey Shore," or "The Real World." However, that scenario would involve me being master of my domain, which I am not. The cable box is my girlfriend’s fiefdom, and as such, I am often left with no choice but to watch all those reality shows I abhor. Because of this, I recently watched an episode of "The Spin Crowd," a reality show set in the office of CommandPR, a PR/publicity agency in Los Angeles.

I want to try and be objective in order to get to the crux of this article, so let me get this out of my system before I go any further: I am not sure there is a more vapid group of individuals on television. Their behavior is so bad that this show could be used as an al-Qaida recruitment video. If that is PR, I am an Edelman’s uncle.

But enough of that, you don’t visit Talent Zoo for TV reviews. Watching this show, I began to think about the marriage of reality television show and PR. The conclusion I came to is that any agency that brings cameras into its office is doing a disservice to itself and, more importantly, its clients. This is probably especially true for a PR agency. The result of a perfectly executed PR campaign is the absence of a PR agency’s fingerprints. The whole thing should seem as if it organically appeared. If I am a consumer and I read an article about a product or corporation, my knowledge of the source of that information -- a PR agency -- destroys any credibility that article may have had.

You might be thinking, given that "The Spin Crowd" is set in Hollywood, airs on the E! network, and is brought to us by the same people behind "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," I’m using a ludicrous singularity as a basis for this article. If so, you are wrong. Just last week, Adrants posted a call from a production company to ad agencies for participation in a reality show. Though this project is only in the exploratory phase, I’m willing to bet good money that the production company has had a great number of bites from agencies hoping to bolster their name recognition.

If you work or have worked at any type of agency, chances are that you are familiar with the e-mail alert reminding you that clients will be in the office. When a client is coming in, the creatives are forced to put away the bongs and account folks have to try and appear less suicidal. In short, everyone is to be on their best behavior. Never, ever is the client to see the man behind the curtain. An agency would have to do some hard-core editing to put together a 30-minute program that doesn’t bring down the façade that the inmates aren’t running the asylum.

Also, it is no big deal when those of us inside the industry talk about the great work others are doing. For example, I could say to a colleague, “Such-and-such agency really scored with that Acme campaign.” A possible side effect of an advertising reality show would be that consumers start to think and talk like us. If I’m Old Spice, I want the attention on the brand, not Wieden+Kennedy.

As much as I am a proponent of the notion that reality programming is contributing to the downfall of our society, I know that is a bunch of hyperbole. However, I can say without exaggeration that reality television could be the downfall of an ad agency too eager to get its name recognized.


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Justin Celko is a digital communications professional based in Chicago, IL. Follow him on Twitter.

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