When Andrew Withers, the managing director of Southern Fried Chicken, agreed to appear on The Undercover Boss, I bet he had no idea just how much he would discover about his own business.
Watching the programme, it was clear that his own expectations and standards were light years away from those of the franchisees’ sites that he visited.
But perhaps a bigger issue for him is that of negative publicity for his brand. For what makes good TV is sensationalism, so the cameras and editing focus on all the problems and fun scenes.
This makes it good watching, but it can’t be great advertising for the brand. The problems with hygiene (if you saw the show, you’ll know about the uncooked, open chickens left in a basket on the floor of one run-down branch) are not going to do much to attract new business.
But shown publicly on a show like this could damage the long-term health of the brand. The Daily Mirror was delighted to announce today in a headline that “Multi millionaire fried chicken boss calls his food sh*t”.
The press is not interested in reality (especially the gutter press); they just want to sell papers and have their headlines quoted everywhere.
The truth was that he did a “secret shopper” visit to one branch and the cameras didn’t follow him in. When he returned to his car, before testing the food he expressed grave concerns about the way the branch was being run and the service.
Sadly, they just showed him eating the chicken and being disgusted by it, then failed to come back to finish the story off with what he did about it.
That’s a great pity. It would have done his brand a huge amount of good if he had closed a branch down for simply being too poor for words.
Instead, it finished with the same kind of story that every episode of The Undercover Boss seems to do: light reprimands, thanks for the insights the staff gave him, a showing of generous support to help them make changes and the seemingly obligatory free holiday for a poor member of staff (although this time at least it was clearly appropriate).
Channel 4 have to be commended for their investment in business programming -they really are leaders in this niche and long may they continue.
But as media specialists they should also help the owners of these businesses to understand how to manage their branding through the process. Warts and all is great TV, but for providing great content for the show, I hope the owners are given a little more than the chance to be light entertainment or shock value.