City & Corporate: TV models not for the faint hearted

The chief executive of the Financial Services Authority John Tiner once said to me he would believe his organisation was getting somewhere in consumer education when a financial issue became a storyline in The Archers or Coronation Street.

By this yardstick the regulator might approve of the trend for reality TV shows based on business, the latest among them being Dragons' Den, on which entrepreneurs pitched ideas to secure investment.

But reality shows have little to do with reality and everything to do with entertainment. In PR terms, will the result be a general improvement in the image of business or a greater understanding? I doubt it. Having said that, this is the first consumer-oriented TV coverage of business since the collapse of the dotcom boom and if people are entertained, there is at least a chance that some of the messages will rub off.

It must help too that Sir Alan Sugar, around whom the latest series The Apprentice is built, is nothing if not entertaining. I used him as a columnist some years ago and his insights were often brilliant and always brutal.

He wrote the way he spoke - but getting copy past the lawyers and into the paper was a nightmare.

Sugar is interesting in other ways. He threatened to sue investment analysts over their reports on his company. He clashed with the Stock Exchange when he tried to take his company private. He has strong views and does not compromise. Roll all this into a programme and the only thing demonstrated in PR terms is that entrepreneurship is not for the faint hearted.

That, though, is the nub of the issue. Sugar's life and motivation are quite different from the mainstream corporate executive. Anyone joining Unilever having been inspired by Sugar's role model on TV is destined for disappointment.

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