HR & Management

What reality TV has really done for entrepreneurship

10 min read

26 October 2017

It’s impossible to hide from reality TV these days, especially in the world of business. But what relevance and value does it have in today’s economy?

Established back in 2005, The Apprentice has impressive longevity under its belt. But with the new season under way many are questioning what impact reality TV has on young Brits hoping to succeed into the world of entrepreneurship.

Given The Apprentice has made it to a 13th season, there’s evidence of the public’s engagement with the business community. But has reality TV done much for entrepreneurship? It’s been a subject of much debate, spanning the likes of Dragons’ Den and Gordon Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen.

While the two shows couldn’t be more different, they both proved potentially transformative and generative of entrepreneurial ideology – especially among those of young ages. It’s a concept conjured up by Janine Swail of Nottingham University, not to mention Simon Down and Teemu Kautonen from Anglia Ruskin.

When viewers value what they watch, each became more receptive to its content, the academics claimed. Think of it as “learning by osmosis”, whereby even reality TV can impart on people a sense of expectation – whether something would be easy or hard to accomplish.

“They perceive that when they view Dragons’ Den, for example, they are learning something of value, even though they don’t know what,” Down explained. “Through their ‘reality’ format, such programmes essentially become etiquette guides, about how to be and behave in particular social and even corporate contexts.”

Keeping Up With The Kardashians, one may argue, is too extreme an example. Not for Forbes’ Jenna Goudreau, who pointed out that the celebrity “leveraged her television success into entrepreneurial gold”. No one can argue that she is business-minded, and it’s the concept of seeing her transformation to brand powerhouse that Goudreau believes leaves an impression.

Another entrepreneur praising the results of reality TV is Danny Curran, founder of Finders International, the company featured on BBC’s Heir Hunters.

Now in its 11th season, Curran believes it has brought transparency to formerly secretive industries: “The result? Public trust. In our case, the success of the programme has provided good exposure for our brand – but, more importantly, an understanding about our intricate and sensitive industry.

“Certain industries can seem secretive and sometimes beyond the understanding of the wider public which is exactly why reality TV chooses to focus on them, and because of their intriguing nature.”

A point Goudreau also makes is that the trend of appearing on reality TV has shaped views around what it takes to be an entrepreneur. After all, we appear on shows like The Apprentice or Hell’s Kitchen because we believe it will cement our success – that it will bolster our profile or lead to investment help from the likes of Lord Sugar or the Dragons.

That was the case for fashion designer Christian Siriano, another example of Goudreau’s. Having won Project Runway in 2008, “he realised how marketable his name had become”.

Made in Chelsea star Jamie Laing went on to create sweet enterprise Candy Kittens and the vast majority of The Only Way is Essex ensemble have businesses of their own. Those glued to the screen are in part viewing the world of business at its grittiest and best.

Just keep in mind that it’s entertainment and work wrapped in one, entrepreneurs say on the next page

Winner of The Apprentice in 2015, Joseph Valente, founder of ImpraGas, is perhaps the best case study. He entered in the hopes of gaining valuable advice, but has also been at the viewing end of the show. He told Real Business: “Reality TV highlighted for me what business entrepreneurship is all about.

“It’s helped to make it exciting, fun, sexy and attractive but it also shows the gritty, raw, hardworking dark side of business. Showing that it’s not all plain sailing and instant success like social media is guilty of portraying these days.

“The Apprentice changed my life first hand teaching me business lessons in every sector and winning the show has helped me to build a multi-million pound organisation. I’m not saying the show can do that for everyone, because there can be only one winner, but the point is that these shows inspire and that is what it’s about.”

Indeed, it seems to be working wonders in attracting people to the concept of creating a business. Chris Phillips, CEO and co-founder of investment company Just Develop It, echoed the sentiment, noting that reality TV can keep you up to date with current trends and emerging ideas.

Phillips added: “I know from starting up my first business at just 16 how tough it can be to get people to listen to you, especially if you don’t yet have a proven track record in business. These shows can normalise the process for budding entrepreneurs considering a business venture, showcasing the steps you need to go through for investment and providing key learnings from the cut-throat feedback of the panel on the likes of Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice.”

A combination of the two programmes, alongside X Factor, led to Phillips’ creation of the ENTERPRiZE Award, which endeavours to encourage young talent to present ideas to the team across three different stages. The winner, in true reality TV style, will receive £35,000 in equity-free seed funding.

Be that as it may, the corporate word hasn’t always held reality TV in high regard, least of all for its portrayal of management. Gordon Ramsey’s aggressive attitude and the Dragons picking apart the tightest of business plans are there to fuel the drama that comes hand-in-hand with an entertainment programme.

“Although teamwork is encouraged, such programmes focus on any tension or drama as those who fail usually turn on each other as they try to shift the blame,” said Bev James, CEO of the Coaching Academy. “This behaviour continues in the boardroom and is no doubt encouraged by the show’s producers who require this infighting for viewing figures, as without the required drama shows like The Apprentice would be of little entertainment value.

“This might make interesting viewing but it does not present business in the best light or provide businesses with a positive role model to follow. The Apprentice would have people believe success is about getting one over on your peers, and selling at all costs. Any team work is usually undermined in the boardroom when contestants are invited to backstab to stay in the game. It’s an unhealthy portrayal of the collaborative and happy environments many businesses have worked hard to create.”

A fictional stereotype has the corporate world on its shoulders, impacting on what young Brits believe are the necessities for doing their job and transforming plan to business. The ease of which some find finance has left a false impression on many, entrepreneurs claim.

Either way, as former business secretary and current Liberal Democrats leader Vince Cable once claimed, TV shows are made for entertainment. While they do give an indication of what life in the fast lane could be like, it should be no means impact on the decision of whether or not to become entrepreneur.

“If young people can’t realise they are watching a televised caricature of entrepreneurship,” Frances Dickens, co-founder of Astus Group told the Guardian, “then we have a problem. The thing is, entrepreneurs matter. They see opportunities no one else has, and use them to radically improve business performance or serve unsatisfied demand. They provide income and create new jobs for the economy, and are a crucial source of business innovation.”

And if reality TV does foster the embers for entrepreneurship, as long it isn’t viewed as a full run of a working day, then surely it’s doing some good.