P&G Brand Manager Pioneers 'Human Product Placement' on 'The Apprentice'

Surya Yalamanchili on the Perils of 'Letting Go of Control'

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Who: Surya Yalamanchili, brand manager-emerging media technologies, Procter & Gamble Co.
Surya Yalamanchili has a 'new appreciation for the challenge and fear that some product manufacturers, like a P&G or whoever, have in putting their product or brand on a TV show.'

Why you need to know him: Recently fired by Donald Trump, the would-be "Apprentice" still has a job at P&G. Actually, he has been back for eight months (production cycles and all). Now, released from the contractual shackles of Mark Burnett Productions, the brand called Surya is free to say his placement wasn't quite what he envisioned. Mr. Yalamanchili came across as a jargon-spouting know-it-all riding on the hard work of his teammates, who eagerly detailed his flaws. Things were never so nasty at P&G. Mr. Yalamanchili says he was so happy to return, he felt like hugging his co-workers.

Having been integrated into a TV show, how do you feel about product or brand integration? "Now I have a new appreciation for the challenge and fear that some product manufacturers, like a P&G or whoever, have in putting their product or brand on a TV show, because you're letting go of control. ... Brand Surya, I had to let go of. Thankfully, some of the components they kept in were my professionalism, that I take things seriously, and I didn't gossip about my teammates behind their backs. But there were a lot of elements that clearly, though it was done in humor and entertainment, I'm not happy about."

How did you get on the show? "Two and a half years ago now, right after 'Apprentice' season one, they did a casting call in Cincinnati. ... One of my colleagues said, 'Hey, that would be fun.' I didn't make the show ... but I kept in contact with some of the people from the show. I tried for each season, and then finally it worked."

Was it what you expected? "It was definitely once-in-a-lifetime. How often do you get to talk to Donald Trump, sit on the same side of the boardroom as Donald Trump? I met Snoop Dogg. There were a lot of really cool experiences. The flip side of that is there's some editing. You take the good with the bad."

You came in for some criticism on the show. What did you think about that? "That was probably the hardest part to deal with, because it was usually people talking directly into the camera, so they're usually not saying things to my face. That's not the culture of Procter or any of the companies I'd worked at before."

How accurate was the way you came across on TV? "They create characters on that show. ... The character they created for me, one part of it was that I was very serious and focused, especially in contrast to my teammates. And I don't think that was especially false. And yet they took it to an extreme."

That one segment where there was a lot of marketing jargon, that was over a three-hour conversation? "Exactly. I wish I hadn't even used the jargon. ... One of the contestants said, 'Surya, you work in branding, can you talk to us about this?' So I said sure. And so I explained to them the concept and how it goes back to the task. And what they show is none of the explanation, but just the words. So it seems like I said 15 jargon-filled words in a row. That's a little frustrating."

How do you think the experience has affected your career? "Overall, I think it has to be a positive for me. ... I try to comport myself with integrity, and I think that came through. More than a million people have applied through the six seasons of the 'Apprentice,' and they've chosen something like 100 of us. So that's pretty selective."

You've got a blog [Suryasays.com]. Not a lot of Procter folks do. Why do you? "I had a blog in college. Going on the show was the impetus for starting it up again. ... Even if from the show you might think I'm an idiot, you might come across my blog and say, 'Hey, he's a normal guy.'"

And your blog is first up on Google for the term "Surya Yalamanchili." "One of the things I did work on as part of my marketing campaign [for the blog] was search-engine optimization. I've overcome a lot of the riffraff to keep it up there."

Who should win "Apprentice: Los Angeles"? "Any of the young ladies on Team Kinetic. That was the team I started out on. I feel like they have a lot of integrity. ... It's a game show. But really, ostensibly, it's a job interview. I don't think you can hire somebody you don't think you can trust all the way."

But if you hire an assistant brand manager, you won't put them through an "Apprentice"-style project? "No, I certainly would never do that to anybody, ever."
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