Meet a Product-Placement Pioneer

P&G Man Learns Perils of 'Letting Go of Control' After 'Apprentice' Appearance

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You don't know Surya Yalamanchili, brand manager-emerging media technologies at Procter & Gamble Co.? You should; he's perhaps the first human product placement in "The Apprentice."
Brand Surya: Yalamanchili says he didn't quite recognize his character on 'The Apprentice'
Brand Surya: Yalamanchili says he didn't quite recognize his character on 'The Apprentice' Credit: Michael Haaseth

Recently fired by Donald Trump, the would-be real-estate mogul still has a job at P&G. Actually, he's 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 was so happy to return, he felt like hugging his co-workers.

Ad Age: You've been integrated into a TV show; how does that make you feel about product or brand integration?

Surya Yalamanchili: I have a new appreciation for the challenge and fear that some product manufacturers ... 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.

AA: How did you get on the show?

Mr. Yalamanchili: 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.

AA: Was it what you expected?

Mr. Yalamanchili: 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.

AA: You came in for some criticism on the show. What did you think about that?

Mr. Yalamanchili: 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.

AA: How accurate was the way you came across on TV?

Mr. Yalamanchili: 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.

AA: The segment where there was a lot of marketing jargon -- that was in the course of a three-hour conversation?

Mr. Yalamanchili: 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?" ... 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.

AA: How do you think the experience has affected your career?

Mr. Yalamanchili: 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.

AA: What do you like to watch on TV?

Mr. Yalamanchili: I am not a huge reality fan. So I think that may have shown in my [naivete] in going into the process. One of my favorite shows is "Lost." I watch "House." Just a few dramas.

AA: You've got a blog []. Not a lot of Procter folks do. Why do you?

Mr. Yalamanchili: 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."

AA: And your blog is first up on Google for the term "Surya Yalamanchili."

Mr. 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.
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