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A Man of the Cloth in a Roundtable Discussion

August 13, 2008

There’s a company in St. Louis called Peters Marketing Research that conducts surveys and roundtable discussions with consumers about various products. I participated in such a discussion a few years ago about my condo building, and I enjoyed the experience. It was fun, casual, and we got paid.

Recently I got an e-mail from Peters asking about my television viewing habits. I selected the shows I watched on the online form and submitted it, and I heard back from them a few days later. Apparently I watch a lot of shows on NBC, which was their client for this survey, so they asked me if I’d come by this Wednesday for a two-hour roundtable discussion. They said they’d pay me $100 for my time, and I gladly agreed.

So at 5:00 today, I was ushered into a conference room with nine other participants. A Peters employee led the discussion, asking us to smile and wave at the two-way mirror and video camera. She then asked us to go around the table and say our name, our marital status, our occupation, and our favorite TV show (one that’s currently airing on a major network). When she got to me, I said, “Hey, I’m Jamey, I live with my girlfriend, I work for a church at Wash U, and my favorite TV show is The Office (there are better shows on TV, but it’s the only one that I watch twice the same week).

After the introductions were finished, the lady told us we would be viewing a pilot to a show that NBC is thinking about putting on the air and then talking about it. The show started playing. It was called Kings. It was laden with religious overtones, and it had something to do with a recent future in which a rebel faction in America had split off after a war to start the Republic of Gilboa in Shiloh. It seemed decent—I wasn’t a huge fan of some of the actors and directional choices, but the film stock was clear and the effects seamless.

I wish I could say more about it, but about 5 minutes into the show, a woman opened the door to the room and asked me to step outside. No one else had been asked to do this. She told me to take a seat, and she walked into another room. I sat outside for a minute or two, trying to figure out if I had done something wrong or if they were going to ask me a question about whether or not I liked the show so far, but instead the woman returned and said that their client had called and decided they only wanted nine survey participants, not ten. So she handed me my check and said I could go home.

At first I thought this was awesome. I was missing out on a decent show (and you all know how I love sneak previews), but $100 for 15 minutes of work? That’s incredible.

On the car ride home, it hit me: They didn’t ask me to leave because they had too many participants. They could have easily figured that out before the survey started, and they wouldn’t have had to pay me. It had to do with the show itself. I was the only person in the room who worked for a church, and I bet there was some conflict of interest regarding the religious nature of the show we were sampling. Of course, they knew about my employment before I came to their office, but perhaps they weren’t aware of what the show was in advance.

At least, that’s my best guess. I’m not offended or anything…moreso just a little surprised. Say my theory is correct and that I was asked to leave because I work for a church and the show had to do with religion. Even though I’m quite liberal, they could assume that I’m a conservative zealot or something. But even though, why wouldn’t they want my opinion about the show? There are a lot of religious people out there who watch TV—wouldn’t they want their opinions?

Regardless, I’d do another survey for Peters. They treated us well, they paid what they promised, and there was a sign on the door about a candy sampling survey. I gotta get in on that. I love candy.

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