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Mike Masterson and the Isotech team want to educate the public

Here’s a fact few members of the general public know: At any given time during the day, you’re never more than 15 feet from some type of insect.

When confronted with that fact, many people freak out and don’t know what to do — that is, until now. Thanks to the power of television and the exceptional reputation of Discovery Channel for educational programming, ordinary people are learning about the world of pest management. Their lesson: “Maybe I should call a professional.” That’s one of the main goals of Verminators, a reality show that chronicles the everyday activities of pest management professionals (PMPs) Mike Masterson and Kevin Alden, owners of Isotech Pest Management in Covina, Calif.

“I’ve been telling my wife for years they should have a TV show about what we do,” Masterson jokes.

Now they do. Verminators, which airs new episodes every Monday night on Discovery Channel, is taking the television world by storm. It’s the latest water-cooler show that has people talking — talking about pest management.

“The first episode was off the charts,” Masterson says. “The second episode, Discovery Channel was worried what would happen, but it turned out we held our audience.”

But, Masterson says, the third episode is when they really started breaking away. The network purposely scheduled Verminators to air after the popular show Dirty Jobs to pull some of the other show’s audience.

“By the third episode, we started pulling away from Dirty Jobs with our own audience,” Masterson says. “Every time an episode airs, we get 100 to 200 calls. The network loves this show.

“We have the biggest audience they’ve ever had for that time slot. We’ve almost got a cult-like following now.”

HOW IT ALL STARTED

Masterson started in this industry working a part-time gig with Orkin that turned into a full-time job. During that time, he made it his goal to learn everything he could about pest management.

“I realized I must find a way to make an impact in this industry, and I knew it started with knowledge,” Masterson says. “I listened to the top people who’ve been in this industry a while, learned little secrets about the industry, and then tried to make it better.”

After 18 years at Orkin, Masterson invented the Termiscope, a subterranean early warning system for termites.

“That’s what got me to leave Orkin after 18 years. I brought it to market in 2002 and pursued selling that and looking for other opportunities,” Masterson says. “I became an entrepreneur and learned how to deal with being out on my own.”

Soon after that, long-time friend Kevin Alden approached Masterson about opening up their own pest management company.

“Mike and I really set out to change the culture not only within the industry, but specifically within the industry’s technicians — to teach them they’re not just technicians or applicators, they’re diagnosticians,” Alden says. “Our technicians diagnose problems. Our customers depend on us to protect their businesses and their reputations. We’re not just there to make a buck.”

The concept for Verminators was already in the works by Discovery Channel, and the network began interviewing different companies by having them come out and perform services. Isotech won the job with its exceptional customer service.

In order to do the show right, Isotech teamed up with production company Original Productions — producers of The Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers.

“Being portrayed as the old-fashioned exterminator and having the industry portrayed in a negative light was our main worry,” Masterson says. “We were actually approached by four different production companies, and Kevin and I looked at it and submitted everything to our lawyers to find out who was for real and who was a joke.

“Our lawyers came back and told us that Original Productions was the real deal — they’re the leaders in reality TV.”

GOOD FOR THE INDUSTRY

Although Isotech only serves Southern California, the show airs nationally, opening up the potential for every PMP in the country to benefit from it.

As Masterson points out, viewers are going to look for someone in their area to solve a problem they’re having — one they might not have known they needed help with until they watched the show and realized it may be bigger than they thought.

“And that’s really the goal of the show,” Masterson says. “We’re not a national pest management company, but we can help everybody benefit from doing this show. I’ve given probably 150 good leads away to PMPs in other states.”

Of course, Masterson doesn’t just hand out these referrals to just any random PMPs. When he gets calls from outside his service area, he wants to make sure the industry is viewed in a positive light. He does his due-diligence before referring the leads he gets. Like anyone, Masterson prefers to deal with people he knows.

“I like to know it’s going to someone who I know will take care of the problem,” Masterson says. “Also, I’ll check into who seems pretty reputable and who understands what’s really going on in the industry, and I’ll call them up and get to know them.”

What makes this show so good for the industry is the timing and the way it’s done.

The show’s producer, Joe Boyle, says that when his production company, Original Productions, teamed up with Isotech, they realized there was something special about the company and the world in which its technicians lived.

“Bringing their story to the public has been amazing,” Boyle says. “There’s a lot more to it than just killing bugs and rats. There’s the science behind what’s going on and the psychology of pests.

“It’s not like they just set a bunch of traps and hope the rats come and gets the cheese, which is what the average person believes.”

Trap placement, bait placement, the combination of what type of treatment to use — there’s a lot that goes into this profession that PMPs take for granted, but the average person knows nothing about.

“We had no idea how much thought and process goes into the keeping the line between pests and humans solid,” Boyle says.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Because this is a television show for a mass audience and not a training film for PMPs, a lot of what the Isotech team does goes unseen.

Both Masterson and Alden knew there was going to have to be a “Yuck” factor to the show because that’s what people want to see. They also wanted to make sure the show educated consumers. They want people to watch an episode and think, “Maybe this problem I’m having is a little bit bigger than I think it is. I’d better hire a professional to get in here.”

“That’s what Discovery Channel is all about: education,” Alden says. “We have stuff that is really cool, but they don’t air it because it isn’t in the best interest of the channel.

“Their idea is: ‘Let’s really educate people’ — that’s what it’s all about. Something we might think is pretty simple, educates people.”

If anything, Alden and Masterson wish the show could air more extensive footage than it does. For example, one thing Isotech prides itself on as a company is that after a job, they do an immaculate job of cleaning up. On the show, it looks likes once the pest is taken care of, the technicians simply walk away and say, “Job done.” What most people may not realize is, because of time constraints, each episode you might only see four minutes of a five-hour service.

“We shoot hundreds of hours of footage for each episode,” Boyle says. “Entire stories sometimes don’t make it.

“It’s television, so we have to air stuff that’s going to keep the viewers coming back, and we just don’t have time to air every single moment of every single proper procedure,” Boyle says. “What we try to do is answer the overall truth of what their job is instead of hitting every single detail.”

The crack-and-crevice treatment Isotech does never makes the final cut because it’s not exciting. When the company baits for rodents, people will yawn and flip the channel.

“People want to see action,” Masterson says. “Discovery Channel wants to bring the viewer in — no one wants to see a dab here and a dab there.

“To us in the industry, yeah, that’s fascinating. But to the consumer, they want action. To get that, you have to have applied a chemical treatment.”

There’s nothing wrong with a chemical treatment, but that’s not all Isotech does. The show is designed to be entertaining and let people know that they should let a professional handle their pest problems.

“The camera helps us focus on what we’re doing,” Masterson says. “When we’re out on a call, even though the film crew is there, we can’t forget why we’re truly there.

“It’s all reality, that’s for sure. Nothing is set up. But you have to remember you’re only seeing four to five minutes of a five hour — or sometimes two-week — treatment.”

THAT’S A WRAP

Isotech gets calls from across the U.S., and from overseas because of the popularity of the show, from people watching and wanting to know if the company can help with their pest problems.

“Too often, you show up at a person’s home or business, and they tell you that they know they have a rat — ‘but it’s only one rat’ — and they want you to get rid of it,” Masterson says. “But then you start opening up drawers, pulling back the stove, pulling back the refrigerator, getting up in the attic, going into the crawlspace and the next thing you know, you have to tell them that it was nice to think they only had one rat, but really there’s like 10 rats here.

“That’s what the show is about — to let people know this isn’t their field of expertise,” Masterson says. “We’re trying to make this show for the people at home.

“It’s not so much for people in the industry to say, ‘Oh, this is a technical training video.’ That’s not what it’s about.”

Masterson and Alden say what they hope the show will do is change the traditional images of PMPs. After all, look at how PMPs have been portrayed in the past: like they have no clue what they’re doing, spray everywhere and are simply a bunch of guys who will be your exterminator, plumber, gardener or whatever.

“That’s not what this new generation of PMPs is all about,” Masterson says. “We’re trying to take pest management to a place where people are proud to be in the industry again.”

Of all the calls coming in from fans of the show, Masterson is most impressed by the number of kids who are showing an interest in the industry.

“Kids love the show, and they want to grow up to be entomologists,” Masterson says. “Kids are starting to realize that they’re more to it than what they probably thought. That’s where I think they balance between the yuck factor and the education really shines through.”

Boyle sums it up best: “The thing that I’ve learned over the course of the show, I think like anybody, is that you don’t realize how rich and deep any world that you’re not familiar with is until you get an insider’s viewpoint.”

It’s that insider’s viewpoint of pest management that Verminators brings to the general public. The more the general public knows about pest management, the more likely they are to call a PMP when they have a problem — and that is good for this industry.

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