Tag Archives: The Apprentice

Backing the Wrong Horse

Even a scholarship to Sandhurst can’t save you when you back the wrong horse.

The show sales task on the Apprentice always comes down to product choice, and there are two distinct strategies. Either you play it fairly safe and go for two products that you think will sell, maybe going for one low price and one mid price, or alternatively you take one of your two product choices and take a major gamble on a high ticket item and hope it will sell. Last year it was wedding dresses and the gamble paid off, this time Debra and Ben bet the task on high ticket rocking horses, and spectacularly lost the bet.

The problem was that they had almost decided on their choice before they saw the product, indeed the two of them are shown saying as much in the car on the way to the meeting. As you can see here, Debra left team leader James little choice, and makes it really clear which product she wanted:

Coupled with James choice of another fairly specialist item – a birthing pool, Empire ended up taking a massive gamble.

Over on the other team, the products chosen were the pushchair and the head guard, the relatively high price pushchair being a harder sell, especially when Lorraine discovered another stall who was selling below the minimum price that the team had negotiated. However that pricing problem was counteracted by the relatively cheap impulse purchase on the head guard, which enabled Ignite to with the task.

But the choice wasn’t the only mistake. At the very end of the show, Debra had a potential sale, which stumbled on the fact that the team couldn’t agree to a discount. In the initial negotiation, both Debra and Ben were so besotted with the horses that they failed to negotiate, something Sir Alan picks up on and we see two of the boardroom liars get caught out again:

Probably the most entertaining part of the programme tonight was the boardroom – the response Sir Alan gives when Ben starts off on the scholarship to Sandhurst routine again is probably one of the best lines of the series, and you can see James, Debra and Margaret trying to keep a straight face afterwards. However, Sir Alan then follows it up with a line that probably should serve as a warning to any other Sandhurst people who try and impress him, when he mentions Paul from series three who tried to sell cheese from Makro to the French, and to cook a sausage on a baked-bean can. Of course the Sandhurst people will quite rightly say that these two are unrepresentative of the people they turn out, just as I’m sure lots of other places would try and disassociate themselves with some of the performances we see on the series.

When it came to the firing, we thought for an awful moment that James was going to go – certainly he looked close to tears at one point, but really it had to be between Debra and Ben. Looking back although Debra does have some real problems over her attitude, she does seem to have some modicum of ability. Ben has had a couple of successes, but repeatedly messed up whether it be steamrollering in poor ideas and ignoring specific instructions in task three, totally missing the point of the task in week six or totally failing to sell a thing in week seven. He was the youngest candidate, and boy did it show, a vastly inflated and hyped up ego, that wasn’t backed up with the talent.

So, finally the man who didn’t go to Sandhurst is show the door, although I’m sure many people would have been happy for Debra to be sent packing too, as she was more up for the gamble, and was the one that pushed James. But Ben it was, and he really wasn’t very happy…

Next week we have the treat of the annual TV shopping task – I wonder if they will be selling trampolines this time around? As always it looks like an opportunity for some spectacular car crash TV.

As we’re nearing the end, who might make it all the way? We’re going for a Kate against Yasmina final – looking at the others, Debra seems unable to reign in her attitude, Lorraine might be an outside choice but has an entrenched reputation for antagonising people to overturn. James has previously been described as the village idiot in the boardroom and is struggling to overturn his reputation as a joker with no real talent, and finally Howard seems very much to have been the quiet one who has kept under the radar but gets weeded out at the interview stage. Needless to say, I’m sure I’ll be proved wrong in a couple of weeks time – I always am…

Selling Margate

Sometimes Sir Alan fires people for the task, other times he goes for someone on his list of weak candidates. This week it was definitely a chance for him to get rid of a weak candidate – and he was faced with a choice of two letting the real guilty party off.

The task was to rebrand Margate, creating a poster campaign and leaflet, and then presenting the campaign firstly to industry experts, and then to the people of Margate.

Both teams split themselves with two putting the materials together back in London, and two on the ground in Margate gathering market research and taking the pictures for the campaign materials. To be honest it looked like Empire were doomed from the start. This was clearly a creative task, and Ignite had Yasmina and Kate, both of whom had done well in previous creative tasks – Empire appeared to be sorely lacking in creative talent. They had the double problem of having Debra who seemed to have decided that she was going to be in charge, and bulldozing her way through all opposition.

The teams went for clearly different angles. Ignite opted to sell Margate as a traditional family resort, highlighting activities for all the family, whereas Empire thought that repackaging the town as a LGTB was the way to go, with the notable exception of Mona who suggested a family theme similar to Ignite.

It’s fair to say that whilst the LGTB theme produced a number of cringe making moments – in particular Tanzanian born Mona totally mishandling a conversation with a pre-op male to female transsexual – neither idea was a turn off for the industry experts or the locals. Despite initial misgivings in conducting the market research Mona found that many locals were already aware of a small LGTB in the town.

Therefore it all came down to execution, and in team Empire, this was an ongoing battle as Howard repeatedly tried and failed to get Debra to produce what was needed. Sadly, much as happened last week, Debra bulldozed through his objections, producing posters that looked more like leaflets, and with a font choice that was appalling – not quite Comic Sans, but pretty close, and a whole look that Beth described as something her students might coble together rather than something for a professional marketing campaign. To cap it all off her time management went out of the window and she left too little time to finish the leaflet, resulting in large amounts of empty space, a mistake she further compounded by lying in the presentation and saying that it was a deliberate idea to include local business advertising – a ploy the industry experts saw through immediately.

Whilst there were issues with the Ignite campaign, it was streaks ahead of what Empire produced. The posters had a consistent design, and a clear message, the leaflet was finished, and the presentation was good. So it wasn’t a surprise at all when Ignite were declared the winner.

The boardroom call-back was clearly down to tactics. Had Debra brought back Howard, then the discussion would end up being about the disagreements over the posters and leaflets where she had continually and incorrectly overruled Howard. Instead she brought back Mona and James, both of whom are seen as weak candidates who have escaped the boardroom so far, even taking into account Mona coming out on top in the sales task last week.

I’m absolutely clear that on the basis of this task Debra was the main person to blame, she bulldozed all opposition and what was presented was her design, and it sucked, however she presented Sir Alan with Mona and James, one of whom has been pretty quiet over the weeks, and the other who was described by Sir Alan himself last week as a village idiot.

Here it was very much that Sir Alan was presented with one of the people who he didn’t think was the right fit, so he took the opportunity to get rid of her – definitely a lucky escape for Debra…

Of course if you want to see a professional re-branding, check out this effort to re-brand somewhere else:

Product, Product, Product

It never fails to amaze me how many Apprentice candidates seem to think they can sell ice to Eskimos, but fail to get the basics right in picking the right product, for the right customer. This week with Sir Alan having set up pitches with a high class designer store and a long established hardware store, one team pitched a two person dog lead and an expensive cross between a sleeping bag and a jump suit, and the other a cat playground that was just a painted cardboard box and a one sided bicycle pannier that almost everybody said would unbalance the bike. Of the four products, only the one sided bicycle pannier sold, and that was a small number to the designer store on looks alone.

What that did do though, is level the playing field. With four poor product choices, and minimal sales to the potential big prospects, it came down to a battle of the salespeople, a chance to find out who was all mouth, and who had the potential.

After some team swapping, and based on the previous bravado, Ignite were in a strong position, they had Kate who has been a strong candidate so far, with Phil and Ben neither of whom have been shy in telling everybody what strong candidates they are. They also had Lorraine who whilst she seriously rubs people up the wrong way at times has consistently been right, and Yasmina. Facing them were Debra who also talks up her talents in sales, but was on a final warning from last week, along with Howard who we’ve barely seen, Mona who badly mismanaged the first task and survived by the skin of her teeth, and James who Sir Alan described as the village idiot last week.

Unlike previous selling tasks, every candidate had their own individual order book, and all but three managed to sell, those three, well the problem was pretty apparent…

The double whammy here is that or weeks, Phil has been in conflict with Lorraine, and from the moment she put herself forward as project manager, you could see the general laid back attitude to the whole task, so confident that if they lost the task, as project manager Lorraine would be shown the door.

However as always, it comes down to the boardroom. Things kept coming back to the lack of orders, so Phil tries to highlight his previous success – the selling task last week where he made a loss but won by default, and ignored repeated suggestions from Lorraine that the rug was worth a lot more than he thought, and then Nick brought up Pants Man from the week before. Amazingly at this point, Sir Alan still seems to be wavering towards Lorraine, so she plays the relationship card and mentions that she believes the relationship between Phil and Kate has affected the task. At this point Kate defends herself, and just for good measure sticks the knife into Phil. With that, Phil is gone, and certainly in this house and I’m sure a good few others we’re mightily pleased he’s gone.

What follows now of course is the massive effort to rebuild a reputation, so on You’re Fired we had humble Phil who plays down his talents, agrees with the comments made about him and is even vaguely complimentary about Lorraine, something that continues in his exit interview.

That leaves one other of the trinity of failure this week, Ben (who got a scholarship to Sandhurst don’t you know). Had it not been for the whole Phil and Kate thing, he would almost certainly have been in the firing line. Despite all his comments about his sales ability he flopped totally, he was just lucky that he failed along with Phil and Kate, and thanks to that and the ongoing arguing between Phil and Lorraine, he could take a bit of a back seat. Had he been in the boardroom after his spectacular loss last week, and a singular inability to sell this week, it certainly would have been a difficult one for him to talk his way out of, in much the same way as Phil was a strong candidate to be shown the door once he was picked. The interesting battle of course would have been Phil and Ben – but it might well have been a battle where Lorraine went down in the crossfire…

Apprentice Rule One: Read the Instructions

There is a classic mistake that candidates on the Apprentice make, over and over again they fail to read the instructions, miss the giant sized hints that they get given, and mess up as a result.

In previous series, the shopping list task has been about making the most money possible, getting everything on the list whatever the cost, this time it was a bit different…

Rather than a list of items to buy, there was a list of items to sell. The similarity was that mixed in amongst the bric-a-brac were some gems to catch the teams out – valuable shoes, a first edition of Octopussy and the most valuable item of the lot, an Indian rug.

The other big difference was in the scoring. Quite often the the Apprentice seems to attract sales types who will do anything to get a deal, any deal, a favourite strategy being the last ditch sell off to clear stock. In a normal scoring task, where it is purely about total sales, that would probably have won the task, but not this time.

The teams were told right at the beginning, that the task was about valuation, so at the end of the task rather than being a loss, unsold items had a value, as did the items they sold. At the end of the task they totalled up the value of all the sales, along with the valuations of the unsold items, and compared this to the total of all the expert valuations. As a result selling any items at a loss cost the team – it would have been better not to sell them at all. It said so in the instruction dossier that neither team bothered to read properly, and as a result both came back with a loss.

Exhibit number one, team leader Phillip trying to sell a rug that he’s decided is worthless. Note also that his nemesis Lorraine who spent most of last week telling him his idea was pants, is also right this week… Luckily for her Margaret is very clear who has the right idea, and even christens her Cassandra (to a totally blank look from Sir Alan) in the boardroom. 

Things weren’t much better on the other side. Here Noorul has an accurate valuation, but team leader Ben steps in and closes the deal on a stunning loss. Amazingly in the boardroom Noorul tries to take credit for this deal even when others point the finger squarely at Ben.

So with both teams making a total mess of it, eventually it came down to who made the biggest mess, and thanks in part to some luck – in particular selling the skeleton for above valuation to a bloke in a pub – Phillip came back with the smallest loss. He didn’t get off scot free though, as Lorraine got complimented for being right, encouraged to speak up, and Phillip got chastised for ignoring her feelings about the rug. Surprisingly after last week Lorraine seems like she might go further than I thought. Certainly it would have made an interesting boardroom if those two had gone in, because of the clear support Lorraine was getting from the other side of the table.

I wasn’t too disappointed though, as what the win meant was that Ben was in the firing line, and in my eyes clear favourite to go. Of course for Ben that wouldn’t be a problem as he had been offered a scholarship to Sandhurst, which he didn’t take. However as he tells the camera frequently it gave him the ability to think under fire. Like this bold, clear decision making over who to bring back into the second stage of the boardroom…

The irony of his rationalising here, cut short by Sir Alan is that his strategy to bring in two consistently weak candidates paid off and despite his weak performance as task leader, Sir Alan takes the opportunity to fire Noorul on the basis of previous performances instead, leaving Ben and Debra to ride again.

The two of them don’t get off unscathed though. Debra goes into her whole Rottweiler routine again, but also verbally attacks Nick – earning a swift reprimand. Ben was also seen to be floundering around, and clearly irked Sir Alan, and short of some sort of Damascus Road experience I suspect both of their days are numbered. I’d have been happy to see any of them go, and really I thought Ben deserved to go, but as has been pointed out in what is an entertainment show, the least entertaining candidate of the three went. Certainly I do look forward to the opportunity to see Ben flounder around, consistently proving that he lacks the skills and experience to back up his rhetoric, and equally the chance to see Debra open her mouth and put her foot in it. Whilst both of them seem to be trying to outdo themselves in arrogant rhetoric, Debra perhaps seems to have slightly more to back it up…

Pants

Some teams are just unmanageable. The divisions in Ignite that we saw last week came even more to the fore this week as Kimberly – an early favourite in some quarters to win – struggled to keep the all out war between bulldozer Philip and Lorraine in check. The problem was that the two of them came up with two lousy ideas. Although Philip bulldozed his idea over Lorraine, it is worth highlighting that her idea diverged from the project brief anyway in that it had multiple characters – the brief called for a single character – but with the two of them going for each other it just seemed to deadlock the rest of the team, rather than binning both ideas, they ended up running out of time and having to pick the least bad of the two, losing time and sanity in the process, and leaving them with no time for the vital box design.

The fundamental problem is that with this battle going on within the team, and continuing into subsequent days for someone who is about quiet, co-operative management, it is impossible to handle, and ends up being like a cancer eating away at the team. In the real world, you’d probably be able to work around such a conflict, but in the world of the Apprentice you’re doomed, and it really comes down to salvaging what you can from the task, and playing the boardroom right.

For the first part, salvaging the task, Kimberly seemed to play it right. After the catastrophe of the first day, she took control of the advert, and received a lot of praise for the result, she also seemed to be lining Philip up for the fall by letting him do the jingle. As an aside, Beth reckoned this sequence produced one of the best lines of the night, when the chap in the recording studio comments on how Philip sounds…

She then hands off the presentation to Mona, who makes an utter hash of it telling the client about the product rather than the campaign. However Lorraine starts to mess things up when it gets to the boardroom.

Within moments Lorraine is making her points, attacking Kimberly and distracting from Philip. At one point Sir Alan clearly points the finger at Philip, but taken by surprise by the turn around from Lorraine, Kimberly who has more than once in previous tasks protected her, ends up focusing some of the boardroom rhetoric there, instead of highlighting how Philip bulldozed any other ideas, and laying the blame squarely at his door. As a result it is Kimberly who takes the taxi ride, and Philip gets let off, despite the whole concept coming down to him. Really I think Kimberly was probably the only one worth keeping, and both Philip and Lorraine shown the exit.

Meanwhile, over on the other team, for once we had a great example of a well managed team, that pulled together. The initial idea was good, and although the advert was a classic example of a ropey Apprentice commercial, the team worked well together, and it was clear from pretty early on who was going to win. Certainly on this performance Kate has to be a favourite for overall winner, although the clips on You’re Fired showing her getting friendly with Philip does possibly count against her…

Next week though we do get a chance to mix things up again, with a new twist on the shopping list task. Rather than trying to buy a list of items for the best price, the teams are being given ten items to sell. As always with those tasks the devil is in the detail, and knowing your items is key. You can be certain that Sir Alan will have put some gotcha items in there, and I’m sure we’re going to see some of the candidates mess up spectacularly as a result.