Apprentice 8: Brand Me Baby!

This weeks challenge is the most difficult so far, the teams are charged with rebranding – updating the seaside town of Margate. I’ve never been to Margate but I can’t say I’ve been impressed with UK beaches in general, and the Apprentice site itself refers to Margate as having “Once a jewel of the Kent coast, Margate still has a faded grandeur, but it is up to the teams to bring a much-needed sparkle for the 21st century.”

CM200905_margate.pngTheir job is to produce posters and information that will attract new tourists to the town – and pitch their campaigns to tourism industry experts and residents of Margate.

Debra led Mona, Howard and James for Empire and they quickly decided to target the gay market – over Mona’s objections, she didn’t think it was “suitable” for Kent. Yasmina lead Kate, Ben and Lorraine for Ignite and target the family market based on the logic that in the current financial crisis families won’t be able to afford foreign holidays.

The pitches were well done by Howard and Kate, but the posters and brochures were horrendous. Extremely old fashioned looking and with way too much text on them, in the case of Empire the brochures weren’t finished. In the end the experts and residents gave Empire a total of 8/20, and Ignite 14/20.

CM200905_apprenticefired2.pngDebra bought James and Mona back into the board room, a great debate started which Sir Alan quickly labelled it a “Punch and Judy Show”. Debra tried to pretend that the “gay market” wasn’t James’ idea, and tried to claim that she couldn’t make decent posters out of the content sent to her.

Debra played a smart boardroom game, keeping relatively quiet but pushing all Mona’s buttons. James isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but he’d pulled his weight on this task – even so Debra managed to neatly discredit him.

But it was Mona’s half-heartedness for the task that seemed to bother Sir Alan the most, after deliberating for a minute or two he pointed the finger at Mona and said the words she feared hearing “You’re Fired”

photo of Margate beach from anaru via flickr

Apprentice 7: For Sale

Sell! Sell! Sell! You guessed it, this week’s task on the Apprentice is all about selling. Each team must select two innovative products to sell to retailers, but they’re given individual order books and told to get as many individual sales as they can.

Again, this is not a task with a great deal of complexity. Choose the right product for your target audience, and close the sales. Pitfalls might include any kind of exclusive offer, or any significant discounting.

Lovers Lead makes dogs howl

Empire, led by Mona, chose a pet product a double handled dog lead called Lovers Lead, which I had doubts about but the pet shop owners were interested in. Their second product was a sleeping bag with arms and legs, sort of a sleeping bag crossed with a Michelin Man suit. Ugly – but I can imagine people using it. In any case Mona negotiated a sale straight away.

Ignite, led by Lorraine, chose a bike bag and a cardboard cat box. I have a cat, she loves boxes but I’m not sure I’d buy one that looks like a firetruck for her. I also have a bike, but the bike bag on offer is hopeless, stuff would fall out of it. So I’m curious about what will get sold.

At 6pm it was all over. Orders and Sales were added up. The teams went back to the board room to hear the results. Sir Alan was annoyed that neither team had really chosen products for the two pitches he’d set up. These were with buyers with big purchasing power so it’s a gift. Usually it takes a lot of effort to get into a sales meeting with such a buyer. Instead they thought they’d make more on the second day in meetings that they had to set up themselves. It appeared that Kate, Ben and Philip messed around in the task – it looked like they figured Lorraine would get fired so they didn’t need to work.

Quote of the week might be Lorraine “I’m a bit of a slow burner in the thinking process”. And she said it like it was a good thing.

Sir Alan did his best to draw out the tension on the results but it was a clear win for Empire with a total of £4501 in sales against a meagre £1302 for Ignite. So then who was responsible?

Yasmina and Lorraine made all the sales, which is pretty much a get out of jail free card with Sir Alan. Lorraine took Kate and Philip into the boardroom, which I thought might have been a mistake.

But Lorraine dropped their “relationship” into the discussion and her boardroom tactic became clear.

It worked. Sir Alan is already fed up with Philip’s attitude and it wasn’t long before he said “Philip, you’re fired”.

Good decision.

Apprentice 6: Bargain Basement

This week’s task for the Apprentice is a sort of reverse treasure hunt, the teams are given identical sets of 10 items and they have to research the value and sell them.

Two tricks to this; sell everything, and sell it at a profit – so your research better be good.

Unfortunately I’ll be out of the country and won’t be able to see the show – yes, I am that sad. But I’ve already made my prediction on thrusites, for Noorul to be fired. With only 5 in each team it’s no longer possible to freeload or hide and since the task involves selling I don’t like his chances. In addition Sir Alan has been itching to fire him for the last two weeks. So his team are likely to lose and all the losing leader has to do is take him into the board room.

I may get to see the show (recorded version) on Sunday. In the meantime this made me laugh this week;

Postscript:I saw the re-run last night. Un-be-liev-able. I said above that your research should be good, neither team did particularly good research particularly in relation to the rug (which turned out to be the hidden gem of the ten items they were given to sell). I also said to sell everything at a profit – and not only did Ben rush to sell things at a loss, in the boardroom Noorul rushed to take credit for it! It’s very simple maths; you’ve started the task with a set of assets with a known value, you cannot got back to Sir Alan with a lower sum of cash, you’re better off taking the assets back to him.

But neither team figured that out, neither team asked – and both teams made a loss.

The board rooms squabbles were incredible, but my prediction was right, and after much shouting Noorul was fired.

Apprentice 5: Cereal Killer

The fifth task for the candidates was to develop an advertisement for breakfast cereal for kids.

They need to create a name, design a box, choose a cartoon character to promote the product and then film an advertisement.

The big risk in this task is in taking yourself too seriously, do not make anything with any kind of style or finesse, and make sure that the name of the product is mentioned a lot and make sure that the box is front and centre – particularly in the end shot.

Ignite, led by Kimberly was hijacked by Philip who came up with possibly the worst idea in advertising history “Pantsman” to sell breakfast cereal. I kept having flashbacks to Ren and Stimpy. The team were all over the place, infighting and backbiting. They didn’t give the designer enough input so the box was only printed on one side, and it was green. Green is my favourite colour but it doesn’t belong on a cereal box, for proof look at the cereal boxes in your supermarket. But the ad came off as pacey and funny.

Empire took a better strategy in terms of branding, they used a pirate theme and carried it through all aspects. Their character was a pirate’s parrot, the box included a treasure map. The ad was a bit lame, but got the point across really well. The team work was really miles better.

CM200904_apprenticecereal2There were both tough teams; Kate got Ben and Debra to work well, but Kimberly failed with Lorraine and Philip. That’s the key difference – Ignite took too long to make bad decisions.

So should the leader who couldn’t lead go? Or should the guy who sabotaged the leader and forced his bad idea on the team go? Or is the fault at the door of Lorraine as Sir Alan said in his summary?

For me firing Lorraine would have been a mistake, she fought against a very bad idea – that doesn’t seem fair.

Apparently Sir Alan agreed; he wants her to come back and be team leader and told her so.

Just before turning to Kimberly and saying “you’re fired!”

Personally I think Philip should have gone, it was his terrible idea. But he’s unlikely to last much longer.

Predict Apprentice – Real Time

Real time online prediction from Thrusites. In combination with your twitter ID you can vote for who you think should be the next to leave the Apprentice (note; this is the UK version). You can see a general trend against James, Ben and Debra. Although my money is on Debra lasting to the last 4.


The site displays the avatar of your twitter ID, in a long histogram. You’ll need to scroll down the site to check the lead contender for firing.

After the show you can see the show results and who’s been the best at predicting – again displaying the twitter avatar. Yes that sparky avatar is mine.


Apprentice 4: Beauty and the Beast

The fourth task for the candidates was to develop and sell a new beauty product.

There are three parts to this task; design, brand and sell.

The design part was relatively simple, pick a base organic ingredient, pick a recipe, add some smells to it. Manufacture.

It was here that Empire (with Paula as leader) made their fatal costing mistake. It’s relatively simple maths but 3% is not the same as 3gramms. They bought 450g of sandalwood to add to their seaweed. Their product was better quality – but the one ingredient pricing put their budget from 5 pounds to over 700 pounds.

Ignite (with Noorul as leader) chose honey as their organic ingredient and with much screaming collected a supply of honey. Their product was pretty awful and seemed to dissolve on first use.

Both teams did OK on the branding; Empire went with “RockPoole” as a brand name reflecting the Poole origins of their seaweed, very simple packaging. Ignite named there’s “Honey I’m Home” with a simple bee theme. They dressed in beekeeper suits to sell at the market, which made them look remarkably like bio-hazard cleanup people.

In sales; both teams ended up selling at markets, choice of wrong locations. The Empire team made up for costings errors by bulk selling the last of their product for 400 pounds – but not enough.

CM200904_apprenticepaulaIn the board room there was the usual brawl. Paula took Yasmina and Ben into the boardroom, Yasmina has shown some potential so it was pretty clear she was coming out again. Ben put up a fight in his usual belligerent style. Paula made most of the decisions regarding product and branding to generate a good product. But that one cost mistake killed any chance of winning.

The quote of the week has to be “knee deep in crabshit for 300g of seaweed” from James, with Sir Alan’s “in a bleedin’ soap opera” a close second.

Sir Alan has pushed for cost control in every episode this series, and in every series. This is a fatal mistake. The only question was where he would see the responsibility lying.

Paula half-delegated the costings to Ben and Yasmina. And that was the problem. If she’d fully delegated the costings, she would have been able to also delegate the blame away in the boardroom.

So Sir Alan made a decision “Paula, you’re fired”.

It’s a good decision. Her team made a loss based on one simple maths error, and the excuse “I’m HR, I don’t do costings” is not good enough – you’re trying to win the apprentice, you better be able to do costings.


Postscript: the guests and audience on “Apprentice: You’re Fired” all thought Ben should go rather than Paula. Well that wouldn’t have been such a bad decision.

Continue reading “Apprentice 4: Beauty and the Beast”

Apprentice 3: Get Fit

The third task for the candidates was to develop and sell a piece of fitness equipment. The body rocker vs the home multi-gym.

There are two parts to this task; design and pitch.

Neither product was really convincing – but the body rocker at least looked like something could be sold and indeed got a total of 10,280 orders from all suppliers (the bulk coming from John Lewis).

The best performer goes to Philip for two reasons – his line “it’s the ipod of the exercise world” and for defending Lorraine. Lorraine’s pitch seemed weak, but somehow they scored sales so it’s a bit churlish to complain.

Sir Alan Sugar commented that the product was “bloody awful” and quoted one of the company reps as saying “the best thing about the pitch was that they took the thing away with them”.

James was a pretty awful project manager and took Maj and Ben into the boardroom with him. I thought James would go – he was a clueless leader. Maj doesn’t seem very active, he does only what he’s told, waiting for his project manager to give him more work. Ben was responsible for the ridiculous product, an ugly black box with wires hanging out of it, however he was the only one coming up with ideas (partly because James didn’t lead the brainstorming very well). Ben comes off as pretty sneaky.

The boys weren’t any better behaved in the boardroom than the girls.

Sir Alan got sick of the conversation,  slowed them right down, and fired Maj

In my view it’s a wrong decision, James is pretty hopeless and so emotional. Part of the “bad product” decision is at his door – he couldn’t manage a simple brainstorming session.