Tag Archives: the apprentice

@bbcapprentice ep 11–on business plans and production lines


Episode 11 of the Apprentice went pretty much as expected. The team with the stupid people lost, and the stupid person with the bad attitude was fired.

It’s astonishing that – on week 11 of a 12 week exercise to showcase your business acumen – that Jim and co didn’t think a business plan was worthwhile. It’s a simple set of calculations to work out margins, estimate how many of which you can sell per hour, etc. but they simply didn’t consider the need for it – it seemed to be treated as a game to design the prettiest store.

Helen was very impressive on that front, carrying all the margins in her head, and I think moves even more decisively into the lead for the win.

Messing up the production line, as Jim did, I think was a more understandable error. Time was short, he’d clearly never given any thought to how restaurants were actually run, and whilst under that pressure he simply didn’t think through the implications.  Not to say they shouldn’t have tried to fix it, but I think they underestimated quite how labour intensive the creation of  fajita would be. Which is odd, as anyone who’s ever made them at home from one of those kits knows that it takes a bit of faff.

Travails in France and Market Research 101 – @bbcapprentice

homepage_tx8_1I was surprised and caught up in the success of the the Apprentices this week. I honestly thought (being a man with no sense of style) that they’d struggle to sell ANY lamps, and in honesty – those universal grips – always offend me as pieces of pointless, expensive wire and plastic. But they did a pretty good job, all in, and both teams managed to make some reasonable sales – although I do note that La Redoute doesn’t currently stock a transforming car seat – in the UK, anyway – so I’m doubtful as to the honesty of the process.

The losing team suffered on all sorts of counts, but I have two key lessons for Melody, in particular:

  1. If you’re doing market research, you have to be aware of something called ‘sample bias.’ It’s reasonably unsurprising that in the course of interviewing Metro commuters you get the impression that people in Paris don’t like to drive. Just looking around – as she eventually did – revealed the scope of the traffic situation in Paris and answered that question.
  2. If you are biased, you can ask questions to get the answers you want. I suspect Melody knows this one already, but to take a lesson from an even more epic BBC programme, Yes Prime Minister (quotes from here):

"Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?" 
"Do you think there is lack of discipline and vigorous training in our Comprehensive Schools?" 
"Do you think young people welcome some structure and leadership in their lives?" 
"Do they respond to a challenge?" 
"Might you be in favour of reintroducing National Service?" 

Now onto Survey 2

"Mr. Woolley are you worried about the danger of war?" 
"Are you unhappy about the growth of armaments?" 
"Do you think there’s a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?" 
"Do you think its wrong to force people to take up arms against their will?" 
"Would you oppose the reintroduction of National Service?" 


Stuart Baggs on the BBC Blog has a fantastic perspective on Melody’s delivery of the primary market research too:

Her linguistic skills are applaudable, although I’m 97% certain her "selective translation" skills may cause a global war at the UN one day. She should seek treatment for what I call Internal Chinese Whispers, whereby a statement in French such as "Yes I think its a good idea" becomes "She said it’s OK".

A final note: Susan, seriously. "Do French people love their families…?" – that is a whole new level of idiocy that even I didn’t expect to see demonstrated. Just goes to show – given her sales impact – you really don’t need to be clever to get ahead in business.

Five lessons from the Apprentices’ misadventures in media – @bbcapprentice

coveredWe cringed our way through another hour of entertaining, ridiculous television last night, having missed the scrap episode. Spoilers herein; alongside some of the prime examples of the Apprentice’s idiocy this week (always easier to give and assess from the outside, I know, but that’s my privilege as a member of the license-fee paying public):

  1. Always listen to to t’focus group. That’s why you do them. I think they get too much of an edge, here, to be honest – the focus groups are found for them and they’re told to go. Those idiots didn’t learn it last time (well, the Every Dog example), and didn’t do it this time. Raise the tone does not equal tits and a briefcase. Don’t patronise? Doesn’t translate to a magazine called ‘Hip Replacement’ with features on how to make a phone call. The banter between Lord Sugar and Nick on Hip Replacement’s content was brilliant.
  2. Puns do not translate well. Glenn really loved puns and plays on words too much – hence leaping all over ‘Hip Replacement’ as he did over his own ‘Catsize’ two weeks before. Idiot. — Don’t get me wrong, though, I love a good pun. Just not in any context where I plan to sell anything, except maybe to a tabloid newspaper.
  3. The balance between decision by committee and ridiculous high-handed authoritarian idiocy is apparently a fine one. Both teams struggled with inadequate leadership this week for opposite reasons; Natasha’s desire to take the credit when she thought they were on the up and her determination to do a lads mag in a crowded market that’s been evolving for the last 15 years – and on the opposing front, Jim looking to dissipate the responsibility for all major decisions for everyone.
  4. Listen to the quiet voice. I’m really not a fan of Susan – I think she’s probably one of the lesser bulbs on the programme – but she was flatly ignored by her team. Lots of loud, vocal people agreeing loudly with each other makes it hard for the quiet insight to creep through – I think its as much the responsibility of the leader as it is of the team member to acknowledge the perspectives of the team.
  5. Rate cards are a polite fiction. No-one pays the rate – I’ve seen discounts in excess of 90% off rate card rates on established magazines, never mind a start-up, and I’m in PR! The ‘offers’ they got from the media buyers were polite lies – no responsible media buyer would have put money into either of those publications without some very convincing demonstrations that they could hit some kind of sensible demographic. A free magazine called ‘Hip Replacement’ given out to 60+ people in the street? No wonder a couple of them actually laughed them out of the pitch.

A bonus lesson: ‘agreeance’ is not a word. Jim is an idiot, and should have been out. Don’t get me wrong – they’re all idiots – but Jim’s silver-tongued, mind-numbingly inept handling of the chief role won him the big wooden finger point this week.

Amanda asked why they hugged after the firing – but after this week’s boardroom backstabbery and the fact two of them have to go back and work on the next task together, it seemed like a necessary step. Alan Sugar’s boardroom is not an easy place to be, that last time.

Sidebar: in an act of genuine entrepreneurship, some clever people are auctioning off the magazines they produced in the show. Copies of both ‘Covered’ and ‘HIP replacement’ are currently running at £56 and counting on eBay…

The Apprentice

Lord Alan Sugar at Destination Growth '09 So prior to the current series, I’d never watched the Apprentice. The concept reminded me too much of some curious hybrid of actually working and interviewing for a new job through one of those awful milk-round processes where you have to do ludicrous, unrealistic exercises to prove your worth.

Amanda brought me round. As with football and celebrity, and occasionally Eastenders, The Apprentice has become one of those shared frames of popular reference. Everyone has a view on it; everyone gets caught up in the exercises, and for those of us who work in marketing… there’s a thousand lessons of what not to do painted every week.

This week, I have a new phrase for an undifferentiated marketing proposition. The "Every Dog." If anyone tries to pitch me a generic sounding service again, I’m just going to say "No thanks, that’s too every dog." It might even work.

Talking to a colleague today gave me an insight as to why there’s such a strong appeal to the programme. They do seem to find curious, dysfunctional groups of people to collaborate on these projects. The net result is dramatic, exciting, and ludicrous television, in which modestly intelligent people get on so badly that they fail, in many cases, to organise the proverbial piss up in a brewery. Which makes you feel good about your own merits, modest as they may be.

Lord Sugar; thank you for this feel-good television. It’s the best thing I’ve got from you since my Amstrad PC 2286.