The Apprentice 2011It is getting close to the end now and two factors combine to make the show ever more compelling:

1. We are starting to get to know many of the candidates so,
like soaps and real family, we start to feel allegiances, and

2. Few candidates are shoe-ins for a firing, so we are�intrigued to
see what will happen.

Let’s however, stay aware that we are watching a show. �The producers and editors are choosing from many hours of footage to create the illusions of a narrative. �It�s the nature of drama to focus on conflict and archetypes, and there have to be villains and heroes, princes and wizards.

Yesterday’s show gave us two instances of conflict, and the usual suspects emerged victorious.

The task was to create, brand and pitch a new biscuit, to the top end of the market. I don’t do that much shopping, but I do know that �1.99 is a lot to pay for a box of biscuits, so the team should have known they would have to be good. �And, in a crowded market, Lord Sugar added a further note of advice. �Make a product that is “different, distinct, stands out.”

Zoe and Helen are both in the food business – Helen with Greggs the Baker and Zoe, we know less about, because she’s managed to keep the web clean of her details and I’m not going to dig too deeply as that’s clearly her choice. �So they each took the helm of one team:

  • Venture: Helen led Jim and Natasha
  • Logic: Zoe led Melody, Susan and Tom


The teams quickly settled on their strategies: Venture sent Jim off to the bakery to create a biscuit aimed at children, and Logic sent Tom and Melody to the bakery to come up with a biscuit idea. �Oh dear… was that a spoiler? �Best raise a…

Spoiler alert

Zoe’s Dilemma

I really feel for Zoe. �She had a no-win dilemma. �Her first instinct was to go to the bakery herself and supervise the production of the biscuit, using her expertise in food manufacturing – which Lord Sugar was later to acknowledge. �Her team talked her out of it because the brand would sell the product.

So who should she send? �I think she reasoned like this:

  • Send Tom. He’s an inventor so he’ll come up with something good.
  • Send Melody. I got burned with Jim in week 7 when he over-ruled me on the design. �Melody is a strong personality, I don’t want that happening again.

Helen, we should acknowledge, made the same “mistake” in not going to the factory, but then, winners’ decisions are not scrutinised in the boardroom.

The Best Performances

Susan and Zoe went to a supermarket to research the biscuit market and was spot on to look at the packaging design and colour choices of other products near their �1.99 price point. �They could both have reported back their findings on what sort of products sell for �1.99 to the production subteam.

Jim came over well in the way he ran his focus group of children and parents, showing he was listening and using humour to engage the group. �However, perhaps he should have asked more questions of the mums and dads who would buy the product, as well as of the children who would inevitably like the sweet, choclatty treat.

Helen did what may just be a first for this series: she took the advice of the subteam (Jim) who did the market research. �She could have done better, by being more circumspect about the choice of two contradictory straplines. �Yet again, we saw jim confidently coming up with ideas and pushing them strongly.

The Worst Performances

Melody’s idea of “biscuit is the new popcorn” was flawed in so many ways. �The astonishing figure revealed in the narration that Asda alone sells 345 million packs of biscuits a year should mean that popcorn would love to be the new biscuit. �But it was the execution that was so alarming!

Zoe and Melody’s row immediately before pitching, and their undignified boardroom spat showed the candidates in their worst light. �Zoe looked grumpy for most of the show and Melody, whilst coming across as vituperative and pushy again, was at least right about the lack of focus of the product. �She also managed to stay more in control.

Melody’s idea of a role play to open Logic’s pitches to three of the biggest retailers in Britain (Asda, J Sainsbury, and Waitrose). �The buyers looked horrified. �Why did Tom Acquiesce? His instincts are so often good, that I suspect Stockholm Syndrome. �After a long journey to Wales, a long day baking, and facing a long journey home, he cracked.

Apprentice Lesson 15

Know your audience. �Fashion your message to have impact – in the right way.

A role play, playlet or whatever you call it was just wrong in that situation and all four members of Logic should have known that. � Zoe pitches to retail food and beverage buyers. �She should have known it and I can only assume she did not have the energy or backing from her team to stamp on Melody’s bad idea.

The real fault

The real fault yesterday lay with the product. �It was a gmmicky chimera of a product, using low quality ingredients, but aimed at a premium marked. �Too many ideas, with no clear strategy is bad. �A low quality product, set against the price point is inexcusable. �The Waitrose buyer said it all: “Good package, good pitch (after Logic dropped the role-play), bad biscuit”.

Good packaging for a bad product is just a form of deceit. �Retail buyers could see through that in an instant.

Apprentice Lesson 16

Get your product right for a section of the market, and people will want it.

… but if it is not right for anybody, no amount of packaging will sell more than a handful to those who are seduced by packaging – and none to professionals whose job is to see the whole proposition.

Which Leads me back to Deceit

Had Venture lost, I would confidently have identified Jim’s bluster and blag at Asda as a “Worst Performance”. �Lord Sugar described his promise of millions of pounds of ad-buying and movie tie-ins as winning the BBIW awards for “Biggest Bull**** in the World”. �Jim’s promise of a “mass-market structured and strategic promotion” should have caused censure from Lord Sugar, but he allowed the team to win, I suspect, because Asda’s 800,000 unit order was motivated not just by his ridiculous promise, but because, despite its flaws, it was a strong concept, in good packaging, and tasted good.

The Result

And so Zoe was fired. �Fingered in the boardroom by both Tom and Melody, Lord Sugar fired her because “someone who is supposed to be expert in the subject failed.” Up until then, Zoe had been a good contender, so we are left with six.

Last week, I wrote in detail about:

Next week, I’ll be writing about:

  • Jim Eastwood (Monday)
  • Susan Ma (Tuesday)
  • Natasha Scribbins (Wednesday)

More on The Apprentice here.


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