The Apprentice

This week’s episode of that most upmarket of reality shows was decidedly downmarket.
OK. It’s probably not that upmarket a show.
The two teams were set the task of creating a new premium free magazine (or “freemium” as Lord Sugar miscalled it) to give away. They also had to pre-sell advertising for their first issue based on a dummy.
There are multiple problems with a task like this.
First of all, it’s not something that any of them would ever be asked to do in real life. As far as I can tell, none of them has worked in publishing, or indeed in advertising of any sort in their life. Therefore, nobody would expect them to come up with a magazine format. They wouldn’t be expected to supervise, in person, the cover shoot. They wouldn’t be standing over the graphic designer’s computer giving input into the masthead (although they might give feedback later), and they certainly wouldn’t be expected to go out and flog the advertising.
All of these jobs would be handled by professionals or specialists in their respective fields. The overall task might be managed by them, but that’s completely different.
The second fatal flaw is that this new magazine is never actually going to see the light of day. In two days they’re not going to fill the magazine with self-written editorial (it was never entirely clear what the magazine was filled with beyond a single article each, a cover and perhaps a contents page). That also means that the media buying agencies, who are spending their clients’ marketing budgets, aren’t spending real money either.
So we ended up with a lads-mag – a type of product that’s dying in the marketplace, and last really saw its day with the likes of Loaded in the mid-nineties, perhaps with a brief renaissance when Nuts and Zoo arrived on the scene – and a magazine aimed at the elderly. In the latter’s case, we didn’t even get into the singular fatal flaw that free magazines tend to be distributed at rail and tube stations – places where the retired are unlikely to be found during rush hour (if only because their Freedom Passes don’t allow rush hour travel). Mind you, it was such a condescending publication on every count, the mechanics of how it would actually be distributed to its target audience pale into insignificance.
Which brings me to an interesting question: is it a good idea to help the producers of The Apprentice out?
Surely yes! All that free publicity on primetime BBC1. You’re portrayed as experts in your field, and nobody ever says a bad word about you.
But it’s not that simple. We’re obviously presented with a very simplified version of the rules by which the teams are playing. We don’t even know whether there was a shortlist of genres of publications that the teams had to choose between (thus simplifying the need to find relevant focus groups or cover models at short notice). Moreover, the three buying agencies that had to receive “pitches”, clearly had to “buy” at least some advertising. In the real world, both teams would have been given short shrift and sent packing. But in a make-believe-Apprentice world, one agency “bought” £60,000 worth of advertising.
Leaving aside for a second the fact that both the voiceover and Lord Sugar mispronounced media buying agency Carat’s name, which has a silent “t”, rather than as in “Carrot” as we heard it, I’m not sure it was actually the best advertisement for the agency.
Most viewers, I’m certain, would have been left in no doubt that both magazines were terrible. Therefore it was probably going to be a question of which was the least worst. In that regard, the lads mag was probably the fair winner.
But the £60,000 buyout that Carat gave it seemed too good a win. A quick Twitter search revealed the following messages after the show:

“Doesn’t reflect well on Carat… glad they aren’t buying media for me”
“Do you think everyone from Carat is hanging their head in shame? Or were they being ironic?”
“I’m not sure that decision will reflect well on Carat”
“Fairly embarrassed to be working at Carat (silent ‘t’) after than decision!”

Now personally, I think those are all being a little unfair. Carat’s not really spending their clients’ money, and indeed wouldn’t. We didn’t even get into agency commission. The prices being bandied around were almost certainly unrealistic – and of course we never even heard about trivial little things like print runs or distribution. But it does go to show that it’s not a one-way street when you sign up to help out The Apprentice.
Disclaimer: These are my views, and not those of my employer, who does business with the fine folk of Carat. As I say, I’m certain that they’re a very responsible media agency who make excellent buying decisions about which media they use. Like Absolute Radio for example.

2 Comments

  1. “All of these jobs would be handled by professionals or specialists in their respective fields. The overall task might be [i]managed[/i] by them, but that’s completely different.”
    I’ve tended to regard tasks on The Apprentice as a test of initiative, business acumen, teamwork and leadership skills more than a proper depiction of everyday business life.
    After all, while not totally au fait with your personal job description, I doubt finding and selling scrap metal at a profit is not one of them, but it did require the candidates to use a number of basic business skills in order to win the task.
    It’s also perhaps worth noting that Leon’s “article” for his team’s lads mag on ‘How To Make £1,000 In A Day’ was based on the previous week’s task – something that did not go un-noticed by Lord Sugar in the boardroom.
    In some ways it’s like those company weekends or awaydays where you have to build and sail a wooden raft or you’re divided into teams to play a ‘management skills’ board-game which requires you to bring back the most “gold” from the mines in the mountains by using planning and negotiating skills to avoid running out of water in the desert etc. (As you can tell I’ve played that one).
    There are, apparently, fairly complex rules for each of the tasks. A few years ago there was an interesting eBook (by John Kingston) about The Apprentice Series 1 which went into quite a bit of detail about the tasks and, through contributions from all of the candidates, was able to fill some the gaps and give an insight into “what we didn’t see on TV”.
    e.g. Series 1/Week 3 – the buying task
    [i]The teams had several logistical difficulties: getting permission to film, dealing with traffic and parking as well as herding everyone and the crews to be in the right place at the right time. For example, First Forte’s cheap bowler hat shop (found on the internet, and not by Tim) refused permission to film, and so they weren’t allowed to buy their bowler hat there! They eventually bought the hat from a shop that Ben spotted while driving past. If this rule – that teams couldn’t purchase from vendors who wouldn’t allow filming – was applied on a regular basis, then the task would have been significantly harder than it appeared.[/i]

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