The Apprentice: Sex sells as Logic have their bases Covered

Stop the presses! The Apprentice hits the world of publishing as the teams are asked to create a new ‘freemium’ magazine and sell advertising space to three media buying agencies. Venture’s Hip Replacement title aimed at the over-60s goes down like a lead balloon, while Logic plump for a pseudo-business lads’ mag, Covered. In the boardroom, we discover that Hip Replacement achieved positively arthritic sales, while Covered proved that, as the old saying goes, ‘sex sells’. After lots of petty name-calling in the boardroom, engineer Glenn Ward became the eighth candidate to hear the dreaded words “You’re fired” directed at him for, well, being an engineer.

The Lager Louts 

Natasha seemed to have a porn obsession this week, yeah? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

It’s 5.45am, and a suspiciously dressed and made-up Melody Hossaini wins this week’s Race to the Phone™. (No bed hair, no nothing. Is it a wig?) The candidates are summoned to 65 Fleet Street, formerly part of the Murdoch newspaper empire, now rather more prosaically the headquarters of an upmarket law firm. Lord Sugar descends in a glass elevator and, flanked by his advisors Nick Hewer and Karren Brady, stands on a balcony so he can quite literally talk down to the candidates.

This week’s task is a new one but a good ‘un. Devise a new free magazine concept, mock up a design and editorial content, and then pitch to three major media buying agencies to sell advertising space – the sole source of revenue for such publications. Before the teams set off, Sugar moves ‘Jedi’ Jim Eastwood to Venture and appoints him as their project manager, while Leon Doyle moves the other way to Logic, where Natasha Scribbins is declared team leader. So, Venture this week are Jim, Glenn, Susan Ma and Zoe Beresford, while Logic comprises Natasha, Melody, Leon, Helen Milligan and Tom Pellereau.

The first order of business is to decide on their target market. Natasha pushes a lads’ mag concept for Logic, sagely noting in this week’s Statement of the Blahhdy Obvious™:

Lads’ magazines are about lads, yeah?

While Tom and Helen suggest an entrepreneurial/business spin on their title, Natasha shoots them down with one simple statement: “Porn sells.” Which presumably has Karren thinking about her fellow West Ham board members and porn peddlers David Gold and David Sullivan.

Tom and Helen are dispatched to conduct a focus group with a student rugby team, who like the business-related concept but universally suggest raising the tone. Which, of course, Natasha shoots down. However, she does run with Helen’s suggestion of Covered as a title, possibly because she’s thinking of changing it to Uncovered. Yeah?

Leon, meanwhile, is in full creative mode, suggesting – brilliantly – a feature on how to make £1,000 in a day, based on last week’s rubbish task and – rather less brilliantly – an item titled ‘How do you blow your load?’ about how young men spend their cash. Obviously.

All that remains is a photo-shoot for their cover which involves a rather attractive and well-endowed young lady wearing nothing but her underwear and Tom’s suit jacket. Nothing sells ‘raising the tone’ like a Loaded cover from 1994, eh?

The Saga Louts

Venture agree that the over-60s represent an attractive market. Jim is very keen to do everything by consensus, leading Nick to comment:

Trying to nail anything on Jim is a bit like trying to nail jelly to a wall.

Jim's team were hardly falling over one another to pitch (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

While Jim and Zoe start thinking about their concept and layout, Glenn and Susan go to a bowling club to canvass opinion. There they discover that their suggested titles – which include such gems as Free 60, First Lady and Radiance – go down like the proverbial lead balloon. An awkward conversation between the two sub-teams ensues where alternatives such as Pension Mention, Coffin Dodger and Old Boot are discarded in favour of Zoe’s suggestion, Hip Replacement. Still, at least no one came up with Colostomy Bag. Focus group done, Glenn and Susan head off to shoot some photos of some 60-plus models. Fortunately, no one asks them to parade in their underwear.

At their publishing base, Jim is sucking all the life out of Zoe’s concept, micro-managing every decision and changing all her ideas. Then, back at the Apprenti-Mansion™, Jim asks his team if any of them would like to pitch. Susan politely declines because she is too busy washing her hair. Glenn needs to rearrange his collection of pristine, unopened Star Wars action figures. And Zoe is keen to tidy up with her Mood Hoover™. That noise you hear is the sound of a buck being passed.

Pitching in

It’s day two, and the teams must now pitch to three media buying agencies – mass market houses Carat and Mediacom, and the boutique Maxus – looking to secure orders from each for 35 pages’ worth of advertising space with a rate card value of around £100,000. Nobody ever pays rate card, incidentally – even small, one-off clients buying space in high-end magazines will always expect (and get) a hefty discount. No one bothers to tell the teams that, of course.

Leon sneaked in the insult of the series underneath Natasha's radar (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

We are told that the lads’ mag market is tough and in decline. (It certainly is: the sector is saturated with titles ranging from GQ to Nuts, and circulation figures have been falling for several years.) And we are also informed that the over-60s market is large, has high levels of disposable income, and is relatively under-catered for. (Although they are not huge magazine readers either.)

A few of Logic’s lowlights:

  • Leon stumbles through his first pitch, and ends up doing the second one alongside Natasha, who back-seat drives him to death, constantly cutting him off.
  • Leon’s subsequent snarky telephone retort in the Apprenti-Carrier™ after being benched for the final pitch, which Natasha doesn’t quite hear:

Let’s just hope you can actually do the full pitch without getting interrupted.

  • The horror and disbelief on the faces of the buyers at Maxus when faced with Natasha’s subsequent pitch, as both struggle to keep a straight face:

Our advice would probably be in the future to … tone that down [i.e. drop it like a hot potato]

And Venture don”t fare much better either:

  • Carat tell Jim what we all worked out 15 minutes ago: “I don’t like the launch title at all.”
  • Jim completely fails to read the signals and refuses to negotiate discounts off rate card for Carat, drawing critical comments from both Nick and Susan, who (correctly) advises him to cut their prices.
  • Glenn taking the reins for the final pitch and delivering a presentation which is as flat and uninspired as an, er, flat and uninspired thing.

And we’re done.

Boardroom brouhaha™

Back in the boardroom, Sugar lays into Logic’s concept:

Like the FT with a swimwear section in it?

No, it’s much more ridiculous than that.

He notes the focus group asked the team not to talk down to the demographic, but they did so anyway. And while he isn’t keen on the ‘How do you blow your load?’ idea, he does congratulate Leon on his ‘How to make £1,000 in a day’ idea. Which, to be fair, is a good one.

As for Venture, he notes that the over-60s – he himself is 64, Nick 67 – constitute an attractive market, but is suitably critical about the title (Zoe’s idea) and the patronising nature of some of the content (Jim’s idea). That critique, too, is fair enough.

Of course, what we really want to know is the results, which are as follows. Maxus bought £9,000 worth of space from Logic, but £12,000 from Venture. Mediacom purchased £7,500 and £16,850 respectively. And you just know how this is going to end, right? Carat – who I can only think had a frontal lobotomy during the pitches – bought the whole kit and caboodle from Logic for the princely sum of £60,000, and not a bean from Venture. Against all reason, Natasha’s team have won by nearly £48,000. I should have known. Helen improves her record to 7-0 – of course Logic were always going to win.

Glenn discovered that Sugar doesn't like engineers much (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Logic’s treat is to be taught fencing – the sword-fighting variety, not the handling of stolen goods sort. Sadly, no one accidentally on purpose lands a fatal blow on the unbearably smug Natasha. For Venture, of course, it is the well-worn path to the Cafe of Broken Dreams™, where Jim blames the magazine title for their loss, Glenn blames the Carat pitch and Susan sets a new world record for back-pedalling away from her involvement in any incorrect decisions.

Back in the boardroom, Jim is affronted when Susan says she disagreed with the title, saying her objections are like “a whisper in the night”. Sugar asks how their end product came to deviate so much from Zoe’s original concept, and the finger of blame is pointed at Jim, who in turn points to a lack of contribution and cowardliness on the part of certain members of his team, particularly when it came to volunteering to pitch. Susan defends herself, saying she did put herself forward – at which point Zoe shakes her head so vigorously I worry it might fall off.

Finally, Jim says he would quite happily bring all three back in with him, before settling on just Glenn and Susan (“the meek little mouse”).

While the three of them wait outside, Nick is none too complimentary about Jim:

The thing is he always covers his arse. He never takes a unilateral decision.

Karren is equally unimpressed with Susan:

It’s interesting Susan comes into the boardroom time and time again with all these wonderful task-saving ideas …”

And Sugar remarks about Glenn:

He always falls back to “I’ve never done it before.”

And the name-calling continues once they are summoned back in. Glenn calls Jim a control freak. Karren calls Jim ‘passive-aggressive’ when she actually means ‘manipulative’. (For God’s sake, get a dictionary.) Jim accuses Susan of lacking passion and contribution. Susan retreats into ‘poor me’ victim mode, which impresses absolutely nobody, to which Jim’s conciliatory response is an absolute classic:

I actually think you’re just marginally worse than Glenn.

Finally, Sugar has heard enough (as have we all). He has plenty of justifiable reasons to fire either Jim or Susan, so of course he direct his Digit of Doom™ at Glenn, saying:

I have never yet come across an engineer that can turn his hand to business.

I suspect James Dyson might disagree.

So it is Glenn who has to hail the Taxi to Obscurity™, in which he reflects:

It’s not the ending that I wanted. He just doesn’t want to work with an engineer. I honestly don’t know why. I didn’t fail at one thing. Obviously I failed at impressing Lord Sugar, but, you know …

Glenn has a point. While never really showing any sparks of brilliance, he seemed to pull his weight and contribute to tasks, and there are weaker performers who continue to survive in the process. But was he a budding entrepreneur? We certainly didn’t see much evidence of that during his seven weeks. He was certainly never going to win, even if Sugar’s rationale for firing him was flimsy in the extreme.

In the fight for Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment, eight candidates remain. Although ‘candidates’ is putting it rather kindly. It’s a bit like saying that I’m a candidate for the Olympic 100 metres final, really.

Next week: It’s off to Paris, as the teams try to sell the best of British to the unsuspecting French market. Zut alors! Sacré bleu! And parlez-vous idiot-speak?

The Apprentice continues on BBC1, Wednesday at 9pm. Companion show You’re Fired follows on BBC2 at 10pm.

Link: BBC official website

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Whatever happened to the previous Apprentice winners?

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Season 2: Michelle Dewberry

Season 3: Simon Ambrose

Season 4: Lee McQueen

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