The Apprentice: keeping a low profile proves to be a bad strategy

By: Rachel Miller

Date: 12 May 2011

Missed the second episode? Catch up here.

The task

The candidates are once again split into teams of boys (led by the wishy-washy Leon) and girls (led by the formidable Edna). This time they have to create their own mobile phone apps — in just two days.

Both teams come up with sound-based ideas. Can this really be a coincidence or have they been advised that a few quick recordings is all they will realistically have time for?

The boys brainstorm some cracking ideas. “Traffic lights,” says Tom. “Is that it?” asks Jim. “Sorry,” says Tom, “I hadn’t got further than that.” Moving swiftly on…

The boys settle on creating some regional soundbites. Not wanting to offend anyone, they come up with some bland statements delivered in dodgy accents. The app is called Slang A Tang.

The girls plump for annoying noises — a baby crying, nails on a blackboard, the sound of them all talking at once. They create graphics to go with the sounds. For some reason, a picture of an elephant appears on screen when they play the sound of a dog barking.

So both teams have created fairly dreadful apps. But hey, there are some pretty silly apps out there that sell quite well. And these are free. So all they have to do is persuade as many people as possible to download them.

Marketing opportunities abound at a big technology show in London. The teams get to present their app to an audience of about 500 technology bloggers. And they also pitch to the teams at three technology websites. If their app is selected, it will be recommended to some vast online audiences.

Understanding the relative importance of each of these opportunities turns out to be crucial.

The best bits

Edna is hilarious. She carefully selects the best person to present — herself, naturally — and does so in a pair of long black gloves. But she neglects to explain how to download the app — in sharp contrast to the boys who get the audience to download the app then and there.

Edna comes out of the presentation with a massive grin on her face as the girls gather around her. She is clearly expecting a celebratory group hug but instead Melody speaks for everyone when she says, “I think we got thrashed”. Edna’s face turns to thunder but the grin remains. It’s worth watching on catch-up if you missed it — it’s comedy gold.

The worst bits

It looks like the boys are going to walk away with it. But this is The Apprentice and everyone knows pride comes before a fall.

The boys have actually made three tactical errors and will pay dearly for them. They’ve forgotten that the audience for their app is potentially global and their idea — based on British accents — does not travel. Although they win two out of three of the pitches to the technology websites, they manage to stuff up the big one — Wired — because their app is deemed to be in bad taste. Thirdly, Jim’s copywriting skills let them down. His app blurb is full of clever puns but it’s not immediately obvious what the app actually is.

The winners and losers

The figures are in and guess what? The boys have lost. The boys’ app got less than 4,000 downloads while the girls’ app — with its more global appeal —  got more than 10,000.

There’s chaos in the boardroom. Leon has to pick two candidates to face the music with him. He selects the people that seem to have come in for the most stick — Jim (for bad copy) and Alex (for doing nothing).

But Jim won’t have it. Employing some kind of mystic mind control he simply tells Leon not to choose him. Leon capitulates immediately and opts for Glenn instead. “I’m not having that,” says Glenn. “Pick Tom”. Tom, incidentally, looks uncannily like actor Michael Sheen.

There is incredulity on the other side of the table.

In the end, Leon, Glenn and Alex get the grilling. I would have fired Leon in an instant for his utter feebleness. But Alex had committed a greater crime in Lord Sugar’s eyes — keeping a low profile. That’s not what Lord Sugar is looking for in a business partner. And, let’s face it, it’s not what the producers are looking for either.

The ones to watch

Jim’s power over others is fascinating — will he be able to control Lord Sugar when it comes to the crunch? Gavin and Tom are socially more awkward but could have hidden strengths. Melody is looking strong and will take no prisoners. But little Susie is struggling.

Business lessons

  1. Know your market — if you are selling globally, create a product with universal appeal.
  2. PR works – a recommendation on a top website can transform your sales.
  3. Copywriting is an art. Keep it simple folks — leave the puns out.

Quote of the week

“Traffic lights,” says Tom. “Is that it?” asks Jim. “Sorry,” says Tom, “I hadn’t got further than that.” 

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.


This week Lord Sugar made: nothing

Total profit so far: £624.46