Apprentice Alex: “it’s a total mess”!

This week’s task on BBC’s Apprentice was about advertising a cleaning product. The losing team picked “Germ-o-nator” as a brand. It didn’t exactly clean up.

Both teams were very poor, but somehow we’ve been there before with this task. And there lies a potential clue to what went wrong.

So what did go wrong and why were they so weak?

The advertising executives to whom the teams had to pitch, were singularly unimpressed. Sometimes laughing in disbelief, sometimes gobsmacked with incredulity, there were no redeeming features.

Alex Epstein’s team lost, although even the “winning” team was not credited as such by Lord Sugar.

Normally the drama is finally over when someone gets fired in the boardroom. But this week, Alex continued his bizarre performance on Dara O Briain’s follow up show on BBC2.

Having exhausted his skills, he lost further credibility from his choice of whom to bring back to the boardroom (leaving out Lucky Laura).

Even when there was nowhere else to go, he carried on talking. Ruby Wax was impressed! Finally Alex gets it: become a TV comic.

It would be easy to pick apart each person’s woeful performance from the comfort our sofas, but as any leader would do when reviewing a project, we should perhaps ask ourselves: was it too demanding?

The pressure was on from the word go. Lord Sugar pitched up at 7.30am at the house unannounced.

The guys were having a sneaky lie-in, and ended up starting their first meeting of the day in their night gear. It wasn’t good enough, but things just got worse from then on.

Marketing is difficult. Few can do it. Speaking from experience I find it harder than finance.

Alex admitted he wasn’t “a creative”, which for a marketing manager only leaves “managing”.

He did this poorly as well, snapped Lord Sugar despite Alex’s increasingly noisy protestations.

But it’s impossible to manage something if you don’t know what you are doing. Neither team really grasped how to align all the variables of the marketing mix, such as product appearance, target audience and TV and radio messages.

Instead we were treated to a series of individual cameos of entertainment, such as Stuart “The brand” Baggs’s repertoire of impersonations, or Chris Bates’s impression of a film director.

But wasn’t this just like Raef two years ago?

It’s a bit like people carrying on working when rioters are breaking into their office. Sometimes we default to what we know, bury our heads in the sand and get completely distracted by pointless diversions. It’s overload.

One definition of madness is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. In repeating the same task, the show did just that. Result: a total mess.

Or look at it another way. If these candidates had the ability and vision to see a new product through from design to market, they probably wouldn’t be here. They’d be doing it.

But surely Lord Sugar is looking for potential rather than finished goods?

I’m not sure he’ll bring out the best in the apprentices this way.

See also: Alex Epstein: was it unfair dismissal?

Was Paloma too smooth?;

How does Paloma’s strategy fail her?;

How do you solve a problem like Melissa?;

Apprentice Mel: horrible people;

More information on leadership problems

How does Surgeon Apprentice get the chop?

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About drstevelewis

Good leadership is essential for any project to succeed. I specialise in the most difficult leadership challenges; those involving the way we relate to other people or the way they relate to us. With a background of many years in business and an earlier training in medicine I combine the two in a unique consultancy.
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1 Response to Apprentice Alex: “it’s a total mess”!

  1. Tim says:

    You make a very valid point that not all marketers are creative – I’m a marketer and I’m not at all creative. But Alex did trumpet himself as an out-of-the-box thinker and he was an Unemployed Head of Communications, so he should at least have been able to craft a message (which he utterly failed to do) and to manage his team (which he did poorly, but not as terribly as was made out on the programme).

    In the real world, devising a new brand and a campaign takes a lot of time, money and expertise – certainly a lot more than five non-experts, two days and one focus group. The advertising task, like the invent-a-new-product task, is set up to fail from the beginning. But that, of course, is the point of The Apprentice – it’s about entertainment, not education. It would be much less fun if the candidates did a good job!

    If interested, here are my thoughts on last night’s episode:
    http://slouchingtowardsthatcham.com/2010/11/11/synergy-clean-up-in-apprentice-advertising-task-alex-is-scrubbed-out/

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