Why ‘The Apprentice’ is bad for business

Lord Alan Sugar of The Apprentice
Lord Alan Sugar of The Apprentice

For years I’ve been avoiding avidly watching ‘The Apprentice’. Last time I watched it, I saw them attempt a dreadful rebrand of Margate. But this week, I was asked to give it another go and I found myself hating it even more.

The group had the task of creating a new dessert product to sell into the major supermarket groups and the team who did worse only managed to create and sell 15,000 units in their allotted few days, whereas the winners sold 23,500. So why do I think this is so wrong?

1. The competitors behaviour in the boardroom was horrific. Initially they worked as teams but were encouraged and delighted by the fact that they should back stab their other team members in front of “Lord’ Sugar. I’ve been in business for a long time and maybe I’m the naive one, but a situation where the other person has to lose for you to be able to win is not a situation I recognise or respect. I don’t believe it sustains good business.

2. ‘Lord Sugar’s’ feigned ignorance was appalling. He sneered at one of the competitors for referring to their target audience as ‘grazers’ If he genuinely didn’t understand this term, is he qualified to judge such a programme?

3. The situation itself was completely ridiculous. For young people to believe that it’s the norm to pop into a development kitchen and create a new dessert without even a nod towards costing it up properly (more Saffron anyone?) is bad enough, but for them to carry on the myth by pretending they had secured pitches in front of Tesco and Waitrose is even more ridiculous. For them to pretend that they then ordered units without any production ability or drawn out negotiation just perpetuates the stupidity.

4. And then it came to the judging. The esteemed ‘Lord’ Sugar decided who he wanted to belittle first. A young lady with an idea about a healthy eating restaurant chain emanating from Sunderland was literally laughed out of the boardroom. But what had changed? That was the business idea she had pitched to get onto the programme, so when did it suddenly become something worth ridicule? It was nasty and spiteful and all to do with bullying on TV. She had been set up for that fall since she agreed to join the programme.

For me, business is built on the old fashioned values of mutual respect, trust and hard work. Throw in some luck and grasping the good opportunities that present themselves, whilst knowing which ones to pass over, is the difference between success and failure.

The Apprentice is X Factor business. Nothing to do with ANY of these business values and everything to do with creating shocking TV and making money at any cost, despite how many people you harm on the way. If this is the impression we give young people about how business behaves, in my opinion, very few of them will choose to join us. Those that do will be horrendous colleagues trained in the very worst of business behaviour.

This isn’t an apprenticeship, It’s an ugly beauty parade that’s causing harm to the future of business.

Thanks to TV Choice magazine for the picture of the pin up boy for business, Lord Sugar.

Margate fights back – Rebrand or no rebrand

Margate, fresh from its appalling rebranding attempts on The Apprentice is most definitely fighting back.

I wrote this article last week and found myself defending the place quite vigorously.

By way of follow up, I have just spoken to a very helpful ‘spokesperson’ at the Tourist information centre and they report that the town was absolutely packed this weekend with thousands of families looking for the type of break that Kate’s team were promoting.

I think there are a few things to learn from this. The first is that the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s apathy and maybe many of us had got a little apathetic about Margate and British resorts in general. Maybe this programme forced many to look again at their own prejudices and get down there and judge for themselves?

The second and perhaps most important point is that in our own experience of place branding, you need a catastrophic event to start the fight back. There were so many people being negative about the place generally that those of us who have lived there and loved it, stand up and shout back at those who put it down – particularly those who have never even been there.

This has happened in Liverpool, where there is huge civic pride from almost all who have lived there. We saw the same happen in Nottingham when we went through the rebranding process there and maybe the same is starting to happen in Margate.

Margate Old Town is beautiful, the Turner Centre should be spectacular and bring in a whole new audience to visit the shops, cafes and bars of a regenerated town without all the homogenised high street stores we see in every other town and city the world over. If Margate dares to be different, it has a chance to succeed. If it bottles it and homogenises it deserves to fail.

Rebranding any place in isolation will achieve absolutely nothing. Using it as an excuse to show people you have changed and will behave differently going forward has the potential to really work. This applies to ANY brand, be it place, product or service.

A busy Bank Holiday in Margate
A busy Bank Holiday in Margate

Thanks for the shot which is from Blood Oaf on Flickr. See his excellent work here.

Rebranding Margate – The Apprentice Way

Having watched The Apprentice last night for the first time, a few things struck me about the programme itself and the solutions that the contestants put forward as to how they would rebrand Margate.

I am no stranger to city county and place rebrands and was one of the people behind the controversial rebrand of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, being on the receiving end of tongue lashings from almost every outraged paper in the country for having the nerve to say that there was more to our city and county than just Robin Hood.

This is our version of events

I grew up in Margate and had two exceptionally happy years there moving away when I was only six years old. It would be very hard to argue that Margate still lives those glorious days in the 1970’s when Dreamland was at its boom and the new Arlington House flats being built were still hailed as a new way of living for Eastenders moving out from town to a new idyllic life by the sea.

A 60's dream gone slightly wrong
A 60's dream gone slightly wrong Shot by Sean Mason (Flickr)

I was in Margate again at the weekend for a few days with my kids, who are ten and twelve, and every single time we go there, we still love the place. Its simple British fun that has had the heart ripped out of it by a dreadful planning decision that put a new ‘out of town’ shopping monster between the main towns of Thanet and destroyed all the others in the process.

But Margate is fighting back. We walked around the old town which has some cool new boutiques and interesting arty stores. It also has some beautiful little shops available for rent for almost nothing. They just need an independent retailer to come in and make a success of it. If you can’t do this with 100SqM of retail space and a rent of £3k per year, you don’t deserve to stay trading anyway. Perhaps subsidised rents would allow the town to be reborn through this growing retail sector.

Margate - A town fighting back
Margate - A town fighting back - Shot by Lynn Jackson Flickr

Margate has a lovely feel to it, if you ignore the slightly tired façade. Offering a family appeal is the perfect answer and so I think Kate and her team were spot on. There was no need to rebrand it as MarGAYte as there is already a thriving gay community there, so what’s the commercial sense in aiming all your marketing money at just one niche. They could have done that easily with some clever PR and a few nicely designed ads.

None of them did actually rebrand the town though.

They just produced campaigns that may drive a few tourists through the door. A rebrand of any town or city only works if you have the whole area behind it. It’s the process of getting to the new logo and the newly agreed strategy that is important a by getting everyone to unite behind a common flag, they agree to talk the place up in the same way and become more able to defend it for what it is and promote it for what it could become.

The designers behind the losing team’s route should be shot for allowing a client to give them such a bad brief. ‘we need a brochure in 20 minutes’ will never work, lying about a reason for white space by the ‘client’ is even worse. Clients invariably get the work they deserve. If you leave a designer 20 minutes to produce a brochure with no distinctive or iconic pictures, too much mediocre copy and someone with no eye for design overseeing it, its always going to be a disaster that should have been prevented.

But the feeling I was left with overall, was why do you need to be that unpleasant in business to win. Surely you can be decent with each other and still succeed by championing what each other does best rather than laying traps into which each can fall and then celebrating when they do?

I was left hating the programme for its nasty snidy attitude.

I was left still loving and defending Margate – for all its faults – and looking at a council team who should be the ones taken out and ridiculed for letting Margate as a seaside town, sell its soul to the retail ‘gods’ who owned the site a few miles up the road.

I can’t imagine I’ll be tuning in again