The Apprentice: Black cab bitching and bottling out

As “judge, jury and executioner,” Sugar announced, he wanted the teams to deliver two things in the apprentices’ second task, a challenge that was focussed on wearable technology and working in partnership with the world renowned engineering and technology specialists, Imperial College in London. Firstly they needed to come up with a brilliant, innovative idea and, secondly, to make sure that the consumer would be happy wearing it. I’d like to say it sounded simple, but really, cutting edge wearable technology sounded a bit tricky. Oddly in the end though, it wasn’t understanding the technology that tripped the teams up.

Sugar obviously had candidates’ specialisms in mind when he handed out the task and named marketing manager Robert as a proposed project manager. But back in the boys team Robert ducked out of the role and, after being accused of hiding last week, clinical development strategist Scott stepped up. As Sugar’s sidekick Nick Hewer noted: “You need to be a brave man to ignore Lord Sugar.”

Getting the girls going was the big team name debate. Having been told by Sugar that their team name Decadence was naff, Tenacity was born and the debate began over who would become project manager. Sarah was on form again and, apparently suffering from selective memory loss, announced that she hoped the next project manager would do as well as she did. Marketing officer and fashion retailer Nurun couldn’t say no to the PM task, despite her reservations and began the task unhappy in her role.

Deciding on the type of wearable technology I think would definitely be beyond me, but unfortunately it was all a bit beyond the candidates too. Experts gave the teams a briefing to inspire them and profiled hoodies with headphones and smart sportswear to measure your workout, but somehow for both teams the technology and the practicality of possible sales seems to have failed to marry up.

The boys’ team, Summit, only came up with one workable idea – a camera in a sweatshirt and although they put their all into it, it still felt to me a bit like a stalker special. In contrast, the girls came up with all manner of ideas – and then decided to put them all in one product! Solicitor Lauren seemed to be the only one arguing that the product couldn’t be all things to all people and Tenacity’s heated jacket with flashing collar and shoulder solar panel phone charger was agreed. Personally I have no desire for a solar shoulder pad or a flashing collar, but what do I know about style and fashion? Nothing. So perhaps they’re right?

By this time both teams were suffering, what you might call, ‘management issues’. Once again a black cab provided one half of the boys with a place to have a pop at the project manager, as well as Robert’s inability to step back from the role he refused to take and let Scott get a word in. Scott didn’t help himself when the other half of his team – which had no appointed team leader – called to ask for help and Scott responded with: “Come to me with solutions not problems!”

As PM, Nurun wasn’t fairing too well either. Fitness entrepreneur Katie and business management graduate Ella Jade snatched the reins from Nurun’s loose grip and took control, but the team still seemed in disarray, just now with three people trying to lead it.

On the morning of day two the prototypes of the products arrived and somehow all the girls seemed stunned that the solar panels were not hidden under the fabric of their ‘Little Smart Jacket’. At this point I wanted to give the lot a quick slap with a wet kipper – have they no understanding of how solar energy works? You don’t really need a lot of knowledge to realise that solar panels need to have the sun shine on them, as opposed to hiding them in a dark space, in order for them to work. The team unconvincingly turned their misunderstanding into a selling point and agreed to argue the Alexis Colby look was back.

The boys’ prototype was a bit on the flashing festive side but the brand On Air, was at least relevant to the shirt in hand. Then it was time to pitch to the three retailers – John Lewis, Firebox and JD Sports. The boys had another black cab moment but were, at least, positive about their pitching skills.

The problem with pitching without preparing (or having the time to prepare is perhaps a fair assumption in this instance) is that you have to think on your feet – and preferably before you open your mouth. Unfortunately for Daniel, and the Summit team, Daniel may have made the single most counter-productive comment of the season by actually announcing that he wouldn’t wear the sweatshirt in public.

As Hillary Clinton would say, perhaps he ‘misspoke’, but the damage was well and truly done. The prospect panel did all they could not to laugh out loud, although they had to let a few smirks out – how could you not? Needless to say, his team mates were not happy. The girls’ pitches lacked the dramatics, or any significant personality but when the candidates were back in the boardroom, the girls won again – but only just, by securing one order of 250 units where the boys had none.

Sugar’s feedback focused on the task trend of ducking out of responsibility, chastising Robert for “bottling it” for his refusal to be PM and noted Scott passed “the buck like it’s a grenade” and concluded that overall the Summit team was a “shambles” – and without ceremony fired Robert on the spot. Sugar branded Bianca a bottler too and said he’d “seen nothing of” Sarah and Lindsay on this task but sent the girls off for their winners treat anyway and turned his attention back to giving the boys a verbal beating.

Sugar sent Summit out to consider the error of their ways and Scott came back with pub quiz king Daniel and technology entrepreneur Solomon for the final firing. Summarising, Sugar said Solomon needed to man up, the lack of sales inspired by Daniel’s clanger of a comment could have been responsible for the failure of the task and Scott did not lead the team and went to hide when his ideas were rejected. A decision was made, and Scott was off, leaving 17 candidates striving to impress Sugar next week.


Clare Bampton

Clare Bampton has nearly 20 years' experience in PR and marketing and founded Derbyshire-based Bampton Communications Limited seven years ago following a career including Lloyds TSB, The Boots Company, TNT and British Waterways. Bampton provides practical, value-for-money PR and marketing services to a wide range of SMEs and marketing professionals across the UK.

About Clare Bampton

Clare Bampton has nearly 20 years' experience in PR and marketing and founded Derbyshire-based Bampton Communications Limited seven years ago following a career including Lloyds TSB, The Boots Company, TNT and British Waterways. Bampton provides practical, value-for-money PR and marketing services to a wide range of SMEs and marketing professionals across the UK.