Alana Spencer: Don’t make your product look like it’s from a budget sex shop

Winner of 2016’s The Apprentice, Alana Spencer, explains why this week’s losing team should have resisted donning elf costumes and dancing for potential buyers

Alana Spencer: Don’t make your product look like it’s from a budget sex shop

Recently, through talking to big retailers, I learned a product’s pitch is so important. You can hold the best product in the world but if you have a bad day and bad pitch you’ll struggle to sell anything, which is crazy. However, while both teams in last night’s episode completely fudged their presentations, the fired candidate proves pitching is still only 50% of the battle. After all, if the product’s doomed from the start, not even the jolliest of elf costumes – as donned by the losing team – can convince retailers to buy. But more importantly, with a fortnight until the final, Lord Sugar’s now focusing on business plans, not task performance.

At least Collaborative, the winning team, took to the Christmas theme well. They remembered the task was to create chocolate for the Christmas market and made it obvious they were selling Christmas in a box. This wasn’t without project manager, Sabrina, overruling Sian’s packaging design disagreements just as Sian overruled Sabrina’s complaints last episode. In fact, many people have said Sabrina tends to disagree with everything but also often knows the right moves, so it was nice to see her get the chance to push forward ideas after weeks of being downtrodden. Although, there’s undoubtedly a bit of animosity between candidates because they’re in a competition. So I wouldn’t be surprised if Sabrina was also putting her point across as strongly as possible to show Sian that this task was her turf.

But Collaborative were far from perfect. When it came to presenting their chocolates to retailers, Sian pulled imaginary marketing budgets out of thin air when pressed for them and Sabrina conceded the whole brand could be changed, causing a retailer to question what they’re actually selling. This was completely just nerves. After all, in the real world there’s an element of discussion involved when pitching, where if buyers want something altered you can get back to them the next day. In fact, simply admitting “I’ll have to follow you up on that” gives more reason to keep in touch and build relationships with buyers. However, The Apprentice candidates have just one shot to wrap everything up and just one evening to plan their presentations. The problem was Collaborative didn’t prepare for that unique environment with answers at their fingertips and just spoke for themselves rather than a team.

At least they weren’t as bad as Typhoon, the losing team, where all three adorned elf costumes and performed a song and dance for prospective buyers – not to mention dragging them to their feet to join in. I was actually judging a business awards show recently where one of the entrants did something similar. But it doesn’t grab people’s attention, it makes them uncomfortable. Honestly, for Typhoon’s display, I think the BBC production team has a lot to answer for. Since they were put into a cheesy elf acting workshop beforehand to boost their confidence, all three assumed it was integral to the pitch. Because it’s such a weird environment the candidates thought “Right, in that case I’ll come as an elf because that’s what production’s telling me,” whereas really it’s your decision and they won’t tell you how to pitch, although I could be wrong. One thing’s for sure – if someone like Jackie was still there she would have said “No, we’re not going to do the dance, this is silly” and put her foot down.

But the pitch wasn’t even the worst part. Camilla conceived a raunchy ‘naughty or nice’ chocolate brand with sexist imagery on the packaging, which Dan went along with. Despite kiltering off the Christmas focus, they just took the idea too far. I follow all the candidates on social media and Camilla’s business rides that ‘sex sells’ angle, where she very much plays on adult imagery in marketing. So essentially, what she tried to do last night was say to Lord Sugar “Look, this works in my business”. But instead she went overboard and made it look like it was from a budget sex shop, which didn’t go down well with the retailers.

Although Sarah mostly stayed away from that mess and stuck to conjuring up the chocolates in the kitchen, she made a mess of her own. If you’re not used to cooking environments you wouldn’t realise you must weigh ingredients and write recipes down, so Sarah just eyeballed everything without keeping track and bad tastes resulted. In general, with food you need to know what your brand is with flavours that either push boundaries or play to tradition and Typhoon’s did neither.

Having said that, I don’t think Sarah caused the failure of the task. You can sit down and recreate flavours if you must, it just takes a while. In fact, I’ve done it myself with Ridiculously Rich. But ultimately, Camilla catalysed the task’s downfall. She put Sarah in that situation even though she has more kitchen experience with her nut milk brand, whereas Sarah runs a nursery furniture business. However, when it comes down to the firing, if we’re weighing everything up, Sarah was still the right one to go. Importantly, she was only coming out of her shell in the last couple of episodes at such a late stage. Camilla and Dan, on the other hand, have demonstrated their worth throughout the process. Moreover, this was the last task before the interviews. Now, business plans will be dissected over pure ability more than ever and Lord Sugar’s undoubtedly got that at the back of his mind. 

The good thing about winning the penultimate task is your whole team automatically enters the final five without duking it out in the boardroom. It’s a weird one actually, in my year we won it and you’re sent into the interviews flaunting your feathers – that’s no doubt what Sabrina, Sian and Khadija are feeling. However, the interviews are merciless. No matter how well candidates have performed, absolutely no one is safe from getting butchered by the likes of Claude. 

Alana Spencer
Alana Spencer

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