Sunday, 7 June 2009

Live blogging the Apprentice series 5: episode 12 - The Final

And that's the end of the show, of this year's series and this series of blog postings. Over these twelve episodes we've had several thousand people stop by to watch, and I hope you've enjoyed it. Thanks very much for reading and especially thanks to those who have commented or emailed me.

If you found my thoughts on the Apprentice interesting, do subscribe to the blog (links at the top of the right-hand column) - one of the regular themes of this blog is tongue-in-cheek economic analysis of subjects that you might not think are about economics at all. You might like some of our other features.

Congratulations to Yasmina and I look forward to talking further with you all about her - and next year's Apprentice candidates - in the future.


Best wishes to you all.

      Leigh.





10:57 And the credits roll. It's probably time to switch over to the European election results, but we have Michelle Hussain on the news first. I don't think a live blog of the next seven hours of election coverage would keep you quite as interested. So I'll just start with the headlines. The north-east region has retained one Labour MEP, one Tory and one Liberal Democrat. I am not sure how these counts are working, because surely there are more than three MEPs per region.

Onto the cricket, and...

No, I'm not really going to recite the whole of the news. But it's quite addictive, this live blogging stuff. What will I do for the next forty weeks?



10:55 It's kind of nice to see everyone thanking each other - not traditionally great TV, but actually cements the feeling that we've all been part of a little community in this series.

10:54 And some cute moments of Sir/Lord/King Alan.

10:52 A great montage of Apprentice moments from Harry Hill - but not quite as brilliant as Cassetteboy from two weeks ago. That video, incidentally, has now been seen by 650,000 people, which is about as many as saw the real programme (which clashed with the Champions League final) that week.

10:50 I'm ever so slightly disappointed with the job he's assigning Yasmina to - working in the electronic display division, which sells advertising on plasma screens in the health sector. But I'm sure she can make something interesting out of it.

10:45 A few extra comments for James and Debra...nothing new though. There's a limit to the appeal of nostalgia.

10:42 Fulsome praise for all the candidates - perhaps they are having trouble getting applicants for next year!

10:40 An interesting game theory insight: she is praised for learning from task 1 and applying the lesson in task 2. But she almost managed to forget it in time to spend £700 on sandalwood.

10:38 He's smarter than he sometimes looks on this show. He explains that the product almost doesn't matter - if the positioning, pricing, and promotion are right, the thing inside the box can be fixed. And this is ultimately why Yasmina won.

10:37 Alan Sugar seems to have a bit of Lorraine's fly-by-instinct...he hired Yasmina on gut feeling. I guess that's so often true - not that I want to harp on the 2-second rule but it's true.

10:33 But I should have expected it...His Magnificence Sir Lord Baron Duke Alan Sugar of Canning Town comes out to replace them.

10:32 Yasmina comes out and the panel have disappeared! What is this twist in the format?

10:29 I think that was a shot of last year's Apprentice Lee McQueen in the audience! I'd love to hear what's happened to him. The "what happened next"s seem to be a bit of a secret in this show.

10:27 Once again we're reminded that Margaret is going to be taken away from us by a PhD in Ancient Greek papyrus found in Egypt in Roman times. Way to combine the top three classical civilisations in one piece of research, Margaret!

10:25 And it's Margaret and Nick time. Most of this hour is a nice nostalgic trip. It's been an intense eleven weeks and this is a good comedown.

10:22 The character in this series who will live longest in the collective memory is, of course, neither Kate nor Yasmina but Pantsman. We see a nice set of clips of him and his immortal creator Philip.

10:15 Philip and Kate and the delights of office relationships. I'm sure there must be a bit of economic theory about trust, personal communication and its effect on the process of market exchange - but I don't know what it is.

10:13 Jonathan Ross is pretty funny about Philip. To be honest it's easy to be funny about Philip.

10:11 I'd also forgotten that Kate has a degree in the psychology of business - including consumer behaviour, which is a key area for my own company. An interesting candidate overall and I'm sure she will be snapped up by some entrepreneur soon.

10:10 And a reminder of a moment I'd forgotten - Kate's attempt to sell bruschetta and hot blinis in the catering task. I definitely underestimated her at that point.

10:09 A jaw-dropping suggestion that Nick licks chocolate off Margaret's face.

10:06 Jonathan Ross hasn't been on this show before. He seems to be forgetting that we're meant to be nice about people tonight.

10:05 The discussion is definitely going in a bizarre direction. These chocolates are being associated with pregnancy tests and condoms.

10:02 Kate's out first and nicely praised by the panel.

10:00 And straight over to You're Hired - an hour of discussion between Michelle Mone, Jonathan Ross, Ruby Wax, Adrian Chiles, Kate, Yasmina and even His Majesty Alan Sugar.

9:59 The right decision I think - she seems like a great person who will really take on this opportunity and thrive. And, of course, I just like her.

9:59 Yasmina is HIRED!

9:58 And, after twelve weeks...

9:57 And if Yasmina can do it herself, will she lose out by working for Sir Alan?

9:56 The final analysis: if Kate is just a good salesperson, will he have the time to bring her forward in other areas?

9:55 The same old issue is up again: Yasmina has a business employing 20 people, and will she fit into the corporate environment?

9:54 Kate makes a good professional case for her sales, presentation and negotiation skills. Yasmina is much more interesting I think.

9:52 Back in the boardroom and each candidate must go through the routine of telling Alan how great they are. I kind of have the feeling he's made up his mind already (remember the 2-second rule from previous weeks?) but maybe something a candidate says will remind him of something great he's forgotten about them.

9:51 Margaret and Nick are praising both candidates to the heavens...what a refreshing attitude for the show to take. Clearly they want a feelgood ending.

9:50 A defence from Philip: he points out that with a few days more in the lab, they could create a much better chocolate. True, but...that wasn't within the scope of the task. We could all make brilliant stuff with unlimited resources.

9:49 Yasmina might have fallen into the same trap as in her catering task - cost-cutting above all else.

9:48 Now Yasmina, and he doesn't really like the advertising. Or the product.

9:47 But His Highness doesn't. The price is a big problem for him, and he thinks it would not work with the distribution strategy Kate has chosen.

9:46 Debra makes a very touching tribute to Kate.

9:45 The boardroom is so relaxed! Of course, it's because eight out of ten people in there have nothing at stake.

9:44 So far I have to say they've edited it in quite a balanced way. Kate's product is clearly better - it was described as "a revolutionary concept" by one expert. But His Holiness is always focused on commercial reality, and price will be a big factor for him.

9:42 A bit of controversy over the flavours but nobody hates them (or admits to it). The £6 price is actually criticised as being too low, however. Pricing is a quality signal. And remember the judgments here are being made not on actual sales (where the price might help immensely) but on judgments by industry professionals, which may reflect a subjective quality judgment. And that kind of judgment may well be influenced by a perception that low price means low quality.

9:41 And the ad isn't as bad as I feared. Fun - and consistent with the price point and design. The big question is going to be: do the chocolates actually taste nice?

9:40 Yasmina's presentation is a bit stilted but not bad.

9:39 And there's James Cronin sitting behind His Eminence.

9:38 The electric branding is switched on. Yasmina's panicking but the room does look good. Although not very...chocolatey.

9:37 Kate's advert is competent - the 'one to share' is a nice conceit and people respond reasonably well. The first question, though, is about the price of £13. The branding is described as "mainstream" but the price clearly isn't.

9:34 Right on cue, His Grace Alan Sugar doesn't like the £13 price point.

9:33 The question of price has hardly been mentioned, but I have a feeling it is going to be really important. I'm not sure in which direction: but £13 is going to be a tougher sell than £5. Then again, the cost cutting that Yasmina has had to do to get down to the £5 level might be excessive - it may be that £8 would sell almost as much volume as £5.

9:31 The presentation rehearsals start. Yasmina has absolutely no confidence about her ability to present. That isn't going to help: but I'm sure she will be OK.

9:30 Philip and Lorraine design a poster for Cocoa Electric which violates one of last year's cardinal rules: show the product. They are showing only the brand, on the basis that they "have the balls to do it". There's a reason that you need balls to do something like this - it's because it's a bad idea.

9:28 Nick again praises Kate - this time for redesigning the TV advert. To be fair it does look quite good. Better than Yasmina's attempt.

9:27 Yasmina's now directing her own TV advert and will edit it later. I can't quite believe they are doing all this in the time limits they're claiming. We know that there is about six months between tasks eleven and twelve, so it wouldn't be too surprising if they allowed a week or two for this one. There's a huge amount to do in designing, launching and promoting a product like this and two days just doesn't feel realistic.

9:25 For some reason Yasmina wants dancers at her presentation. Maybe it's just a way to get Philip out of her hair as he is busy choreographing them.

9:23 Time for TV adverts. Not a process that I can really identify with - but always interesting. Yasmina's prototype chocolates have shown up but she isn't too keen on the taste. This isn't going well...

9:21 The boxes show up and both teams are happy - no half-blank cereal boxes this time.

9:19 Yasmina's price point is much cheaper - £5 - and she wants to achieve "shocking" ingredients. Coriander and orange, a bit of chilli...the product concept seems more coherent than I expected.

9:18 Debra and Ben are sent by Kate to pick the ingredients. They choose nice posh ingredients - but unfortuately they are too expensive to achieve the price point Kate wants. So the price is bumped up to £13.

9:16 Nick likes Kate's idea: chocolates for her, chocolates for him and one to fight over. It does seem like a clever concept. It will be interesting to find out how many chocolates are actually bought by couples.

9:15 Yasmina gets more negative feedback and abandons her idea: retaining the name but now Cocoa Electric is simply meant to be "a new, exciting product". Sounds weak to me, I'm afraid.

9:14 A bit of pricing research from Kate: an £8-9 price point, towards the low end of the market.

9:12 Yasmina's team decide to design chocolates for men because it's a market that is underserved. But - of course, as with any new market - their initial tests don't like the idea. They decide to call it Cocoa Electric and proceed anyway.

9:09 Both teams consider whether to go after the male or female market. From a marketing point of view there's a balance to be struck between a strongly focused niche brand which will increase response rates, and a broader market. Kate's team come up with the concept of a box for a couple to share, which seems a clever compromise.

9:07 They're meeting in my stomping ground, Bankside - I wonder if there's a connection with the neighbourhood. And now off to an ad agency to start designing their product concept.

9:06 As always in the last task, most of the other contestants are back in the show. Who's missing...Paula, Mona and someone else.

9:05 Yasmina's strengths: experienced at business, a strong leader. Weaknesses: a temper and sometimes gets flustered, as in last week's interview about her accounts. But on that point, see this discussion about her restaurant which indicates that her figures probably do add up after all - £290k turnover for the financial year represented only eight months of trading, so her figure of £8k per week is accurate after all. One of her other strengths is that I have a slight crush on her (at least compared to Kate), but I'll try to be objective.

9:03 So Kate's strengths are: professional, well-presented, a good manager, likeable. Her weaknesses: a possible lack of spontaneity and imagination, and the idea that her total self-control might stop her achieving full potential.

9:02 For some reason we get Adrian Chiles introducing the programme. I think it's meant to heighten the tension but the problem is - it's Adrian Chiles.

9:01 The remaining candidates: Kate and Yasmina. Each with their own strengths and weaknesses - or in the case of Kate, a lack of weaknesses which is slightly spooky.

9:00 Excited?

Moved to Sunday night for extra dramatic impact (and to avoid clashing with the football), the final episode of The Apprentice is tonight at 9.

We'll have live coverage here of the teams' attempts to design and manufacture a range of chocolates. Much preferable to last year's perfume attempt, I think. And look out for my friend James Cronin of Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates who is one of the "industry experts" to whom the chocolates will be launched - he can be seen sitting just behind Alan Sugar here.

The final task is designed to test the full range of business skills: management, product selection and design, marketing, sales, finance and ultimately presentation skills. Kate might be thought to have an advantage on that one, with her unflappably professional image: though she didn't do too well on the TV sales task ten days ago. Although overtly a small part of the equation, quality of presentation has got to make a huge impact on the judgment of the industry and of the ultimate judge himself, His Honour Alan Sugar.

Ah yes, that. You'll have spotted the news of Sir Alan's elevation to Lord Alan Sugar. The Tories are questioning whether he can keep his BBC job while simultaneously playing a role in government; many others are asking whether this is a gimmick or a meaningful ministerial appointment. Alan Sugar himself has said that it's a non-political role and he just wants to help business and enterprise. That didn't work out so well for Digby Jones but no doubt Gordon Brown has learned something from that.

While you're waiting for the show, I have written a bit more on Alan Sugar's appointment and other political matters - it could be a harbinger of some quite serious changes in how British politics works. Have a read and I'll see you here again at 9.

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