The Apprentice, episode 5: the perils of publishing » SMEInsider

The Apprentice, episode 5: the perils of publishing

In this week’s show, the teams took on the tough world of children’s publishing. How well did their stories sell, and what can we learn from their mistakes? The runner-up from last year’s series, entrepreneur Bianca Miller, and Neil Dagger, senior product marketing manager for domain name registry Nominet, provide their expert commentary. Warning: contains spoilers.

Missed the last one? Catch up with our commentary on episode 4.

Join the conversation on Twitter: @SMEInsider #TheApprentice #BiancaMillerSays



Bianca Miller


After an early start, the candidates managed to get to the meeting with Lord Sugar and the task was set: to create a children’s book and accompanying audio pitched at children aged three to five then sell it to bookstores.

Sam took Lord Sugar’s less-than-subtle hint that he should be project manager due to his literary experience, helming team Connexus for this task. The one key thing that Sam said that I agree with is “communication is key to existence”, however beyond that he spent a lot of time trying to write the Shakespearean experience for children.

The Apprentice sam ponders

Meanwhile on team Versatile, Charleine put herself forward as PM then appeared to attempt to alienate as many of her team members as possible starting with April, who from her perspective had the “nerve” to suggest an idea for the book. She asked “what skill do you have?” to which April quickly retorted “I have a degree in creative writing” – well that told her.

But it’s not a great start for team synergy. She then went on to give Richard the position of team leader in title but only wanted to speak to David. Bizarre but true. I have had my share of difficult characters on The Apprentice and beyond, but this strategy was very obvious and quite unkind.

The Apprentice charleine scowls


Selina, by her own admission, isn’t very good at maths. She made this clear when she suggested one could buy 150 books at £4.20 each or 50 at £3.50 – the concept of economies of scale seems to be lost on her. What’s more, she didn’t ask what they wanted first which would have been a helpful negotiation tool. But at least she made a sale.

The Apprentice selina negotiates

Charleine decided she would pitch against the wishes of the team who pointed out there were much stronger pitchers. She did a terrible pitch, then still wouldn’t allow someone else to pitch at the next meeting. The moral of the story here is that you should deploy the best person in your team to pitch, negotiate, create etc – just because you are PM, you do not need to do everything.

Let’s not mention that the team went to a rare bookshop that sells books in excess of £10,000 and tried to sell a new (limited edition but not rare) children’s book to them.

The Apprentice pitching at rare bookshop

Luckily for Charleine, her team won, otherwise I am certain her head may have been for the chopping block on this occasion. But these things happen in the world of The Apprentice and she has some time to make a comeback!

The Apprentice team versatile wins

Business lessons from this week’s episode:

  • Have a pricing strategy – it is important in retail to understand pricing and percentages. If there is scope for a discount on volume sales then make sure you know what room you have for negotiation.
  • Deploy your troops – if you are lucky enough to have a team, utilise their ability and skills in the right way to aid you in your business endeavours. Equally, it is probably better not to alienate, humiliate or undermine your team if you want them to work towards your goal with you.
  • Remember your market – it is key to understand your market demographic. If you are selling to children, write in a way that appeals to the age range and remember that as it’s the parents who will be making the purchase the storyline needs to appeal to them too.

I regularly deliver training on delivering powerful presentations and many of the key points are the same when you are pitching for business.

My top 5 tips for Power Pitching are:

Plan the pitch – determine what your topic is and how it relates to your audience, work out what outcome you seek and plan the content around that purpose. All good stories have a clear beginning, middle and end.

The beginning – engage with the audience at the start of the pitch – the beginning should grab the attention of the audience by piquing interest, asserting credibility or making an interesting or startling statement.

The middle – have four to six key ideas backed up with statistics, demonstration, analogies or testimonials that prove your content and follow a coherent message.

The close – summarise or restate your message, relate the topic back to your audience, be clear on what action you want the audience to perform as a result of the pitch.

Ask for the sale – technically you should have covered all points during the pitch, so the end is the opportunity to answer anything the audience feels they require clarification on or anything that isn’t covered. Then there is the opportunity to ask for the sale… and be prepared to negotiate.



Neil Dagger

Nominet – The UK internet registry for and the new shorter .uk

6am. The phone rings. It’s Lord Sugar’s office. Frantic scramble to get suited and booted. The cars are waiting outside and it’s off to the library to receive this week’s challenge. It’s a beauty: design, write and produce a book for the three- to five-year-old children’s market. Then the tricky bit – convince the book stores of London to buy as many copies as possible and maximise revenue.


Fortunately, the teams had some very relevantly skilled members. Sam, a private tutor with a degree in English literature, had been waiting for this task. A self-confessed wordsmith, educated and articulate. An obvious choice for project manager.

Charleine led the other team, but personality clashes with the irrepressible Richard threatened potential disaster. They could only manage to speak to each other through gritted teeth.

One of the clear lessons from this year’s series is how disruptive it is if the team members cannot work together and have little respect for each other. Time is wasted and poor decisions are made for all the wrong reasons when ideas are dismissed not on their validity but based on the source.

sam's team

Sam, with his education and interests, should have had a clear advantage in this task. But he could not make a decision, spent far too long deliberating and re-analysing direction. This delayed the task, time ran short and the later stages became rushed.

Too late, people started questioning his choice of words in the book. Much of the vocabulary was too advanced for three- to five-year-olds, often confused the parents in the research groups and certainly irritated the book store buyers who declined to buy any. The writing was now on the wall.

Critical errors were made at the pitching stage. It’s a given that you consider your audience and select the strongest sales presenter for the big occasion.  Both teams missed this. Charleine fluffed her pitches and struggled to find not just the right words, but any that hung together to form a sentence with any meaning. Her team was only saved at the eleventh hour by a late volume order of 100 books which resulted in her team winning.

Rainforest Cafe

Sam’s team had the weaker product, less effective pitchers without a firm handle on the numbers and poor targeting, visiting many shops that didn’t trade in children’s books. Result: less revenue and failure.

Business lessons:

  • Check your product positioning. Is it pitched correctly? Does it take into account target market needs?
  • Consider your audience when pitching. What are they looking for?
  • At the big pitch, select your strongest team members with sales skills and a command of the English language that still operates when up on their hind legs under pressure.
  • When up against a time deadline do all you can to maximise sales, when every bit of revenue counts. Had Sam’s team sold their remaining stock for close to £1 each they could have won.


In the end it was Natalie who was shown the door as she seemed to have lost interest during the task, fluffed her pitch and hadn’t got a clear grasp of the numbers. Her number was up.

The Apprentice natalie you're fired


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