19th Apr 2012
Susanna Simpson, founder and CEO of Limelight PR, reviews the fifth episode in the latest series of The Apprentice.
This week the remaining 12 contestants were tasked with creating a new fitness programme, complete with promotional video, to pitch to three of the UK's biggest health club chains – Fitness First, Pure Gym and Virgin Active - in order to sell licenses.
Team Sterling, headed up by Ricky Martin, came up with 'Beat Battle', a mixture of dance moves and mixed martial arts, whilst Team Phoenix created retro-themed 'Groove Train', complete with space hoppers and skipping ropes. Groove Train ended up winning, much to my dismay.
Whilst the teams consulted fitness experts when developing their programmes, there was no market research to speak of. All it would've taken was a quick call to a gym chain head office: What's your most successful class? How much do you generally pay for class licenses? At least then the teams would have had a modicum of knowledge about market entry costs and how to position themselves before starting.
Good packaging is vital to success as it makes your product or service easier to sell and easier to buy. I actually thought the names were great, but that's where it ended unfortunately. Whilst Sterling's idea of merging two existing fitness trends wasn't a bad one, they really let themselves down on their packaging of the concept. The branding was dull, uninspiring and did not evoke the martial arts element of the class. Seeing as the video was the crux of their pitch, you would have thought they could have done better than what looked like a boring aerobics class in an empty flat.
Phoenix look a completely different approach, shooting the video in a 80s disco club, channelling Flashdance with a backing team clad in neon brights and ever-so-tiny shorts. My favourite bit of the whole episode had to be Karen Brady's raised eyebrow at the boys (Stephen, Azar and Andy) 'researching' with three lunging, lycra-clad ladies! Classic. Credit to them though, the final video might have been cringeworthingly cheesy, but at least it had colour, energy and clearly explained the basic moves of the class.
This episode brought up a lot of issues about leadership.
Both teams had self-proclaimed fitness experts put themselves forward as project manager - Stephen Brady, health club sales manager and Ricky Martin, heavyweight wrestler when he's not a recruitment manager. Having industry knowledge does not necessarily make you a good leader but a good leader will capitalize on a team member who has industry knowledge. However, Ricky proved himself to be both knowledgeable on fitness and, quite frankly, one of the best project managers I've seen on the show. His management style bred structure and collaboration within the team and he had buy-in from his team; vital in business. The ultimate proof was unanimous nods of approval from the team when Sugar questioned them about his performance in the boardroom.
Ricky rightly delegated the video production to Duane when he said he had previous experience – he put his trust in him and didn't micro manage. That said, it is very important to clarify roles once you have delegated as there was a lot of bickering and clashes of opinion that I believe affected the overall quality of the video. Also, in the end it was the video that let the team down in the pitches and, as their core pitching tool, Ricky should have had overall sign-off on the editing of the video. It is ultimately the responsibility of the project manager to ensure key messages align with the objective of the project. However, in the boardroom Ricky did admit when something was his responsibility and that is very important as a leader – you don’t earn respect by making weak excuses or passing the buck.
Ricky also demonstrated a very important entrepreneurial quality: learning and adapting. When Sterling were criticized in their first pitch for the seeming lack of martial arts moves in the routine in the promotional video and accused of it being unoriginal, Ricky was quick to adapt their strategy for the next pitch and instead the team gave a live enactment of the moves to highlight the martial arts elements. Succeeding in business demands constant re-adjusting and re-assessing of your approach. Ricky was quick-thinking and flexible and I was impressed.
What I was also really pleased to see was Team Sterling calmly rehearsing their pitch. Not only does this show good time management (essential in any business) but it meant Ricky was fully prepared. Using other team members in a role play pitch environment really helps to practice. Ricky subsequently delivered three confident, articulate pitches and, where questioned on the true uniqueness and positioning of the programme in the fitness market, I was particularly impressed – as was the gym company – with the stats Ricky pulled out about mixed martial arts and dance classes participation percentages in the UK. This gave instant credibility and authority. Top marks. In fact, he was the best pitcher I think I’ve seen on The Apprentice.
Stephen, on the other hand, failed miserably in my eyes. When it came to the details, he royally screwed up, picking random numbers out of the air which had clearly not been part of their (non-existent) business model. He also didn’t listen to a concern raised by another team member earlier in the task about where the gyms would store the retro space hoppers and skipping ropes. When this question was raised by the gym, he didn’t have an answer. As a sales manager for Health Clubs by profession, how could this not even entered his head?
To be honest, Stephen got a very lucky break when one of the gyms decided to buy £12,000-worth of licenses, but as a family-themed gym class (not the original intention).
Finally, whilst Ricky has rightly got my praise, I was really disappointed when it came to his decision of who to bring back into the boardroom. The team members who contributed the most – Laura and Duane - were the ones that ended up getting burned, whilst the others, who had actually not done anything of real significance, were let off. A very poor management decision indeed – if you do this in a company, it will breed resentment amongst members of your staff who put themselves out there whilst others happily fade into the background and relinquish responsibility.
My verdict? Ricky hired, Stephen fired.