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Perspective: How spirit of the wolf bit the diffident apprentices; Live TV demands huge confidence - surprisingly, those with most confidence were found wanting. Dr David Stanley assesses week ten of BBC2's The Apprentice.

Byline: Dr David Stanley

For every product has its market. One man's luxury is another man's necessity. To Saira, a wolf spirit jacket is highly desirable; to Paul and Tim it was unbearably crude. But Saira was right. Once she had realised that she could not sell to a television camera rather than a customer, she asked all the right questions when picking products. What is unique, what can the salesman believe in and what would the women over 40 watching the Home Shopping channel at 6pm want? And she had the nous to learn from the experts.

Paul and Tim made the fatal mistake of judging products by their own likes and dislikes, without stopping to think that someone else might understand the market better. But this paled into insignificance compared with their biggest blunder, which Sir Alan unerringly put his finger on. They were so seduced by their own cleverness in thinking they could trick Saira in the negotiation that they lost sight of the purpose of the exercise. Pride comes before a fall and blinds us to our vulnerabilities.

Miriam was fighting with one hand tied behind her back. Not only was she hampered by the bizarre rule excluding the presenters from the product selection, which made it impossible for the project manager to manage, but every one of the 15 products that the boys brought back were poor selections according to the in-house expert. By then it was too late.

Impact won hands down on the hour-long presentation. It was almost shocking to hear Sir Alan actually praising the candidates! According to him, Miriam couldn't have done better and was absolutely spectacular, whereas James was not as professional and didn't do too bad. But it could not compensate for the fact that First Forte's sales from foam mattresses alone exceeded the other team's total sales. They knew what would sell, focused on fewer products and, despite Saira's disorganisation, gave them time to sell themselves.

Even the fact that the boys were, in Nick's words, poor producers was not the cause of their failure. Ultimately, even outstanding sales and marketing skills can never cover up non-competitive products which do not meet customer needs and expectations.

As Miriam said ruefully: 'If Sir Alan wants to fire me, he'll find a reason to fire me.' And he did, although he was obviously left with the feeling that he might have made a mistake. Still, drama and unpredictability are what make great television.

As this series moves towards its climax we will see a different side of the last four tonight as they submit themselves to the sort of interviews which are more typical of the real business world.

CAPTION(S):

This was easily the best episode so far: pacey, informative, good-natured and nail-bitingly exciting. You could almost feel the contestants' adrenaline. Even Sir Alan Sugar learned some important lessons about the profit that can be made on selling a 'load of tut'.
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Title Annotation:Comment
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 27, 2005
Words:493
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