The Apprentice. You’re Fired!

The Apprentice has returned to our screens for the twelfth series with 18 candidates scrabbling for a £250,000 investment. New series. New night (Thursday). New candidates. New tasks (well, some). Same old misunderstandings and misconceptions about design and branding – reflecting badly on us as professionals and as a creative industry.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glued to the screen as much as the next person. Every Thursday I’m deafening my wife; shouting expletives at the two-team’s lack of common sense – yet alone their business acumen. Shouting at the cringeworthy brand name plucked out of thin air in the back of the van. At the energy that goes into the focus group, only for the findings to be completely ignored by the PM. At the ‘briefing’ of the project to the poor designer that has only 15 minutes to turn-around print-ready artwork. At the bad pitches. The awkward silences. The reckless answers. And the sheer lack of understanding of the task in hand. I could go on. It is, after all, meant to have a serious business undertone, is it not?

I’m not venting my frustrations at the candidates, per se. They, after all, are clearly not design professionals – even the ones that claim to be! And, let me say, there appears to be an awful lot of ‘marketers’ this series! No. I’m venting at how everybody – including Baroness Karen Brady, Claude Littner and Lord Sugar—thinks they’re a designer. Worse still, how Lord Sugar ignores feedback from genuine industry experts only to seek reassurance from his trusted advisors before making up his own mind anyway. How arrogant. How dismissive to the UK Creative Industries that are worth £84.1bn to UK economy.

I’m dismayed at the constant misconception that design is a commodity. A commodity that can be turned around at the drop of a hat. A commodity created by sitting down with a designer and pointing at a screen. No research. No strategy. No planning. No creative brief. Just 24 hours to turn around an integrated campaign. The Apprentice is a reality game-show. I get it. Lord Sugar is a media personality. I get it. But design, marketing and brand-building is an art. Done properly, it can have as much an impact on the top and bottom line as any financial discipline reported on in a boardroom showdown. Lord Sugar says “I need to see who’s got a good business plan”. Well, the creative sector is a major engine for growth. You only have to look at the Creative England 50 report to see that there are fantastic digital creative businesses in all parts of the county – Cookham Dean in particular!

But there can be no place for complacency. If we’re to build on the phenomenal success of the UK’s creative industries and maintain our competitiveness against other international markets, forging more connections between talent and opportunity is crucial. And continued misunderstandings and misconceptions from Lord Sugar, the BBC and the show’s editors do little to help the cause. The creative industries are one of the UKs greatest success stories. We should all be helping the burgeoning creative start-ups and SMEs of today blossom into the major transformational businesses of tomorrow.

The Apprentice receives consistently high rating figures, has won many awards and I’m in it for the long haul. I’m not looking to be Lord Sugar’s apprentice or his next big investment. But my search for the next business reality game show continues.