Guest post: Inside The Apprentice Australia

Tonight sees the launch of The Apprentice Australia. And the marketing industry has one of their own to cheer on in the shape of former Interbrand staffer Lynton Pipkorn. Here he reveals a little of what is to come

It’s already been pilloried to post by the skeptics but they probably haven’t as much as seen a frame on tape. Myself, I am a little more confident, but then again I should declare my interest. I have witnessed the casting and production unfolding as one of 12 candidates competing for the final prize of a six-figure business development position with Mark Bouris’ financial services firm Yellow Brick Road.   

Lynton PipkornAnd what an intense and fascinating ride it was as far as the total TV production experience is concerned.

After a 15 page application process, two stage audition, a group casting challenge, screen test, panel interview by the EPs, work history assessment, academic performance check, work and character references and finally a psychological assessment later, I got the call to pack my bags to compete to be The Apprentice.

For something that started out as a laugh it all of sudden got a bit more serious…no work, no email, no phone, no Facebook, and no contact with friends or family for up to seven weeks. And because of some very clever alternate endings, nobody on the show knows who has won, and since I am contracted to Channel Nine on a watertight agreement, I couldn’t tell you even if I did.


What I can tell you is that Nine has high expectations of a ratings coup. Those of you who work in media don’t need me to tell you that Nine is desperate for a winner in their programming schedule, with Two and a Half Men being shown nine times per week at last count.

The all important casting, format and tone of The Apprentice Australia is different to its long running, Donald Trump fronted American predecessor. And for the night owls that watched the UK series fronted by Sir Alan Sugar earlier this year, it is perhaps more akin in style to that. Definitely less money hungry and much less over the top – though, it had to be.

The ego-centric Trump and an Americanised ostentatious style of production would never have worked with audiences here. Credit to Fremantle Media for reading that one, given the cultural differences and current tough economic climate.

But to generate wide appeal, perhaps it will prove a wise move to cast and focus the show on the performance of everyday Australians having a shot at the “opportunity of a lifetime”. For many, it truly was a chance to leap from job obscurity and be catapulted into the corporate executive world. A number of candidates had little business experience: a former Miss World Australia; a Centrelink customer service manager; a second year law student and an unemployed former engineer to name but a few.

Post GFC the world has changed, perhaps nobody wanted to see brash bankers, loaded lawyers and arrogant entrepreneurs showing off just how smart and rich they were. Hailing from Punchbowl and humble working class roots, Mark Bouris, like many Australians, has worked his way up from nothing and it was important that he could empathise with this bunch of aspirants.

An insight on the boss: Mark Bouris is understated, was a bit serious and nervous to begin with (as we all were), but he is also very affable, has a great bullshit detector, is self assured but humorous, and I have no doubt, will pull in the female viewers as planned!

Although The Apprentice Australia is perhaps a bit more real in terms of casting, I will leave it up to you to judge just how real this sort of reality TV is in terms of production. What I will say is that the challenges were indeed challenging, requiring real world decision making, project management, strategic thought, creative talent, strict time management, and most of all, keen people management skills. And the scandals, the boardroom bust ups, personality clashes and the job with Mark Bouris are legit.

The challenges are intense and varied, and for fans of The Apprentice, many will be familiar. And for those of you in agency land, there is one agency challenge and at least three big brand and communications challenges, with the finale featuring the best of the lot.

Time constraints and caveats on what you could and couldn’t do placed teams under enormous pressures that you would almost never face in the real world (with the exception of pitches!).

Amazingly, it was possible to perform miracles, but at other times, it could all fall apart very quickly as the pressure mounted, personality clashes reared up and the divide and conquer game began to emerge in the boardroom. With the threat of failure on TV omnipresent, and some very strong-minded and sleep-deprived heads butting on occasion, some team losses and individual firings (and stays of execution) were very arbitrary, and will prove very puzzling for the realists.

Masterchef, which in my view was much less involving, predictable and boring (Bring back Peter Russell-Clarke I say), The Apprentice Australia will hopefully be anything but.

To win you didn’t need to be a great business mind, well educated, a hardened entrepreneur, or indeed experienced in all facets of the corporate world. This competition was more about testing yourself, riding your luck, being creative, making intuitive decisions, being true to yourself, working hard and showing how you conducted yourself under pressure – with a healthy dose of what would make ‘TV magic’ certainly helping your progression. But at the end of the day it was all about who Mark Bouris thought he could best work with in his business.

Be prepared for a ride that is full of challenging tasks, unpredictable twists and surprising turns, clashing egos, public embarrassments, big personalities, creativity, some truly surprising work, and hopefully a very deserving winner.

  • Lynton Pipkorn is a competitor in The Apprentice, which begins tonight on Nine at 9.30pm AEST. Previously he was associate director at Interbrand Melbourne. Before that he was group manager at brand experience agency BrandAdvantage. He is a director of My Property Partner.

Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.