The inside story on The Apprentice’s approach to PR

The PR that underpins the success of BBC’s The Apprentice has a great deal to teach our profession. We look behind the scenes at the work that goes into the show.

When The Apprentice first hit UK screens five years ago it was in a late slot on BBC2, and as James Herring, managing partner at Taylor Herring which does the PR for the show, says, “it was a much smaller beast than it is now”. This year, the opening episode on BBC1 at 9pm on Wednesday 25 March attracted an audience of 8.3million, 1.6 million more than last year’s opening show. Press interest has, not surprisingly, increased exponentially since the show was first broadcast. Herring believes that the reasons for the programme’s success are that it has an original and gripping format and is filmed in an entertaining way. It succeeds in looking at working practices in depth, using tasks for the apprentices that are challenging as well as engaging.

For Taylor Herring, the show’s dramatic increase in popularity has meant that its role has changed considerably. For the first series, the main focus was to talk to trusted TV and media page contacts, to get them excited about the show and explain how the format worked. Although it had been in the US, it hadn’t been on TV here before, so the PR agency was able to approach publicising the show with fresh eyes. Herring says that one strategy was to contact business-page journalists, including those at the Financial Times and Daily Telegraph, who would never normally write about a reality show. Now, of course, there is no longer need to introduce the show as it has become such a phenomenon. There is a dedicated Apprentice unit working at Taylor Herring, which includes an online team who handle all the online and digital media and promotion of the website, plus the bespoke content that goes on website. There is also a front desk that manages the considerable number of calls that come in every day. Herring says that these can be about anything, including queries about where a certain candidate may have bought the dress she is wearing. Herring adds that one way the excitement is built up around the show is by treating it as an “event“ rather than as a TV series. For instance the series is launched in a different way each year, once at the London Stock Exchange, and this year at the new Guardian newspaper building.

One of the biggest challenges of doing PR for the show is managing the time lapse between filming and transmission, so that the fun isn’t ruined for the audience by finding out who has been fired by Sir Alan Sugar before the programme goes out. However, it is in the media‘s interest to keep this secret, as it doesn‘t want to create spoilers for its audience and attract negative feedback.

Another of the major roles for Taylor Herring is to look after all of the candidates, each of whom gets assigned a different chaperone, to helps them through the experience of being in the spotlight, which is a shock for people who have never been in the public eye before. Herring adds: “It is a strange experience when you have people suddenly knocking on your door, on your parents’ door and even at your gran’s door.“

As well as The Apprentice, there is the popular You’re Fired show that goes out on BBC2 immediately after the programme, featuring the person who has just been ejected from the show. It is noticeable how much more “normal “ candidates appear on this than on The Apprentice. Herring believes that this is because when they are on The Apprentice, the candidates are going through an incredibly stressful process. He says, “they work very long hours, in a very testing environment. By the time they come on You’re Fired, they are have managed to catch up on their sleep and are rested.”

As The Apprentice goes out on Wednesday evenings, it is often scheduled at the same time as football matches (on Weds 27 May it was on at the same time as Barcelona playing Manchester in the Champions League final). In order to avoid a clash with an England qualifying game on Wednesday 10 June, The Apprentice final is going out on Sunday 7 June. This means that Taylor Herring has to make sure the press, and The Apprentice’s audience, are fully informed of the scheduling change. But as Herring points out, this is par for the course: “It is a constantly surprising show. You can’t predict what is going to happen as every series is different. You have to be on your toes.”.

Creative Moment Awards 2020