Event Management Lessons from the Apprentice

I am a huge fan of the Apprentice, however I think that the ‘Corporate Away Day’ episode in week six (Series 9, Episode 6) was probably the most cringeworthy and uncomfortable viewing I have ever experienced on television!

Event professionals (#eventprofs) including myself took to Twitter to express our disbelief as the episode unfolded.  It did, however, inspire me to create this blog post focusing on simple event management lessons to be learned from this task.

Team Endeavour was led by Leah and eventually settled on an Army theme, after overruling School and History themes.  Team Evolve was led by Francesca and opted for a School theme.  Alarm bells started ringing right from the start when Leah naively declared after meeting the client that she was “surprised at how no fun came through – this is quite a serious thing by all accounts!”

£1 billion are spent on corporate away days each year.  It is big business that helps to add value and tangible results to numerous companies both large and small.  After watching this episode we should be really grateful that the Apprentice candidates are not organising them!

Here are my simple event management lessons and tips the candidates, or anyone organising an event, could learn from:

Event Management Lesson #1. Listen and understand the brief from the client

The Apprentice teams were given clear objectives from their clients.  LastMinute.com wanted participants to better collaborate, communicate and work together as a team and Barclays wanted a fresh perspective to improve listening and communication to enable staff to understand customers better.  On the whole, the teams seemed to completely ignore the briefs they were given and plough on regardless, meaning they were doomed to failure from the start.

2. Think deeply about how the aims and objectives will be achieved

Some of the feedback received included that there was “No structure around business objectives” and people asking “what is the point of this?”

As Lord Sugar pointed out this was “not a jolly” and was supposed to be “a business function for business people, to inspire and motivate them” but consistently there seemed to be a complete lack of any business message or learning!

3. Understand your audience

The event content came across as completely patronising to the Managers attending the Away Day as it was so basic and pitched incorrectly.  As a result, there was feedback that they were trying to “blag them” which was certainly one way to describe it!

4. Respect your audience

Louisa was also vocal about her disdain for the corporate world when planning the task and in the boardroom, showing a complete lack of respect and understanding for the participants.

5. Give value for money 

Lord Sugar specifically asked candidates to demonstrate value for money when outlining the task.  The teams however interpreted this as save as much money and cut as many corners as possible and this really shone through in the final product they delivered.

6. Always have a contingency plan

Try to think about everything that could go wrong and how you would deal with it/resolve it.

7. If you are running an outdoor event have a bad weather plan

The event faltered when it started to rain and they didn’t know what to do.  Hello – this is England!  Always have a fall back plan for rain or bad weather. 

8. Let people know what is happening and when.  Have a schedule

If people don’t know what is happening or when they will understandably become frustrated.  Communicate the schedule and stick to it as closely as possible.

9. Have clearly defined roles and tasks for each staff member throughout the day

Attendees were not sure what was going on or who was in charge throughout the Apprentice task – it was described rather aptly as a “pantomime.”  Ensure you have clearly defined the roles of each member of staff, who is responsible for what, who will do what and when.

10. Walk through the event

Chat or walk through how the event will flow so that the team knows what to expect and you can communicate this clearly to participants at the relevant times.

11. Customer satisfaction

If the Apprentice candidates had done their job properly participants should have been leaving the day inspired, motivated, equipped with new skills and confidence to take back to their job.  Instead, they were thinking what a waste of a day it was and with the client thinking what a waste of money and productivity it was.

Oh dear.

12. Bring in the experts

Before the wine tasting, Rebecca said to teammate Jason “do you want to do the waffling or should I?” and went on to tell the attendees that they didn’t know anything about wine apart from how much they paid for each bottle.  In that case, why were they hosting a wine tasting activity?!  I’m surprised no one walked out!

13. Food and catering is important

Food, catering, and service should have been an important element of the day however plates of food were returned to the kitchen uneaten.

14. Don’t waste money on pointless theming

A pink flamingo?  Really?

I am also at a loss to see how cupcake decoration and wine tasting fit in with the themes they had chosen in the first place?  It wasn’t very well thought out and they certainly didn’t seem to justify it to those attending or in the boardroom.

15. Leave event management to the professionals

Based on this performance, we definitely recommend that the Apprentice candidates should leave event management to the professionals!  Lord Sugar described it as a “real mess.”


It is not surprising at all that the clients of both of the teams asked for a refund!

Team Evolve lost and Rebecca was fired in the end.

This proves why you should always use a professional event management company. You have one shot to get an event right.

I would love to hear what other event management hints and tips you would give to the Apprentice candidates?

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