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Talk of the bay

On 'The Apprentice' one day, in stores the next

Published May 2, 2005

Staples Inc. has become the first retailer to rush a product developed by those argumentative amateurs on The Apprentice onto the shelves the next day.

That means the office supply superstore chain had only a "few months" before the taped show aired to find a manufacturer capable of delivering to stores a lazy Susan-style Apprentice Desk Organizer, priced at $34.95.

"We sold 1,000 of them online in the first 15 minutes. Within three days we had to start an e-mail waiting list that has 10,000 names on it," said Karen O'Neill, spokeswoman for the Framingham, Mass., office supply chain. "This exceeded our wildest expectations."

Product placement deals are as old as the motion picture industry. But the NBC series starring Donald Trump added some new wrinkles. Mattel Inc. began selling a Morph Machines toy this spring that was developed last year by a contestants on The Apprentice. But Staples is the first to squeeze every ounce of promotional juice from the TV exposure while the product is freshest in viewers' minds.

The popular reality show harnesses the creative talent of executive wannabes as they figure out selected business challenges. However, the biggest missing element from a show that stars the author of The Art of the Deal is perhaps the most vital business lesson the Trumpster can offer: What's the deal?

All parties signed confidentiality agreements, but this much has been confirmed:

Staples paid for the exposure of having its stores used as a stage. The chain provided a general requirement the product designed would make work easier for office workers. Staples, which could decline to create the product, will own the patent rights. The chain pays a royalty fee to Mark Burnett Productions, which creates the show.

As for the team that came up with the product: They get zilch.

"The only prize is a job with Trump," said Jim Dowd, a spokesman for NBC.

On second thought, perhaps that is the art of the deal.

[Last modified April 29, 2005, 19:35:02]

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