What is innovation for a communication expert? Process improvement, new solutions or maybe just fortunate events with a touch of good promotion? Or maybe this is just another trend; a popular byword that doesn’t mean anything?
“Headed for Innovation”, as I have called the current economy, is a definitely true trend, not just some new concept conceived in the heads of bored marketers. The trend is true in terms both of the theory of business development as well as in terms of being confirmed by business practice i.e. tens, indeed hundreds of implementations per day all over the world. In this sense we say innovation is any new real value, which we have generated in our business and which always fulfils two criteria. On the one hand it is value added for our Customer; on the other hand it becomes another part of building our competitive advantage.
However I am not sure that “everybody loves innovation”. On the market or more broadly in society we can see many groups who not only have no love for innovations, but actually fear them.
What is there to fear?
I speak more broadly about the society because the barriers involve rather our human mentality than just business structure or organisation. Innovations bring changes. Change forces us to display new commitment, to make additional efforts, to adjust, often to question existing axioms, on which we relied and lived comfortably in our business. In short innovations destroy the comfortable status quo.
You specialise in new business project communication. What does innovation mean for you in the context of start-ups; setting R&D aside I mean a communication specialist. This is rather a feature, which supports communication, or maybe the conviction that something can be done differently, raising efficiency? Is this the domain of new companies? Is it rather communicating ideas or business?
Working as a Brand Communication and Public Relations manager and advisor I was launching many products and services in terms of communication. Irrespective of whether this was education – the “House of Diplomacy” brand, entertainment – “Pytaki”, or new technologies – “TransmisjeOnline.pl” – the challenges and opportunities were quite alike. In this case these were completely new projects built from concept to market launch. For such projects it is most important to build as soon as possible a satisfactory awareness among selected buyers and to stand out on the competitive market. This is where innovation is the key.
When working for the largest companies, such as the US “Lockheed Martin” defence group, I learned in two years that launching a new fighter aircraft on the market requires communication, which will reflect and emphasise the unique nature of the innovation. This was happening already at the basic level of branding, selecting the name itself – F-35 Lightning II, or putting it into the category of 5th generation multirole fighter aircraft. Thus almost the entire communication strategy was based on messages highlighting even minute innovations.
Work on some start-ups continues indefinitely. Eventually the ambitious business plans often get diluted and the project ends up in the dustbin. What is your angle on it, when promoting innovators from Poland? Do you often come across companies, which are not recognisable, do not even have a product, not to mention capital? Isn’t supporting the communication of such projects like a gamble?
Actually my office is in the biggest start-up network in Poland i.e. in Business Link in Warsaw. I have over a hundred companies around me, all of them everyday living the dream of repeating the success of Facebook or Amazon or at least following in the footsteps of local companies, such as Brand24 or InPost. I know that for sure many of them will succeed. Actually I can bet you any amount that one of them – Vintom, will be a worldwide success.
No one to take bets?
Unfortunately not (laughter). Besides I cannot afford to take part in the next investment round. Coming back to whether communication support for start-ups pays-off or is at least reasonable – they are definitely the majority in my portfolio of customers. My estimate would be 15-20% over the last 6 years.
This naturally has to do with the budget and financing of such businesses. For months the business owners can live off minimal salaries or indeed without any salaries whatsoever. Looking for an investor takes a lot of time and even when the capital has been raised, the money is used to cover basic needs, such as payments to staff, specialists in the company’s sector. At times also lack of courage makes them refrain from investing the better part of capital in marketing and communication, the way the highest profile FMCG companies have always been doing – RedBull or Coca Cola. The proposed contracts are often completely unattractive for communication or Public Relations professionals. Unless someone likes risk. Then it certainly makes sense to opt for close relations and hope that start-up support will lead to a bigger contract in the future when the company is able to afford it.
According to official GUS data there are almost 2 million small businesses in Poland. Each of them at least in theory can call itself a start-up. Each of them can be innovative in its own right. This is a huge market for consultants. Yet Reuters are saying Poland is a country, which is building its innovativeness groping in the dark. Where has Polish innovativeness gone? Or maybe it is here but we are unable to sell it well?
Let us remember that the number of 2 million businesses obscures the actual picture. Hundreds of thousands of them are not business people but in fact are rank and file employees of large and medium companies who had previously worked there full-time or under short-term contracts, only now the employer suggested they get “self-employed”. In this way they just file their regular invoice, reducing the tax and cost burden on the employer. Also there is mass recruitment in this way of new people who just now entered the labour market. This is a direct side-effect of legal regulations from a few years back and of raising taxes by politicians now in power since 8 years ago.
For this and the previously described reasons I would certainly not say this was a huge market for consultants.
The start-up community is arguably one of the best organised communities. Conferences, seminars, training, opinion leaders. You could say they are anticipating the trend of building and managing communities – will this be the reality of the next few years? Is this a universal approach also for large entities, such as corporations?
What particularly fascinates me is the subtle borderline between a Corporation and a start-up business. Currently a niche has appeared for interdisciplinary specialists, who combine Business Development departments of large companies employing thousands, with young start-ups. Such people become a bridge between the world of “colossi” – mature adult corporations and the world of “the sprinters” – young, dynamic, flexible start-ups. In fact people have realised that the creative and innovative potential of a start-up is way above that of a corporation.
Incidentally the very fact that Corporations cooperate with the start-up world is a good example of innovation. In this case it involves a business process, outsourcing of a new type of R&D Department.
What is the biggest challenge for a start-up? How to build one’s own narrative and then to stay on course with the idea, which continues to evolve?
I have the significant advantage over other communication experts or PR agencies that 2 years ago I launched a second company, which I treat as a start-up. It is the innovative NieZwykła Gra Rodzinna™ Pytaki (Askers – UnUsual Family Game). Thus I can share my personal experience with such an operation rather than speaking only from the point of view of a communication consultant. In our company, which operates in the traditionally understood entertainment sector, most important of all is the story behind the product. In our case it is not just one story, not just a few but in fact between 10 and 20.
As a promoter of storytelling I am a big fan of the art of marketing communication based on storytelling. I do realise that with some products or services it may be difficult if not impossible to create such stories. I had the fortune of coming across a product, which in fact literally demands that new fascinating stories be told with and about it.
And one more thing, about our PR market rather – is it innovative or not?
The PR market in Poland as a whole is definitely not. It is still dominated by old agencies, which had developed their business model in the ‘90s and are now unable to keep up with the pace of changes, which occur particularly fast on the media market. The best illustration of that is the complete missing of the opportunity and losing the market for digital and social media. Only recently the largest PR agencies in Poland started to develop these competencies or to buy existing companies, which emerged right in their faces in the last 2-3 years.
There are naturally some shining exceptions. Innovative companies, which were able to combine traditional Public Relations with modern media and tools.
Michał Kreczmański – Entrepreneur. Since more than 10 years ago he has been providing professional Public Relations and Communication services for Top Management; since 6 years under the Kreczmański.com brand. Mr Kreczmański creates valuable projects, which serve people he likes. The first of them is NieZwykła Gra Rodzinna™ Pytaki.