awards-logoAs part of the build up to the Econsultancy’s 2012 Innovation Awards, we’ve been quizzing some of the best and brightest entrants about different aspects of innovation. 

With that in mind, it’s time to get down to brass tacks and takes a look at the economic imperatives surrounding innovative company cultures. 

While it’s great to set your sights high, eventually you’ll have to deal with the harsh reality of funding ideas and convincing stakeholders who may not be as enamoured with the gleaming future and sense of endless possibilities as you are. 

We gathered our awards shortlist once more and asked them how they manage to convince key stakeholders, and given the current economic climate, ensure that there is available budget for testing and deploying innovative ideas…

Are most stakeholders happy to go along with innovative ideas, or do you have to work hard to persuade them to take chances?

When it came to convincing stakeholders, the majority of respondents felt that this wasn’t always a concern. Rather, your business culture should concentrate on encouraging a level of risk-taking at all levels.  

Alex Kelleher from Cognitive Match had this to say: 

The process of innovation by definition means taking chances. Couching ideas as innovative actually makes it easier to convince stakeholders to take the risks that businesses need to take to succeed. Also, people appreciate that there is a degree of risk associated with innovation.

MD Rob Shaw also felt that the willingness to innovate extended beyond the company:

We’ve got a culture of innovation and we all recognise how important it is for the company. The world of search marketing is extremely fast moving and we need to make sure that we’re able to change the way we do things as technologies and search engines develop.  

People who enjoy this industry are those who can be comfortable in an environment where their skills from last year may not be of use next year, they have to learn constantly.  We find our clients always buy-in rapidly to the new innovations, it’s why they work with us.

Tina Judic, MD at Found:

We’re very lucky that we all have careers in such a fast-paced industry with a ‘snooze you lose’ mentality. Our business is also all about encouraging wider thinking, so to be a Founder you need and want to flex the grey cells!

However, this doesn’t mean we have to constantly run with every idea the team proposes; but it does provide a solid base to brainstorm and collate.

This strong belief that we work in an industry that values innovative ideas was a common theme among everyone on the list, but as several people pointed out, you can’t assume that everyone shares this attitude, with managers at different levels more open to change. 

Aaron Michie, Interactive concepts Director at BMF:

This seems to vary depending with seniority. Those at the very top and very bottom are usually more open to trying new things, while those in the middle seem more fearful of change and failure.

Chris Evans from Ignition One and Paul Huggett from Stickyeyes joined many respondents who underlined the need for solid figures and financial relevance. 

Chris Evans:

The key thing is to sell the commercial possibilities. There isn’t a CEO in the world that doesn’t want to do things better than their competitors, but they want ideas that deliver results, not just creativity for its own sake.

Paul Huggett:

Just because it’s innovative doesn’t mean it can work without proper research and planning e.g. who it’s for, what does it do, what are the benefits, how can it be implemented, how much does it cost, what are the objectives? All of these questions need to be answered to ensure stakeholder buy-in and having this structure in place ensures that the ‘most is squeezed’ from every innovation.

While Ve Interactive’s David-Joseph Brown reminded us of the danger of stagnation:

If you have the right stakeholders they fully embrace innovation and if they don’t, they need to be taught about the value of innovation within technology. It is historically clear those who innovate stick around and grow, and those that do not evolve to stay relevant in a changing marketplace, disappear.

How do you protect the innovation budget in times of austerity?

When it came to budgeting, the responses were far more mixed. Some have a distinct budget, while others believed funds should be earmarked by separate departments. 

Simon Mansell is CEO at TBG Digital, who have a specific method of funding new projects:simon

TBG Digital’s media and creative team have access to the Innovation Fund, a self-imposed ‘tax on profit’ that sees a percentage of TBG’s bottom line transferred into a fund that can be used for R&D or client tests.  

Sometimes TBG wants to test new media strategies or a new creative angle and client budgets cannot always justify this.  Our Innovation Fund sees TBG foot the bill which ensures innovation is not constricted.

We would never lose the Innovation Fund as that is one of the reasons why we are succeeding in a time when others are struggling.

This view was widely shared. Despite the hostile financial climate and the risk involved with implementing new ideas, it’s common for digital companies to take the long view and look to the future to ensure their survival and growth. 

David Loughnan, MD at Clicked Creative:

Like great art and music, quality innovation can emerge when times are tough. There’s no better proof of this than right now. Even though we’re deep in a global recession, there’s never been a better time for digital innovation. 

Jonathan Cook, Head of New Media, Valtech:

Innovation is the most important activity in times of austerity. Bright ideas don’t have to cost money. If you can take a useful innovation to a customer then you mitigate tough economic times for both you and your customer. You can turn your company’s prospects around very quickly with just a single bright idea. 

While Covario’s Megan Bradley believes that hard times make it more important than ever to have a development budget available. 

Testing — Nothing is perfect. Everything has room for improvement.  Without consistently testing new ideas you become stale.  In today’s world, if you are “stale” you fail.  Nobody wants to fail.  Every major brand should have room for testing (aka “innovation”) in their media budgets.  

During difficult economic times, you have to find even more creative ways to be “innovative” and stretch your marketing budgets.  Innovation is like air – it’s a must have. 

Finally, Net Media Planet’s Sri Sharma had a simple reason to budget for innovation during tough times:

Demonstrate the opportunity and past success. Don’t at your peril. The nimble competitor is close by.  

Innovation remains one of the core values of the digital industry, with change the only constant, but even the most forward-thinking visionary will miss a trick or two, so in our next post we’ll be looking at those revolutionary ideas our shortlisted candidates wished they’d thought of first.  

Econsultancy’s annual Innovation Awards are a chance for us to celebrate the companies and people who help shape the future of marketing. Click here to see this years full shortlist and book your table for the event (and if you want to join the party, make sure you add your top tunes to our Spotify playlist as well!).

For further information, you can also download the regularly updated Econsultancy Innovation Report