Magazine article Marketing

Creating the Climate for Change

Magazine article Marketing

Creating the Climate for Change

Article excerpt

It is often up to PR consultants to educate both their clients and the public away from an irrational fear of change to a positive enthusiasm for innovation

True innovation is a double-edged marketing sword, causing angst as well as excitement as companies grapple with the unknown. Unfettered creativity might produce all the best ideas, but handling the process and, crucially, handling people's reactions to it is a fine art.

"Some of the characteristics shared by innovative companies can make many audiences distinctly uncomfortable," says Isabel Greenwood, managing director of Biss Lancaster, which works for the Department of Trade and Industry's Innovation Unit.

"Innovative companies embrace change, encourage risk, constantly seek new ideas and introduce new products and services. They work at great speed, want challenging customers and want to exceed customers' expectations. And they also create genuinely empowered employees," she explains.

It's not surprising that the simple need to communicate to key target audiences exactly what is going on is easily overlooked in the rush to be seen as an innovator. So strong is the innovation buzzword that it has become almost an endorsement of corporate practice. But according to Martin Thomas, Cohn & Wolfe's managing director, it needs explanation.

"In the City, for example, you are dealing with very traditional people and innovation is not necessarily respected. Push this message too hard and it's seen as puffery," he says.

Information technology and telecommunications businesses are at the sharp end of this reaction.

"It's because nobody knows what's going on, especially in the UK," says Nick Hewer, joint managing director of Michael Joyce, the consultancy which handles PR for on-line business intelligence supplier MAID.

The company went public in the UK in 1994. "It was a terrible time," recalls Larry Rees, head of communications at MAID, "because of the black and white nature of commentary on the industry. People were either for or against it. There seemed to be no middle ground. PR had to create a less extreme view."

MAID had to expand very quickly after its launch in 1986, because the competition was hot and technology was moving fast.

"Investment funding was essential. The driving ideal is innovation - not doing better what we do today, but doing what we've never done before," says Rees.

"That is where you hit the problem, balancing a belief in the future with the performance of the market today. The most common reactions you get vary from a wild enthusiasm to a blank stare," he adds.

Rees insists that calm discussion, preferably face to face, is the best solution, although MAID can realistically reach no more than 10% of its potential audience in this way.

"The theme of all communication is education," he adds, "and that's what PR can do."

Multimedia publisher OmniMedia must do a similar precarious balancing act with an argument for, on the one hand, heavy investment in cutting-edge technology and objectives that non-techies find difficult to grasp, and, on the other, ample proof of a solid operational structure and efficient marketing strategy.

It has an AIM listing, which tends to attract investors willing to take a bit of a punt. Nevertheless, says Matthew Ravden, director of PR consultancy Bite Communications, "you've got to show that it's a sound operation as well as a funky and innovative one. …

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