When it comes to pitching your employer new business ideas, few can claim a track record as impressive as Brendan Ripp’s. Brendan most recently served as group publisher of the Sports Illustrated Group, where he led the development of nearly two dozen brand extensions, including a new film production unit, a college sports vertical, consumer events for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit and most recently the launch of SI Overtime, a branded content studio. He also formed content, media and marketing partnerships with WebMD and Wired, prior to which he served as publisher of Time, Fortune and Money.
During his time with Money (also a Time Inc. property), a shift in market forced him to quickly rethink their strategy. One of his key advertisers shared that they were cutting budgets overall and planning to move what was left entirely to digital properties. They were not alone. Several other critical financial clients had similar plans. Yet, Money had few digital products to offer. To make matters worse, advertisers no longer saw personal finance, Money’s historical category, as interesting.
Brendan realized, “We needed to build something unique, [something] never done before, that would appeal to both our readers as well as a new advertising base.” If they didn’t, Money would be in trouble.
He began looking for partnerships with other Time Inc. media properties to create entirely new platforms that could “break through the clutter” and allow advertisers to reach larger audiences.
Money convinced the leadership of Real Simple, a magazine and media property for women, to create a new print, digital and video series blending Money’s audience with Real Simple’s, called “Money Management for the Time-Pressed”. The series proved a breakthrough. It became a feature on the Today Show, the most popular morning show, and Chevrolet jumped at the chance to pay $1 million to become a multiplatform sponsor. A partnership with This Old House, another Time Inc. business, enabled Money to open up an entirely new market: homeowners dealing the financial issues around improving and paying for a home.
Each combination of brands unlocked new customers, markets, and revenue. When he took over as publisher of Sports Illustrated, for example, he persuaded the popular technology magazine Wired to partner in the creation of a new initiative at the intersection of science and sports. They quickly drew interest from two big advertisers – Gatorade and Microsoft. His editorial team could interview Gatorade scientists to highlight the work they are doing to enhance athletic performance.
Microsoft, a heavy advertiser of the National Football League (if you watch American football, you have probably noticed coaches and reporters reading from Microsoft Surface tablets), saw an opportunity to further deepen its exposure to the audience. It quickly signed on.
It’s hard to estimate the value Brendan’s ideas have produced for Time Inc. Surely if he had failed to win support for his ideas, that value would have been zero. It is the difference between zero and the many millions of dollars that is most worth analyzing. For your idea is only, ultimately, valuable if you can convince your boss, company, and stakeholders to embrace it.
I asked Brendan what he thought were the critical keys to successfully building adoption for new business ideas. He has five.
Can many create a truly innovative idea? Many researchers believe we cannot. We can only combine two existing ideas to create something that appears new. In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath point out that successful new ideas combine two existing concepts. The person who conceived the movie Snakes on a Plane convinced producers to make the film by pitching the idea as a combination of two concepts already understood: the movie Die Hard with snakes. When you want to pitch an idea, present it as a combination of two things your boss already knows.
If 1 + 1 doesn’t feel like 3, it probably isn’t.
To convince a boss, partner, or investor, the idea must make sense to them … immediately. The idea should create a “no brainer” response, in which the listener’s inner dialogue says something like “of course, why didn’t we think of this before?!?!” Money for Real Simple women and Wired for Super Bowl enthusiasts are obvious ideas … after you conceive of the idea.
Don’t pitch to Mr. Ripp.
When employees send formal emails pitching ideas to Brendan that begin with “Dear Mr. Ripp,” Brendan ends up meeting them in a formal scenario, a pitch meeting at which the primary objective is for the ideator to sell the boss (Brendan) on the idea. The formality of this situation diminishes the effectiveness of a pitch. Instead, look for informal, impromptu opportunities to share your ideas. Write an email that starts with “Hey Brendan, I have an idea I’d like to share, would you like to grab coffee?” Or get to work early – often the more senior executives arrive early – and look to create more casual opportunities to share your ideas around the coffee machine.
Know your category … and beyond.
Seeing the opportunities to combine seemingly unrelated businesses and brands – Money meets Real Simple, Sports Illustrated meets Wired – requires having a perspective wide enough to connect the extremes. You want to, therefore, “read voraciously” inside your category but also beyond. This helps you understand the broader system in which your business is competing.
Be driven to serve.
If there is one characteristic that serial innovators – those who have successfully launched multiple innovations inside organizations – share, it seems to be a mindset oriented to serving the company. They do it not for career or profit, but rather because they are passionate about helping their company succeed. As Brendan put it, “This may sound cliché, but when I wake up in the morning, even at 4am, I can’t wait to go to work. I love building teams. I love getting a chance to represent these really amazing brands, to use creativity to actually grow them and make them better.”
If you want to excel at building buy-in for your ideas at work, ask yourself five questions:
- What known metaphors can you combine to make your innovative idea obvious?
- What ideas seem obvious … if only after you hear them?
- How can you share your idea informally, over coffee, in the snack room?
- Are you reading with enough voracity to know your category and make unexpected connections?
- What is limiting your passion and commitment to your company’s or brand’s success? How can you eliminate that limitation?