From my days at the management consulting firm Accenture, where I typically worked with the same client on the same project for months, to my current role at the mobile platform Blippar, where I work with many different brands, I’ve been fortunate enough to observe the ins and outs of both the corporate and startup worlds.
While it’s obvious to outsiders that the processes at large corporations are much different than the typical culture at startups, I’ve found that you can’t assume the standard practices and protocols will always apply. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that not everything you’ve believed about corporations is true. Here are five myths that startups should be aware of—and work to overcome—when collaborating with the big guys.
Myth #1: Stunning PowerPoint presentations are required to wow the brand and receive buy-in for my offering.
Reality: There’s some truth to this, as there are corporations that embrace PowerPoint gurus who spend weeks creating detailed iterations of a deck that tells the value proposition story from beginning to end. I know this from experience, as I once clocked in 63 versions of a 76-slide deck when helping one corporate strategy team years ago.
However, PowerPoints can only get you so far, and the value of slick graphics and process flow diagrams is deteriorating. Amazon is one company that realized this early on, and I recall a ban on PowerPoints for any presentation during my internship there; a Word document (no longer than five pages) was required instead.
Change is a good thing, and I’ve often found that corporations react positively to a presentation that’s different from the norm. I’ve been known to bring in a Wheaties box and simply demo our app right off the package to show our clients how we can help them. By taking the road less traveled, you’ll create something memorable that stands out from the rest.
Myth #2: Only the brand’s internal team members or stakeholders matter when creating new initiatives.
Reality: First, while you do need to invest in certain internal teams and stakeholders, it’s very common for large corporations to reorganize and shift personnel around—so your main brand contact one day may suddenly move to another division or firm tomorrow.
More importantly, you need to invest your time with the brand’s advertising agencies end-to-end. In my experience, agencies (and this includes media-buy, execution, and digital, among other types) have always been vital to the successful execution of our campaigns, and the result would not have been the same without them. These external players also often have significant influence and can impact the brand’s decisions and budgets, so it’s important for startups to embrace them and work well with them at all times.
And by working well, it’s about quickly building a genuine and easy relationship. Startups must make an effort to understand how agencies operate and what their objectives are for their clients, and then work with them every step of the way. Don’t just fire off an email with ten bullet points and assume that’s enough information; instead, take the time to walk them through the steps so they don’t have to puzzle it out on their own. Remember: they’ve been hired to do a job as well, and it’s up to you as the vendor to help make their day-to-day even easier.
Reality: Corporations often have extended families comprised not only of the aforementioned agencies, but also consulting firms, data providers, and other third parties, all of whom execute activities—many of them simultaneously. One of our recent executions for a large CPG brand involved my team liaising with three agencies, another third-party vendor, and a data specialist. As a startup working with a brand, you must be prepared to engage with many different groups at any given time.
Reality: Don’t be surprised if different departments and teams within the same major company aren’t interfacing with each other, even if it’s within the same product line. As the go-between, keep in mind you that you might be introducing co-workers to each other for the first time, and it might be more awkward if you assume they are aligned. During one of my client assignments at Accenture, all of the consultants were assigned to different operating groups under that client, and we soon realized that our corporate contacts didn’t know each other. We immediately organized happy hours and introduced people to each other so that they could share their knowledge and launch new collaborations. As an outsider, you can be the link that many of these larger companies need.
Reality: Don’t think for a second that just because one person signed off, everything else will fall into place. I’ve found that multiple stakeholders often need to obtain signoff, in addition to a detailed review by the legal team, before a contract receives the green light. And the truth is that corporations might suddenly shift priorities, have budgets pulled, or need to cut any innovation-based initiatives at a moment’s notice, as they may feel pressure from their Wall Street shareholders to immediately change up internal strategies.
Even though you and your startup have invested a large amount of time and energy into the partnership, don’t be bitter if it falls through—see it as a way to recalibrate. New opportunities may arise down the road, and you want the brand to remember your positive outlook and flexibility.
—Lisa Hu is U.S. VP and General Manager at Blippar.
[Image: Flickr user Philipp]