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How to write a successful Most Innovative Companies application

Twelve tips to get the attention of the editors and writers who’ll decide the 2022 Most Innovative Companies honorees.

How to write a successful Most Innovative Companies application
[Illustration: Peter Komierowski]

Before you apply to be considered to be one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2022—and we hope you do—check out our advice for how best to approach your nomination this year.

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Lead with 2021 innovations

Our list of the 2022 World’s Most Innovative Companies comes out in mid-March 2022, so as we work on this edition, we are mindful of striking a balance between the innovations that are defining 2021 and what we believe has legs to be a company readers will be hearing more about in the year ahead. So with that in mind, a successful application details what your company has done in 2021 to stand out in its category and signals what’s to come that reflects why you’re on the upswing of a trend. The centerpiece of a company’s case can be an initiative that started earlier than 2021, but you need to identify how you’re building upon that work successfully this year.

Focus on a project

Tell us about a particular initiative at your company. It’s not enough merely to state that your product or strategy is innovative. The key is to identify what’s novel in what you’re doing and delineate how and why it’s different from what’s come before. If your company has multiple, related initiatives (say, several things connected to sustainability) then it’s good to frame your innovation in that context and then use all the examples to bolster your case. If your company has several innovative initiatives but they’re spread across multiple categories, our advice is to apply within the relevant categories with tailored arguments for why you’re most innovative in logistics, for example, and branding, respectively. Do not try to shoehorn in both into the same submission.

Be specific and demonstrate impact

Use details to build a strong case for innovation. What makes you most excited when you think about what you’ve developed? What are the features of what you’re doing that your customers are buzzing about? What metrics bring to life what you’re doing? Companies and their representatives routinely ask about the metrics we’re interested in. Success can be expressed with almost anything that brings your story to life, including revenue, revenue growth, user growth, customer growth, average revenue per user, same-store sales growth, impressions, viewers—however you measure success. It does not have to be something that one would find in an earnings report or spreadsheet. Did you help get legislation passed? Have you seen qualitative impacts on the larger culture or industry? Did other companies start copying you? Have respected organizations bestowed you with awards? Have customers or other groups publicly endorsed you?

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Connect the dots

There should be a clear, recent connection between the innovation and the impact of that innovation. We judge companies on a sliding scale of impact and innovation. Some companies’ innovations are so bold that they don’t need to show massive impact just yet. In other instances, the story is about the breakthrough performance of a previously introduced innovation.   

Tell your story in a larger context

We love a good story. Think about the larger conversations that are defining this year and whether and how your company and its innovations are influencing them. For example, here are a few (but certainly not all) of the ongoing narratives we’re avidly following: the return to work and managing a hybrid, partially distributed workforce; attracting talent in a labor market where employees are reassessing what’s important to them; the new opportunities for investing and wealth creation and their risks; global supply-chain challenges; accelerating the shift to carbon-neutral or carbon-negative energy solutions. Is your company or the company you’re writing an application for championing a novel approach to one of these bigger societal trends? Is it reframing a civic debate about the future with your innovative products and strategy? The more you can make the case that you’re leading a significant change—again, with data to support it—the better your application.

Every MIC application is a current events application

As society continues to grapple with the global pandemic and its ripple effects, we added a Current Events category for the first time. As we state, this is for “proactive, high-impact efforts to address seminal events in 2021 such as pandemic effects; income inequality; racial, gender, and class-based divisions; and more.” As suggested above, every MIC application regardless of category should be connected to current events in some fashion, but given some of the remarkable shifts taking place in our society, we wanted to call out the most remarkable efforts to address those issues. At this stage of the pandemic, your efforts needs to be genuinely unprecedented. Please focus on more recent events and not the kind of efforts that became table stakes in the course of 2020, from transitioning a production line to make masks or hand sanitizer to making a sizable donation to civil rights organizations. If you are not applying in Current Events, please focus your efforts beyond the purview of COVID-19.

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Take advantage of a new category

In addition to Current Events, we added several new categories for 2022: Consumer Goods, Medical Devices, Medicines and Therapeutics, Personal Finance, and we split Small and Mighty into two divisions, under 10 employees and between 10 and 100 employees. In each instance, we added these categories to create more potential winners from some of our most popular sectors, such as Retail, Health, Biotech, and Finance.

Introduce a new, compelling character

Fast Company has always believed—and celebrated—that innovation can and does come from anywhere within an organization, including from a company’s customers. We have never believed nor celebrated the idea that a CEO or founder is some kind of superhero responsible for every big idea that shapes a company. When we ask who is responsible for the innovation delineated within the application, be bold enough to share the surprising, perhaps unsung, contributor who’s shaping the future. This person—or small team—could influence our art decisions as well as our thinking as we put together subsequent Fast Company franchises such as Most Creative People in Business.

Finish the job

If you’re an architecture firm, completed buildings will garner more attention than renderings. If you’re a pharmaceutical company, an FDA-approved drug matters more than a promising clinical trial. In-progress ideas will certainly be considered, but completing the work counts.

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Give us a sneak preview

If there are new products or announcements that you know will be released before the end of the year or early in 2022 and that could improve your case, please share this information so we can follow up to learn more. If you tell us that you have something cool coming up in November, for example, if that news is of interest independent of MIC, we will flag it and reach out to work with you on coordinating a story timed to the launch. To be very clear, we will not use info shared confidentially for any stories without your consent. If you have any information that’s confidential at the time of completing your application, you can mark it explicitly as such and we will honor that.

Avoid jargon

While we respect that business carries with it its own nomenclature and that specific industries also have their own terms of art, the more you can avoid business or industry-specific jargon in favor of  plainspoken English, the more the judges can be captivated by your actual innovations and not have to weed through excess verbiage and rarified language.

Be crisp and clear

Don’t get hung up on length. The least effective applications are often the shortest, because they don’t provide enough information. Overlong applications that repeat material across questions or spend a long time sketching out the company’s history can make it harder for your story to shine. Focus on the new thing that best reflects how your company approaches innovation rather than rattling off a laundry list of initiatives.

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You can find more information and start your application to be considered to be one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2022 here.

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