Before you apply to be considered to be one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2021—and we hope you do—check out our advice for how best to approach your nomination.
Lead with 2020 innovations
Do not start by telling us your company’s history. Most Innovative Companies is not a lifetime achievement award. A successful application details what your company has done in 2020 to stand out in its category. The centerpiece of a company’s case can be an initiative that started earlier, but you need to identify how you’re building upon that work successfully this year. Certainly, in these remarkable times, we encourage companies to share how they’ve adapted to the effects of the pandemic in one way or another, but please don’t limit yourself to this particular part of your overall story.
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 advertising, respectively. Do not try to shoehorn in both into the same submission.
Plainly state your business
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 a more plain English approach, the more the judges can be captivated by your actual innovations and not have to weed through excess verbiage and rarified language.
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?
Speaking of metrics, user numbers, revenue and customer growth, profitability, same-store sales growth, average revenue per user, and other concrete statistics can all serve to illustrate the positive impact of your innovation on the company and beyond. We strongly recommend that you share as much information as you can here as it can often make the difference between a good submission and a great one.
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.
Put your dent in the universe
How are your innovations impacting your industry? Society? How are they driving a public conversation? The more you can make the case that you’re leading a significant change—again, with data to support it—the better your application.
Frame your story in a larger context
We love a good story and a surprising, perhaps unsung, contributor who’s shaping the future. Are you championing a new approach to an old problem? Are your innovations transforming the way we think about a segment of our society? How are you reframing a civic debate about the future with your innovative products and strategy? The more you can captivate readers with a compelling narrative of how your company’s innovations are part of a larger trend, the better.
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.
Give us a sneak preview
If there are new products or announcements that you know will be released before the end of the year and that could improve your case, please share this information so we can follow up to learn more.
Less is more
We know this is counterintuitive, but trust us: Focus on the thing that best reflects how your company approaches innovation rather than rattling off a laundry list of initiatives that may not be as important. Including everything you did this year will simply weaken the case for the most notable things you have achieved. Bring your biggest ideas to life.