A short while ago I received a circular mail in my LinkedIn inbox from a colleague asking his network to watch BBC Village SOS that week. Tim Nicol mentioned that he was involved in a Lottery funded project to inject life into a struggling village community using their food heritage.
Tim is a marketing man and has spent a career bringing brands to market and making them household names. For the last 10 years my company, WDGresearch, has worked with Tim’s innovation consultancy, The MIH Centre, in concept testing new product ideas using a unique fast-track system. When he announced that he would be off the radar for a year it came as no surprise to us that he would be involved in a food-centred project but we wondered how easily a commercial marketer like Tim could turn his hand to social enterprise. I have managed to prise a few words from him to account for his experience and how it compares with his daily grind.
Enterprise is getting social- can the principles and practices of private sector management be applied to the “third sector”?
You bet they can.
There’s a transformation going on in the UK. The “third sector” – that piece of the economy which lies between the public and private sectors is growing, both in size and importance. If it’s not of professional interest to you, chances are you have some personal interest in a third sector organization as a user, donor, governor, or other stakeholder.
Social enterprises characterise the third sector; I.E. businesses that have 3 bottom lines- financial, social, and environmental. As such, there’s always trade-offs and conflicts to manage, just like a private sector business.
So what’s new?
I’ve spent the last 18 months planning and managing a start-up social enterprise in an English village as part of the BBC/BIG Lottery Fund “Village SOS” programme. This experiment, recently televised on BBC One, is designed to examine if enterprises can inspire a revival in village life in the UK, with all the social benefits that brings, and be sustained by a functioning business that generates its own revenues after a pump-priming capital grant.
I’ve helped to establish “Taste Tideswell”- a project aiming to boost the local economy of Tideswell in the Peak District by driving the local food economy and educating people in every aspect of the local food chain. Taste Tideswell Ltd built and operates a cookery school and teaching mini brewery, with conference facilities and a commercial kitchen, plus a brand licence scheme to support start-up business.
Before this personal sudden rush of social conscience I ran my own innovation consultancy and before that worked for an FMCG Multi-national across many European markets, with a focus on branded innovation and NPD activity. So was that experience useful in my baptism into the third sector? You bet it was.
Social Enterprises are now obliged to become more commercial in order to survive with reduced grant funding, and the people that run them are becoming more business oriented- many are migrants from the private sector anyway. Social Enterprises are taking over responsibility for running large chunks of the economy and helping people to help themselves. Market forces and the needs of service users (customers) increasingly drive the business models, not central government spending. So the principles and practices of management, marketing, and innovation are all tools of the trade, whichever bottom line you are aiming to improve.
My background in branded marketing and innovation has come in handy in Tideswell. We’ve run the project in a businesslike way from the start, and planned and managed it as a business, not a cause or a campaign. We start with the consumer, or the stakeholders- looking at their needs and wants and looking for unsatisfied demand and insights. Ideas and plans were developed and screened against the kind of criteria we use in front-end innovations screening- capability, strategy, demand.
The shape of the business (and it’s a complex, multifaceted one, covering as many touch points as possible on the local food chain), was moulded into a cohesive strategy with a clear mission and synergy built in throughout. For example, we want to save our local food retailers from extinction- how does a cookery school do that? Answer- by teaching local people more about the origins of their food and how to prepare it, we think they will want to buy more basic ingredients, which is what local artisan shops and producers tend to make and sell.
Having developed the concept and the business plan we got into execution mode. Delivery on a tight timescale and tight budget was critical not just to get the revenue in as soon as possible, but also to “beat the clock” of a 12 month deadline that the lottery funding and TV coverage came with. We developed brand positioning statements and design executions with the help of brand strategy and design experts, “Peter and Paul”, and applied the branding clearly and consistently online, on paper, and on the building. We designed products, (Cookery courses) according to needs and wants, not what we thought was easy or good for people. Healthy eating cookery courses don’t sell- Chocolate, Cupcakes, and Curry (and Brewing) do. Now we’re selling we take constant feedback and continually refresh and replace courses in the portfolio. We’re running at 95% satisfaction overall and we’re always trialling and testing new courses.
We’re in business, so we use business techniques, and they work. We aim to achieve financial sustainability (monthly break-even) soon- so that we can reinvest surpluses in our social obligations to the community; teaching local kids and their parents about growing, cooking, making, and selling good food.
For more information on our cooking and brewing courses, corporate awaydays, and meeting facilities, see: www.tideswellschooloffood.co.uk
For more information on the project as a whole see: www.tastetideswell.co.uk and www.villagesos.org.uk
Tim was the “Village Champion” for Tideswell in the Peak District, running “Taste Tideswell”- a project to boost the local food economy and reconnect locals with their food. The project is part of the BIG Lottery Fund/BBC “Village SOS” programme, and Tideswell was one of 6 UK villages to be included in a major BBCOne documentary series in summer 2011, presented by Sarah Beeny. Tim remains a Non- Executive Director of Taste Tideswell Ltd and divides his time between advising FMCG private sector clients on marketing and innovation and working with various Social Enterprises in advisory and governance roles. His career history includes 18 years in UK and European Food Marketing with Mars, and 10 years running his own successful Innovation Consultancy, The MIH Centre Ltd. www.mihcentre.co.uk