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Technical trends: Mining sector talks innovation

WADIM SCHREINER, managing director of Media Tenor, analyses the findings of the company’s survey into media coverage of innovation.

The South African mining industry is the sector that communicates most frequently about innovation, while ‘giant’ unlisted companies get more media coverage on innovation than JSE companies, according to the Media Tenor/Idea Engineers Innovation Media Survey. The survey delivers an analysis of all statements made on JSE-listed companies, non-listed ‘giants’ as well as the CEOs of listed and non-listed companies in the South African media.

Highlights from the Innovation Media Survey include the following findings:

* Of a total of 270 818 statements made in the media on corporate organisations or industries, 55 733 featured the mining industry (21%).
* This was followed by the banking industry (29 880 statements or 11%) and retail (19 788 statements).
* IT (19 260), insurance (16 574) and financial services (15 574) followed in positions four to six.

Interestingly, industries such as the IT and automotive industries, which both rely heavily on new technology and innovation, did not receive higher than average (1% of total communication) coverage.

The survey highlights the fact that very often successful media coverage of innovation requires a strong driver in the form of a visibly active CEO, as in the case of Sasol. The survey also flags issues around the manner in which innovation, research and development (R&D) and sustainability topics are reported by companies to the media.

R&D is generally a very large investment, and companies need to achieve a secondary return from that investment. If a company reports effectively into the media, innovation can contribute significantly to brand equity and general image in the market place, offering a valuable secondary avenue of return.

However, for this return to become a reality, companies need to seriously examine the ways in which they are delivering innovation information to the media.

If a journalist feels that innovation reporting is largely a matter of company hype, then that says a lot about the type of information he is getting. The survey clearly indicates that the art of communicating R & D and innovation to the media needs to be re-examined. The simple press release – which is impersonal and probably one of hundreds sent to the media – is set to fail. Instead of a press release companies need to engage the media on a one-on-one and truly informative level.

Innovation reporting also needs to focus more strongly on the bottom line link between innovation and R & D drives and the overall company strategy. Businesses need to clearly define why the company has invested in innovation, what the expected return is for the company itself, as well as returns for suppliers, distributors and clients / customers.

The Media Tenor / Idea Engineers Innovation & Sustainability Media Survey performs two distinct functions. On the one hand it clearly lays out the need for an increasing focus on innovation within the South African economy, and within its associated media environment. On the other, it highlights a strong need for companies to re-examine the manner in which they report innovation issues to the media.

South African organisations, be they commercial or governmental, have to focus more on innovation. Innovation is a clear point of competitive advantage for our economy. In this context, the survey shows a strong need for an overhaul of the process companies go through when reporting their innovation objectives and successes into the media. Smart organisations – those that have a clear and definitive approach to innovation – will certainly achieve a considerable secondary return on their investment through their engagement with the media around the topic.

Innovation is a critical component of modern business. Indeed, cross-organisational innovative ability has, in recent years especially, powered the growth and competitive edge of the global economy’s best performers.

Innovation, in all its many forms, is a strategic and operational factor relevant not only to commercial entities, but also to government. In South Africa, in particular, government faces a unique range of challenges when it comes to service delivery that meets the needs of newly democratised country.

Wadim Schreiner is managing director of Media Tenor. He can be contacted by e-mail at wn.schreiner@mediatenor.com or phone him on 012 346 6422.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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