Today we're featuring our interview with Chris Smith, founder of Swarm Communications, a media company we profiled recently that helps promote organizations doing good in the world. In addition to his consulting practice, Chris blogs for the Guardian Social Enterprise Network and is a registered mentor with the Media Trust, and Unltd, which in 2010 named Chris mentor of the year.
In the answers below, he shares the inside scoop on what it's like to help social enterprises get the word out through marketing, public relations and other communication services.
4 Questions with Chris Smith, Founder of Swarm Communications
1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
There’s no reason why social enterprises should struggle to get heard or get short changed on service just because they can’t afford the mega fees of the big PR agencies -- but I’m afraid they often are. I came up with the idea for Swarm after working in some of these big agencies myself and feeling that I wanted to take what I’d learnt and apply it to working with people that I admire and find personally inspiring. My business is very lean and virtual in nature and whilst that’s a turn off for some, it attracts people like social entrepreneurs who care more about the outcome and the service rather than whether they can visit some plush offices in the city.
2. How did you decide to join this sector?
Over my career, I’ve worked with all kinds of organisations from big consumer brands, blue-chip businesses, government departments to campaigning charities – but it’s social businesses that really inspire me. For me, social enterprise take the best bits of the charity world (the wish to change the world) and the best bits of the business world (drive, innovation and creativity) to make a really inspiring (there’s that word again) combination. I’m a big fan of stories and storytelling and most social enterprises have got great stories behind them too. The people behind enterprises are normally really passionate people and I’m a big fan of using these stories to help them define themselves in the market and differentiate themselves from the competition. For a start-up, reputation is everything so it’s really important that they do everything possible to manage it effectively – right from the beginning.
3. How do you get your inspiration?
I really enjoy working with people who are entrepreneurial, have a passion for what they do and who have big ideas. I’m lucky enough to work with some pretty outstanding people and it’s usually from them that I get my inspiration and hopefully, my creativity. New ideas don’t just pop into your head from nowhere – I think you need to spend time talking to people, discussing new solutions to problems.
4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
I don’t think we were designed to sit at desks or work in big offices -- I know I wasn’t! I’m lucky enough to live in a beautiful part of the UK so when I’m feeling a bit phased (or out of coffee!), I have to get out of the office, walk up a hill, go for a run, get some air into my lungs.