Dean Woodall approached me as an interview subject for his Managing Innovation and Entrepreneurship subject at Victoria University; having spent years interviewing others, I feel quite honoured to be able to share with you an insight into our work at Bravo Charlie that is more than a simple ‘behind the scenes’ photo and the numerous finished products;
Phillip Bateman is an entrepreneur who has given the art of producing video clips for businesses a truly innovative edge. This is a summary report of an interview conducted on Monday, March 14 2016, and details how his company – Bravo Charlie – brings together bespoke consulting services and business ‘gap’ analysis with video production in an example of innovation being organised into a systematic activity (Drucker 1985).
On their own, each of these functions are nothing new, but in synthesising “existing concepts and factors into a new formulation” (Frederick and Kuratko 2010, p.170), Bateman has targeted a “high potential, technology intensive commercial opportunity” (Dorf and Byers 2005, p.42) for clients that include QBE Insurance and American International Group (AIG).
Frederick and Kuratko (2010, p.170) note that “most innovations are simple and focused”, and that they are “directed towards a specific, clear and carefully designed application”. Bravo Charlie’s unique business offering is that (in addition to creating modern digital content for their clients) they undertake extensive business ‘gap’ analysis consulting.
By identifying the resources, future product potential as well as the strengths and weaknesses of his clients, Bateman is able to clearly define where the client wants to be within twelve months. From this, he creates a strategy; then films and edits the digital story to help his client achieve these goals.
As mentioned, video production and business analysis are hardly innovative; however by synthesising the two, Bateman plays out his own ‘creative destruction’ (Schumpeter 1942), and seeks to break the mould of traditional advertising. He further takes advantage of opportunities such as the internet, what he refers to as a “far more personal” medium, to help his clients tell a more personal story than advertising can ever do alone.
Bateman asserts that people buy from people, and rather than blasting their customers or other stakeholders with what he calls “pretty” videos; he provides a medium for his clients to engage directly with an audience – and extracts a genuine story in the process.
Bateman is hardly new to the concept of innovation, and is actually undertaking a Masters of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Swinburne University; which is noteworthy in the context of Bessant and Tidd (2011) who describe the role a university can play as an ‘incubator organisation’.
The idea for Bravo Charlie, however, took flight when Bateman (having just come out of a failed partnership to commercialize a fuel saving technology during the GFC) took a small job filming content for Melbourne café ‘Shocolate’ with a friend’s mobile phone. Of the 900 people on their mailing list, 850 watched the video, and 820 purchased the product.
Whilst Frederick and Kuratko (2010) might describe this as Bateman’s “idea experience”, the creative process no doubt started much earlier. The “background phase”, as described by Frederick and Kuratko (2010), might apply in Bateman’s case growing up around family businesses and carrying out several middle management functions in his twenties, including extensive experience as a Business Development Manager in IT, web and e-commerce.
Additionally, Marian Marsden – his business (and real life) partner – describes Bateman as an avid accumulator of knowledge who is “always looking” for new concepts and ides.
Indeed Bateman identifies his “getting skills for life” as a key strength. What Frederick and Kuratko describe as the “incubation phase”, may have occurred during his years in middle management and marketing; and after his “idea experience”, would have left him well equipped to “Evaluate and Implement” his idea in the final of Frederick and Kuratko’s (2010) phases.
Important in light of the final phase of Frederick and Kuratko’s model is that Bateman (and Marsden) are always adapting Bravo Charlie; they’re constantly re-educating and adapting the Bravo Charlie concept to suit the needs of their clients and the context of the environment.
Bateman and Marsden (who takes on the role of general manager) see themselves as craftspeople and both baulk at being labelled ‘Entrepreneurs’.
The term itself does remain a “slippery concept” (Blundel and Lockett 2011, p.4) however, and although Frederick and Kuratko (2010) define Entrepreneurship as a “dynamic process of vision, change and creation”, de Bruin (2007) asserts that there is no clear consensus on a definition with the term “often being applied within a range of settings and used with marked variations in meaning”.
Bateman asserts that he and Marsden are great at getting the “gold” out of their clients, and that they “love helping people who are good at what they do to do more of it.” Whilst the revenue they receive is definitely a motivator, the amount of charitable work they do also plays a critical role.
For example, the business model has three levels of pricing that allows for freelance musicians or charities such as Uniting-Care in the city of Wyndham to tell a story just as well (and to the same quality) as QBE Insurance or AIG. Additionally, Bateman insists that what keeps him going in his business is that he would not know how to do anything else, and has an odd assortment of professional memberships that include both the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Australian Cinematographers Association.
This implies a level of vision, change and creation beyond the norm of regular advertising, inspiration that exceeds the “humdrum inputs that respond to ordinary economic incentives” (Caves 2003, p.73).
That is not to say that Bateman does not recognise Schumpeter’s description of the “powerful links between innovation and profit” (Bessant and Tidd 2011, p.58).
He describes “sales” as an integral part of what he does; and is always looking to speak at a conference, much of which is self-promoting. Without sales, he wouldn’t succeed.
He also identifies word of mouth marketing as vital to Bravo Charlie’s success and singles out his “elevator pitch” as a key strength.
As in many small businesses, cash flow is the most difficult situation faced by Bravo Charlie; and the role of the family (as well as the support afforded by Marsden) is not lost on Bateman.
Without what Bateman and Marsden refer to as their “living inheritance”, Bravo Charlie might not exist today. It gives them “space for ideas”, which notably (in addition to the trust shown by Marsden in her supporting role) reflect precisely what Bessant and Tidd (2011) describe as the two most important factors that influence innovation.
That said; what Tidd and Bessant (2011) further describe as “organisational slack”, that too much support can breed complacency – and that too little can stymie ideas, applies to Bateman who regularly works 60 hours per week to deliver projects in what is his sole form of income.
A core value of Bravo Charlie could be described as “just keep going”; which is yielding results as his revenue – whilst very small in the first years of operations – has now grown to over $160,000 for the last financial year.
This “space for ideas”, however, has lead Bateman to have some major aspirations for the future of his business. Over the next five years he plans to set up a wholly foreign owned entity in Shanghai, and plans an innovative ‘extension’ of the Bravo Charlie concept, into one which helps Australian and Chinese businesses bridge the gaps between their respective markets.
He believes that through Bravo Charlie, he can forge a cross cultural understanding between Australian and Chinese businesses that has not yet been achieved; and he has already taken steps in this direction by joining the Australia-China Council.
In conclusion, Bravo Charlie is an innovative business concept that has taken advantage of opportunities afforded by the internet. Bateman has synthesised existing ideas into a new concept; and has taken that concept successfully to market. Whilst he does not like referring to himself as an entrepreneur, Bateman leverages his skills as an interviewer, businessman and filmmaker – and has aspirations for the international expansion of his “baby”.
Bessant, J & Tidd, J 2011, Innovation and entrepreneurship, 2nd edn, John Wiley and Sons, West Sussex, UK.
Blundel, R & Lockett, N 2011, Exploring entrepreneurship, practices and perspectives, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Caves, R 2003, ‘Contracts between art and commerce’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 73-83.
De Bruin, A 2007, ‘Building the film industry in New Zealand’, in Henry, C (ed) Entrepreneurship in the Creative Industries, Edward Elgar, Gloucestershire, UK.
Dorf, R & Byers, T 2005, Technology ventures, from idea to enterprise, McGraw-Hill, New York, USA.
Drucker, P 1985, Innovation and entrepreneurship, Butterworth-Heinemann, Woburn, USA.
Frederick, H & Kuratko, D 2010, Entrepreneurship, theory, process, practice, 2nd edn, Cengage Learning, South Melbourne, Australia.
Schumpeter, J 1942, Capitalism, socialism and democracy, Harper and Brothers, New York, USA.