Anthony Noun (Executive MBA, 2017) came to Cass Business School to rubber-stamp his private sector nous, after years of PR experience in the public and third sectors. Along with his business partner he is now disrupting the PR industry with Brægen, a different way for brands to communicate and engage with their target audiences. We met up in the Launch Lab for a chat.
Tell me about your time at Cass!
I decided to do an Executive MBA (EMBA) because I’ve always dreamt of setting up my own agency and felt that the EMBA would give me confidence as well as the know-how. I also knew it would be great for networking, to meet potential partners, and to collaborate.
My background is predominantly in communications and marketing in the public sector and the third sector, and the EMBA is perfect for developing your business nous. Cass is really good at accepting people from a diverse range of professional backgrounds. My first interview for the EMBA was with Professor Stephen Thomas, and he stressed to me the value of the third sector and how Cass is always looking to recruit outside the typical mould of an MBA student.
Doing the MBA helped me focus on the important things, and the extra-curricular activities were amazing too. There are lots of events to encourage entrepreneurs, like the social enterprise festival, which is widening the entrepreneurship net outside the private sector.
What was the most interesting thing you learned?
In the Organisational Behaviour module we started looking at change management in a different way, using dialogic organisation development.
Traditionally a company has a series of change management and restructure programmes to increase efficiency. However, these top-down change management approaches only have a 30% success rate, are not effective and often lead to demotivated and unhappy staff.
A dialogic approach puts people at the centre of organisational development. Rather than create a plan and then try to engage staff, you start with a series of dialogues internally and co-construct a shared purpose through which the company can embrace emergence and move forward together collectively. I did my thesis on applying dialogic methods to communication and engagement, to seek out if the approach can be used with external (the public, ‘consumers’) stakeholders as well as internal ones.
This really laid the foundations to help build the Brægen concept and I would never have come across ‘dialogic’ without doing the EMBA. It was amazing to realise that I could make these connections and take best practice from other industries to disrupt ours.
What happened next?
I went straight from my EMBA to the City Launch Lab – it’s been a huge plus! The Launch Lab is an exciting venture for the University. Not only can you go to events and conferences for start-ups when you’re studying here, you know there is also a University-funded start-up incubator waiting for you if you’ve got the right idea.
We pitched and won our place and it’s amazing because we have free desk space for 12 months, as well as mentoring plus that day-to-day support to really help us go from a start-up to the next phase.
How did Brægen form?
I met my co-creator and collaborator Charlotte Broadribb professionally, and we’re passionate about the future of the PR, Marketing and Advertising industry. We don’t see what’s happening currently as creative, viable or appealing to ‘consumers’, and the results are that there is more fake engagement (at best) than real. So someone needs to come in and disrupt the status quo – us!
Brægen’s philosophy and vision focuses on how marketing and communications need to adapt to meet current challenges of today’s social, political and media landscape. Today anyone can create or be their own brand. Before smartphones, traditional brands were just competing with each other for coverage. Now people, powered by technology, are able to compete with established brands for media space, engagement and visibility.
For example a vlogger’s 15 minute video can reach millions of people worldwide, which is the same reach as a multi-million advertising campaign. And this vlogger is getting better engagement too! Organisations are unsuccessfully playing catch-up, as tried and tested ‘broadcast’ methods of content and message push are no longer appealing because they don’t lead to real two-way conversations, which as we all know, is more interesting than being talked ‘at’.
People now want and expect more from brands – reading a series of announcements about what a brand is doing is no longer of interest to people. People want the opportunity to co-create, communicate and make decisions with the brands they use – just look at Monzo.
How did you come up with the name?
The name Brægen was Charlotte’s idea. It’s the original spelling of the word ‘brain’. The brain is the one thing all 7 billion of us humans have in common and what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is the way we can communicate with each other. The brain is where all the magic happens!
What does Brægen offer?
We do PR and marketing with the key focus of creating real engagement touchpoints with the target audience. What people want is changing so we’re looking at meeting that need, and we do this through a number of techniques.
We’ve always said that Brægen is a concept that will constantly evolve with the times. We are not rigidly wedded to the idea we have today as we recognise the need to respond to how people consume and interact with information and change, because it’s the failure to innovate that has created the problems the industry has today.
And you’re also coaches?
Yes, one of our unique selling points is that we are all coaches, or training to be. We also see it as a good cross-sell package. I’m training to be an executive coach and Charlotte is a health and wellbeing coach. Coaching is more about listening than talking to clients, which is a great basis for how we can dialogically work with them, their internal teams and their external audiences.
Traditional presentation training, particularly with CEOs and senior executives, always focuses on the outer communication issues like packaging the message right, but that doesn’t touch on your internal beliefs and previous experiences as a speaker or presenter which may be limiting you. That’s something you can only work on from a coaching perspective. Coaching can help you find your positive inner voice and to create an action plan for working on confidence as a speaker or a presenter.
What’s the future for Brægen?
We are committed to being an agency that will remain different and ahead of the game. We want to keep away from the traditional agency model and ensure that we preserve our start-up ideals. We’re not doing this for glory or money, we love it and we think that we offer something different to the PR and marketing industry. We will keep disrupting and using our skills to create positive communications and sometimes social change.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
The concept of the Dialogic Communications Consultancy or Agency is new and different, so the real challenge is communicating an innovative and complex concept to people in a succinct way. We need to ensure people understand what we do and how working with us in a dialogic way would benefit them, their brand, their business, their team and their audiences.
Do you have any advice you’d like to share?
I’d say don’t fret – be patient and never doubt yourself. If you have an idea and you think about it all the time, go for it. If you start developing a business, keep going and see it through to fruition. You don’t always need to rely on an investor to buy into it for you to be a success.
Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!
Favourite place in London: Southbank
Favourite holiday destination: South America
Must-check every day website: Guardian
Dream travel destination: Mongolian desert
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate