L’Oréal has been staging its Brandstorm competition for 25 years. This year, though, it is ringing the changes by turning the event into a talent and project incubator for students. Carole Pasco-Domergue, Chief HR Marketing Officer at L’Oréal, takes us behind the scenes.
Rethinking a well-established competition to meet student expectations
Brandstorm is one of the biggest global student competitions around, with more than 120,000 past participants. After a quarter of a century, L’Oréal has decided to change its long-running business game. Instead of a marketing competition used by the Group to spot and hire top talent – some 150 former brandstormers are taken on every year – Brandstorm will now be an incubator for talent and innovative projects. “We wanted to go further by giving students an opportunity to see what it is like to be in a big firm like L’Oréal and play the part of an entrepreneur with a bright new idea”, says Carole. The idea is to be better in sync with the expectations of students and fresh graduates. “Young people today are more interested in striking out on their own. They dream of opening their own business or joining a start-up and making a difference in the world. In 2014, 62% of people aged 18-24 said they wanted to set up their own company, and one-quarter of new companies had a boss under the age of 30!”, Carole tells us.
To help them showcase their talents and entrepreneurial get-up-and-go, L’Oréal changed Brandstorm, shifting away from an academic format to focus on the real-life world of business place innovation. “This year, candidates get the chance to really see what life would be like if they were already L’Oréal employees. They have to tackle the same issues, their projects are reviewed according to the same assessment criteria, and the L’Oréal jury will not hold anything back”, says Carole. To provide support during the contest, L’Oréal is supplying participants with the same educational and skill development resources that are available to employees, both online and through coaching sessions. To attract even more future high-flyers, L’Oréal has opened the event up to students in engineering and technology – critical skills for any innovation-centred company: “Brandstorm used to be exclusively for marketing and business students. We are expanding the game in 2017 by adding a Tech trophy for projects submitted by engineering and technology students”, explains Carole. As a result, participation has hit record levels this year, with over 25,000 competitors from 60 countries: that’s 10,000 more than in 2016 or a year-on-year increase of over 70%.
Pitching projects at an Innovation Fair
This year’s international final will take shape of an Innovation Fair held by L’Oréal in Paris, with participating students in the role of entrepreneurs pitching their projects. L’Oréal decided to move away from the previous approach, where students presented their ideas in an academic fashion, to create a trade fair setting where participants showcase their projects to roving jury members, just as if they were a start-up making a pitch to a business angel. The teams will engage with and look to win over a panel of experts, senior L’Oréal managers and Group partners.
The 126 finalists will get a booth and a tablet with which to present their projects to jury members. Carole said: “Each finalist will be allowed just a couple of minutes and a few slides to pitch their idea simply and explain why it is new and worthwhile. We will be following the approach used to select and assess projects at L’Oréal, which is exactly how things are done in the business world”. At the close of the day, the teams with the most compelling cases will present their projects to members of the Group Executive Committee. “Breaking free from more conventional presentations of the past, this will be a proper exchange. Jury members will have their say and grill the participants with tough questions. It will be very interactive, very challenging, and very much like what you see at tech fairs”, explains Carole.
Projects will be assessed according to four criteria throughout the process, namely their disruptive capabilities, feasibility, usefulness to consumers and potential for development and expansion, whether geographically or in terms of functionalities. Other factors, including social and environmental responsibility, are also taken into consideration. “Students have to work on the positive impact that their innovation will have on the world, since this is a priority for L’Oréal. We will also award a CSR Trophy this year to the team with the newest and most powerful sustainability project”, Carole tells us.
Incubated at L’Oréal, then brought to life
Every year there is the question of what happens to the projects. Are they used? Worked on further? Launched? “In the past, we have used some of the ideas that came out of the competition as inspiration. From now on, though, the aim is to make real headway on projects that are felt to be truly disruptive, which will include much closer follow-up on implementation”. Carole dreams of taking this incubator idea even further by setting up a structure to accommodate winners and help them bring their projects to life. “If this new format gets broad support, we will go a step further next time”, she tells us.