That was my idea

An old quote attributed to Google's Marissa Mayer

“Don’t take my idea.”  “I had that idea first.”  “He stole that idea from me.”  Work in advertising?  At an agency?  How many times have you heard those lines spoken?  How many times might you have uttered them — or even shouted them — yourself.

It may be true that every campaign, platform and creative execution started out as someone’s chicken scratch on a pad of paper, but our industry’s obsession with giving credit to one person or worse yet encouraging us to always make it about the “me” instead of the “we” continues to hold agencies back from developing modern, interactive, social ideas.

Granted a pure ad idea – tv script, print ad, billboard – might easily be attributed to one person or team; a script or a layout doesn’t get touched by that many people.  But what about a digital experience? When does it actually become an idea? After that very first sketch? What if it evolves into something quite different as it gets developed.

A couple of years ago I had an idea for a Twitter based conversation about SuperBowl ads. But someone else suggested tying in sentiment analysis and all the measurement that actually made BrandBowl the experience it became. What got created went far beyond the original brain fart.

Right now I’m working on a new social media sports experience that ties together content, fan participation, data analysis and advertiser engagement.  But it’s possible that the true idea – maybe it will become a platform upon which aspiring sports writers can launch their personal brand – won’t even become evident until long after we’ve been through beta. What will the idea be then? And whose idea will it be?

I’ve posted here in the past about Made by Many’s Skype in the Classroom. Heck, in that case MxM didn’t even know what the problem was never mind the idea that would solve it. That emerged from the teachers who actually use Skype. Again, what was the idea? Whose idea was it? Should credit go to the person who identified it when it became apparent? Why not to whoever conceived the process by which the idea was discovered?

I’m not suggesting that great ideas don’t spring from the heads of great creative people. Or that we should encourage team-think to the exclusion of solutions generated by singular talents. It’s just that if we place more emphasis on the idea itself and less on who deserves credit, we might get to better ideas and find that more people want to work on them and make them better.

Years ago, Google’s Marissa Mayer was quoted as saying that at Google the company tries to avoid territoriality and strives to “give the ideas credit, not credit for the ideas.”

I think that as advertising agencies try to get better at building stuff, creating in the digital space, thinking socially, and involving customers and users in the process, that would be good advice for all of us to heed.

14 comments
Customer Service Outsourcing
Customer Service Outsourcing

A very great post that tackled how hard to developed an inimitable ideas and work it as a team. Learned to give a recognition to someone who really deserve it without bias.

cworsh4
cworsh4

Yeah, I definitely had the idea to write this blog before you stole it from me.

JeffShattuck
JeffShattuck like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Great topic, great post. For me, this is one of the toughest challenges faced by agencies, because you have to balance individual recognition with overall team performance. Geniuses who can't work with others are a liability in the long run. Geniuses who can are perhaps an agency's greatest strength. To quote the Boss, "You can't start a fire without a spark." To continue the metaphor, though, you need people to fan the flames, otherwise you got nothin'. Two last thoughts: (1) great ideas can come from ANYONE (creative, media, account, client, print production) and the real trick is to have someone who can recognize and champion an idea's greatness; (2) the lone genius is a myth, no one achieves much of anything without the input and help of others. Last, last thought: while I think digital agencies demand more collaboration because of the broader skill set they require, this is not a digital vs. traditional issue. It's a creative issue.

jimmygilmore
jimmygilmore like.author.displayName 1 Like

When I was a junior and mid-level copywriter interviewing for work, creative directors wanted to know what my role was on particular campaigns in my book. "It was a collaborative process" would have been equivalent to "someone else wrote it." This means taking credit is required unless you own the shop.

I think it's possible to have a collaborative agency environment - especially in smaller shops. But the job market/award show/ad press mindset requires self promotion. We've probably all seen people who are great self promoters rise quickly over the equally talented and humble.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@jimmygilmore All true. And there should be credits on work and that is a good question for a CD to ask, given how many people have the same thing in their book. But my real point is that ideally people will get over the "claims" and declarations that become a deterrent to true collaboration.

jimmygilmore
jimmygilmore

@edwardboches I hope we can as a community. Makes for a much better work environment. And when you bring clients into the collaborative process, it gets even better. More stake holders can and should mean better work. The tortured, singular and genius artist fighting against the idiots is a cliche we don't need in the industry anymore.

folguera.virgili.jordi
folguera.virgili.jordi like.author.displayName 1 Like

From my point of view, the most important person or achievement is when someone turn an idea to reality. There are lots of dreamers and creativity people in life but the difference is who do something to turn this idea into something beneficial to someone else.

ThomasMiskin
ThomasMiskin like.author.displayName 1 Like

you can achieve anything as long as you don't mind who gets the credit

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@ThomasMiskin That is a great quote. Ironically, Jim Mullen, the founder of our agency used to say that to me all the time. Odd that while he believed it, it never sank in among everyone. There will always be those who want to take, rather than give, the credit.

EricWilliamson
EricWilliamson like.author.displayName 1 Like

I think @jessistafford nailed the issue at hand here for the majority of agencies today.

Creatives are evaluated and rise through the ranks (at their agency OR via agency hopping) based almost entirely on the killer ideas/ campaigns that they can take credit for. There is no real reward to them for being one of the "contributors" to a killer idea/ campaign.

That is a systemic problem that most agencies have today. It is an old reward system that worked for TV ....but clearly does not work for DigiMobiSocial concepts. We need a reward system that allows for the type of collaborative idea evolution that Edward describes in his post.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@EricWilliamson There are new digital agencies who don't review people as individuals. They only review (performance) people as part of a team. We are starting to incorporate that as one of our criteria as well.

EricWilliamson
EricWilliamson

@edwardboches That has been one of the interesting realizations in my transition from the digital agencies of my past -- to the traditional/ integrated agency of my present. Digital agencies started and grew with a more collaborative reward system from the start so most of them don't suffer from the same pains of "creative capital" that traditional shops are struggling with today.

All-digital shops obviously have their own struggles (strategic, etc) too that they are trying to work out...so there are plusses and minuses on both sides IMHO.

jessistafford
jessistafford

While trying to assign credit for the most creative idea certainly is not the most productive method to agency work, it's an understandable urge based on the fact that judging an agency creative's work is the subjective basis for whether or not they get to keep their jobs! Asserting that an idea was so-and-so's is a way to assert that, "Hey, I'm productive and indispensable!" As a young advertising professional, I've fallen into this way of thinking too, especially in an effort to measure up to the powers that be. However, from Day One agency people, and those in advertising in general, should already know that they aren't working their to build their personal portfolios...they are there to collaboratively conceive the best strategy for the client and then execute it accordingly as a collective effort, not a singular one. Great article!

1ad_dad
1ad_dad

Interesting thought attributing agencies struggles in the interactive and social world to individual credit. The ego/credit situation has always been a stumbling block - I always saw that tug-of-war between creative and account service. At the end of the day, I think the roll of strategy has equally effected the agency dynamic. Great ideas have legs that no one can predict where it will go, that is the beauty of viral and social interation - the audience decides whats great. Leaving ownership and subjectivity behind.

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