When Victors & Spoils was first launched two-and-a-half years ago, the company had more detractors than fans. (Note, I was among the latter.) Much of the industry dismissed the idea that the model could ever replace the traditional agency/client relationships. The more vocal members of the creative community found all kinds of reasons to condemn the new company. The talent wouldn’t be as good. The whole idea of crowd sourcing would undermine the value of the creative person. The best people wouldn’t submit to this kind of process and platform.
Co-founder/CEO John Winsor and I had numerous conversations about why the critics were wrong. Great ideas can come from anywhere. Plenty of people would welcome the chance to have their ideas considered. (After all, how many of us encounter a daily dose of rejection already?) Clients had tired of paying for overhead and some of the excesses of the advertising industry. And since agencies could only sell the talent they had on staff, by definition they were limited in the number of ideas they could generate to solve a problem.
Clearly, John and his partners were a step ahead of the critics. From day one the agency met with success. Thousands of creatives from all over the world joined the community. And the agency’s pitch resonated with lots of clients. Dish, Discovery Channel, GAP, General Mills, Harley Davidson, Virgin America, Levi’s and a host of other brand name advertisers signed on.
And why not? They could get a slew of ideas — curated, filtered and on strategy — for a lot less money than they would pay in a typical retainer relationship.
From the very beginning I thought this was the perfect acquisition for a holding company. Think about it. Holding companies serve large global clients. They make the claim — sometimes actually true — that they can harness the collective the resources of multiple sister agencies to serve a client’s total needs. Yet they really don’t have a model, infrastructure or software platform for doing so. Ask anyone who has participated in a cross agency (there’s a more disparaging word for it) shoot out and they’ll tell you it’s among the more miserable experiences in which you could ever participate. In many cases it wastes time and resources. And for the individuals encouraged (if not forced) to participate it often results in nothing more than demoralization.
But with Victors & Spoils platform — the community, the software, the process — it could be so much more efficient. A holding company can tap into an existing community, create a new one, invite more people to participate with less time and effort, and effectively manage and evaluate more submissions. Add some incentives or gaming dynamics, make it easier for people to throw in ideas, and it’s likely that participants might even welcome the opportunity to help the company cause. Perhaps more importantly, clients might have a genuine reason to believe that multiple agencies could work together on their behalf.
Until now, most ad agencies have been threatened by Victors & Spoils. They’re perceived to undermine the value of individual creatives, diminish the role and impact of the creative director who hires and guides them, and convey to clients that there might be a better idea outside the walls of the agency.
But if, in the end, our job is to solve big problems, deliver the best and most effective idea, and leave no stone unturned in determining it, maybe we should all acknowledge that community, software, and yes, crowdsourcing techniques, are the way to go. Maybe not always, but certainly sometimes. Add to that the fact that we really only have two choices — resist progress or embrace it — and we have even more reason to welcome the innovation that V&S has pioneered over the last two years.
John Winsor, Claudia Batten and Evan Fry had the vision and the courage to try and change how ad agencies work. Looks like the big holding companies — at least one of them — is starting to believe they’re onto something.