Agencies cannot continue to give their ideas away

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The ad industry must have the confidence to own some of the stuff they develop

I'm used to agencies telling me how great they really are, really: just look at all this work, and this smart thinking, and all these tools with silly names.

And, mostly, they are great. But recently I’ve also got used to agencies telling me how great they really are, really: just look at this amazing product we’ve created for our client, and it’s already a big new income stream for the brand, and it was all off-brief, we just had the idea, they liked it and we’ve transformed their business with it.

It happened twice last week. Two different agencies (both with digital DNA), two different products, two revolutionary business ideas. But, in both cases, the agencies gave it all away for free: all part of the service, sir.

God, why, I asked. After all, it’s not like you’re all making so much money (see our agency performance feature) that you couldn’t do with the extra cash. It’s not like your clients are already paying top dollar for the work you are actually contracted to deliver for them, even. Why give it away? In both cases, there was a rather embarrassed, slightly sad shaking of heads. They knew they could, knew they should and one day will charge properly for these ideas. Or own them. One day.

It’s beyond crazy that agencies are failing to grasp the opportunity of using their skills in brand development and building to actually own some IP and really share in the success of their ideas. In fact, it’s so far beyond crazy, it’s negligent, not just to their shareholders but to their staff – the ones conceiving and building these game-changing products and services for no real reward.

Meanwhile, Sir John Hegarty, a man who has helped more than a few Bartle Bogle Hegarty clients transform their businesses, is flipping things and launching an incubator company so that people with smart, disruptive business ideas don’t need to give them away in return for a procurement-butchered service fee. The Garage will help nurture new businesses using all the sort of nous that brilliant people in ad agencies have for creating brands and driving growth. I hope it is a great success.

I hope some of those people sitting in ad agencies seeing their ideas being given away for free are encouraged to quit and develop their ideas themselves. But I also hope that their success gives the ad industry the confidence to start actually owning some of the stuff they develop.

One of the saddest things to happen in our industry this year was the death of the legendary David Abbott. There is a memorial to celebrate his life and work on Tuesday Dec. 9 at St Marylebone Parish Church, London, NW1 5LT. All who knew David are welcome to attend and the service will start at 12 noon. If you would like to attend, e-mail memorial@amvbbdo.com.

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