How your agency process can overcome crowdsourcing

So, by now you have read or heard that one of America’s iconic brands, Harley Davidson, has hired a crowdsourcing agency. And Red Bull just broke some kind of consumer crowdsourcing promotion.

Is this a good thing? Well, I guess it all depends on whose eyes you look through. I’m dead set against it. This is an awful practice that hastens the downward slide into lower fees, lower respect and an already weakening client/agency relationship. It blows. And the folks that suffer most are creatives.

Is this a good thing? Hell to the no, my friends.

But are you here for that?! Nope.

Surely there’s plenty of writing out there that fully explores the model. The pros and cons, potential industry impact, and a bunch of high falutin’ talk. As an industry, this is something we’re really good at! I’m sure there are bright minds out there thinking about how to minimize this dreadful model.

Call me Crazy Eddie, but I suspect one of the reasons you’re here is… you wanna win more new business! So, should you ever find yourself up against something that smells like a crowdsourced model, what follows are a few thoughts to help you win.

Crowdsourcing is a reason to believe. Why might the work be better? “Well, ’cause it’s crowd sourced!” You can just hear this in some client’s head. I might be butchering this, but adman great Jerry Della Femina once wrote about agency process. He suggested it is akin to the blue beads in laundry detergent. While there’s certainly a bit of magic & mystery in what folks at an agency do, some agencies use process as a way to convince a client they can not only produce consistently good ideas, but that their ideas will work. Our blue beads.

Comparing yourself to a crowdsource model, part of your process is steady, reliable idea generators. People experienced and proven in the line of battle…whose ideas drive business. And these same professionals are going to be there when you need ideas tomorrow, next month and next year.

Here’s another part of your process: the interaction a client can have with the entire team. Need an impromptu meeting with the creative team? They’re just down the hall. They were meeting with your planner, where she was just talking about a cool article she came across that gave her an insight into your consumer.

That time spent together could lead to some smart, business-building work. The synergy that happens through collaboration may not happen with a crowdsourced model.

There are many clients out there – the same kinds of clients that pursue innovation – that would like to interact with the team. That can’t happen easily with crowdsourcing.

For crowdsourcing to be successful, it must rely on volume. And senior people hafta spend a lot of time sifting through a bunch of crappy ideas to find a few good ones. Couldn’t that time be spent on something else that will help a client’s business? In the traditional model, creatives spend time getting to know a client’s business, their industry and consumers. They self-edit. Which can drive efficiency.

Part of the allure to a client around crowdsourcing is innovation. This is easy to understand. Particularly at a time when it’s popular to explore new models. But these crowdsourcers don’t have a lock on doing something new. You can do it, too.

Hmmm. What a rich and meaty little topic. Let’s save that for another post.

Happy pitching,

Crazy Eddie


  1. Steve Congdon says:

    Hi. Check out this story from Melanie Wells – she talks a bit more about the Harley move, interviewing one of the guys behind Victors & Spoils, the agency that won Harley.

  2. Hey Steve,

    Interesting post. I didn’t know Harley Davidson was trying this out. Ouch, for the great creatives and agencies that have been building their brand over the years. What a slap in the face.

    Crowdsourcing, unfortunately will be with us for a while. It is not a “new” model, just a larger version of the “spec pitch” in my opinion, but with our new “flat” world people are thinking that volume might be a way to solve their problems quickly without the overhead and mystery of the “blue beads”.

    “Blue beads” have a hard time impressing in a world where the quick buck is king. I was recently at a meeting of small business owners from other industries. One presenter did an entire spiel on crowdsourcing for, what he truly believed were solid solutions to his problems. I, with no malice intended, poked holes in his work and process. It wasn’t fun for either of us, but I hope I helped him and others see the flaws.

    Crowdsourcing is a tool/process that many executives believe saves them money and for some it will. There’s no getting around that. Others will see that it is a short sighted strategy that gives them a lot of pretty pieces to look at, but no substance behind them. But a whole lot of people are going to try it out.

    As our industry goes forward agencies will need to, and I know this is the tough part, stand by their principles and not cave in to the monetary urge to compete at any cost.

    Having respect for what we do and convincing others to respect it is a tough job, but, in my opinion, done correctly it gets you better clients and longer lasting relationships.

    Take care.