It won’t be difficult for you to list a few of the best ads that have stayed with you for a long time. Have you ever wondered who made that beautiful Cadbury ad where the girlfriend dances her way into the cricket stadium, or the ‘pehli tareekh hai’ or Fevicol’s hen and egg ad or Dhara’s jalebi ad?
An ad is always the output of teamwork but it is also true that the idea sprouts from a single brain even though it is a result of brainstorming sessions. It is developed from somebody else’s thoughts and might be implemented by some other person. Similarly, somebody does the research work, while someone else writes, somebody executes – making it a joint effort.
But then, how does one claim to own the work piece? Can a single person ever claim to own a creative piece of work? Who should be given the credit? There is no scientific method to answer this. In turn, everyone ends up claiming credit for that work piece. The crab mentality hinders the popularity of the person whose brain germinated the idea initially. Once this happens a couple of times, the person who actually deserves recognition would have already lost faith in the system.
So, then whose work is it? Who owns the creative idea?
Abhijit Avasthi, Founder, Sideways, finds the subject really tricky. He said, “There are some pieces where everyone’s role is very clear, though it is tricky with the involvement of too many people. My philosophy is that everyone in the team (brainstorming session) should get credit for the idea, even if it originated from one person. At times, the idea comes from a strategy or planning person and the creative person executes it well. In that case, it is not fair not to give credit to the strategy or planning person. It is very rare that one person gets up in the morning with an idea and executes it completely on his/ her own. This is why every agency is nurturing team spirit and bonding through brainstorming.”
Ajay Gahlaut, Executive Creative Director, Ogilvy & Mather, added, “Being collaborative in nature, the communications business is largely dependent on the team brainstorming on a single idea. In that case, if you are in the room, you tend to claim that it was your idea and it happens a lot of times.”
The result of not getting the due credit for one’s work results in a lot of things. People often keep hopping jobs and agencies in search of credit for their work. Many have quit advertising, say experts in the field. A veteran also mentioned how there are people who pick the idea from trainee kids. There are people who take credit for something which they have not worked upon.
Kartik Iyer, CEO, Happy Mcgarrybowen, thinks that this is an old problem. He explained, “Nowadays, everybody is getting credit because talent retention is becoming a huge issue for the agencies. Generally, you give credit to the talent because ‘Vo bhi cheen liya to kya?’ (If you snatch that away, then what’s left?).”
Avasthi continued, “I have seen the pitfalls of both. For example, if a team of five to six people brainstorms and one of them cracks the idea, it is unfair to not give credit to all because all of them have spent certain time and skill. On the other hand, someone was part of a team and did not contribute at all but still ends up getting credit just by being a part of the team. I have seen a battery of such false credits in my career where people have been at the right place at the right time and later claimed that he/she was a part of this.”
When people change organisations, they take along ideas from the previous organisation to the new one. Therefore, in this case, how can one safeguard the ideas and not let the credit go away from the deserving?
Jagdish Acharya, Founder, Cut The Crap, gives a very different perspective on the topic. He joined the dots between idea shopping and credits issue. “The major issue of concern is how one would protect an idea even within the agency. When a person walks away from an agency to the other on a client of same category, then the person also takes away the ideas discussed and generated at the agency.”
He further said, “If you don’t latch on, you miss the bus, so one has to be very careful about the idea. Sometimes, a small point made by someone could turn out to be a great idea eventually. I have heard cases where somebody’s idea was refined and executed, but the credit was not given to that person.”
There are also incidences when people create a portfolio of campaigns of someone else’s work, calling it their own. Shobhit Mathur, NCD at Hakuhodo India, has a very interesting incident to share in this regard. He said, “There are people who have come to me for job interviews and presented their portfolios. To my surprise, about two to three campaigns they claimed as their own were mine! When luck has it, these people get the jobs. Even I have hired a person looking at his portfolio without a check. In six months’ time, I realised my mistake.”
Industry veterans say this is not a cultural issue; it all boils down to individual levels. It’s people’s business. So, it does not depend on the portfolio alone, over time, people understand who’s really responsible for a piece of work and how reliable/ credible the person is.
Rajesh Ramaswamy, Executive Director, Lowe Lintas, seconds, “Even if you meet someone for an interview, apart from the campaigns that they show as their work, you get a sense of the kind of person you are talking to. Merely 20-25 per cent of your personality/talent is judged on your work, the rest of it is how participative or sharp you are at providing solutions. It’s quite stupid to believe that your ads alone help you grow.”
Other than the individual behaviour, it is as much dependent on the seniors and the team leaders of the agencies as to how willing they are to promote their juniors. If the team leader is correct and believes in the growth of his team, then he/she would definitely give the credit for to his teammates.
Ramaswamy added, “Your seniority proves your excellence, which should make you secure. In fact, you are often judged upon how fast your juniors are growing. So, if they haven’t grown, it means that there is something wrong with you as a leader. Ultimately, if you have spent 12 years in the industry with a team and you still continue to be the main person who is responsible for everything, people start wondering why you have a team. How will they grow?”
Acharya too has an opinion on this. He shared, “Often, a senior person at the agency would not take any risk of eating up credits of a junior colleague. The agencies should develop a culture that gives security to its creative people at every level, so that ideas flow freely within the agency. Nowadays it is very tough to deny credit to a person at any level, fearing a major backlash. It is true that an idea can come from anywhere but in 99.9 per cent cases, it comes from the central group.”
Citing the analogy of cricket players, Avasthi explained how a lot of players became great not because they scored big in a single match, but because of their consistency. He went on to say, “The only solution to this is that people at every level should be worried about the consistency in their work output and ideation. A great track record is something which evens out all doubts whether it is a junior or senior contributor, whether he did it alone or as a part of a team. Ultimately, one can fake one or two credits which will even out in the track record.”
Mathur added, “You are creating anarchy of your own by not giving credits to people for their work. You take someone’s idea once or twice and that person may actually speak out and walk away. Then, you may end up losing talent.”
The whole balance of working in advertising is between taking credit for somebody else’s work and the urge to get recognised for one’s work in a rightful manner. It is a vicious circle and the creative fraternity can only survive through it, by finding the right balance between the urge of taking credits and the moral conscience level of themselves.