Will Agencies Suffer Death by 1,000 Cuts through Crowdsourcing?

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by: John Winsor

I’ve been excited lately to see that the idea of crowdsourcing has caused such a stir. You know a paradigm is about to shift when lines start getting drawn in the sand. When I was writing about co-creation in Beyond the Brand back in 2003 I couldn’t even imagine how the open source movement would radically change so many businesses.

Currently, a lot of emotion surrounds the subject especially in the marketing, advertising and product design worlds. Below are a few of the things I’ve been hearing lately with some of my thoughts on each.

1. Spec Work is Bad – I’m not sure I fully understand all of the hot feelings about the "spec work" issue. That’s a bridge that other industries, like photography, have already crossed. Sure, there are lots of photographers that still get hired to do photo shoots. But, today the market is becoming dominated by amateur willing to do work on spec and put it up on stock photography sites like iStockPhoto. Other creative businesses will follow. A good friend and respected graphic artist told me a few days ago that the only people that seem to be offended by the idea of spec work are mediocre at their jobs. His point is that he uses contests, like those run on Crowdspring, as a way to keep sharp. It’s not a substitute for the work he does for his clients but it’s a fun place to play around. Plus, he reminded me that does a lot of spec work in the pitch process.

2. It’s Unethical – While this is closely tied to the first point, I can’t quite figure this out. Is the act of soliciting ideas from the general population unethical? Are the sites that have been set-up for contest-based collaboration unethical? Are the people participating on those sites unethical? It feels to me this idea is being promoted by folks who’ve already made it in their respective fields. It’s a bit of “Close the door behind us, and don’t let anyone else in” attitude.

2. It’s Only Freelance – Yep. I agree. But, if you’re a very talented and live in a place like Perth, Australia, and want to participate in pushing their work to a global audience, how do they do it without moving? While crowdsourcing is freelance it unshackles the need to be in a certain place in order to participate in the design and advertising industries. Creativity grows as people connect and participate in a deeper dialogue. It doesn’t matter if it’s digitally or physically.

3. Work Will Suffer Because Clients Don’t Know Good Work – Sorry to be harsh but they’re the customer. If they want to pay for bad work, so be it. It’s hard to find good clients that buy good work. That’s what everyone wants.

4. It Will Only Work for Small Stuff Like Logos – With any emerging field the smallest tasks are the ones that are replaced first. Sooner or later, the tasks become more complicated. Watching the projects posted on Innocentive things are trending this way. Also, as more clients start using crowdsourcing and trust the results they’ll be willing to experiment with more complicated assignments. The shift will accelerate when crowdsourcing starts being used as a source of creative material that is shaped by creative directors and delivered to clients as part of a larger strategic platform.

The big question is how much will it affect the marketing, advertising and product design businesses. Like it or not, it will usher in radical changes. I started my career as a journalist and have always been fascinated by the arrogance of my fellow journalists as they looked down upon lowly bloggers. All kinds of arguments were made about how blogging would never effect the fourth establishment. Yet, look around. While newspapers stuck their heads in the sand the world changed. Instead of engaging the crowd to participate they allowed an industry to start and grow without them. Now, as journalists wake up from their delusions of grandeur they have found out they’re too late.

The bottom line is that great ideas come form everywhere.

The only question is, will agencies wake up from our own delusions or will they suffer the same fate as their print media brethren?

I hope this provides you with some food for thought. I’d love to hear what you think.

Original Post: http://www.johnwinsor.com/my_weblog/2009/04/will-agencies-suffer-death-by-1000-cuts-through-crowdsourcing.html