I was listening to a podcast from the Harvard Business Review's IdeaCast series about innovation and open sourcing. In case you hadn’t heard, we are in the open source era. The arrival of the open source era was announced to the mainstream press a couple of years ago when IBM—yes, IBM!—donated several hundred patents to the open source community. Like the annual appearance of El Nino, IBM earns more patents each year than any other company. That’s a lot of intellectual property to protect. IBM employs at lot of lawyers. They usually don’t give those things away.
But IBM doesn’t give all its patents away. In some areas of its business, such at their Z-series main frames, IBM creates closed proprietary systems and protects the hell of of them. So IBM has a portfolio approach to its IP. Give away some, protect others.
Could this not work in the agency world? I’m thinking specifically of inter-agency situations where a single client finds itself bombarded with multiple ideas from multiple agencies. Each agency is fighting to protect its turf, and—let’s be honest here—steal someone else’s. Sometimes clients will create “interagency teams” (aka “IAT”) to manage these competitors.
…ultimately agencies are NOT built to collaborate with each other. They are built to develop core competencies that can differentiate them from the herd. Collaborate? Make another agency’s work better? No revenue in that.
So how can you get agencies to collaborate willingly? Good luck. But here’s a possible structural solution.
Why not create a portfolio approach to the work product agencies create? Specifically, clients would create a master services agreement of some kind to which all agencies must agree. That MSA would stipulate the kind of work that the client would expect to be “donated” to the IAT (a proxy for the “open source” community) and the kind of work that each agency would have absolute ownership of. For both kinds of work there’d need to be proper financial incentives for creating the work as well as for sharing it. In return the client would commit to protecting the turf of each agency…at least for one year.
That way, for instance, the media agency has all the incentive it needs to do its job but can take a shot at creating the “big idea” that might step across the line into, say, the interactive agency’s turf. The media agency would get paid for the new idea, even if the interactive agency got paid to execute it.
After a year, the client would examine its portfolio, see which agencies produced the best and most successful ideas, and which agencies shared the best. High performers get renewed; trouble makers get penalized or the boot.
What do you think?