When I was working at ConAgra Foods, one of the agencies we partnered with was Crispin Porter + Bogusky. They were maddening to work with. They never delivered what they promised or delivered it when they promised it. Their communication was the worst I’d ever seen. Frankly, I’m not sure how they lasted as long as they did. We eventually parted ways with them after the Orville Deadenbacher fiasco. We should have parted ways earlier.
As difficult as it was working with CP+B, I did learn something very important from their team.
To keep an idea from dying, you have to protect it. So what Crispin would often do to protect an idea is keep the idea big. What does that mean? It means you only share the idea…in total…when it’s finally too big to kill. In the case of Orville, this meant never showing a rough cut of any kind till just before the ad was slated to run. The media had been bought. The sponsorship was locked up. I was not in the rough cut meeting, but I can’t imagine our leadership looked at it fondly. But, at that point, what were you going to do? Not run the ad? Eat the TV spend? Blow the sponsorship? Nope, the idea had gotten so big, you couldn’t kill it.
Granted, that’s an example of how this approach, protects a big idea…that’s just plain bad. But, the concept isn’t lost. In complex organizations with multiple stakeholders we often feel a need to share ideas early, so that people can “weigh in” and egos aren’t bruised. But, every meeting to share your idea is an opportunity to water down the idea, till eventually…it’s dead.
This fear of seeing an idea die because you shared it too early is happens all to easily, especially if you’ve seen it happen before. The sting, sticks with you. It gnaws at you.
So, if we want to protect ideas and we want to be collaborative, what do we do?