Ideas for the Making

Dave Evans, president of NuIdeaExchange, an online service that connects marketers with a la carte agency intelligence, is banking on behavioral change. Evans, a 30-year veteran of several Dallas agencies, is hoping a confluence of industry trends will prove the new business, a virtual marketplace for ideas, will help create a fresh model for the future.

Just out of beta testing this month, the site matches clients and creatives, what the site calls “seekers” and “thinkers.” Marketers looking for specific services can post their requests for proposals, anonymously if they choose. Creatives can respond to specific RFPs or sift through their personal catalogs of ideas that were never produced and upload them into the “nuideabank,” where their work could be used in exchange for a royalty fee. RFPs on the site at press time include Web site development for an equity firm, an infomercial for a new skin-care product and a direct-sales piece.

The idea for the online service, says Evans, grew out of his industry experience, which includes his current position as president of Irving, Texas-based agency Numantra. Recognizing that the best solution to a problem may not always come from within a company’s own walls, NuIdeaExchange was formed as a separate corporation with venture funding and aims to provide all the services that an agency would, including research and media planning, virtually. Currently, it has more than 200 registered “thinkers” and 30 “seekers.”

“There are probably a number of times when we could be delivering for our clients an approach that might allow them to look at things a little differently, utilizing creative talent outside of the agency,” says Evans. “We want to take the concepts around crowd sourcing and the changing behavior patterns there as a better way to offer services to marketers than at a traditional agency.”

Evans isn’t alone in predicting the climate is ripe for alternative solutions. The last decade has seen clients more willing to parcel out projects than long-term partnerships. Agencies and clients have opened up their ideation process to include more disciplines, both from within their own companies and outside, and in recent years have even gone straight to consumers for their most expensive advertising buys, such as the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards. And in today’s Web 2.0 world, the net is being cast even wider, with ideas culled from around the globe.

A four-year-old London-based company, OpenAd.net, has gained significant traction in this space, growing its online community of creatives to 11,000 people from 125 countries. The company has hosted RFPs for clients such as Procter & Gamble, which used the community last fall to gather ideas for its Gillette Fusion razor for Puerto Rico, and Diageo, which commission a localized responsible-drinking campaign for the Phoenix market during Super Bowl XLII. “It’s a model that is universally applicable,” says Katarina Skoberne, managing director and co-founder of the four-year old company, which began in Slovenia. “It’s being called the eBay of advertising.”

And like eBay, where consumers seek coveted items at bargain-basement prices, professional creative services like NuIdeaExchange.com and OpenAd.net, and others such as GeniusRocket.com, which offers more “consumer”-created solutions, offer marketers cost-effective solutions from the convenience of their desktops. Marketers can post an open call for ideas with the offer of a cash award, a flat fee or their own pricing. Although creatives can participate on both sites at no cost, Openad works on a subscription model, charging marketers a yearly fee to join (packages vary depending on how many briefs are posted, how many categories of gallery work are accessed, etc.). NuIdeaExchange charges clients 3 percent of the final amount the marketer is to pay a creative for the assignment.

In addition to posting online RFPs, clients can also browse through uploaded work of registered creatives to buy concepts that have not made it through to production. “You have a number of things that happen on a daily basis that translate into unused ideas,” says NuIdeaExchange’s Evans, describing the typical campaign pitch that usually brings three options to the table. “Of course the client usually uses one, so there are two unused ad concepts. Within those concepts there are pretty strategic ideas. We wanted to have a place where the creative community could get those significant conceptual elements produced.”

The sites offer an alternative to the traditional pricing model of hourly agency fees and charge instead for ideas, an attractive proposition for creatives, who cede ownership of their concepts to an agency. At OpenAd, for example, the creative sets his or her price and receives a royalty fee for client use. The Diageo brief on OpenAd offered $5,000 for the winning idea. And a recent assignment to create a corporate identity for European system integration company SRC last month awarded $2,000 to Argentine art director Karina Bordas. Bordas, who has 17 years experience at agencies such as BBDO, Leo Burnett and McCann Erickson, gives her endorsement on OpenAd’s site, predicting that the company will “revolutionize the advertising world” and demonstrate “how the ad industry will work in the future.”

Others are not as effusive. Although virtual idea marketplaces such as these have certainly offered clients additional options outside of the traditional agency mold and shops themselves have been experimenting with the idea within their own networks, not all participating creatives are as convinced that these businesses will, in fact, be a viable model.

“It’s not the real world I deal with,” says Denis Crosley, founder of CrossComm Inc., White Plains, N.Y., and one of three winners of the Gillette brief. The others were reported to be a British photographer and a Slovenian advertising student. All based their concepts on an initial idea from a shop in India.

Crosley, who declines to reveal details of his winning concept, learned of the company via a direct e-mail promotion and says he was attracted to the idea of participating in a flat-Earth creative community. “The creative briefs are good, and the lead time for delivering the concepts is almost luxurious compared to my normal day,” he says.

While the global nature of working with a virtual network is appealing, cyber space is limiting to some participants. “The bad thing is there is no way to exchange thoughts or interact with the client. It’s all or nothing,” he says. In a real-world environment, if a client doesn’t like what he or she sees, he adds, there is a chance to correct it.

The lack of collaboration between client and creator is a key disadvantage, one that could limit services like these and their ability to disrupt the decades-old agency model they profess to upend. “Even though I won, I’m at a loss seeing this concept take a significant share of business from the agency business,” says Crosley. “I believe in the sanctity of the creative process. Great work comes from the agency and client collaboration, and I’ve never known great campaigns without both great agency folks and clients.”

Additional services, like catalogs of ideas for sale, also seem incongruent to the strategic creative process. “It is strange to me because I believe that successful advertising is not like stock art, it’s strategic art,” he says. “I don’t know what kind of client goes rummaging through and says here’s an idea that fits with my product.”

After the cash prize is awarded, adds Crosley, the winning concept seems to “go into a black hole.” Much like when a freelancer works for an agency, the idea is then turned over to the client for execution, which may be uncomfortable for some creatives. For those looking to gain or expand their experience, sites like these provide a level playing field where the power of the idea prevails, not office politics or past experience. “It gives you more options,” says John Tsao, a freelance art director in Austin, Texas.

A P&G spokesperson says that the company has not yet determined how it will use the ideas that were generated by the OpenAd.net pitch. “We conducted a small test with Open-Ad.net to determine if, as a supplement to our traditional agencies, they could be a viable choice in delivering breakthrough creativity in multiple areas of marketing,” says Jenifer Nunnelley. “We are looking at the test results to determine what this alternate source could mean for our brands and whether or not any of the ideas should be executed. To date, none of the OpenAd ideas have been implemented on our businesses.”

Although Crosley is skeptical of the future of online creative services, he continues to participate in online RFPs. He says it’s not about the extra cash: “You have to participate because it’s fun, not because there is a giant financial reward.”