Week two, weekend nil.

Bloody hell, a month goes by and no posts here. So here’s one, on the day that China and Google split up. If you think about it, that particular debate centres on how national governments interfere with cyber communities for their own, possibly nefarious, ends. That isn’t new, and censorship is creeping back in many Western countries as well as being sort of expected in what we rudely describe as the ‘less democratic’ world.

One of the outputs from the Digital Britain report published in the summer is the formation of bills to go through parliament to address the issues of copyright, open access, digital inclusion, that a digitally literate economy needs to get right. In the first and possibly last effort before the election, not everyone thinks that the government has got it right.Β  Here’s Cory Doctorow on boingboing describing the assault on freedom that locking down your ISP account presents. And here’s Rebecca McKinnon in the Guardian touching upon the French efforts to reject the Satan of Music Downloading, in the context of Google’s legal battles with China, France, Italy, etc. Mind you, Johnny Halliday isn’t exactly going to be troubling my MP3 collection in the near future, but I’m lucky to live in a country where you can say stuff like that and you aren’t marked down by the authorities as a travel risk.

Good news today – the government is tabling a series of amendments that appear to curtail the most iniquitous clauses in the bill, including the one that gives a (currently unelected) minister the right to decide on who and how to crack down on copyright infringement without recourse to any other parliamentary process. Whether they do or not remains to be seen.

What’s this got to do with marketing? The dripping irony here is that in the world of brand communication, we’re almost desperate for consumers to download our brand content for free and share it with each other. We want our viral messages to go viral, and for our amateur enthusiasts to make their own versions of our slick commercials. We want to show that consumers care enough about the brand to bother. Which makes it surprising (to me, anyway) that there weren’t more agency people involved in evaluating whether this new law is a blocker to innovation. It’s not just about digital innovation, but innovation in all forms of communication. At CES, the big consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, most of the new technology devices being showcased have social technologies built in to them. This means that people will be able to, if they can be arsed, link to each other, recommend where they are, tell people where they are going and where they’ve been through pretty much any device. If you think of Twitter as “what are you doing?” think of the next wave of social tech as “Where are you?” Hmm.

And this brings me back to the slow post movement on participation marketing, and the kind comments I’ve received on Twitter and Facebook about the past month’s pm abstinence. The answer is I’ve been busy. We’re working on a pitch. And will be at the weekend too no doubt. Plus ca change :-)

New crowdsourcing agencies are all the rage.

Recent events in the idea crowdsourcing world herald a new business model for agencies. As the person responsible for putting Peperami on the internet in the first place (peperami.com 1996 for the historians amongst you) I’m well placed to comment on the recent move to find ideas using the internet. And as Jon Winsor and other (about to be ex-Crispin Porter) colleagues have announced in the early hours of this morning, it’s time for a new model that takes crowdsourcing to the next level. And that involves asking you, the creatives out there working for other agencies, to contribute to their briefs. Transparently. And at your risk.

Are you up for it? Is it the end of the agency model as we know it? Everyone seems to agree that there is an enormous challenge in the agency group mentality of silo and sausage factory. We make our money in the wrong way, from downstream process transaction rather than from upstream advisory. We fight with each other constantly over budgets. We don’t have enough people to handle the workload when we’re busy. Or we have plenty of the wrong people who can’t handle the workload because the work has changed.

Is the problem about size? The bigger an agency gets, it moves from selling ideas to selling meetings. This seemed fine, as clients have diverse needs and there are a myriad of ways to find service levels for those needs. The creativity of agencies moved into describing cross selling. to build scale and business relationships. And the creativity that clients actually want from them, ideas for better ways to engage consumers to sell more of their products and services tended to be a delegated and downstream service. Ideas became lone wolves that had to be ‘fought for’ by the creative department, instead of exciting ‘cool’ product developments that galvanise everybody involved.

Now there’s an answer. A new model where brands owners can publicly describe their problem, and can garner public responses. There’s been a few start ups that endeavour to capture this trend – idea bounty and so on, about which the naysayers claim they can’t make money, they are estate agents for ideas, isn’t it just like freelancing and so on. Well it does reflect all those things, accusations very easily levelled at any agency by the way, but the difference is that the ability to share and re-share briefs and answers quickly though the internet brings agility where previously there was treacle.

As Stuart Elliot put in in the New York Times – agencies should stop worrying about selling the status quo and start being a force for change. A ‘catalyst of record’, not an ‘agency of record’ Love that. And believe that too. I worked on a pitch last year where the client invited five agencies to test drive their cars and pitch for their business. It was an expensive and overwrought process, on everybody’s part. As we were hanging around having coffee, I said to one or two of the opposition – you know what, this is silly. They should just hire you, me, her and him. Each from a different agency – a ‘dream team’ as they say, as between us we’d provide the best answers, the best work, and it would be a laugh. Everyone agreed that it would be, but went home to prepare for the pitch battle in their own P&Ls.

I wish Jon and crew luck with their new venture. Watch that space!

Alex Bogusky seems to agree with me

“The question for creative agencies is whether they can wake up, react to what’s going on, engage the crowd, and make themselves a part of the new reality.” So says Jon Winsor (Crispin Porter’s innovation guy) in Business Week, and Alex Bogusky on his blog this last week. Crowdsourcing is on the increase, but it’s no longer a fashionable or trendy business idea. It’s a real model for customer engagement. And the pressure is on creative industries to work out how to manage it.

The oft quoted Dell IdeasStorm and My Starbucks Idea are great examples of endeavour to gain customer approval, but how many of the ideas suggested actually got produced or implemented? Not very many, is the answer. And the reason? It’s pretty tough to review 7000 ideas. The next wave of crowdsource business model will see crowdsourcing gatekeepers emerge.Watch this space people. Participation marketing is a reality.