Credit where’s credit’s not due

Earlier today I was listening to Dave Dye’s podcast with Rick Sittig. It’s a great chat (find out how he actually saved the lives of a tribal chief’s wife and child while filming a Nissan ad).

An hour or so in, Rick mentions a former boss taking credit for ads that he (Rick) had done, and says that it was theft.

Funnily enough I was having a chat about the same thing with an advertising friend last week. I told him my story of having work stolen by a more senior creative, then he alluded to his (we didn’t have time to go through the whole thing, but we will), then I said I’d also had work stolen by the person who stole his work.

I’m not going to go into my stories, or name the perpetrators, but when I told my friend who they were, he was very surprised at one of them, someone he’d known as a nice guy from earlier in his career. I didn’t have time to tell him that the very same person (team) had stolen another idea off another team (much more senior than me, but technically junior to the thieves). The offended copywriter apparently had to be held back from going into the thieves’ office and kicking the shit out of them. To add insult to injury, it was an excellent idea that the thieves didn’t execute well at all, wasting it. (Oddly enough, I spoke to the ‘victim’ team’s AD recently and he told me that in his first agency they used to have to stick their layouts to the underside of their desk to hide them from the thieving CD who would go around late at night and steal people’s best ideas for himself.)

So I wondered how common it was. I also wondered, given that the same names cropped up in different incidents, how many people had made entire careers, or thousands of pounds in raises, off the back of theft.

I imagine that you are now in one of three categories:

  1. Never happened to me, but I’d love to know the names…
  2. I’ve heard about a few of these incidents myself, but it’s just part and parcel of the job. Besides, you should just be able to come up with another idea and show ’em who’s the really creative one.
  3. That is indeed theft. Money and promotions have gone from their rightful owners into the pockets of others. Who knows what the victims missed out on? Really, people who do that are massive cunts, especially if they’ve already been successful and the victims are juniors.
  1. Well, I’m obviously not going to reveal the names.
  2. Sorry. I disagree that people should just get on with it. I know there are plenty more ideas in the sea, but it’s not easy coming up with stone-cold brilliant answers to briefs. The idea that you can do the hard bit, then have someone more powerful just snatch it away is pretty galling. There’s nothing defensible about it. Even if a CD was worried about how well a junior might execute a great idea, he or she could simply help with the execution part and if it became too unbalanced, share the credit. Then everyone gets to have the ad on their reel and the shiny trinket on their shelf. As David Abbott once said, there’s plenty of room for credit, and if two agencies can share the awards for Mouldy Whopper, then two sticky-fingered arseholes could at least allow their victims to partake in the rewards of their own idea.
  3. So that leaves us with those of you in category 3. Given my experience, I’m going to assume there are a few of you out there who have gone through this (it actually happened to me a third time. Maybe I just look like an easy mug…). I also wonder if, in these times of many CDs and collaborations between different agencies, this is happening even more. Or perhaps, with more witnesses to the creative process (like a kind of analogue version of Blockchain), it’s happening less.

Either way, the people who do it are indeed being cunty, and the people in charge who enable the cunty ones are also quite cunty (although I acknowledge there may be pressures we are unaware of to let it slide).

So let me know, either on the LinkedIn post that this will be attached to, or in the comments. Has it happened to you? Was it senior/junior dominance? Did you even know it was happening? What did you try to do about it? How salty did it make you?

EDIT: my wife has reminded me that, despite using the c-word above, I’m entirely at peace with those thefts. Life has moved on. People have complicated motivations for things. For example, insecurity often breeds unhelpful behaviour. Put more simply, I get think the people involved behaved in a cunty way on those occasions, but we’ve all done that at some point over our lives. Fundamentally, I also think they’re otherwise decent blokes (always blokes), and life’s waaaaaay too short.

Second Edit: never get between a man and his paper: