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Why Can’t Competitors Work Together?

by | Jun 23, 2016

By Jim Lansbury

Thanks for the kind words, Competitor.

Last week in Capitol Communicator, my fellow creative and frequent competitor Matt Smith of SmithGifford sang the praises of our recent campaign for Children’s National Health System. It was a surprising and pretty bold move, exactly what we’ve come to expect from Matt and his team over the years. But once the surprise wore off–and to be honest a little embarrassment–I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why does a gesture like this seem so rare?” Why don’t agencies say nice things about each other more often? Sure, we’re in an ultra- competitive industry. And we go head to head in pitches all the time. But why are we so reluctant to compliment each other? Has the polarized political climate here in D.C. gotten to us? Are we all just totally insecure?

It’s shame, really. Especially since, as Matt pointed out, D.C. has always struggled for attention against bigger more established ad markets like New York and Chicago. But there are smaller cities like Richmond, Portland and San Francisco that somehow manage to build stronger creative reputations and attract marquee clients. What are they doing differently?

They’re acting like Matt, that’s what. They’re being extremely generous, gracious and supportive of their community as a whole. Having worked in San Francisco during the dot-com heyday, I can tell you the atmosphere there was ridiculously supportive. If one agency was too busy to take on yet another start-up client, they’d refer it to a friend. If a talented creative came knocking on your door and you didn’t have a job, you offered 5 names who might. This is the town where every new agency was born when someone left a bigger shop–Riney left Ogilvy, Goodby left Riney, Venables left Goodby–but there were never any hard feelings. In fact they often let you take a couple clients and some office furniture on your way out the door.

We may never be able to replicate that level of Kumbaya, but here are some ways we can try.

Pitch something together. There are a lot of great specialists in this town. PR shops. Policy shops. Design Shops. Multi-cultural shops. Development shops. When an opportunity too big for any one of us pops up, let’s join forces to bring it home together. Over the years we’ve pitched projects in cooperation with super-talented folks like Design Army, Red Peg and others. If we collaborate more often instead of just competing, we’ll be able to stand up to the big holding companies and bring home bigger, better opportunities for everyone. If the “Team of Rivals” thing worked for Lincoln, why not us?

Attract and retain talent. We attend recruiting sessions at schools like SCAD and VCU BrandCenter every spring, and it’s hard to get top talent to come to D.C. They just have too many options. Once they’re here though, we must do everything we can to keep them here by developing their skills, and giving them great creative opportunities. At RP3 we make sure to support local career development programs like the Ad Club and Refresh DC, speak at WordPress meet-ups, and bring in as many local students from places like General Assembly as we can. Oh, and we try to not to poach talent from other agencies. In this case, recycling doesn’t have a positive effect.

Raise the bar even higher. While I certainly appreciate Matt’s compliments and think our Children’s work is great, we can’t pat ourselves on the back too much until we’re winning on the national level. Many of us strike gold every once in awhile, but until we see the local Addy winners consistently showing up in CA, Cannes and the One Show, we’ll know we have work to do.

So, thanks Matt, for reminding us all that great work always wins. Here’s to making more if it right here in D.C.

Jim Lansbury is founder and chief creative officer at RP3 Agency.


About the Author

Capitol Communicator

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