Don't Hate! Collaborate!

Work Together to Create Great Ideas Instead of Squabbling Over Ownership of Them

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Catarino Lopez Catarino 'Cat' Lopez
Over the last year, I kept hearing clients say the same thing. They want their agencies to be truly collaborative and work seamlessly together. They want their general-market and Hispanic agencies to put their egos aside and help them move their business forward. They want big ideas that transcend language. Unfortunately, true collaboration between agencies is a rare thing.

General-market agencies feel they don't have the time to involve the Hispanic agency or don't see the Hispanic agency as a peer they can engage with at their level. On the other side, Hispanic agencies tend to see the process of collaboration as the first step toward adapting eneral-market work.

In a perfect world, both agencies would be at the table from step one and be key players throughout the process. Sounds easy enough, and in rare instances it actually occurs. But more times than not, attempts at collaboration often end in frustration by all parties, client included. So why is true collaboration so hard? Why can't clients, general-market agencies and Hispanic agencies all get along? Good question.

Even in the throes of a "true" collaborative process, ideas eventually are put on the table and judged. Blurring the line of whose idea is whose is tough. And more times than not, ideas are seen as coming from either the general-market agency or the Hispanic agency -- not both. If a good idea comes from the Hispanic team, the general-market shop feels threatened and begins the process of discounting that idea and championing their own. After all, how can the small Hispanic agency with less resources come up with a better idea? On the other hand, if the general-market team comes up with a good idea, the Hispanic agency begins to create a rationale so that they don't have to adapt. Adapting work is no way to grow the business or improve the reel. And so the pissing contest begins and the walls of collaboration come tumbling down.

It really shouldn't be this difficult. The problem, in my opinion, is that agencies need to put their own interests aside and put the client's interests first. Unfortunately, the industry has conditioned us to recognize this as a sign of weakness. A good agency after all, fights for its ideas.

I am at a point in my career where I want to be part of great ideas -- whether they're mine or not. I'm tired of running against the wind, expending my energy on politics. I'd rather channel my energy into truly nurturing a great idea that moves the needle. In the rare times that I've seen it happen, it was truly a religious experience, not unlike hitting a golf ball "pure." When you find yourself in the throws of "true" collaboration, where everybody has a voice, is treated with mutual respect and the goal is truly the work, the work itself becomes the reward. Everything comes together unconsciously and with what feels like little or no effort. It's amazing what a group can accomplish when everybody is pushing in the same direction.

Looking back on those rare but rewarding experiences, the key to successful collaboration was always a great idea. When a great idea surfaces, it is often hard to deny. Great ideas are contagious. People want to be associated with them. But in the collaborative process, we often fail to push for great ideas. Instead we expend our energy pushing for our ideas and settle for a good idea as long as it's our own. So if you want to foster true collaboration, don't put the premium on the process. Put it on the idea. Ask your agencies to come together not for the sake of collaboration, but for the sake of coming up with great work and have them channel all of their energy towards that.

With the right direction, talented people can come together, put their differences aside and do great things. So next time you're forced to "collaborate," try putting the politics aside and focus on what's best for the business. Not only will you be amazed with the results, but you just might rediscover why you got into this business in the first place.

Rock 'n roll!

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