So the argument about crowdsourcing has been going on since 2009. Will it kill the agency? Back in 2009, the big worry was what would happen to the large full service brand and design agencies. Would they lose tons of revenue? Would branding become commoditized and bland? Crispin Porter Bogusky’s Colin Drummond even went so far as to say that crowdsourcing would commoditize creativity. He wrote in a blog post to his associates in the agency, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
So, now that we are in 2011, was this fear for real? I think it was too generalized. I also think crowdsourcing was approached with fear instead of the more appropriate alternative - embracing it. Large agencies loose more business because they are too big and lack the ability to service every client well enough. Every big agency loses an account regularly because the client realizes they have the “C” team versus the “A” team because their retainer fees are just too small to matter to Acme.Inc on Madison Ave. I dont see crowdsourcing being a greater threat to large agencies than losing talent to competitors or poor management.
I think the big questions that should have been asked, and must be asked now, is if crowdsourcing will help or hurt the SMALL agency. The answer is, it depends. I recently had a great conversation about just this topic with a good friend of mine who owns a small agency in Ohio. His business fits your classic regional / vertical niche agency with a handful of employees and clients. In short, it’s a nice lifestyle business.
I mentioned to him about some work I was aware that was being done for branding by a CEO of a small start up in DC. I suggested he look at some of the crowdsourcing sites out there (I told him to look at 99designs specifically), and ask himself how he could integrate them into his business model.
If you have ever done a project on these sites, you know it takes a ton of work and input. You can post one job for a fee of $750 and you will get 1,500 responses you have to sift through. Most are junk, but there are some darn good designers on those sites that produce some gems. As you identify them during your process, you must provide timely feedback so they can evolve t heir design to what you have asked them to achieve in your brief. This is not unlike how you manage between a client and your design team in the agency.
But, a small agency can actually reduce one of its chief vulnerabilities by leveraging a crowdsourcing site behind the scene. All small agencies are hit and miss on their creative because they usually only have one or two designers on staff. If one or both of those designers have a bad day, the agency itself risks missing the mark with client. Also, the agency can only generate so much output from those creative employees. They can only hire so many free lancers to augment that work.
Small agencies should embrace crowdsourcing as a staff augmentation model. It’s easier to sift through submissions for a brand logo that can yield 10 different options for a client from very different perspectives than creating 5 options from one designer who has a tough time breaking out from their own style. The client does not need to know – nor would they care. What is important is that they get the final product they expected.