What do you do if you think your pitch idea has been stolen?

This week our resident agony (Dutch) uncle offers advice for when you think your pitch idea has been stolen.

Question: We pitched a great idea to a potential client. Unfortunately, we didn't win the business but I've just seen them use that idea, with the agency who won the pitch taking the credit! Can I sue the client? The agency? What should I do?!

Answer: Firstly, calm down and relax a little. Don’t start racking up legal bills just yet! You’re not the first person to say this and definitely won’t be the last. This happens quite a lot.

The reality is, as I saw when I was client-side for a short period, that agencies tend to come up with similar thinking to each other, particularly at pitch stage. We might not like to think it, but Mark Twain’s great quote that “there is no such thing as a new idea” generally holds true in my opinion. There are variations on a theme, cases when a couple of ideas mix together to form something a bit different: generally nothing is really completely and totally unique.

So, in terms of your likelihood of success if you sued, it would be really too hard to prove.

Plus, this is a relatively small industry and no one really wants to get a reputation for nicking other peoples’ ideas. I just don’t think it happens in a sinister or deliberate way that much. In fact, I think most clients would actually go out of their way of executing an idea (with an agency it has hired) if it was similar to that of an agency that pitched (and lost).

What this does teach us though is a valuable lesson about the intellectual property an agency creates. My advice is to protect it as much as you can and I have always tried to insert clauses in client contracts that seek to do this. For example, if an agency has won a pitch to execute an idea in the UK then I’d fight for a clause that says that the client can do what they want with the creative concept in this market, but should the idea be executed in any other territory then a concept usage right fee needs to be paid.

I’ve always thought that principle was fair and I’ve found that most clients will agree to it.

Written by Graham Goodkind who is a Dutch uncle – a new type of non-exec business adviser – to several agencies in the marketing services sector, in addition to being founder and chairman of agency Frank PR.

If you have got a question for our agony (Dutch) uncle regarding any issue relating to the running, operations, business or financial aspect of a PR agency, either as an owner, manager or executive, then email gg@mydutchuncle.nl

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