When Someone Takes Your Proposed Campaign Concept

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Recently, I had a prospective client take a proposal idea and implement it themselves. Having your campaign concepts taken is an all too frequent occurrence in communications consulting, unfortunately. You have to show some flare to get the deal, so it’s a Catch 22. But what can you do about someone taking your campaign idea without compensation?

1) Don’t Give Away the Whole Pie

It’s hard to rip off an incomplete concept. In this particular case, the prospective client called asking how to achieve their goal. I suggested three tactics, two of which were blogger relations oriented — pitches and guest posts, and the third being an ad campaign with a vertical online media property.

In the case of the prior, I listed four names as examples. After being turned down by the client, I noticed two of the four names had published guest blogs or tweeted about the issue. Because the whole group of bloggers and online media outlets was not listed, the would-be client has some work to do.

And with the ad buy, well, they’ll have to negotiate for themselves. Their relationship is not mine, and I know I could have gotten them deeper discounts. C’est la vie.

2) Avoid Bad Mouthing the Prospective Client Publicly

It makes no sense to talk about the prospective client negatively in a public setting. First, ideas are free. Everyone has ideas. Executing them is what people pay me to do because of experience, relationships and savoir faire. Who is to say another consultant or professional couldn’t have come up with those ideas?

Secondly, it signals to other potential clients that you are a loose cannon that will take their name in vein. Clients need to feel safe with you.

That being said, if a friend mentions this would-be client is talking business with them, you may want to share your experience. It’s more about protecting friends from having their ideas ripped off. You would hope a friend would warn you of such a situation, wouldn’t you?

3) Wish Them Well

Again, ideas are easy. If someone thinks they can do it themselves, God bless them. Who knows? Maybe they can.

Even if you are very good at strategy and provided a unique approach, it doesn’t mean the would-be client will implement it successfully. Ninety percent of the time they won’t be able to do it as well as you. Your expertise and relationships are why people hire you. Know this, and turn the other cheek.

What do you do when someone steals your idea?


  • I used to get very, very angry when this happened (I have two stories in particular that really epitomize this kind of lame/selfish approach to business). It still bothers me now but it happens far less often, in fact it hasn’t happened in years. Perhaps that is because I’ve made adjustments to how I operate or maybe I’ve just been lucky. One thing I am is more selective about the people I work with. That could play a big role as well.

    What did I do when it occurred? The first time I did nothing at all. The second time it happened I complained directly to the business owners. I told them exactly how I felt about it and they made a token gesture to compensate me for my trouble.

    • Interesting. It happens to me about once a year.  In this case, I took one of the stories, and emailed it to the person, and simply said, “Nice guest post on xx’s blog.” It was funny because it was a referral. I definitely am wary of giving away the house in a proposal though.  It is dangerous.

      • That sucks, you’re in a very creative business, your creations are your value. Of course in a creative business you are re-creating and tweaking things as you go too. They will miss out on that benefit. Thieves! :)

        • Good point – Things change and ideas need to continually be measured and adjusted.  But without the understanding of what created the idea in the first place, they probably won’t be able to read the signs when it’s time to build onto the original idea to maintain its effectiveness.

        • interesting thoughts

  • Agree that you need to hold something back; and agree that the high road is always the way to go.

    What has happened to me in this situation? Six months, a year, two years later…they come back, realizing that you’re the one who could implement better than they can. Happened more than a couple times. This is why the high road is the one that is best – but you know that already.


  • Let them do it because the real value in a core idea is the passion and intellect to execute.  I have this happen as well and I love it because most of the time, they fuck it up and do a bad job.  That’s where Karma comes in.

  • great post!!!!

  • Thanks Geoff.  This happens alot I’d like to see it discussed more.

    “All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” – Sun Tzu 

  • Stuff like that always stings, but you’ve got the right mindset for dealing with it Geoff. (Not that you needed any affirmation.) In the end, Karma always comes correct and, the longer it takes, the sweeter the results.

    You gotta be smart up front, balancing trust and protection as a preventive measure, keep to the high road when/if you get scammed, watch your friends’ backs, and let go of regret. It’s only a matter of time before such scandalous individuals realize parking a Ferrari in the driveway doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t run.

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