The Ad-Pitch Thieves

Last Updated Apr 9, 2007 11:10 AM EDT

My company recently made an advertising pitch to a large company. They did not hire us for the campaign, but they clearly stole some of the ideas we presented in the pitch. Where's the line?

In a creative field like advertising, having your ideas stolen is the same as having your wallet stolen. Your brain power is your worth, and you are the victim of a serious ethical breach. Unfortunately, there's very little you can do in this situation.

Idea theft is a common dilemma in this column. No one likes it. The problem is that proving it is often a semantic battle. If you choose to take official, or even legal, action, it's going to be a long process that can do more harm than good. Fighting will make you look like a sore loser, and nobody will want to do business with you.

You're really screwed here. Your company spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of man-hours coming up with a brilliant RFP, but once you hand over that document, it becomes the property of the company you submitted it to. Ethically, they should not steal ideas from it without hiring you or at least compensating you. Legally, there's little to stop them and this crap happens all too often. It's the seedy underbelly of the creative pitch world.

There's really only one thing you can do to get back at them, and that's to never work with them again. That would be the ethical thing to do. But you woke up this morning to chase the almighty dollar, and if that company dangles a big contract in front of you again, the temptation might be too much.

You're probably just going to have to suck this one up as part of the game.

Have a workplace-ethics dilemma? Ask it here, or email wherestheline@gmail.com.

  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.