Can McCanns make money out of its new neural network?

Say what you like (and we do) ad agencies are brilliant at coming up with clever wheezes, mostly for clients of course but sometimes for themselves.

What they’re not so good at is making money out of the latter.

Now McCann-Erickson, for years regarded as the great heffalump of the world agency scene, has been telling my chum Stuart Smith about its new ‘neural network,’ a sort of Facebook for McCann employees although we’re not supposed to call it that.

McCann chief strategy officer Lee Daley thinks the neural network’s members, some 8,000 out of McCann’s 22,000 employees at the moment, will be stimulated to devise and share ideas, some of which can be patented for the agency’s profit.

This patent lark is a big step of course, what if one of the ideas does make loads of money and its originator (or his or her lawyers) says what about my cut?

Anyway Daley reckons that one of McCann’s biggest competitive advantages is that it has so many people, lots more than supposedly smarter agencies like Wieden + Kennedy or Mother. So why not unleash this intellectual firepower?

Fair enough and good luck.

But making money out of the aforementioned ideas is rather more difficult. Starting new ventures is an expensive and risky business and agencies often find they don’t have the medium-term money or indeed commitment.

If a big client walks then all the agency budgets get cut.

Interpublic-owned McCann may be big enough to sidestep this one of course but other smaller agencies have come unstuck, Anomaly for example with some development lab-style ideas.

It’s also possible that the agency sees this as a way of patenting the ideas it comes up with for pitches, most of which currently (from any agency) are cheerfully appropriated by the client as he picks another agency or no agency at all.

The neural network will be overseen by a self-elected group called ‘Neural Network Gods’ including Daley and worldwide CEO Nick Brien.

This is obviously ironic but maybe not the happiest of monikers, gods being inclined to top-down command and control.

Perhaps the NN’s 8,000 members can come up with a better name.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.