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Ideas Campaign and Your Country, Your Call – deja vu all over again

I was quite sceptical of the original Ideas Campaign when it kicked off in March last year – with concerns which proved to be well-founded (e.g. their daily changing of their terms and conditions depending on issues raised). There were plenty other issues, and some of these could also be appropriately be raised with regards to this years Ideas Campaign 2.0, the Your Country, Your Call campaign.

I wrote a little on Tuesday about my concern that these campaigns were actually not directed at what we in Ireland need most – action, rather than simply generating lists of more ideas. I’ll also cover tomorrow where I see the greatest weakness of these “ideas campaigns”, but for now, lets look at the common problems with this YCYC campaign vs the original Ideas Campaign.

Intellectual Property

The first concern that I had was that the Ideas Campaign (IC) initially claimed ownership of all ideas submitted, whether selected to be presented to Government, or not. On the other hand, the Your Country, Your Call (YCYC) campaign only claims ownership of the winning two ideas – but temporarily claims ownership of all ideas during the competition. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the YCYC campaign taking ownership of the winning ideas – for €100,000, that could be considered a suitable payoff for what is effectively still only an idea.

However, unlike the IC, the YCYC campaign makes every idea submitted open for public viewing. While the Ideas Campaign only published a selection of ideas submitted, by having all submissions made public on the YCYC website, they’re now there for anyone else to seize upon.

While you and I may understand the dangers of submitting an idea to such a public forum as the YCYC website, there may be well meaning individuals or groups out there who don’t. There may be those who have the unexpected surprise that having innocently and honestly tried to do some good by submitting their idea, they’ve also made their idea public, so it could be seized upon by others.

Who’s idea was this ideas gathering exercise?

The Ideas Campaign was very unclear at its initiation with regards to who was actually behind the campaign – and we’re seeing this again with the Your Country, Your Call campaign. We know that Presidents husband, Mr. Martin McAleese, is the figurehead behind the idea, but it does appear as if he probably wasn’t around at the inception of the YCYC idea. For example, he isn’t one of the registered directors of the company behind the campaign.

We don’t know either who the financial supporters are of this campaign. We’re told that €2m has been collected to fund the campaign and its prize money, yet we’re not told who collected any of this money. Some clues were provided over the past weekend on Twitter – more details here. Apparently some companies like Diageo, Bank of Ireland, Cisco and Allied Irish Bank and some other unnamed “big names” are invested to the tune of €130k.

While Aileen O’Toole of Amas Consulting initially tried to tell us on Prime Time that the IdeasCcampaign was all her own personal idea, for the good of the country, we later found out that it was actually a project sponsored and paid for by Amas Consulting.

We’re now only picking up tit-bits about who is really behind this YCYC campaign. You have to get the company documentation for the An Smaoineamh Mor company to find out the individuals behind the whole thing – chaired by former Bank of Ireland governor Dr Laurence Crowley, Martin Murphy, managing director of Hewlett Packard Ireland, and Eugene McCague, chairman of Arthur Cox solicitors.

You have to further delve behind the registration of the website domains to find out it is Allied Irish Banks who are behind the registration of the .ie domain name.

You have to read the press release from the company, BrightIdea, supplying the Your Country Your Call website software to find out that someone called Austin Hogan is the program director for Your Country, Your Call. I wonder is this the same “Austin Hogan” who’s entry on LinkedIn says they’re the “Head HR Operations & Technology at AIB”?

Further, you have to pick up on a couple of clues dropped around to find out who the “steering committee” for YCYC is. From Twitter we find that Padraig McKeon of Drury, a PR company, is a member. From The Irish Times, we find that Ferdinand Von Prondzynski of DCU is also on the steering committee. And finally then, though it’s not made available on their website, the rest of the steering committee is made up of Laurence Crowley, Martin McAleese, Martin Murphy (HP), Anne Marie Shaw (Cisco).

Finally, if you look at the Your Country, Your Call, you find out a further company that’s probably involved in this campaign. The Your Country, Your Call LinkedIn group is managed by someone called Zara Sheehin – Senior Account Manager at Agency.com/Cawley Nea TBWA, another PR company.

What’s the government involvement?

Similar to the Ideas Campaign, the YCYC campaign is suggesting that they have government support, but they’re not defining what that support is. We don’t know if they Government is providing money, or even if they’re kicking off this campaign at the behest of the government – another, “hey, look over there” diversionary tactic that our Fianna Fail government is so fond of.

Was it just a “nod and a wink” from some civil servant or government minister over a pint in Doheny & Nesbitts that is the support we’re talking about, or is it something more substantial. Only at the end of the Ideas Campaign did we find out that the government were going to take the best ideas submitted and submit them to a special task force. We have no indication yet as to what the YCYC campaign are going to do with their best two ideas.

Why all the secrecy?

Why do I even have to pose these questions about what Your Country, Your Call is really about? What is it about “idea generating campaigns” in Ireland and their promoters, that requires such secrecy and privacy?

When these people are expecting the Irish people to bear their souls for the ultimate benefit of the campaign themselves (either financially or in self-promotion), why don’t they come out with the information up front?

And why is the main stream media so quick to promote these campaigns without first questioning the who is behind the campaign, what their real motives are, and what the ultimately plan to do with the ideas?

The Ideas Campaign did manage to very successfully smack down any of this questioning with their “no whinging” rule, but why should a promoter of an idea generating campaign be given a free pass when it comes to avoiding negative media coverage?

There is, however, one major problem with all of these idea generating campaigns – and more particularly, how the supposedly “best” ideas are chosen. I’ll cover that here tomorrow.

1 comments On Ideas Campaign and Your Country, Your Call – deja vu all over again

  • Diarmuid,

    Can I offer a perspective on behalf of YCYC on a few points in your recent posts.

    Firstly the overall point made in your first post of Tue Mar 2 – Yet another idea generating campaign – can we see some actions sometime maybe? – about an ‘actions’ campaign is a fair one. Without wishing to pass comment on anyone else, it is part of the reason why Your Country Your Call (YCYC) has a very specific point of output through two defined winning proposals that will be given development support for up to two years after selection.

    In respect of the second post of Thurs Mar 4 ‘ Ideas Campaign and Your Country, Your Call – deja vu all over again – There are a number of points to address
    Firstly on your concern about every idea submitted being open for public viewing, that is not necessarily the case and it certainly is not the manner of presentation that YCYC was looking for. The recommended approach is that one puts up a one / two sentence summary description of a possible proposal – which is visible to the anyone coming on the site – and that one then puts the detail of the proposal in an attachement – text or video which is visible only to the evaluation process. The points that you make then in the context of ‘full’ proposals being there for all to see is well made. In the context of the competition, all entries are date and time as to when they are posted.

    In respect of the origination of YCYC, can I assure you as one that has been involved from early on (May 2009) that YCYC originated completely with Martin McAleese who invited others to join in as the needs widened. He is not a director of the company as those others of us around him in this process felt that it would be inappropriate that he sit on a board given the non political and non commercial standing of the office of the President to which he is so directly connected.

    We will be publishing the details of all of the companies that have contributed to date to YCYC early next week. A cash fund of just under €2m has been accumulated via donations from 13 parties (companies and individuals) which has been lodged in the accounts of the company, An Smaoineamh Mor, which is a registered charity. That money will be used to pay out on the prize fund, to pay for the follow up development fund and to meet ‘hard costs’ in the running and promotion of the competition that cannot be procured on a pro bono basis. The compnay will be lodging and publishing books of account when the competition has been wrapped up.

    Contrary to the suggestion, YCYC has never made any secret of who is involved in the company An Smaoinieamh Mor or the running of the competition but I accept that we have not been proactive enough in putting all of that data on the website. We are in the process of rectifying that. If you are only getting ‘tit bits’ though it is because you were not following the coverage. I have been openly active on Twitter since the competition was launched on Feb 17 and Mssers Crowley, Murphy and Von Prondzynski were widely public through the media (broadcast and print, national and regional) on the day of and the days after the launch.

    AIB has no hold over the website in any shape or form. Its involvement in the registration of the site was purely adminstrative and at a point in time. When the name for the initiative was chosen in late August last, the project had no administratve capability or competence. AIB was asked to provide some support generally and it was judged that the web domain should be registered as a priority. This was done in late September by AIB on behalf of the competition organisers with the registration made against AIB as the registration of a company for YCYC was not completed until December. Now that the full company registration process has taken place, the ownership of the web domain is currently being transferred to YCYC.

    In answer to your specific question, Austin Hogan is the Project Director for YCYC and he was in a previous life a senior HR manager in AIB, most recently in the technology area.

    You refer to others that are involved, naming Cawley Nea TBWA. They are an ad agency – not a PR company – that has given very considerably of its time, all for free, to generate the very considerable ad campaign. Others involved in that work include media buyers Omnicom Media, television production company Loose Horse Productions, branding agency Neworld Assoicates and and a range of sub suppliers in the ad production and delivery area. None of these companies has been paid for any time input or their personal costs.

    You ask about Government or political involvement. There is no government or political involvement in either setting up or operating the competition. However YCYC is not merely ‘suggesting’ it has Government support. The project explicitly has that support. Specifically, the promoters formally presented the project to government late last summer and asked for support in three ways – a contribution to the fund referred above, a request that the competition would have access if it needed it to the services of the state enterprise agencies in the evalauation process (if such help were required) and a commitment that government would engage with the process of developing the two winning proposals, particularly with reference to any legislative issues that might need to be addressed. It agreed to all three requests – it will be contributing 15% of the fund; there has been no requirement to this point for the involvemnent of the state agencies and clearly there is no need for development support at this point.

    When the two winning ideas are chosen, YCYC will undertake an assessmnet of what is required in each to work out their potential. A fund of €500,000 is earmarked for the work on each. That €500,000 is not seed capital or grant aid for a business and will not be signed over to the proposor It is a fund to pay whatever costs or fees are required to do the work of developng out the proposal – be that the input of experts, cost involved in studying work done elsewhere, costs involved in engaging with funding etc.

    That work will be shaped and directed by a sector and need specific group of experts convened by An Smaoineamh Mor specifically for the purpose. It is envisaged that the development work phase will last two years. Without getting ahead of events the expectation is that as a proposal takes shape through the development stage towards a viable execution, a key action will be to create and secure tangible entities, with defined assets, resources and appropriate ownership structures to take responsibility for delivering the promised national impact. However it is impossible to say what those structures will look like and who will be involved until we know the nature of the proposal and the extent to which it has been developed

    It is a fair point that in the exposure so far of YCYC, the development piece has got less attention and less explanation. It is not helpful also that mainstream media coverage of the launch lumped all of the funds that will be applied to the winning proposals in together – we should have worked harder on defining how that was understood.
    Finally here you make a point about secrecy? None of what you ask about is being held as a secret. Much of it I have published in other blogs, some of it I gave freely in answers to you over Twitter as I’m doing here and, as I referred above, much of it was addressed and covered at the launch event. As to the attitude of the mainstream media I can only assume that they picked up on that information at and around the launch and found themselves satisfied with it

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