The Egotist Interviews: Evan Fry of Victors & Spoils

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Evan Fry is currently Chief Creative Officer of Victors & Spoils in Boulder, Colorado – the world's first ad agency built on the principles of crowdsoourcing. Before that he was VP / Creative Director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky from late 2002 to late 2009, where he was CD on Best Buy, GeekSquad, Alliance for Climate Protection, Domino’s, Nike, Shimano, Giro and Miami Ad School. We talked with Evan recently about the industry-evolving charge he's helping lead along with a huge band of others at V&S.

Illustration by freelance designer/illustrator Eric Wedum.

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Q: What drives you to defy nearly every tradition of the advertising industry?

A: My motivation and interest in what we’re doing here at Victors & Spoils has little to do with defiance, if anything. It has to do with embracing and being open to what I personally see as a new reality brought on through the current widespread availability of technology, an increasing demand from brands/clients, the opportunity to allow others in on a process that they’re interested in and the opportunity to teach and help those who wish to try it – clients and creatives. If that motivation and reasoning defies an industry, so be it.

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Q: Did you ever anticipate the backlash you’d get against your agency model from the creative community? What would you like to say to those naysayers while you have their attention?

A: I never gave it much thought before we started. Then we started it was clear there was that contingent out there, operating and behaving in what seemed to be in my mind from a place of fear and resistance. There’s really nothing any one person can do, if they’re choosing to remain present and sane, about changing any other being. So I literally never let it bother me. And I have nothing to say to naysayers, accordingly, because nothing would work. I simply choose not to resist. And not to read a single comment, positive or negative. Ever. Which works.

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Q: Did you ever think so many people (5,000+ last we checked) would join your creative ranks? What would you like to say to those who embrace the model now that they’re listening?

A: It’s great to see the numbers climb, and I don’t know if I expected it. From day one I’ve tried to have literally no real expectations, but we instead have always just gone with our guts and lived by the mantra of “figuring it out as we go.” To anyone who has joined, I’d like to say thank you for your interest. To anyone who has actually participated, I’d also like to say thank you for doing so.

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Q: How hard is it to sell the concept of Victors & Spoils to clients?

A: Oh, I don’t know. We don’t really try to sell anyone. We put ourselves in front of potential partners, answer questions, ask for their business if they want to give us a shot, and it seems to be working that way pretty painlessly. We consider ourselves extremely lucky, and we are thankful each day for every opportunity we get to do some real ideation and presenting and, ideally, producing – on behalf of our partners’ businesses.

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Q: Many people consider the Victors & Spoils agency model to be the way of the future—and complaining about it usually elicits the old "move with the times" response. But even so, as a creative person yourself, don't you question the way you use designers, writers and art directors in the way that you do? In asking people to pitch or submit concept ideas for free, how is your model different from working on spec—something generally frowned upon in many creative fields?

A: Two questions here not just one, so I’ll answer them in order. 1. No. Every being on this planet is responsible for him, her or itself. Those who get that, get that. Those who don’t, often appear comfortable placing the blame on everyone but themselves for many many things in life. Not just what a business does. The victim mindset can never be tended to if one wishes to remain in the plane of sane consciousness. It would never work to even try. 2. If we have an open or public brief and someone wishes to contribute to it, for fun or play, with no expectations around it, great. Go for it. And if in the end a client chooses your idea, you’ll be paid. If you want to call that spec, ok. If you like it, great. If you don’t, great. Don’t play. I don’t care either way. What we offer with that side of our model is a way for people to play and learn if they choose. The bulk of how we operate works in a more conventional manner where we go into our database, invite creatives to work who seem to fit the bill, if they choose to contribute they know up front what they’ll be paid and they are paid in timely fashion.

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Q: How do creatives get people to value their work if one of the most important components of it—concepting—is given away for free?

A: I don’t know. But I’d imagine if they feel like they’re giving something away, then they shouldn’t participate. Regardless, with any of our public briefs, all we are doing is offering a way for people to prove themselves. That’s a “Spoil” in itself, if they need the practice or the experience or if it’s fun for them. Then they will very possibly be invited into the paid-up-front projects because they’ve proven themselves. I cannot speak to how any other company does this, all I can say is we offer people a vehicle and if they want to use it, great. If not, great.

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Q: How do you earn people's trust so they don't feel creatively hijacked when they submit ideas and don’t end up getting paid for them?

A: If they feel hijacked from participating or working at Victors & Spoils, which is the only company I would ever speak for, they should call us so we can get it straightened out cuz that would be something we would never want anyone in our system to feel.

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Q: You have said that the current agency model is broken and that V&S taps into so much talent. But arguably, the best talent is already employed at the best agencies. V&S is not pumping out the same kind of quality work that W&K, TBWA, Mother or any other major agency is producing. Isn't it really the case that V&S is built on a model of less overhead versus a model that produces the highest quality work?

A: Funny one. But understandable. As taste is subjective.

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Q: When you get the heavy hitters involved, is there a tendency for good people to give your system a try once and abandon it after not seeing the rewards they anticipate?

A: What awards do they anticipate, I wonder? Money? Anyone who is picked to participate and invited to work, heavy hitter or not, is paid. So it can’t be that. Produced work, could that be what they’re anticipating? If so, I would suggest that is an extreme fantasy, because no ad agency has the power to force a client to produce anything. Let alone everything the agency shows them. So I really can’t speak to this intelligently as it seems to be based on some kind of expectation that might be unrealistic for us to speak to versus every and any other business built on a client’s whim.

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Q: Do you personally execute work against briefs that come into the shop? If so, how do you stay neutral when choosing which concepts will be sent off to the client? If not, are you itching to work on these killer assignments?

A: I try to empower my CDs and CCDs (aka “Crowd Creative Directors”) to do this job. So that they can learn, do their thing, practice, succeed, etc. I try to be there to add some insight, some influence and answer questions. I’m not itching to do the work myself. But often I’ll jump in after the presentation to refine something a client is interested in, if it’s something I can do to help make something efficient or answer something that is really tricky.

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Q: How do you integrate juniors into your process? Do you try to prevent the more experienced people from dominating projects? Is there a responsibility for senior talent to help try and develop skills for juniors? Or is it just wind 'er up and let 'er buck—best idea wins?

A: Almost every single one of the people in our database is junior. Super junior. If not full-on amateur. The percentage of senior and experienced folks is very low. So we integrate juniors all the time, because we have to, and because that’s how people learn and grow and become great. I don’t try to prevent anyone from doing anything. There’s a responsibility for V&S staff and crowd creative directors to develop junior people, yes. Absolutely. By being clear, responsive, by giving good direction, etc.

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Q: In V&S’ current model, is the production of approved concepts also crowdsourced (such as photography and film production, when required)? If not, do you have a plan to make that happen in the future? Why or why not?

A: No. Yes. Because it’ll be cool to try to come up with a new way of facilitating that part of the process too.

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Q: Is it hard to remain a project-based agency, always wondering when and if the projects and money will continue to come in, as opposed to chasing AOR situations? Is V&S equipped, as it exists today, to take on an AOR relationship?

A: Yes it’s hard. Extremely. We have to hustle every day. If we were interested in taking on an “AOR” relationship it would depend on the nature of the client, the size of the ask and relationship, the demands on internal staff, etc. It’s impossible to generalize. We currently have a number of clients with whom we continue to do repeat work, so in that way it feels like we’re AOR for a few as it is, and we are very interested in retainer relationships. So that we can find a rhythm and help clients build, grow and prosper on a more regular basis.

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Q: You’ve got a long list of prestigious advertising awards to your name. Does adding to that list matter to you anymore?

A: Nope. Giving others a chance at them, if that matters for them, would be something I’d rather help allow for now.

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Q: People say you smoke a lot of cannabis. Do you consider this and/or other soft drugs a necessity in your area of the business (ie. creative)?

A: I no longer use cannabis. It’s been a lot of years since I have in any way, actually. And I don’t miss it. To answer the question here, no, I don’t believe it’s anything close to a necessity. I would imagine the opposite is more likely, in fact. Focus and responsibility and hard work and balance and persistence are the only necessities I would name.

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Q: You have a ton of (very nice) long copy work in your book. Does long copy still have a place in advertising today?

A: Sure it does. Trick is putting it out in a way where people want to engage with it. Which requires certain strategic thinking, the right product, the right media, etc. And thank you, by the way, whoever wrote this question.

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Q: You worked with Alex Bogusky for seven years, making the move with him in 2006 from Miami to Boulder when CP+B opened their offices here in Colorado. Some would say since then that you’ve sunk deeper into advertising’s evil clutches with the creation of Victors & Spoils—while Bogusky’s risen to become a consumer advocate with his FearLess Revolution. Do you think the city of Boulder had anything to do with the career evolution each of you has undergone?

A: People say a lot of things. People are funny animals. All I can say to this question is that I feel that Boulder is great, I love it. Personally I think both ventures – V&S and Bogusky’s Fearless are pretty fearless. If we at V&S were full of fear, I doubt we would be doing this.

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Q: What does Bogusky make of your new venture?

A: You’d get a lot better answer by asking him I think. Last he said anything to me about our work situations, it seemed as though he was into it.

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Q: Name an ad/campaign that you despise and why.

A: Old Spice. Because I didn’t do it. I’m kidding of course. I love that work. I love a lot of work out there. I don’t despise much of anything in the ad field as, to me, getting worked up over anything like that is not that productive.

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Q: You lost your home, countless possessions and memories in the Boulder Canyon fire. What have you taken away from that experience?

A: What a trip it’s been. It felt really heavy for all of us affected by that fire, for sure. Heavy for those who lost things as well as for everyone in Boulder, in a way, as it was a pretty big deal and I think it impacted the collective conscious as well. Hard to say how life might feel right now if that hadn’t happened, but it did, so life is as it is. I miss living in my house a lot, and I miss the times and love we shared there in a BIG way. But I still have the memories. The biggest takeaway for me is probably that it was a refresher course in “the impermanence of all things.” And the fire being a push and reference point for that truth is something I’m grateful for.

Comments

I would still love to hear the answer to this question posted on the "What Would You Ask Evan Fry of Victors & Spoils?" thread.

"Using the V&S model how is the creative consistency managed through the phases? In other words, if concept C is chosen, and the kid that designed it has taken a job or is in school full time and unavailable to blow out the rest of the work, do you toss the work back out to the community? If so, how is the original concept protected?"

Nice interview Evan. Interested to see how photography and video can be incorporated into the V&S model (Q #12) and how you'll approach the various hurdles involved.

Good interview. I apologize for my harshness last time around.

I had my condo burn down in 2006. I was fortunate to walk out 5 minutes beforehand. Loosing everything except my design work from school & not directly getting my own insurance $, not that I had much or that materialistic things matter that much to me, but it was a nasty disaster. Reading about other people that have experienced it is not common, such as Leif Steiner's 'Things I Realised Last Year.'

Natural Disaster(if it was natural or not) & Displacement pulls humanity together for the better. It is interesting that in your & Alex's creative collaboration you were able & allowed to branch of on your own, because not all situations foster that kind of individual growth.

"If you want to call that spec, ok. If you like it, great. If you don’t, great. Don’t play. I don’t care either way."

This is by far one of the grossest statements I've ever read from someone working in the creative industry. Borrowing from his "let's not play the victim card" position, no, people don't have to participate, but it works both ways for the agency: I'm pretty sure we can rest assured V&S won't be getting the best talent out there.

That Harley ad -- the one that would have been cool 8-10 years ago? That ad is pretty mediocre, and mediocre screening & recruiting will get you mediocre talent. Mediocre talent will get you mediocre results. Why go into this industry if you don't have anything to say, and are only about the bottom line? Why bother? Look at any one who runs a "submit a logo to our company" contest and the resulting pulls will tell you everything.

Advertising is a craft, and like any craft, there are different approaches and tastes out there. An agency doesn't just suck bc their creative tastes do not match your own. But an agency that undermines creative talent and minimizes the protection of its development by having people work on spec is definitely deplorable.

This interview confirms V&S is the type of agency for creatives to avoid. Go where your ideas, contributions and TIME will be noted and valued -- or at the very least, compensated.

Creatives need to EAT to write, to draw, to program, to continue to create.

As a senior creative who has worked with V&S, I can see both sides of this argument. On the one hand, I agree with Evan's sentiment that it is totally up to the creative to do a gut check on how he/she feels about submitting ideas. No one is holding a gun to your head, and if you're good, there are plenty of other opportunities out there to work. Otherwise, if you like the project and think you can contribute, throw in some ideas and see what happens. You'll be no worse off for it.

If, however, you are relying or expecting V&S (or any other crowdsourcing model) for consistent income, production experience, or to invest in you and your career, you are probably going to be disappointed. But this is no different than any other agency I've ever worked at. No one picks your ideas to be nice or because they feel bad for you or because you tried really hard. They pick them because they are good, on strategy, and viable, meaning, you didn't answer a brief with an idea that has no chance in hell of every getting done, no matter how cool it might be.

I guess I don't really understand why all the negativity. It seems like the people who are so pissed of are the ones who feel they are being used, in which case I have to wonder if the real issue is that they just don't have many options.

I agree with Evan, if you aren't into the model, don't join and submit ideas. And trust me, V&S is not going to take down the entire agency model to the point that nobody values your brain. That's absurd.

On the other hand, the biggest issues I can see with the model are just an inconsistency in the work, and a harder time building trust and collaboration between the client and agency, beyond the three or four partners. Most clients like to know who is working on their business and to see them, meet them, talk to them. When you have random people on each project, it might get hard to maintain consistency in brand voice. You don't get the benefit of a learning curve. You start over with each project. There is a little bit of an Oz factor where no one ever gets to look behind the curtain, and I think that is an impediment to building long lasting relationships, on both agency and client side. But V&S might dispute that.

I'm not defending or criticizing V&S. Ultimately the real burden of proof will be on them, and whether or not they can do the work they want to be doing (which may not be the same thing as winning awards, but possibly something else...running a cool business...having fun....trying something new...etc.)

Just my two cents.

"Victors and Spoils" is self explanatory. Evan is the opportunistic victor and he takes your hard earned spoils and calls it a day. One thing that I can appreciate though is that V&S takes away the clients that many wouldn't want to work for. This is a lose-lose situation for everyone involved, I suggest any creative to steer clear.

I'm not sure where all the hatred comes from either. As I see it, here's the deal:

If you're a junior or a less experienced creative, you should be working on your book outside of your job ANYWAY. So to improve your book you could work for free on fake clients and in all likelihood get no feedback from anyone - or you could work on real clients with a shot at getting paid, plus get some feedback if your idea makes it to round 2.

And if you're a more senior creative who can work quickly, V&S ends up paying MORE than any freelance job will. I've done a few jobs for them and I'll spend some time cranking out ideas in the evenings, get paid a good amount for doing it, have one or two ideas selected, and get paid even more for refining them. Based on the time I spend, I end up making about twice my normal hourly rate (and I'm CD level in San Francisco, so I'm not cheap.)

The only way this doesn't make sense is if A) you're lazy and entitled B) you're more senior but not very good, or C) you've got better things to do.

If you're in the C category - good for ya. Then don't worry about V&S. If you're in the B category, then yeah, V&S will be a waste of your time since you won't get paid for your (bad) efforts. And if you're in the A category, then you won't be in this business for long anyway.

The biggest underlying theme that you can pick up from pretty much any comment from Evan (other than his ability to dodge a question) is his naive belief that he's not responsible for effects on the larger advertising industry because *it's the individual people who are making the decision to participate.*

So let me give you two fictitious scenarios, and see if his logic still fits (I'll give you a hint: IT DOESN'T!)

A local elementary school is looking to reduce overhead and increase the amount of money it can pay its top-level administrators. They choose to open up the janitorial duties to all local children: if you do the best janitorial work, you get 15 extra minutes to play at recess. Local janitors can't compete, because quite frankly the payoff doesn't equal what they would normally deserve to get paid. The children, on the other hand, are too naive to realize they are being taken advantage of. The school's public response? "We see that the future is riding on the youth of today. We are providing an opportunity for them to learn and gain experience in the real world without forcing them to participate. If you like it, great. If you don’t, great. Don’t play."

A mega-corp (let's say Dow Chemical) establishes a framework for volunteers to chop down trees in the rainforest for its latest development project. They provide the chainsaws; if you chop down the most trees with the best ability, you get a reward. Their response to the massive public backlash? "Well, you see, we're not the ones chopping down the trees. Whoever wants to participate is free to participate. If you like it, great. If you don’t, great. Don’t play."

Doesn't make a **** of sense does it?

I’ve worked with V&S on several projects. The briefs have been some of the best and most thoughtful I’ve received. (And I've been doing this nearly 20 years.) Feedback has been timely and insightful. And unlike many contract/freelance relationships, payment has been both fair and prompt.

In my experience, the V&S staff are good peeps trying to do great work without abusing anyone along the way. The creatives I know who’ve worked with them – some of the best in the business – are eager for the next project.

V&S is not for everyone, to be sure. But while some of the criticism and doubt about their model or process may be legit, I don’t think the venom and personal attacks are justified. At least that’s my take.

Craig is right, perfect!

"Pay peanuts, and you get monkeys." –David Ogilvy.

Craig, your analogies are neither accurate nor relevant,

In the first one, you compare grown, self-aware, free-thinking freelancers to naive children who don't know any better. Secondly, you compare what we do to janitorial work––in other words, mindless, physical labor that requires no talent or education. Hopefully most creatives can offer more, otherwise, to get back to my earlier point, they don't have a good chance of succeeding in any environment, crowd-based or staff-based.

In the second one, I'm frankly a little confused as to what your point is, but you basically suggest that V&S gets people to do their dirty work for them as some kind of Orwellian plot to destroy the very business on which they depend. It just doesn't make sense. If enough people see the merit in participating in their business model, they will both benefit from it, presumably. And if that is not the case, and it turns out that the model does not attract the talent and people they believed it would, then V&S will cease to be able to be a viable business model and they will go out of business.

I can testify after working for them that they work their asses off in the agency as well, and from what I could tell, no one is getting rich yet. Again, to repeat what I said before, I don't defend or support them, but what I think is unfair is this bandwagon mentality of trash talking a ––and lets be honest here--small, start up agency that probably is one of the smallest and newest in Denver, for reasons that have absolutely no merit.

The work they've produced so far is just as good as any other Denver agency. If some other local agency, and I don't know what they are because I don't live there, produced the HD spot, people would be totally psyched. From what I've seen on this site, there isn't a lot of other work in Denver that seems to be any better.

Great interview! Q#17 is gold.

Great interview. Evan provides some thoughtful answers. I've never worked with V&S and never done work without a signed contract and deposit check in hand before starting so I don't have any opinion about him as a CD or his general process. But I do have the same nagging concern every time I read something about crowdsourcing and, since they're becoming a figurehead of that movement, V&S specifically: The wrong message is being sent to companies that buy advertising. Crowdsourcing can't help but affect the value of design and art direction. It makes it cheap, unimportant, something your kid could do. It makes it all about a single end product and ignores the good thinking behind a multimedia, integrated and strategically-sound campaign.

I'd love to see some stuff V&S has done that's been bought and produced that's building a deep campaign, if such a thing exists.

screw crowd sourcing V&S should go into PR

"A: Funny one. But understandable. As taste is subjective."

Hhaha Classic answer. Evan you're the man. Keep up the good work and best wishes for year 2.

Subjectively, crowdsourcing is a newer ideology for a business model. Which comes along with doubts, is definately not for everyone, and is not the only model. It's Evan's model for V&S. It sounds like those who have experienced working for you are happy, and you have people watching and learning with you, so it would be interesting to see work some of your work on here.

Eric's illustration explains a lot.

Eric HOW did you get paid? Besides getting another illustration to tuck into your great working network and website book, and exposure on this marketing blog? I hope you didn't get paid in a free year supply of Evan's own private line of hair gel. And a small shout out from peeps that are doing the same thing you are.

Yeah "Hmm", it does show his little minions doing his bidding, I wonder if they wipe his bum too?

I of course was paid in small unmarked bills, I actually just volunteered my services to TDE, I would love to do more illustrative work and Its hard to understate the power of getting ones name out there.

@T.E. about bidding is a viable question, but the second conclusion is a different illustration all together.

Eric, I like your work and illustrations. I get it...I was on strike for the creatives union, because i unfortunately know. I can imagine that becoming an inhouse illustrator is 100 pennies to a dollar.

I'm with Jane, I still don't understand the model. You use crowd sourcing to get ideas and win the pitch - but then who does the work if you actually win the business? If it's a separate team, how is the integrity of the original concept protected? How is consistency and quality assured?

It's not my cup of tea. I think it would be cool, maybe even believable, if I were a 13 year old crowdsurfer dude, and I'm not. Hope they have fun and make money their way.

This is one of those interviews that has stuck in my head all week. Evan seems like a genuinely interesting CD, making it work with a model must be pretty challenging. Fist bumps to Evan and V&S for shaking up an industry that hates change.

It's interesting that the bulk of their work is done "in a conventional manner." So...the bulk of their work is NOT crowdsourced?

The only thing that bothered me was his seeming dismissal of taking advantage of spec work. "Every being on this planet is responsible for him, her or itself." That's a pretty broad get-out-of-jail-free card.

"they should call us so we can get it straightened out cuz that would be something we would never want anyone in our system to feel. "

Bullshit. Your new full time job would be a phone operator.

You only have 1-10 people actually happy that they submitted of the possible thousands, everybody else got BURNED. I guarantee that you don't have repeat applicants once you look into it and that's why this won't last. You can't expect the creative community to continuously submit when they statistically will never win. Time will tell. If you want to stay in business, you must come up with a better solution to actually making the losing entrants feel appreciated and inspired for the next try.

So once you do kick ass work as a junior designer and a few of you pitches get shown to the client do you keep gambling all your time and talent on future projects? or do you get hired by a "real" agency?

That's why if every agency on Planet Earth was like V&S, there would be a monstrous gap between underpaid and unappreciated jrs and the upper class CODs or CWDs or whatever that acronym was.

It is a design competition for V&S on the side.

Where es my bid list that I sit and I look through for work?

As an outsider looking in, I can see how this concept is beneficial for both cutting down business infractions and getting out there and learning businesses as you transition from training in school. So you can meet at some level and have possibilities to move into the company and grow. It is part of the process as you grow as an individual creative, and it is on the order of what you do in school but there is the possibility of payment versus you paying the school. It is not 1 job fits all.

Objectively, I have no harsh feelings towards V&S, I just feel that they are slightly wishwashing a more credible answer.

This was a really interesting interview. In my experience there are almost just two levels of agencies. The big guys and everyone else. V&S, by creating this model, may be finding a way to bridge the gap. An interim step where a company can have access to top level creative direction without necessarily taking on the expense of an entire top-level team. It may hinder some the the potential of a campaign but the reality is that it may give access to those who couldn't have ever afforded that perfect concept.

It will be interesting to see how things pan out.

This guy is not a creative. He is an opportunistic asshole taking advantage of creatives.

He knows that he is wrong on ethical grounds so he just consistently punts to "if you don't like it, don't participate".

Money must be good. I would love a job where I just sifted through the work of strangers, picked my favorite and tacked my name onto it.

You sir, are a hack and a scourge on this industry.

J

http://www.aiga.org/whats-the-harm-in-crowdsourcing/

That's all that needs to be said about the subject.

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