UPDATED: Intellectual property mayhem: the curious tale of two travelers, a quirky idea and a corporation
UPDATE: Adecco has posted the following note to their Facebook page, saying that they’ve come to an agreement with Barr regarding the Around the World in 80 Jobs project. Tnooz has reached out to both Barr and Adecco for comment, and will update as news arrives.
The most obvious change is that the company has changed the name of the contest to “The Job Experience Contest,” dropping any mention of the original contentious name. Adecco has also agreed to all of Barr’s terms, including donating $50,000 to helping rescue abused elephants in Thailand. Read more from Barr here, and a statement released to Inc. magazine from Adecco said:
“We have apologized to Turner Barr and have come to an agreement about how we can make it right with him. We will also deliver on our promise to our contest winners who deserve a unique job experience… We’ve learned a lot in the past few weeks. We will work to make this right. We will do this because we are a company of great people who sometimes make mistakes, learn from them, and do better next time.”
The hashtag “makeitright” has been trending in recent days in the travel Twittersphere, as what appears to be a rather curious stand-off between a travel blogger and large company has unfolded.
But what started out as a very public battle between a beleaguered travel blogger and a nasty brand has since evolved to being more of an expose as to what happens when individuals and companies fight over ideas.
The short version: a travel blogger had an idea, got into a bit of a tussle with a company over claims that it used his idea without permission or payment, but it turns out he wasn’t the first to have the idea anyway.
So what happened?
Registered on October 23 2011, Barr’s website has been tracking his world travels, as he shoots videos and documenting his world travels via the jobs he does. The website includes a series of informative pieces about how to get jobs coveted by travelers.
Adecco, for its part, registered the trademark “Around the World in 80 Days,” claiming use dating back to December 21 2012.
The categories registered are” IC 035, Employment agency services,” and “IC 041, Providing workshops and personalized seminars (also online) in the field of…persons looking for work.”
The company then launched a contest, also called Around the World in 80 Days, where contestants play games, upload videos and eventually go through a jury in order to win a prize package where “the 8 winners will travel around the world in 10 jobs each; all together performing 80 jobs in various countries.”
Since made private by Adecco on YouTube after the controversy erupted, here’s the video promoting the contest:
One of the most contentious parts of the online discussion is the perceived similarity between Adecco’s main video and Turner’s likeness, as seen in Turner’s video response to the controversy below.
Turner, for his part, says that there was a six-week back and forth with Adecco North America’s CMO Ed Blust, along with its lawyers, which eventually culminated in a promise to fly him to NYC for a face-to-face meeting – something that Barr claims to have paid for himself when the plane ticket didn’t materialize.
At this point, if Adecco isn’t going to be serious and treat me well, then I’m not going to play. Eventually they sent me another contract that offered me $25,000 but with the clause that I would release them from all liability. If I would have got that from the beginning, I would have been stoked. That’s a lot of money for a blogger.
They didn’t even offer to put that into writing until I flew to New York on my own dime! Now we’re in this situation where I feel bullied, and I’m interested in a positive solution. I haven’t said anything negative, I’m just telling the truth.
I don’t want to get a lawyer involved, with the money that would go to lawyers, something positive can come of it. I haven’t done anything wrong, and I don’t feel the need to be sued or sue anyone. I just want to work for a positive, fair solution that compensates bloggers – who are out there working hard, often working for free. So when the chance for something paid comes up, we want it.
Now that my brand has been co-opted, it reduces the value of what I’ve created.
We’re out here following out dreams, and this company is out there offering to fulfill others’ dreams while taking away from my dream. I didn’t ask for this. And I can’t sign a release to say what they’re doing was ok. I just believe bloggers should be compensated for their work.
In regards to a resolution, Barr proposes the following:
A positive solution would be for them to stop using my brand, which I’ve used for 2 years; compensate me fairly for using the brand that they’ve gotten value from; and finally, doing something good and positive for charity, as its all about good faith and doing the right thing.
I don’t want to be embroiled in this right now, either. I’m supposed to be working my way around the world!
In his latest update, Barr also asks Adecco to donate to a Thai non-profit that rehabs abused elephants.
Tnooz was unable to get direct access to these emails to confirm this timeline, and two requests for comment directed both at Adecco’s Contact Us page and head of PR Vannessa Almeida were not returned for comment.
Reality check needed
It also appears that the “Around the World in 80 Jobs” concept has been floating around the internet for quite some time. Some research unveiled a video uploaded to Vimeo on October 17 2011, entitled “Around the World in 80 Jobs – Sizzel Reel V1.”
The clip was produced by Bob Beresh and featured traveler Ryan Abelman and the content promises a reality show surrounding the very same concept.here]
Six days after this clip was posted to Vimeo, Turner registered his current domain name. Tnooz reached out to Beresh to learn more about the project, but hadn’t heard back at time of publication.
So the story evolves to become something more nuanced, with the question of idea genesis, ownership and execution coming into relief. And of course, the concept of “Around The World…” came from Jules Verne some 140 years ago, so the idea in and of itself is remixed from another person’s creative capital.
Is the question who’s first? Or is it who executes first? Or perhaps who executes best? Who owns the idea, especially if one’s execution is bested by another’s? The mantra of “Don’t pioneer, perfect,” plays into that attitude – you don’t have to be first, you have to be best.
Nonetheless, this philosophy doesn’t matter if a traditional PR crisis gets in the way. Here are some obvious lessons learned from the Around the World in 80 Jobs story.
Adecco has registered “Around the World in 80 Jobs” in two categories, staffing services and education related to staffing services.
There is no obvious direct overlap with the blog, and in the US “you can establish rights in a mark based on use of the mark in commerce, without a registration.” However, it’s going to be difficult to argue that the blog has established a claim in the trademarked category.
What’s happened though, is that Turner’s blog is no longer appealing to anyone in the staffing services category – a very obvious category for sponsorship.
By simply using a name that has been floating around the Internet – and then by trademarking and splashing the TM site-wide – Adecco loses a serious amount of goodwill. Even if it was unintentional, the impact is still very real – and appears to be very large.
Is it possible that the company might have legitimately come up with the name themselves without even knowing about the blog? Sure. Is it likely that the very same company that went to the trouble to trademark the term didn’t do their due diligence with a simple Google search? Who knows.
Regardless, it is just not worth it to allegedly borrow someone’s idea in the quick-pace of a connected world. Why not just reach out and ask him to partner from the get go, with a very legitimate compensation?
Eliza Andersen, the Global PR manager for Intrepid Travel, worked very successfully with the couple behind food travel website The Perennial Plate. She spoke with Tnooz last year about the keys to success in working with bloggers as paid partners:
With a traditional media relationship, you’ve got information that they need for their story and the transaction can be very one off – it’s based on that particular story. Whereas with bloggers, and this partnerhsip, it’s much more holistic and ongoing.
The moment, for me, was the ability to assess the worth and value of the blogger, and to really understand the potential.
The big thing was the quality of the content and the distribution value that [the Perennial Plate] had. That’s something we will be looking for in future partnerships with bloggers.
In addition, [a project] that has value for [the bloggers] to be associated with as well. This is their business and livelihood, and knowing what you can offer them is really important too.
The lesson here is to approach bloggers with ideas – don’t just assume ideas can be re-mixed or created in-house.
Take the time to identify marketing objectives and seek out partners that already have legitimacy in the field. Bloggers are simply trying to make a decent living doing what they love, and brands can affordably engage these voices.
Social media can be a boon – and a beast
Regardless of intention, the missed opportunity here was to fuel this campaign with a blogger-centered promotion – especially for a brand that is centered around teaching younger folks best practices for acquiring jobs.
Social media, which is the crux of many a competition, could have been a boon here for the company.
It’s the way that people apply, upload videos, and share with their networks. It’s the primary reason why online competitions can be so valuable to companies – the viral factor is exponential. However, when a compeition goes wrong, it can quickly flare up like a brushfire.
Case in point: The company hasn’t removed their Twitter stream from the site, showing the stream of negative tweets. When left uncontrolled, social media can truly get out of hand.
The YouTube video is also steadily racking up comments, which don’t bode well for Adecco. The Internet can be fickle, but it seems that the crescendo is reaching fever pitch.
The company posted the following comment to its Facebook page:
We’re sorry for some recent negative comments. We’d like to make something clear.
The intention of Adecco’s youth initiative was to give perspective to young people so they can better prepare to enter the workforce and achieve their ambitions. Youth unemployment throughout the world is an at all time high. This can not stand.
We understand there is concern with the use of the term ‘Around The World In 80 Jobs’ and we take this seriously. We’ve worked to resolve this and to create a mutually beneficial solution. We will continue to do so. In the meantime, our only goal is to inspire young people to find a way to work. We invite you to join us.
Your Adecco Way to Work Team
The responses were unsurprisingly terse:
Bloggers, most of which are presumably unaware of the video that appeared BEFORE Turner’s idea, have come out in support of their brethren’s attempt to get fairly compensated for his brand. Many bloggers have experienced larger brands trying to either get them to work for free – aka “the press trip” – or to enter into a partnership that does not have fair compensation.
Sheila Scarborough, an experienced travel writer and partner at Tourism Currents, suggests that ignoring the issue is just making it worse.
I don’t know Turner and don’t follow his blog, but saw Jen Miner (from The Vacation Gals) tweet a link to his blog post, so I went to read it. When I compared his site with Adecco’s Way to Work, the similarities were quite striking and I became angry at an organization that either didn’t do their research before crafting their campaign, or simply stole Barr’s concept because they thought he’d be powerless to do anything about it.[I] would be happy to hear Adecco’s side of the story, if there is one that’s credible…They should admit their mistake and shut down the campaign. It’s almost certainly too late to offer to pay Turner to come aboard their team as a brand ambassador, which would have been a possible move in the very beginning.
It seems that they have offered monetary payment to Barr, after he paid his way to New York City two days ago.
That offer for $25,000 was only two days ago that I received the contract. They never put this in writing for an entire month. While that money would be great to take – that’s a lot of money for a blogger – the integrity of the story is more important at this point. I’m not comfortable with the way this went down – the way it happened was very one-sided and not productive.
Tnooz has reached out for comment on this as well from Adecco, and have not heard back.
Later in the day on Friday last week, the situation kept growing in influence, as Adecco posted another missive:
We have seen and heard your sincere concern about our recent youth employment initiative and take your feedback very seriously. We deeply regret if we hurt Turner Barr. This was never our intention when we set up our “Around the World in 80 Jobs” contest.
We clearly see that Turner is an inspiration to many people. We feel there should be more of such initiatives that inspire people to live their dreams and achieve their ambitions. Unfortunately, we moved forward with a name and contest that clearly upset Turner and his community. We sincerely apologize for that mistake.
When Turner contacted us about his concern, and we understood the full situation, we immediately engaged with him to try to make things right. Unfortunately, we have been unable to find common ground so far.
Most of all, we are sorry that an initiative we truly care about – youth unemployment – has been negatively received.
This post brought ever-more influential people to the fold. Peter Shankman, well-known web personality and founder of Help A Reporter Out, left the following comment:
Without any sort of direct engagement to these comments – the brand has chosen to not reply directly to these people – the comments are left to stand on their own.
The request for the company to take down the campaign, or review the process in which it was enacted, were not met or acknowledged by the company, further fueling the feedback loop.
Crisis management is now a required core competency
Businesses of all sizes must realize that crisis management is a de facto skill set in today’s environment. If this is not a core competency, executive teams either need to invest in training or pre-emptively hire a firm that can actively manage situations that become crises.
It is not always easy to tell when a situation will blow up or blow over. Nonetheless, having a procedure and training in place to deal with these PR crises is vital to withstand an attack – both merited and not.
It is no longer good enough to just ignore it, hoping it will go away. Certainly, the Internet is fickle and can move on quickly. However, brand damage can happen quickly and fiercely – and today’s brands, especially travel brands that deal in many potential emergency situations, need to be prepared.
Know your values – and know your ideas
This situation made it very clear that Adecco was straddling the line between values: a company purporting to be about helping youth unemployment should have recognized an opportunity to develop a fruitful relationship with an entrepreneurial young person out in the world making work happen.
By fully integrating, verbalizing and acting on understood values, brands come from a place of power where each decision reflects a clear perspective. This perspective should fuel and propel the brand forward, not confuse and pull the brand down from where it sees itself.
This also means that, before accusing anyone of stealing an idea (remember: Turner has been claiming it is his idea), one must be *absolutely certain* that it was your idea originally. As any incubator coach/angel/VC will say: ideas truly are a dime a dozen, it’s the execution that matters.
Abelman was arguably there first, if one wants to split hairs about the recent Around The World In 80 Jobs activity.
One must be absolutely certain of one’s idea ownership – and then one must protect that intellectual property with trademarks. In this day and age, those protections matter – even for the smallest fry.
Nick Vivion is a writer and strategist. He was a Tnooz reporter and global events lead between August 2012 and July 2015. He was the launch co-founder of Booty's, a global street food restaurant in New Orleans and was recently AVP Operations, North America, at Zomato.