I’ll never forget the time when I was working at a global advertising agency in Taiwan in the mid-1990s.
We were in a brainstorming session for one of our clients, a global package delivery company which operated a fleet of hundreds of airplanes.
We were developing a TV and print advertising campaign that would convey the concept of delivery speed. The client was launching a new international overnight delivery service with a money-back guarantee.
At some point during the discussions I proposed that we show a man quickly carving an ice sculpture. Ice sculptures carved in the shape of animals were a feature of some of the more formal, elaborate dinner banquets that I attended in Taiwan at the time.
That was the inspiration for my idea, which I shared with the group in the free-thinking, brainstorming mode that we were supposed to follow for such a meeting.
A few weeks later, the creative director presented his concepts to the internal team working on the project — and one of his concepts which he had sketched out on a storyboard was that of a man quickly carving a large ice sculpture with a chainsaw.
He even named the fictional character in the scene after my Chinese name, which used to be “Wang Taiping” (I changed it a few years later because it made all of my Taiwanese friends immediately burst out in laughter. As it turned out, I had a Mandarin teacher who decided to have some fun with me and bestowed a very old-fashioned Chinese name on me).
The team members loved the idea and decided on the spot that we would present it to the client. The client loved it, and approved it for filming and for further use across their newspaper and magazine print campaigns.
I remember a few weeks after that, I found myself in a warehouse in an industrial section of Hong Kong as the production crew prepared the set so they could film the commercial that was inspired by my suggestion.
While we were waiting for filming to begin, I mentioned to the creative director that I was pleased he had selected my concept, and thanked him for moving forward with it. He pretended he had no idea what I was talking about, and even acted mildly indignant that I would have the guts to claim the creative concept for the commercial was mine.
I could see what he was doing, and of course I didn’t like it. But I was a junior account executive up against a far more senior creative director, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I sometimes think back to this incident when I see it happen to other people — or when it happens, as it still does from time to time, to me.
I don’t think it will stop, either, especially since it’s so easy these days to just make a few tweaks to a headline, make a few edits to the content, and make something look different enough that you can call it your own — when it actually isn’t.
Rather than throw my hands up in despair — as much as I feel that way sometimes — I try to follow two very basic principles and act on them whenever the opportunity arises, whenever someone deserves to be called out and credited for sharing ideas or offering help in some way:
1. Thank them privately
When someone offers a suggestion or gives me an idea that I act on, or in some way has an impact on my work or life — at the very least — I thank the person privately. I’ll send them a quick email thanking them for their help, like I sometimes do for my friend Dustin McKissen, whom I met on LinkedIn last year and has provided a lot of great advice on my blog posts. His deeply personal and often humorous blog posts on LinkedIn have become an example of truly authentic writing that I aspire to match some day.
2. Thank them publicly
When the opportunity arises, I’ll call them out and give them credit in front of those who will appreciate and understand the meaning of the contribution. This usually takes the form of a “like” on their blog post or a very visible comment on their post. I also like to share their content whenever I can with my own followers, like I sometimes do for my friend Dave Sawyer, whom I met on LinkedIn last year.
I credit Dave with introducing me to the outstanding blogging platform Medium. It’s because of Medium’s beautiful writing interface that I became comfortable writing my thoughts and publishing them on LinkedIn and my personal blog (I always write my first drafts on Medium — but then publish them on LinkedIn first because that is, frankly, where the audience is). I credit Medium with helping me find my writing voice and break-through what I call “blogger’s block”.
There really is no rational explanation for why some PR guy in Scotland would ever want to lend a helping hand to a fellow PR guy on the other side of the earth. But he does it anyway. So I try to return the favor.
There’s no way I would be able to accomplish whatever I’ve managed to accomplish until now in my career and my personal life without the help of someone — or in some cases — several people.
I am grateful for all of the support and guidance I’ve been privileged to receive, and one of the simplest — and I believe most effective — ways I can pay it forward is to thank them and acknowledge them for their help.
Sometimes I do this privately, and sometimes very, very publicly.
No, I’m not perfect. I’m sure I forget sometimes.
But I try to give credit where credit is due.