Social Justice: Adecco Experiences the Shift in Power Social Media has Wrought

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The story of Turner Barr, his Around the World in 80 Jobs creation, and the multi-billion dollar corporation that stole his ideas were not the biggest story in Social Media this last week; I didn’t even catch it until Danny Brown brought it to my attention.

Like everyone else on the planet, I was caught up in both the Paula Deen cascade of lost partnerships, and the George Zimmerman trial to notice this story.

To anyone with an interest in PR, Marketing basic corporate ethics, the story is a fascinating one.  It is also a vindication of Social Media’s ability to right an obviously wrong situation and give voice to the David against a corporate Goliath.

Turner Barr’s Passion

Turner Barr is certainly an interesting cat; he wanted a life that didn’t have the typical American milestones or measurement of success.

After searching fruitlessly for an overseas job that he could survive on, he created Around the World in 80 Jobs as a way to live the life he desired while traveling the world.  He tells you his specific goals for his blog were:

1-To find my muse (gainful employment)

2-To travel abroad & live overseas

3-To fund these escapades by doing interesting travel jobs abroad and chronicling what happens when you give the road map the finger

4-To show other people travel job opportunities abroad so that they too can give the road map the finger

Since December of 2011 Barr has been doing a variety of jobs and posting his video journal of the work and his experiences on his blog.  Here is an example of his down to earth and irreverent style:

And the posts continue, right up until late May of this year, with Barr giving you video and written details of how the jobs went.  His website also offers tips for living abroad, being a travel writer, and specific job opportunities for those seeking to live overseas.

Turner Barr was living the life he wanted, and had developed an impassioned group of followers totaling roughly 3500 on Facebook and Twitter respectively.  Life appeared to be chugging along swimmingly, until the unthinkable happened.

Turner Barr Discovers the Adecco Theft

In May a friend of Turner Barr’s came across a marketing campaign by Swiss company Adecco called Around the World in 80 Jobs, and that’s not where the similarities ended.

The campaign was targeting the millennial generation as it struggled to find work, the exact messaging Turner Barr described as the impetus for his blog, Around the World in 80 Jobs.

As I admitted early in this post, I was not following the Adecco/Bar story early on, and therefore missed the opportunity to see, first hand, some of the posts and imagery Adecco used that have since been taken down or converted.

Refinery29, however, was covering  the story from the beginning, and here’s how they describe Adecco’s online campaign as it was prior to recent changes:

Since Barr’s case has attracted public notice, the visuals that go along with the campaign have changed — but when we first saw them, the typeface, color scheme, and other elements of Adecco’s site — like its name — echoed what’s been on Barr’s blog for years. Oddest of all are the videos used to promote it: an enthusiastic young man with an interesting haircut travels the world, trying on job after job, learning and broadcasting career lessons along the way with an attitude and a personality that is just inches off Barr’s (if you ignored the British accent.) The videos are now listed as “private” on YouTube — something that happened after Barr’s case hit Reddit — so you’re just going to have to believe us when we say the similarities were past striking.

One can imagine what must have gone through Barr’s mind as he discovered that his creation, branding, and even ‘personality’ had been co-opted.  Because Turner Barr is a prolific video blogger, you don’t have to, because he took  to his blog and said it in his own words:

Turner Barr Shows Considerably Cool Under Pressure

From a PR Perspective of course there are  many questions as to how Adecco could have taken this path, which we’ll get to in just a bit.  What is more striking is the juxtaposition of Turner Barr’s handling of the situation and that of Adecco’s.

If you read follow through the blog you’ll see Barr, although overwhelmed and exhausted at times, always remain positive and searches for a solution that he can work out with Adecco. Of course he requests compensation for his ideas, but he remains gracious and accepts that everyone, including companies, make mistakes.

Unlike many bloggers we’ve seen go off on continued rants for far less egregious actions by brands, Turner never loses his cool.

Initially, Barr reached out to Adecco and felt positive about the possibility of coming to resolution he could live with; his most urgent question of course was: Where did you get the idea?

That answer was not forthcoming, and as of June 24th there was still no resolution reached.  Barr posted another video entry outlining specifically what he wanted:

  1. Admission of where the idea came from.
  2. Apology for taking his idea.
  3. Compensation for his idea and work.
  4. Donation to charity: Save an Elephant

Adecco Around the World in 80 Jobs

Adecco Takes a Familiar Stance

We’ve covered many brand reactions to online PR debacles, and there are times that we understand or advocate for  non-interaction on Social Media; The Food Network’s Facebook silence last week is an example.

Adecco appears to have remained silent because they had no option; the facts were overwhelmingly against them.

Although they do not allow comments by others on their Facebook wall currently, as many brands before them have learned, that does not stop and angry mob of lighting up the company posts with replies.  One glaring one posted beneath the image you see above this subheading is as follows:

The Adecco Way to Work
1. Find someone who has an idea.
2. Steal their idea and plan a huge campaign around it.
3. Bully them with lawyers and reams of paper.
4. Publish meaningless apologies and useless rationalization a.
5. Site an oppressed group as your chief rationalization.
6. Create a situation whereby the person you stole from becomes part of aforementioned oppressed group.
7. Laugh in the board room.

The only comment Adecco has made to date on their Facebook Page regarding the controversy was to state that they were not publicly announcing the winners:

Due to the recent controversy, we are currently not publicly announcing the winners’ identities. We will do so if the winners agree and are comfortable to carry out their work experience opportunity. It should be their personal choice after the recent unfortunate sentiment.

Thank you for bearing with us.

Your Adecco Way to Work team

The Social Media Impact

Unlike individuals in times past dealing with corporate theft, Turner Barr did not have to wade through expensive legal channels to get to the solution he desired.  He already had a platform to speak from, and a motivated audience that wanted to help him.

As I mentioned, Adecco’s Facebook Page became overwhelmed with critics calling the corporation out, and although the company does not have a Twitter account, they were still a topic of conversation with tweets like this:

@RichLeighPR29 Shoddy PR. Adecco has stolen this guy’s 2 year old idea and refuses to apologise or compensate him.
Refinery29, and other blogs started picking up the story, and Turner Barr himself started an indigigo campaign trying to raise funds to keep his blog afloat as he dedicated time to fighting Adecco.

The story, although buried somewhat under the Paula Deen controversy, was beginning to pick up steam.

Turner Barr kept up his respectful but unyielding pressure as he told detailed accounts of his go-nowhere conversations with Adecco as they claimed to be promoting ‘social responsibility’ while showing no ethical responsibility.

Adecco Eventually Does Right

As you’ll notice if you checked out the Adecco Facebook Page, they’ve changed the name of the contest from Around the World in 80 Jobs to Adecco Way to Work.   They issued an apology to Turner Barr:

“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.”

The Company website outlines that Adecco has come to an agreement with Barr:

We have spoken with Turner and have come to an agreement about how we can make it right with him. Sometimes corporations can make mistakes. We are sorry, Turner.

We will also deliver on our promise to the youngsters who won and deserve a unique job experience. We will make sure that every winner experiences the possibilities and opportunities the world of work brings.

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.

After 4 weeks of trying to sidestep the problem, the company decided that what Barr was asking for was a decent solution, and gave in on all 4 points.

Turner Barr graciously accepted the settlement and posted his happiness with the result on his blog.  The story came to an end that the wronged party is content with, and with a corporation actually admitting its own wrongdoing and stating that it had learned a lesson.

As Always, Questions Remain

We end so many of our Social Justice posts wishing that we had been a fly on the wall while the crisis emerged and then erupted.  As marketing professionals there are questions we many never know the answer to:

  1. Who was the actual thief? Someone knowingly stole the entire package from Barr – who was that person? Someone from the agency or an Adecco employee?
  2. When did the C-Suite decision-makers find out about it?
  3. Who was calling the shots when Adecco refused Barr’s modest requests?
  4. Who finally decided to make it all right and how was that decision reached?
  5. What happened to the thief/thieves?

Of course these are the questions we may never find answers to.  What we can hope is that other corporate leaders hear about this story and ask themselves the same questions.

Most of all we hope that brands understand that times have changed; intellectual property theft is illegal, and in this age you don’t simply answer to the court of law, but to the court of public opinion.

The small guy you steal from may just have a very big social media megaphone to fight back with, and you may find yourself, like Adecco did, in an un-winnable situation.

0 thoughts on “Social Justice: Adecco Experiences the Shift in Power Social Media has Wrought

  1. ArCIntel says:

    via AmyMccTobin: Social Justice: Adecco Experiences the Shift in Power Social Media has Wrought

  2. JeremyDeMello says:

    hessiejones great article! I hadn’t heard of this controversy, but I’m happy that justice was done

    • hessiejones says:

      JeremyDeMello thanks Jeremy. The smaller public coverage was enough to make the company take notice and right the wrong

  3. TurnerBarr says:

    Great article.

  4. AmyMccTobin says:

    80worldjobs ArCIntel Honored that you read it Turner!& I meant it; your restraint was extraordinary! Good to see you get what was right.

  5. What’s so fascinating is for sure the David aspect of this story. Peeps adopt the channels for their own unsuspecting marketing living life on the fringe and sharing. Along the way, they succeed in spite of themselves.
    Big company rolls in, and the good news is they righted the wrong. What a great PR story and one all spokespeople should emulate (in re Turner’s decorum).

    • AmyMccTobin says:

      Soulati | Hybrid PR Thanks Jayme – what is so interesting to me is that Turner Barr behaved like the pro – he didn’t share all of the gory details of the conversations with Adecco that went no where – just enough to push them into doing the right thing. And their apology was straight forward and honest.  I think it’s a refreshing story.
      Of course, I’m dying to know what jackass thought it was ok to steal and frankly, CLONE TurnerBarr  and get away with it, but I guess we’ll never know.

      • OneJillian says:

        AmyMccTobin Soulati | Hybrid PR TurnerBarr I’m feeling like it may have been someone’s idea that they had no control over. It passed through hands that prefer to rely on “proven” strategies and that means “copy what worked”… idea stealing (possibly) is a part of their company culture. 
        I doubt (maybe unfairly) a senior member of the marketing team saw Barr’s work and thought “totally viable, we should do that!” I think it was something discussed and discussed, and pitched within the team using Barr as the example and then the person with the idea being overruled on how to proceed with their own version of it.

  6. ArCIntel says:

    SunandSipCups Thanks for the share Meagan – that one snuck under the wire.

  7. ArCIntel says:

    neicolec Yes it was! Thx for sharing.

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