Does Crowdsourcing Deliver On Its Promise (For Creatives)?

Video Contest Website Landing Pages

Recently, in a thread of email exchanges with a successful video contest participant who won numerous contests for many prestigious brands, I was struck by this person’s response to my “how are things going?” question. That person replied: “Unfortunately while I wish I had gotten some ‘real’ work all these contests haven’t had any effect on my professional career and I’m still struggling to get work!

This bugged me, because professional advancement and career opportunities are a big part of the promises of crowdsourcing. My experience and research confirms that many crowd members participate with this in mind (some call it hope labor), so I wanted to know more. “I’m a little bugged by [the fact that he was still looking after all these wins, does it mean that crowdsourcing doesn’t deliver on its promise?” I asked. Here’s the response from the filmmaker, and a call for discussion.

Being a filmmaker is already a hard career path to forge, and I knew that going into it. I would say it’s gotten even more competitive for my generation since a lot more of us are pursuing creative professions and the entry barriers are lower. I always wanted to direct commercials professionally, and I thought that by making videos for brands through these contests, that would be a surefire way to get experience directing commercials and prove myself.

In the end, it didn’t matter if it was a commercial or music video or short film, it still comes down to luck (in fact, the latter two are considered by many in the industry to be creatively ‘purer’). You just need one big break – to do one amazing job on one piece of work that will lead to many others. But before that can happen, this one piece of work needs to generate some buzz and get seen by professionals.

Crowdsourcing companies often say things like ‘get exposure as a filmmaker’ but they stop short of saying how you will get this. I would argue it’s in their interests to be seen by the industry as a source of emerging talent, not just by marketers, but by agencies and production houses as well, so the cycle will perpetuate. It seems a lot of promoting is done to clients and potential clients, but not to the wider creative industry. Perhaps this is because traditional-model creative businesses still see crowdsourcers as a threat? The position of the crowdsourcer in the market doesn’t seem to be well-defined or established yet. […]

Maybe my expectations were misguided – I think what shattered the illusion for me was having my [winning commercial] play around the world last year [on TV]. Tens of millions of people saw it, and I thought that being a then-23 year old aspiring filmmaker would see me taken under someone’s wing – but it was just radio silence, it wasn’t the ‘big break’ I was hoping for. I’ve since learned that a big part of this industry is marketing yourself and networking. There are hundreds of people just as skilled as you, if not better, so you really have to hustle.

So now I’m just back on the hunt for that break, and [production grants from crowdsourcing companies] mean I can afford to do things I previously couldn’t. That helps build my reel at little or no cost to me other than time (and the time of those who help), but now of course I’m getting picky since I no longer care so much about the prizes – I just want a good creative opportunity that might get some exposure.

What do you think about the above? Have you been through that as a creative? Are you in the crowdsourcing business and do you feel there could be some room for improvement to make crowdsourcing a (better) win-win? Are you a researcher who could bring in some insights? I’d welcome your comments below.


  1. This is truly interesting Feedback.

    I would tend to think that it’s wrong to think of crowdsourcing itself as a platform to boost your career… In the end it’s kinda like in Content Marketing. Content creation isn’t enough, you should actually spend a lot of effort into distribution and promotion!

    He’s absolutely righr when he says marketing yourself and networking is a huge part of it… It’s always been this way. Everybody has to do some kind of marketing for his work to maximize exposure. In his case: get actove on social networking sites, upload videos on platforms, maybe recycle into other formats like Vine & hyperlapses, create a blog and network, get active on G+ groups…. etc


  2. Thanks for Tweeting me in on this post, Yannig. As a frequent competitor in crowdsourcing projects, exposure or “getting a break” is the last reason I participate, because it’s the least expected outcome, for many of the reasons you outline above (competition, promotion, etc.).

    Also, consider that it’s not in the hosting entity’s best interest to have a talented and regular creative “break out” and find his or her own work. If all the best talent found contract work, and no longer needed to participate in crowdsourcing projects, then Brands would be less inclined to hire those companies, as the overall talent pool might not be as deep and wide.

    This is speculative reasoning, but I’m trying to put myself in the position of the hosting entity as I speculate. A crowdsourcing host company doesn’t have the luxury of keeping their own talent pool under contract, so they have to exercise as much control over the work itself as possible. Result: I’m not permitted to use many of my submissions (either won or lost) in a portfolio because contest rules decree that ownership of the piece — again, win or lose — belongs to the client/brand, and may not be used in any manner or for any reason outside of the hosting company’s platform. Beyond that, the user agreement prohibits you from even contacting the brand or working with them for a period after the particular contest closes. So even if a brand does like your work, they’re committed to the host company for a time, as well. And by the time that time has expired, there’s a good chance the brand may shift focus to some other marketing strategy. At least, this is the case with the platform I use most often.

    And I totally get — and respect — why they do that. It’s better for business.

    Anyway, no, I don’t expect a “big break” by participating in crowdsourcing projects. I participate because I have bills due, and I’ve been pretty successful up to this point in getting some of them paid with my wins. So I join crowdsourcing projects foremost as a way to exercise my creative muscles, and secondarily to MAYBE get a reward. Fame and notoriety are further down the list, as my creditors don’t accept exposure as payment.

    But I market myself in other ways that don’t break the production agreement. I’m always able to say — truthfully and with pride — that I produced (among others) two spots for the San Diego Zoo that aired nationwide the U.S. I do use the credentials, and name the brands I’ve worked with in my OWN marketing and on my resume, and if those credentials spark the curiosity of a brand that’s interested in hiring me, I’m happy to direct them to the video(s) in question, wherever the host and client have decided that they’re allowed to live.

    But the breaks I get are totally up to me.


    1. Brett, that’s a great reply, and thanks for re-posting that on your blog. It seems to me that you are very perspicuous and know that there’s a balance to find between contests and “real” work. What you say about usage of submitted videos (not being able to show them even if they haven’t earned you a prize) might be true for some contest platforms, but I know that others allow filmmakers to keep all rights on non-winning submissions, because it’s judged fair. But you got a good couple of points, thanks for your comment and your blog post.


  3. If cheating could be removed from creative crowdsourcing, then it would work. There’s just too much left to trust and hope. I’m on a negative note, so here’s a negative thought – at a job you will be overworked for a set pay (time you deserve will be cheated off you), in freelancing you’ll do the same work for lower pay (money you deserve will be cheated off you) and in crowdsourcing both your time and money will be cheated off you. I’m the superchump that has spent 5 years trying to make creative crowdsourcing a full-time job. And where am I? I’m in Hell. Serious.


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