Editor's note: Post updated at 4:15 EST to include response from Adecco.
Often entrepreneurs are convinced that large corporations are watching what they do, trying to screw them out of some great idea. Sometimes they're right, as Turner Barr recently learned. But persistence can make a David out of the entrepreneur and a chastened Goliath of the corporation. Here's how Barr fought back against a big company for a big (and well-deserved) payday.
Newly out of school in 2007, Barr wanted to travel the world before settling into a career, and so he did for a year before deciding to start a youth hostel in Colombia, because he wanted to live and work overseas. Then the global recession hit and sunk his "little capital," effectively sinking the business too.
So Barr got inventive. He started a site and blog about finding interesting jobs around the world--whether being an extra in a National Geographic documentary in Thailand or teaching English in Korea--and what he learned. He also launched a video series he called Around the World in 80 Jobs.
Wait. That's My Schtick.
He was working hard to build his brand when all of a sudden, disaster hit. It came in the form of a multi-billion dollar global staffing company called Adecco. Adecco created a marketing campaign by the same name and even trademarked the name. (According to U.S. Patent and Trademark office records, Adecco filed the application on April 9, 2013 and claimed that it had started using the trademark on December 21, 2012.)
Barr was devastated and blogged about it on his site on June 20, 2013:
Recently, I was both astonished and demoralized to find that my entire brand, image, and Web personality was swiped for use in a marketing campaign by some massive multi-billion dollar a year company, without ever being asked for permission or acknowledged. The video for their marketing campaign was particularly creepy for me, as even my age and personality didn't escape the level of detail spent on creating this doppelganger (they used a paid actor of course).
He had stopped blogging for a month and saw that Adecco's site had already taken the first Google search position on his idea. I emailed him, asking if he had any lawyers on the case. His response was:
I am bootstrapping. I have spoken with lawyers but I am not pursuing a legal course. I believe Adecco can come around and make it right.
Barr said that he had contacted Adecco and got nowhere, as he mentioned on his blog:
I contacted you in a gentlemanly manner and with a positive attitude, offering many ways to make it right. You refused to offer me compensation or even acknowledge that my brand was the basis of your campaign. To this day, you still have not taken responsibility. You spent 4 weeks stringing me along, making and rescinding offers, then sent me a contract that gave you everything and me nothing. So I decided to leave Thailand and fly to New York to get advice from friends and be on a more level playing field. Only then did you take me seriously. When I reached New York, you offered to compensate me, but not for my work or for the use of my brand. In my eyes, your offer amounted to paying me to stay silent, rather than paying me for my hard work. That, and it was too little too late.
Barr continued his boot-strapping campaign, posting an open letter and video on his blog on June 24. He wanted four things from the company:
- Adecco should apologize and accept responsibility for the problem, even if the campaign had apparently been created by an advertising firm.
- He wanted $50,000 in compensation, the same amount he understood the advertising firm had been paid, as the campaign allegedly was built off his work.
- Adecco would cease using his brand name.
- The company would donate an additional $50,000 to a non-profit called Save Elephant Foundation.
He publicly proposed that this would be a reasonable solution that wouldn't need lawyers.
Apparently reason--and some public shaming--can work (although trademarking your brand in the first place would have been a smart move).
On Wednesday, he posted that Adecco accepted all his terms to resolve the issue. I reached out to Adecco for comment and here's what the press office sent me in an email:
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.
Sometimes determination and a sense of fairness can win out, even if you don't have a legal staff at the ready.