I began my career as a lawyer reviewing advertising copy, telling clients the facts they would need to prove to the three television networks that yes, their shampoo did in fact work as well as the named competitors (I really made Mom proud that I was a lawyer with that one). From time to time, I would go beyond my duties to suggest to the client that there might be more creative ways to make the same point.

My brilliant ideas were summarily dismissed. After all, it was the tail end of the Mad Men era and while I was allowed to attend a few three-martini lunches, advertising ideas were the exclusive realm of the agency and its “creatives.”

Progress began to be made as companies recognized the need for more integrated marketing campaigns to reach their audiences beyond just advertising—through public relations, sales materials, promotions and the like. But those of us who promoted the corporation’s reputation, its investor profile and its contributions to the community, were still considered the “suits” on the executive floor who couldn’t offer much to advance the business.

Businesses that take that approach today do so at their peril. They cannot operate in silos and leave the generation of ideas to the “creatives.” There are just too many ways to reach stakeholders, and they can be influenced from almost anywhere in the business. And, as APCO has demonstrated in its Champion Brand approach, a corporation’s reputation can often be the determining factor in a consumer’s decision to purchase its product or a retirement plans decision to invest in its stock. 

Technology has also played a critical role in the evolution of idea generation. There is a tremendous amount of public data available as well as the analytical tools needed to fine tune an idea before proposing it. And with the tools available today, anyone can sketch a preliminary prototype or design rather than waiting weeks or months for a graphic designer to do it.

And then of course, there is the public…our consumers or stakeholders. More of us are turning to them for ideas or at least paying attention to what they are saying (on social media, for example) and changing what we do to meet their needs.

It’s an exciting time to be in the world of ideas. And to be helping to bring those ideas to fruition, from wherever they may have started. 

But now ideas can blossom from anywhere and at APCO, we’re always seeking them out. In our brainstorming, we aim for diversity of thought, not just in age or gender or racial background, but in experience or ways of thinking. And we often ask people to come to the table with a point of view or a green’s fee to get into the game. As a result, we often find ourselves in lively sessions that often produce excellent ideas. And who knows, in today’s world, instead of lawyers killing ideas, it’s possible they could even come up with winning ones.

Pete Wentz is a recovering lawyer who currently is an executive director in APCO’s Chicago office where he counsels clients on corporate reputation, crisis and higher education issues.

This post is part of APCO's "Brave New Ideas" blog series, featuring perspectives on creativity and ideas from colleagues around the world.

Pete Wentz

Pete Wentz, executive director of APCO’s Chicago office, provides clients with expertise in corporate reputation, crisis, financial and litigation communication and strategic planning. He also has extensive experience in higher education. Read More