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Bright idea Featured

11:45am EDT March 17, 2004
Joey Reiman's ad agency employed more than 150 people and was billing more than $280 million a year when he decided to close its doors.

"I had the epiphany that no one on the globe was charging anyone for thinking," Reiman says. "There was no value for ideas. (Advertising agencies) were basically getting accounts for what didn't count -- not the creativity and innovation -- but showmanship. Which I was very good at, but I had no real desire to be managing clients as much as managing the idea."

Reiman says the advertising industry model "is not based on creativity or innovation or visioning. The model itself, the notion of advertising, was to sell space, then create the creativity for free. As a result, the world is now ad rich and idea poor."

Reiman opened BrightHouse to get away from the traditional notion of advertising and move toward a concept based on the creation of ideas.

"I thought, if marketers and business could pay companies a stipend for thinking, that the results would be greater, and they were," he says.

BrightHouse's first two clients were Coca Cola and Coty, and in the beginning, Reiman charged $15,000 for an idea. Nine years later, that price is upwards of $1 million.

Reiman spoke with Smart Business about the importance of ideas in the business world.


How is BrightHouse different from a traditional advertising agency?


The notion behind BrightHouse was to build the first ideation corporation (a corporation focused on identifying ideas), which it was, and to migrate this notion of ideation into the world of commerce, suggesting that ideas would be the currency of tomorrow.

We are a global consultancy. We're really focused on this notion of what we call the master idea. The master idea is the illustration of a business's reason for being. The master idea drives all strategy and operations.

So we've gotten out of the advertising business into the business transformation business.

We focus on ideas that impact public life versus public perception. The difference between what I was doing and what I am doing is, our job is to impact public life. To help companies impact public life, not just their public perception, through these master ideas.

We've been incredibly successful in teaching companies how to discover their ideas, because unlike in advertising, we don't create them here; we discover them within a company, then figure out how to illustrate those ideas, maximizing three profit lines for them: Financial profit; emotional profit, which is the health of the organization; and intellectual profit, which is what that corporation can create.

I'm from the school of, 'If it's not broke, fix it.' And I think that, as originators, as creators, as thinkers, we all have a responsibility to continually evolve businesses to new levels, and if we all do this, our society will get to a new level.

It may sound a little Pollyanna, but I'm very Pollyanna. I'm very proud to be part of that Pollyanna group.


How do you create a work environment where creative ideas flourish?


It's really by understanding what human resources is all about. The job of human resources is absolutely, in no uncertain terms, to understand that a human's best resources are not being used, and to create an environment where they are being used, to create a safe environment where one is not judged and evaluated, but can be free to create and ideate.

This is very difficult in today's corporate structure, because we all want the most out of our work force, but we have to understand that to get the most out of them, we have to create the most for them. In doing so, we allow them freedoms of lesser hours, freedoms of saying things without reprisal, and giving people the time to be with their families.

We also create a very fun environment. The key thing is that we've removed all routines from our organization, because routination destroys innovation.

We spend half our day in ideation sessions, which are not evaluative but are incredibly creative, and because we're paid to think, we're allowed to have these sessions. In the advertising industry, you're not paid to think. In most organizations, you're not paid to think, you're paid to do. That's why thinking is not a core competency in America.

We don't have rules and regulations, but our guidelines and rituals are all around bolstering the notion of maximizing oneself along your lines of excellence. If I have someone who's got their feet up on the desk, and they are looking outside the window daydreaming, chances are they will be rewarded.

Einstein -- in an interview like this, except I'm not Einstein -- this reporter said to Albert Einstein, 'What do you do here at Princeton?' and he said, 'I teach 20 percent of the time, and 80 percent of the time I look out the window.'

And this notion of pondering and wandering and daydreaming, which has been used in a pejorative sense, is actually a very exciting concept that we don't really take enough advantage of.


You refer to yourself as a famillionaire. What is that, and how is the concept reflected in the way you do business?


I was asked by a high school student a decade ago, 'What is it like to be a millionaire?' I sold my company in my 30s and that transaction made me independently wealthy. I had just gotten married to my wife, Cynthia, and I said, 'You know, I'm not a millionaire. You may call me a millionaire, but I don't even understand what that means. I'm a famillionaire.'

It just sort of popped out. What I was trying to teach these kids, and I've lived by this adage since, is that one must be judged not by their net worth but by their self worth, and that the real wealth in our lives is not what we have in our pockets but what we have in our hearts and how that translates to the family.

If you have a balance between work and your life, where your family comes before your work, that is being a famillionaire. That is the right balance, versus a balance in your checkbook. So we've shifted from the balance in your checkbook to balancing our lives. We've shifted from the stocks and bonds to the stock we take in our own bonding with people.

We've shifted from the proverbial fur coat to the intimacy the warmth of intimacy. You can go down the line on this and see how someone who is focused on their checkbook, it just doesn't check out, and that focusing on creating real wealth among your family and friends is really what makes you rich.


What is the No. 1 advertising mistake CEOs make?


They do advertising based on their competitors. If most CEOs built their advertising around what made them distinctive, then they would create an indispensibility for themselves in the marketplace. When you compete with others, all you can do is be a little better or a little worse for a day or two.

But the notion of competition we find abhorrent. It's for horses. The notion of building on one's core strengths, core purpose, core reason for being, is really what we're focused on. Because if you focus on that, you won't have to worry about competition. How to reach: www.brighthouse.com