Giving Credit Gets You Credit

by Billy Pittard on August 20, 2010

When it comes to giving or taking credit, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a creative project or a home mortgage; undue credit is harmful to everyone. There may seem to be momentary gain for the perpetrator, but eventually reality will catch up and everybody loses. The recent sub-prime mortgage meltdown is a painful example.

In many industries – particularly the creative ones – credits are the currency of getting future work. The next time you watch a theatrical film, be sure to notice the end credits. Those end credits generate enormous value for the cast and crew. Years ago, I worked on a few dozen theatrical films and it still gives me a great feeling when people tell me they saw my credit.

It would be difficult to affix a specific monetary value to credits, but it doesn’t cost anything to do, and in some circumstances, credit is even more important than monetary rewards. That’s why it’s so important that creative credits be handled properly.

The rules are simple:

1. Give credit where credit is due. Be accurate, be thorough, and be generous.

2. When taking credit, do not claim credit for anything that you didn’t do, or that diminishes anyone else’s legitimate credit. Be accurate.

One of the worst mistakes is to take credit for someone else’s work. Having recruited and hired hundreds of creative professionals throughout my career, I have been occasionally shocked by improper credit in portfolios and resumés.

I remember one designer’s portfolio that that actually included some of my own work. I’ve never seen a job interview end faster.

Another designer showed me a piece of work in her portfolio that was a faithful reproduction of a TV main title that I had done. Only the name of the program had been changed. She could not understand why I was not pleased that she was calling this her design.

Another time, two people were both taking credit for the same work. I was never able to determine the truth. That was a very troubling situation.

Almost as bad, is to neglect to acknowledge someone’s contribution – especially when that contribution is substantial. It has happened to me, and I can vouch that it’s something you never forget.

Once upon a time, when my former company was young, we did one of our first large-scale projects. We were all very proud of the groundbreaking work we had done. Our client was also very pleased and proud, so he made arrangements to showcase the project in a presentation at our main industry conference. The room was packed with our peers. The people in the audience were aware that we had done this large project and were eager to learn more. And then a funny thing happened: our client neglected to mention us – at all. You would think that our client had done the work all by himself.

Since it was well-known that we had done the work, the whole audience (i.e. the whole industry) immediately recognized his faux pas. Our client seemed to sense his error after the presentation, but didn’t know how to undo it. I remember feeling so stunned that I couldn’t imagine a proper way to talk with him without a confrontation or making him feel like a fool.

The damage was done. Our client made himself look like a buffoon. We had been shut out of an opportunity to shine before our industry. The people in the audience, rather than leaving the presentation feeling inspired by the work were shocked by the client’s glaring faux pas. It was a lose-lose-lose situation.

In contrast, if the client had given proper credit and perhaps included some of our team in the presentation, he would have looked like a smart leader, and the spotlight would have certainly helped our young business. This would have cost the client nothing, and the presentation would have been enriched with first-hand perspectives among peers.

The big lesson of the day was to give proper credit where credit is due, and don’t take excess credit for things you worked on.

If you are a creative person, be honest and accurate with how you represent your credits. Claiming greater credit than is due will only get you into trouble.

If you manage creative people, acknowledge the specific contributions of the team members diligently, accurately, and generously. In my experience, it’s usually the insecure and incompetent who do otherwise.

If you are the client of a creative project, remember that giving proper credit to the people who did the work is as vital to their prosperity as their financial compensation for the project. Proper credit costs you nothing, and provides great value to the people who have worked so hard for you.

At my former company, Pittard Sullivan, we developed a great way to assure that credits were properly acknowledged. We documented credits immediately upon completion of every project. We gave open access to all team members to make sure that credits were properly acknowledged and recorded. We then published these credits to the whole staff. I still have a notebook that includes full credits for every project we did between 1995 and 2001, and it still comes in handy. The trick is to determine credits immediately upon completion of the project, and to build consensus about those credits.

It’s a small world. Handling credits properly is directly related to your personal karma.

Please share your comments on my blog, and let me know about credit issues you’ve encountered.

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