Every Team Needs a Jerk

Yesterday everyone had a really good time completely co-opting the “#muslimrage” hashtag, playing off a magazine cover that many felt was a tad over the top. Last week (and continuing this week) folks have had a lot of fun using “#romneystrength” to talk about how they overcame adversity in a tongue-in-cheek way. Before that there are numerous examples of how a company, person or organization has tried to either use a Twitter hashtag to spark a conversation only to see it corrupted or seen some other sort of headline or slogan turned into a hashtag that has the exact opposite of the original intent.

There’s a certain amount of this that’s inevitable. There will always be people who are not going to be supportive who will see hashtag usage, paid or otherwise, as an opportunity to go against the grain. Sometimes it’s all in good fun but other times, particularly when there’s paid hashtag promotion going on, it can turn malicious and spiral into a crisis communications effort.

That – among other reasons – is why every agency, department and team needs a jerk. Someone whose mind works differently than everyone else’s and doesn’t just approve something because the higher pay grades want to see it done. Someone whose first thought when they see “#romneystrength” or something like it is to say “Chuck Norris is the only person in the world for whom #romneystrength would be a step down” out loud in a room full of brand managers and executives.  

While folks like this are often dismissed as class clowns, annoyances or someone who isn’t serious about his or her career that’s far from the truth. They are often just as serious about strategy and tactics and whole rest of the equation as everyone else.

The role people like this serve though is to be the alternative perspective. While everyone else is signing off on an idea because they can’t think of any reason not to these jerks (for lack of a better word) are able to point out the inherent flaws in something that will be exploited by the disgruntled members of the target audience. Think of them like walking, talking versions of the bug checkers that go through a piece of software looking for holes that can be found by hackers. If there’s comedy to be had at the campaign or client’s expense, these folks will find it.

Too often the analysis of these situations includes some form of the phrase, “Well why didn’t anyone think of…” It’s likely because a big idea was presented and a room full of people looking to please their boss, their client or someone else didn’t think through all the ways the campaign could be twisted around into something either unintentional or outright negative. That’s why every team needs a jerk to be the one can actually say (in a constructive way) “Here are the seven one-liners I just came up with based on that tagline without thinking about it very hard.” By having that conversation and allowing for this kind of viewpoint holes can be patched or at least responses can be planned for.

So keep them around. Embrace them. Let them be funny and realize that they serve quite a few purposes, many of which can make programs and campaigns that much better.