Patching Up Negotiations

Last year, procrastination got the best of me and by the time I got around to the annual pumpkin purchase on October 30th, the supermarkets were out of all but the most damaged pumpkins. I was left with no alternative than to deal with the local Pumpkin Patch Guy (a/k/a the Christmas Tree Lot Guy).

Some might say I was merely on the wrong side of supply and demand. But sitting on his throne of hay bales, Pumpkin Patch Guy went beyond aggressive deal making. He was ripping me off.

I should of walked away but it was late and the kids were tired. Feeling like a rube, I pulled out my wallet and gave him forty bucks for a couple of sad looking pumpkins plus another ten for the carving kit. This year, I got smart and didn’t go back. I planned ahead and procured my pumpkins at a substantial discount.

Like Pumpkin Patch Guy, a rep has a fiduciary duty to maximize value. But does that always result in doing what’s best for the client? Maybe so if it’s about short term value (it’s about the upfront money, stupid!).

But what about over the long term? Pumpkin Patch Guy lost me as a repeat customer by gouging me simply because he could.

Effective negotiation and deal making often require more than selling to the highest bidder. In many cases, the parties involved have to be able to work together over the long haul (e.g., SAG and the AMPTP).

Good will and occasional restraint by the stronger party can go a long way to salve the pain of accepting unpopular deal points by the weaker player. You’re not looking for a love fest here; merely a path towards building trust over subsequent negotiations.

Pumpkin Patch Guy might have earned my continued business if he’d thrown in the carving kit or a coupon for future discounts; something, anything to make me feel better about being gouged. SAG and the studios might have been able to change the discordant tone of their negotiations by simply finding more common ground through the exchange of ego nickels. Now, months after SAG sealed its deal with the studios, there continues to be profound polarization between the two camps and their supporters.

Does negotiating an arguably more fair deal really create momentum and good will for the next or does it betray weakness in your position? Does aggressive negotiation help, hinder or have no effect on the next deal? Whatever your approach, it pays to consider whose ox is ultimately getting gourd.

  • stevencorn

    You are assuming that Pumpkin Guy has a long term interest. I remember seeing a large sign at a local pumpkin patch/Christmas tree lot asking for investors in late September. This was visible from the freeway. If you feel that you business may be a one time shot, then why not gouge? Not everyone is looking at the long road. Many are looking at the short term gain and that's it. So, to put this comment in the proper context, when negotiating on the down side of supply and demand, it's critical to know if the other party has long term interests or not.

  • Well, Peter I still think it's hard to find common ground when one side is getting so superbly ripped off, re the SAG issue. Example set aside, I love the ideas you are discussing here in this post. I would really like to hear you go a bit further. This is not my usual “area”.

    I think it is an Achilles Heel for most creative folk. Very weak in this area. I would like if you write a post on this for actors. The new media is also the un-represented media…agents aren't negotiating there for actors as they always were in traditional media. Actors, and other creatives, usually need to learn 2 things: how to stick up for themselves, and paradoxically, how to be confident enough to be able to trust, and participate, in a real negotiation.

  • I think you're exactly right, Peter. With all due respect to Steven's comment, if anyone in our business is looking only at their short term interests, they are going to have a short career. This is excellent advice and perspective.

  • Steven,

    You're right. You absolutely need to know what the other party's goals are. There's nothing wrong with asking either. On this, many are quite forthcoming assuming they know the answer for themselves.

  • stevencorn

    I will be out of the office until November 30th.  If you have an urgent matter, please contact me on my cell phone.

    Steve

  • Anonymous

    I will be out of the office until November 30th.  If you have an urgent matter, please contact me on my cell phone.

    Steve

  • Steven,

    You're right. You absolutely need to know what the other party's goals are. There's nothing wrong with asking either. On this, many are quite forthcoming assuming they know the answer for themselves.