One of my first orders of business in 2014 was rewarding a most substantial contract to a new supplier of ours at Just For Laughs. While I would love to name names as both were incredibly worthy and inspiring companies, I won't...for reasons that will become obvious as you read on.
Both companies were established in their space, albeit one slightly more than the other. In pitching, the more established one focused on its size and credibility; the one that was slightly less so made up for it with a scrappy, aggressive, street-fighter attitude. That company pulled out all stops -- sent me countless targeted propositions, offered to fly here to meet at a moment's notice or fly me there to do the same, sent gifts and promises of performance and what have you.
This played well into one of my immutable business adages, namely "Give me the heart and the head will follow" (particularly useful in making ultimate recruiting decisions), and more importantly in this case, its close relative "Given the choice between two candidates, I'll take the hungrier one," i.e. the one who shows they want it most.
So in the end, a cut-and-dry-decision, no?
In the end, I went with the "established" company over the "hungry" one.
Because I had a (pardon the pun) gut feeling that they were hungry for something other than what I was serving (sort of like walking into a Chinese restaurant with a craving for deep-dish Chicago-style pizza).
Simplistic? Perhaps. But what I realized is that for a business relationship to truly bear fruit (ooops...okay, that's the last of the cheap culinary analogies), it's not enough to merely be "hungry," the ravenous eater and the feeder have to be in sync.
The feeling reminded me of an experience I had with a Just For Laughs deal we signed many moons ago with the late Brandon Tartikoff. Brandon was an undeniable TV legend kicking off an independent production company called New World Entertainment following stints running NBC Television and Paramount Studios.
Our Hollywood-based agency at the time was shopping us around as an ideal entity for a "first-look deal," in layman's terms, we would offer a production company a preview glance at all the talent coming to the festival, which allowed them to sign up said talent for sitcoms and other projects prior to them being rolled out en masse in front of the gathered competition at our event.
Throughout the negotiation process, Brandon was charming, an exquisite salesman, and deftly exploited his reputation, his radiant aura and profound comedy experience, which included launching NBC's "Must See TV" Thursday nights, a line-up that included the first run of a little sitcom called Seinfeld.
In the end, he showed himself to be way hungrier than most other mega-companies we met (Warner Brothers TV, Fox Studios, etc.), and that was the main criteria that saw us sign with him. Not that anything went horribly wrong in our two years together, but nothing went incredibly right either. We made a few bucks with his up-front payment, signed a few acts to deals that went nowhere...and ultimately learned that what Tartikoff and New World were truly hungry for was the "launch press release," in other words, a major deal that established them as a player from the get-go.
So back to my most recent experience playing the "Hunger Games." Although I loved the scrappy entity and its never-say-die representatives, I harboured this sneaking suspicion that the deal they were seeking was ultimately more about them and moving their needle than about us as a company or an ongoing relationship. It was sort of like marrying for money instead of love; you know it will probably pay off, but in a way that benefits one party way more than the other.
How this deal plays out remains to be seen; we haven't even taken our baby steps yet. But no matter what, this deal has resulted in this week's learning, namely:
Hunger alone is not enough.
A real relationship requires you to be ravenous for what I have on the menu, and what I put on my table.
If not, in the end, we may both be eating crow.