Negotiation and Deal Making

Negotiating and deal making takes place in many different situations and in many different aspects of life. For now, however, I would like to focus on negotiating and deal making within the entertainment industry. There are several techniques and methods that can be used in negotiating. The goal is to know how to use them effectively in those different types of situations and to come to the best mutual agreement possible. This cannot be stressed enough when it comes to entertainment, where cutthroat business is oftentimes heard of.

Rather than taking my word for this, I would like to share a short synopsis of an interview I had with a professional in the music industry. I had the opportunity to meet with Ben Gardner (CEO and founder of the other day and had an excellent, in-depth interview. is based in Orlando, FL and was generally established around 2003 as a volunteered and seasonal project. In 2008, Ben started to get more serious and pursue the business more heavily. During the interview, I only asked Ben a few questions, but he gave me an abundance of content on negotiating and deal making with venues, bands, and/or clients.
I first asked him to tell me how he went about negotiating and what techniques or methods he used.  Immediately, Ben told me he would run through the process of booking a venue and/or selling a service to a client. He brought up the importance of being prepared. Without being prepared and then going into a negotiation, you are mostly likely to fail. You do this by developing objective criteria that are legitimate and practical. For example, you cannot go to a sponsor and tell them you have a great event planned without having the venue yet. The sponsor is going to want to know where and when the event is, how much it is going to cost them, why they should sponsor the event, and what not. These are things a negotiator needs to bring to the table and be ready to deliver.

From there, Ben likes to ask questions to find out the underlying interests of the other party. By doing so, Ben is able to find merit in their reasoning to reach a mutual agreement. Determining each other’s interests makes for a better negotiation. One tactic that he does use is drafting tentative commitments that each party can agree upon. This is a more gradual process, but it allows for these tentative commitments to be changed within reasoning. It is important to have valid reasons that are relevant to the underlying interests of each party. Without reason, proposals seem positional and parties may become defensive.

This all goes along with good communication—being specific and clear on what your interests are and listening to what the other party’s interests are. For example, Ben mentions how different it is to talk with bands than it is to talk with industry professionals, or just amateurs and professionals in general. Understanding the character, values, and competence level of your negotiating party must be considered. If you are negotiating with an amateur, they may not know certain terminology or industry standards. More reasoning and objective criteria may be needed. If you were negotiating with a seasoned professional, you may not have to explain everything so much in detail. Either way, proposals should be specific and clear.

We all know that negotiations do not always go as well as we would like them to. We are humans and we have emotions. The important concept to keep in mind here is to separate the people from the problem. I asked Ben if he has had these encounters and how he dealt with them. He said that you have to keep your emotions under control. Things will go wrong and frustrations will come about, but it does not pay to get out of hand and start attacking the people involved. Focus on the problem at hand. An example scenario could be walking into a venue, realizing that their sound system is blown, and having to find one within 2 hours; the band members have not shown up yet; the crew members are running late; and everything else just seems to be going wrong. Ben says this type of scenario happens quite often, and yes, he does get upset and fast paced, but he keeps his emotions in check. Starting to blame others and attack them verbally will only make matters worse. Be soft on the people and hard on the problem. With separation, the problem at hand can be resolved more effectively, if not efficiently.

In light of all this, I asked Ben what his BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) would be. Basically, this would be asking, “What would happen if no agreement is reached?” In Ben’s case, and I am sure in many business situations, the BATNA would be to contact an attorney or go to litigation. However, the BATNA can be costly and more time consuming. And in essence, it may just end up not being worth the trouble. So, coming to a mutual agreement in the first place is more beneficial.

I want to thank Ben for his time and giving me his insight on negotiating practices. I personally admire the way he handles business and treats his clients, staff, and other industry professionals. He is versed well in negotiation and deal making, and brings credibility to how genuine businesses should be run. Keeping peace between parties is one of the main goals in negotiations. I hope that the techniques and methods that Ben has shared and were presented have helped any of you, as it has for me.

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