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TelevisionWeek's new blog by World Poker Tour boss Steven Lipscomb marks this publication's second blog by a member of the television industry. As the founder of WPT, Steve often is credited with starting the televised poker boom. He's also known to say a controversial thing or two.

Just as Rich Goldfarb, senior VP of sales for National Geographic Channel, offered candid insight into the upfront advertising selling period, Steve plans to pull no punches in discussing the people, practices and pitfalls of the television business.

And remember: TVWeek.com encourages you to respond to what you read here. So feel free to post comments on Steve's blog.

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The Art of the Deal

August 3, 2006 8:29 PM

We read a book in negotiations class in law school called “Getting to Yes” (by Roger Fisher and William Ury). It was a reason-based approach to negotiation and deal making. In the place of posturing, highballing or low-balling, we were encouraged to substitute reason. Instead of inflating an offer with the intent of haggling back to a reasonable deal, we were taught to make a reasonable offer in the first instance – and to back that offer with sound reasoning.

Now, all this talk of “reason” works in a reasonable world. And, sometimes the deal-making world can be reasonable. In fact, I have managed to make a lot of deals using this approach.

But, time and again, I still find myself up against (or sometimes on the same side as) old-school attorneys, agents or business affairs execs who think the world is their haggle zone – and take great pride in the fact that they can squeeze a little better deal out of the other side (by yelling, stomping, threatening or whatever).

But, how short-sighted is that?

We live and work in an industry that is all about repeat business. If a producer produces a hit for you – but has such a bad taste in her mouth after the deal-making process that she never wants to work with your network again – what a grave loss that is. And, if network execs would just as soon jab a fork in their legs as negotiate another deal with the attorney representing a producer ... that just can’t be good for business.

Two solid years after I tried to negotiate a triangulated deal between our company and two networks, a high powered executive from one of those networks still is so pissed off at the way the other network behaved in those negotiations that he literally goes out of his way to hurt the business prospects of the other network every chance he gets. What a price to pay ....

Deal-making karma always manages to find its owner ...

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Comments (4)

David Apostolico:

As a corporate attorney, I couldn't agree more with this post. To best further the client's interest, the goal should be to not just get the best deal but, more importantly, to get a deal done. If the parties are going to have an ongoing relationship, the best deal has to be one that each party feels good about or the relationship is going to go sour and no one wins. Attorneys who fail to recognize this are not helping their clients. It's amazing how many times I see an attorney continue to fight a point even after he's already won it thinking he's impressing his client. All he is doing is creating ill will and hurting his stance for future negotiations. If you're looking for an arena where your sole goal is to beat your opponent through all cunning and deceptive means (short of cheating or angle shooting, of course), then try poker. I find it a great outlet to satisfy my competitive desires. Then I can check my ego aside when negotiating on behalf of clients and do what's best for them.

Steve Lipscomb:

Any examples you can give (without being too specific to out the parties involved)?

Our company has basically stopped using outside counsel to negotiate until or unless particular expertise is required. Our inhouse counsel understands not just the law, but our business -- and we find it easier to make deals.

Steve

David Apostolico:

I think working in-house offers a different perspective and the in-house attorney not only understands the business better but takes a proprietary interest in the business. This makes for a clearer strategy and a united goal. Before I moved in-house and when I was in private practice I saw a lot of posturing by attorneys that did not further their client's interest at all. I started my career working for a Wall Street Law firm and I learned a great deal from one of the M&A attorneys who mentored me. He could be extremely tough in negotiating but he always strived to make the other side feel good about the deal and would never beat someone over the head with a point. He was amazing to watch and attorneys on the other side would often be loud and obnoxious and full of bluster thinking that they were impressing their client. The ironic thing was that about 75% of the time after the deal was over, the business people from the other side would approach my mentor about having him represent them in the future. Astute clients can see through the transparency.

To offer a real example from a personal experience. Once I was negotiating a deal and two attorneys (one on my side and one on the other) got into an argument about whether a provision we included in an acqusition agreement was "standard." I had to quiet my attorney down and I explained to the other side that while they had a valid point, there was actually a compelling business reason for both sides to include this provision. The business people for the other side quickly agreed and we were ready to move on (or so I thought). The other attorney on my side couldn't let it go and started an argument all over again as to why this was a standard provision (a completely irrelevent argument now that they had conceded the point). This only served to fire up the other attorney again and I had to quickly quiet my guy down again.

Steve Lipscomb:

I think it comes from being in the trenches. When you're battling every day, you can mistakenly come to believe that it is about winning the hand battles as opposed to winning the war. No doubt, working in-house helps.

Steve

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