The cable media industry runs on endless negotiation. From signing retransmission consent deals to inserting new technology points into current agreements to making deals with new clients or renegotiating deals with old clients (and even haggling over that contentious expense account item), everything in our business is conducted through collective bargaining. 
As you reflect on 2011 and prepare for 2012, take a moment to consider some of this year’s key negotiations:
  • DirecTV was set to negotiate 80 retransmission consent deals in 2011. 
  • Google’s acquisition of Motorola.
  • ESPN reached a $500 million, 14-year agreement with the NCAA, which gave the network expanded multimedia rights to 24 college championship games.
Etc., etc., etc.
As contracts are drafted, amendments to agreements are approved, new clients are secured and deals are closed with vigor, cable execs are driven to hone their negotiation prowess. The march of time pushes cable companies to the frontier of innovation, prompting them to form new alliances to stay ahead of their competition. Today’s deals are sketched out on napkins, proposed in text messages and developed through Facebook exchanges or instant messages. We now live in the age of the fastest changes in recorded history, so it is critical to close deals quickly, before the opportunities disappear.
Here are some strategies for remaining ahead in a negotiation:
  1. Determine the goal: Identify what you want, your preferred outcome and acceptable and unacceptable options. Remember, knowledge is power.
  2. Profile your audience. Know everything you can about those with whom you are negotiating, particularly their behaviors and values. If you negotiate to cater to behaviors and values, not just to company agendas, you will reap far greater rewards. In order to know the company thoroughly, find out: What recent deals did it make? What is important to it? What are its growth goals?
  3. Analyze positions and interests: Most of the time we negotiate from positions rather than interests. Positions = what you want and what you think you want. Interests = what the other party’s expectations, fears or issues are.
  4. Find the pain: If you find what is causing the other party the most pain you will have the insight you need to know how to ask for what you want, e.g. subscribership, growth, page clicks, purchasing, etc.
  5. Know what’s changeable and what’s not: Focus on the issues that can be changed during the negotiation and avoid those that cannot.
  6. Have a Plan B: A Plan B is your backup plan that you can turn to in case you fail to get what you really want. What if Comcast won’t pay you the subscriber fee you want? What if one of your major talents walked away from a key show in your line-up (remember the legacy of Conan O’Brien)? If you walk away from a deal point, what are you walking toward?
  7. Build relationships: People do business with individuals they like, trust and respect. Be that kind of person!
  8. Make a personal acknowledgment when you begin: It will establish rapport and generosity.
  9. Explore the other party’s wants and offers.
  10. Lead with inquiry: It will enable you to gather all the facts and have a better understanding of your negotiation partner. You will then be able to make decisions that will move the negotiations forward.
  11. Listen more than you speak. Make sure you really understand what the other person thinks and feels.
  12. Encourage dialogue.
  13. Demonstrate empathy: If you want a collaborative negotiation, being empathetic is one way to make that happen.
  14. Take emotions out of the negotiation: Keep an objective perspective so that you can remain calm. Being emotional won’t lead to approval.
  15. Be mindful of concessions: Never take your first offer or give in too early.
  16. Negotiate with the decision maker: If you want to reach an agreement, make sure you talk to the person who has the power to make things happen.
  17. Give yourself permission to take a break: Negotiations can be exhausting, so don’t be afraid to momentarily step away if you feel you need a fresh perspective.
As you begin preparing for 2012 negotiations, reflect back on some of the best deals made in 2011. What was the process? What parties were involved? And how did they reach their agreement? Some of the best negotiation mentoring can be gained from studying our own industry. With the right approach, you could ink the next company acquisition or $500 million deal. Happy 2012! 

(Esther Weinberg is a leadership expert and a cable veteran with a 20-year track record in the industry. She currently creates breakthrough strategies for such companies as ESPN, Microsoft, Scripps Networks, NBCUniversal Cable, Turner Broadcasting Systems, Inc., Motorola, Headline News Network and MTV Networks, among others. She is the contributing author to the leadership book “Breaking Through” by acclaimed author Barbara Stanny. Esther is a Board Member of NAMIC-Southern California and a mentor for WICT Southern California. Sign up for her free leadership newsletter at 

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