Collegiality vs. Competition: Why I Prefer Alliances to Hoses
January 8, 2009 • Glenn Murray
By Carson Brackney, Big Red Notebook copywriting.
The late Ray Kroc of McDonalds fame sold a few hamburgers. He had serious business skills, even if they didn’t always translate into effective ownership of a major league baseball team.
Kroc had a strong opinion about competition, too. He put it like this:
If any of my competitors were drowning, I’d stick a hose in their mouth.
I’ve been known to suffer from the occasional Big Mac attack, but I’m no fan of Ray when it comes to that perspective, as evidenced by the fact that I’m writing this post for another copywriter’s blog. If I took the Kroc position, I wouldn’t be too keen on cooperating with Glenn like this.
Maybe Ray’s perspective is true in the cut-throat world of dollar menus and super-sized sodas, but I don’t think it’s a good way to run a copywriting shop. I believe that a mix of collegiality, respect and cooperation is the best way to build a business in this field.
I learned that lesson early. When I first started in this racket, I was interested in developing client-facing online resources as a means of attracting additional clients. I had no real desire to spend a great deal of time networking with other writers. I wasn’t against the idea of making a few friends within the field, it just wasn’t a priority.
As time passed, I began to realize just how valuable the relationships I accidentally developed really were. I began to make a point of connecting with “the competition”, something I’m still trying to do every day. Here’s why.
Other people are smart. As much as it pains me to admit it, I am not in possession of infinite wisdom. Sometimes, I just don’t have the answer I need. It’s nice to have connections with a wide range of experiences who can supply me with the occasional clue.
Audiences are good. Although I occasionally outsource elements of projects, Big Red Notebook is basically a solo act. I don’t have an office filled with people off of whom I can bounce ideas. Luckily, I do have an Internet filled with people who are ready to listen/read/opine when I need them.
Human nature is inescapable. There’s a social component to developing professional relationships with others in your field that, in my estimation, has some intrinsic value. We’re all social beings, like it or not.
The going can get tough. That’s when the tough get going. Sometimes, you’ll need a hand with a project. That’s when it’s nice to have the ability to cut a deal with your favorite specialist to get something done the right way, right away. If you’re doing the “I am an island” thing, you don’t have those opportunities.
It’s nice to give back. The whole connection thing runs both ways, remember. It’s a great way to grab value for yourself. It also provides a great outlet for giving value back to others. Even those who don’t buy into the karma model will find a little special joy in helping others. Even if they are part of “the competition”.
Money. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up with an opportunity because of the relationships I’ve made. I’ve had competitors refer people to me when they’re schedules were packed or when they knew that I was the right guy for a particular job. When you start making allies out of competitors, you start collecting referral business.
So, if you’re haunted by the ghost of Ray Kroc, consider listening to the wise words of Ben Graham instead. Ben never ran the Padres and I don’t think he ever sold french fries. He did, however, make a very interesting observation:
Competition creates better products, alliances create better companies.
There’s plenty of room for hardcore, no-holds-barred competition in any field. There’s also enough space for smart alliance building.