Collegiality vs. Competition: Why I Prefer Alliances to Hoses

January 8, 2009 •

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.

Feel free to comment...
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Angie Haggstrom wrote on January 8th, 2009

Well done Carson. You bring up several very valid points. I'm with you on the giving back to others. I enjoy nothing more than watching someone else get the opportunity they need to flourish. I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am today if others hadn't done the same. I don't understand the idea of 'hating competitors' particularly when it comes to writing. (Not that I'm much of a hater in general.) For me, networking/collaborating with other writers makes working from home feel less lonely. Besides, who else understands the trials, tribulations, and achievements better than those from the same field. In fact, my online friends are the only ones who take an interest in this subject. Some people are better at certain tasks than I am. It's just fact. They not only put out a higher quality product, but are faster at it. While it isn't always the easiest thing to admit, it makes life a whole lot easier. As an added benefit, I learn far more from other writers than I do from any other source. Even if it's a subject I know well, everyone has different views and methods. I enjoy the job more, my clients benefit, and everyone wins. "I love my computer because that's where my friends live" :)

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Glenn (Owner) wrote on January 8th, 2009

LOL: "I love my computer because that’s where my friends live." It's a bit like that, isn't it?! Thanks for your comment Angie! Good to know Carson and I aren't alone in this!

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Kimberlee Ferrell wrote on January 8th, 2009

One time, I was discussing this quote in a group. (I don't remember if it was a business meeting or what.) Someone quipped that perhaps it was an air hose, to save the person's life. I hope it was. We don't need that kind of mentality, especially when times are tough. We need to support each other, and help each other succeed. We each have different talents and abilities that make us great. There is room for each of us to shine in the world. Kimberlee

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Guest Post at Divine Write | Big Red Notebook wrote on January 8th, 2009

[...] can read “Collegiality vs. Competition:  Why I Prefer Alliances to Hoses” at the Divine Write [...]

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Courtney Ramirez wrote on January 10th, 2009

My first thought was an air hose too! You bring up several good points, especially "the going gets tough." No one in my offline life can understand the difficulties of dealing with a wishy washy client or the pressures of meeting deadlines AND researching new leads all at the same time. Other writers are a good source of commiseration, as well as place to find writing support when needed.

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How To Succeed As A Freelance Writer By Learning How To Fail | Freelance Writing 101.html wrote on January 12th, 2009

[...] dear friend Glenn of Divine Write hosted a brilliant guest post by Carson Brackney entitled ‘Collegiality vs Competition: Why I Prefer Alliances to Hoses.‘ This explored that reason brilliantly. Learn from your competition and connect. You may find [...]

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Jason wrote on March 26th, 2009

It certainly wasn't an airhose. If you study Ray Kroc and read his book, you will see that. The quote above is actually not the correct quote. The real quote was "If my competition was drowning, if would stick a hose in their mouth and turn on the faucet". Perhaps that sort of competition doesn't lend itself to your business, but in many others it does. Simply put, you can't argue with Ray Kroc's success. If you think that the majority of the world isn't like that, then you are kidding yourself.

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Guest Post: What in the Hell am I Doing Here? wrote on May 24th, 2010

[...] with people in your industry. Sure, on some level we’re all competing with one another. However, developing collegial relationships and supporting one another is a good thing. We can compete for work and reach out to help or inform [...]

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