Advice from Hollywood on Negotiating with Your Negotiator

Negotiating can be challenging, especially when we are negotiating for things that really matter to us, such as the purchase of a house.  Not only do we lack expertise in this type of transaction, but we are often emotional and lack the objectivity needed to make good decisions.  That is why people use agents.  Agents have both experience and expertise, and can bring a dispassionate and objective perspective to the deal being considered.  A good agent knows not only how to do a deal, but when to be aggressive versus accommodating, when to walk away versus when to sign on the dotted line.

But what if your agent’s goals are not aligned well with your own?

For example, imagine that I am looking to buy a house and have engaged a real estate agent to help me.  In most situations, the real estate agent’s contract is structured so that he or she gets paid a commission that is a percentage of the purchase price when I buy a house.  But if I don’t buy anything, the agent gets nothing.  Thus, the agent has a strong incentive is to push me towards buying a house, any house – and, perversely, my own agent has an incentive for me to pay more money so that he or she gets a bigger commission!  Naturally, ethical agents will always strive to put their client’s interests first, but the tension between the agent’s incentives and the client’s incentives remains.

How do you negotiate with your agent, and manage these tensions?  Television producer, bestselling author, and award-winning playwright Chad Gervich has done a terrific job of tackling this question in the context of Hollywood in his new book, How to Manage Your Agent: a Writer’s Guide to Hollywood Representation.  Much more than a book on negotiating, Gervich takes the reader through the ins and outs of the business of Hollywood writing, explaining the intricacies of this idiosyncratic industry in clear and entertaining language.  I particularly enjoyed the many stories and real-life examples, taken from his extensive consultations with leading writers, directors, producers, agents, and negotiation and communication experts, including myself.

One piece of advice for managing a Hollywood agent, and other types of agents as well, is this: maintaining open communication is essential.  Both the client and the agent need to share their concerns and aspirations, and make disagreements discussable.  For example, an agent may be pushing hard on certain terms, confident that these securing these terms are worth risking the deal falling apart.  However, the client may not feel that way, preferring to accommodate the other side rather than risk the entire deal.  This is a classic situation where the agent and client need to talk openly about their perspectives in order to align and collaborate, making sure everyone’s needs are met.