2020 HR Report: 3 agents share their negotiating tips

A talent, a sports and a literary agent walk into a bar...

Some teachings from those in the know

Trying to hammer out that contract with a prospective employer? A talent, a sports and a literary agent dish on tricks of the trade.

The Agents

Cliff Mander – founder and CEO, CKM Sports Management, Vancouver

David Whitmey founder, Moving Pictures Talent & Entertainment Group, White Rock
Launched: 2011
Employees: None
Clients: About 70

Robert Mackwood – founder and president, Seventh Avenue Literary Agency, White Rock
Launched: 2005
Employees: Two
Clients: 40 to 50

How do you approach contract negotiations?

CM: “I kind of relate it to water. If you put something in front of water, it goes around it, it finds a way to get to the other side. That’s how I look at negotiation in the sense that as an agent for my client, we have goals and what we want on our end, and on the other side of that, they have their goals.”

DW: “It’s a matter of going out and doing your own research. I’ve bought a bunch of books on the subject and had conversations with colleagues, people in my position. But you need to do your research, because every industry—and every
territory—has its own set of rules. One industry might be more aggressive, more forgiving than another. So you need to know what your battleground is as well.” 

RM: “Understand as best you can the needs of both parties. And understand specifically your client and their needs and what they’re trying to achieve. You have to know where [your negotiating partner] has some room to move, what’s most important to them and which areas aren’t as relevant.”

What’s your biggest tip?

CM: “Understand a client’s skill set, whether that’s a hockey player or a lawyer. You have to know the skill set and their specialties and find some ways to leverage those.”

DW: “Practise negotiating all the time, whether that be buying or selling a piece of furniture on Facebook Marketplace or whatever. It may seem silly and uncomfortable, depending on what you’re negotiating. But just try it. In doing so, you gain an advantage on a lot of people who have no experience or ability to negotiate.”

RM: “I tend to not react to any offer immediately. I tend to think about it, contact my client, deliver the offer to them and then tell them the pros and cons, so they have time to think about it and know where the offer sits in terms of the spectrum of publishing offers.”

What’s a lesson from your industry that others can apply to their own?

CM: “During a negotiation, we’ll touch on a player’s skill set in very specific ways to differentiate them from other players the team is negotiating with at the same time who would be Plan B and C if our deal doesn’t go through. And again, really understanding the leverage you have in a player’s ability or a person’s ability is paramount.”

DW: “I’ve noticed that in my negotiations, sometimes the standard offer and counter-offer, back and forth a few times, is reasonable. Whereas in another sector of the industry, I’ve had people push back and say, Hey, moving forward, can you let us know ahead of time what your client’s quote is going to be before we get into this offer situation? Which to me is ridiculous. Everyone knows never be the person to say the number first.”

RM: “Patience. It’s rare that something lands in my inbox, I love it, send it to a publisher and they say, We love it; here’s the offer. Because publishing is done by committee, they need to contact their people before they decide it’s a project of interest. From my point of view, I want to see more, read more, see other stuff from the clients before I offer them representation. Generally speaking, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”