Partnership in a Connected Media World: Four Core Values

Competition isn't what it used to be. The Darwinian/Randian world of go-it-alone doesn't cut it anymore. In our interconnected, hyper-networked, flatter-every-day world, we're all members of the same global media ecosystem, and if you can't play with others, you'll soon be out of the game.

Sure we're all connected via the information super-highway, but we're also connected to each other, and that means the age of zero-sum play is over. There are no winners or losers in this environment. Instead, the businesses and individuals that thrive are those that understand the power of a mutually productive partnership.

The Japanese are masters of this concept as demonstrated by their keiretsu relationships. A people confined and defined by their island geography, the Japanese have long been "connected" in a way that people and businesses operating in other developed economies haven't (until recently). In a keiretsu structure, companies that work together often take small stakes in each other, so that each player in the network is motivated to act in a way that benefits the others.   With 127 million people, the Japanese have had to learn to play and work together in order to stay together.



Even off the island, in our day and age, nobody can go it alone. The world is too small; anything you say, do, or tweet might just end up on the cover of the Times (isn't that right, Congressman Weiner?). In all of our negotiations and operations, we need to consider the interests of those with whom we work.

Look at Comcast, which now owns 51 percent of NBCUniversal. NBCU just bought back its theme parks from The Blackstone Group, which is an investor in Nielsen, which tracks ratings for NBC's networks. How's that for connectivity?

Even Apple, with its perennially walled garden, has been forced to partner in new ways. Just last week, the company revised its restrictive App Store rules to make them more flexible for its content publisher partners. And it's hard to believe that only 14 years ago it was Microsoft that rescued an Apple on the verge of bankruptcy and allowed Microsoft Office to run on Macs. In announcing that deal, Steve Jobs said: "If we want to move forward and see Apple happy and prospering, we have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose."

We count our data providers, advertisers, agencies, networks, stations and investors among our many strategic partners. All are crucial to and vested in our success, as we are in theirs. Time was, they'd have been our vendors and customers, but today we know that though we might be at the hub of a relationship, the wheel won't turn without the spokes. We also know that those spokes are inevitably connected to other wheels.

For these kinds of relationships to work, there are four core values to keep in mind when entering into a partnership:

·     Trust: When you pair with a partner, you need to be able to trust them to make the right decisions for you. Here I look to another Asian example.  In China, many initial business contracts are typically a single page, outlining a basic agreement that each party will trust the other. Trust is the fundamental operating principle at the core of every relationship, and the details are defined over time. In a world where every action has an immediate reaction, trust is critical.

·     Integrity:  At the end of the day, all you have is integrity. While you may eventually end up competing against a partner in some capacity, if you always act with integrity and transparency, disclosing potential conflicts of interest, all parties will be able to negotiate based on shared knowledge. 

·     Mutual respect:  Even when both partners act with trust and integrity, there will be instances in which your interests and those of your partner will not be precisely aligned. Keep in mind that your partners have their own stakeholders - employees, investors, other partners -- and that in a capitalist world, each player needs to act in his or her own enlightened self-interest.

·     Accountability: What happens when you run afoul of the above three rules? Man up, make amends, or watch as the court of public opinion, the ecosystem, or the legal system "help" you to find your way.

In fact, these values are the foundation of any successful relationship -- in business and elsewhere. But it's in our ever-shrinking world that they're becoming more important than ever. How has our increasingly connected ecosystem affected your business practices? What defines your approach to partnership?

3 comments about "Partnership in a Connected Media World: Four Core Values".
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  1. Rick Monihan from None, June 13, 2011 at 2:27 p.m.

    Great article. Seems unfair label Darwinian or Randian thought so simply, though. Neither is purely a "go it alone" philosophy Both are defined not only by the outcome of survival due to competition, but how well individual actors in an environment can cooperate with others to achieve the same result.

    In fact, in order for an individual to survive, it's frequently their ability to determine how much they can give up in exchange for survival that dictates the eventual outcome. Those incapable of making good decisions in that regard find themselves cut off not only from growth, but potentially survival itself.

    In a rather yin/yang view of this, it's impossible to have competition without cooperation - and vice versa.

  2. Mark Lieberman from TRA, June 16, 2011 at 11:47 a.m.

    While I did oversimplify and agree with your well-articulated Darwinian definition, at some point one has to decide whether success requires partnering with those whose needs diminish one's own resources and ultimate chances of survival, which is antithetical to the Randian philosophy.

  3. Rick Monihan from None, June 16, 2011 at 3:53 p.m.

    Randian philosophy, which I've spent a good deal of time studying, absolutely allows and often requires partnership.

    Rand's push for individualism wasn't that one acts alone always and everywhere. She believed that firm, decisive and world-changing activities were driven by individuals, but the power to do so was derived from partnerships. Typically, these partnerships were driven by the convincing nature of the individual (worth reading the argument of Phaedrus and the dialectical versus the rhetorical for some context).

    Rand is more individualistic, for sure. But she did not preclude or even exclude partnerships as a means of getting things done or moving forward.

    She simply felt that partnerships, particularly forcefully mandated ones, did not yield specific benefits.

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