Monday, September 13, 2010

What the Biz Rep has Learned #9

In negotiations for a job or contract, if you're not willing to walk away*, then you're not going to get the best deal that's out there. ...

In other words, if you're not prepared to play a serious game of chicken, you'll end up with less than the optimum result.

But sometimes that's okay.

I've been doing the union rep thing for a while now, and there is no final answer in the art of negotiating. When the market winds are at your back, you can fool yourself into believing that you're a genius in getting top dollar for your services, when in fact everyone is doing well because the hiring party (usually one of our fine, friendly entertainment conglomerates) is desperate for a given skill-set and willing to wheel and deal for the one you possess.

The best example of this was the Golden Period of 1993 to 1996, when DreamWorks Animation, Disney Feature Animation, Warner Bros. Feature Animation, Fox Feature Animation (Phoenix) and Turner Feature Animation (remember Cats Don't Dance?) were all chasing Animation Artists With Production Experience at the same time. For 36 exciting months, demand way outstripped supply and wages shot skyward like bottle rockets.

Unsurprisingly, this didn't last. Hand-drawn animation slowly declined, many of the studios set up to compete with Disney closing their doors. What also didn't last late in the decade was the chronic under-supply of CG tech directors, modelers, and animators. Disney Feature Animation took a year-and-a-half to recruit the CG crew for Dinosaur. Now it would take a couple of months. (Sooner or later, equilibrium is reached as eager new candidates stampede into the marketplace. Google "Adam Smith" for further details.)

In the jobs market of 2010, artists and technicians are wading against the current. Many job categories are not in the short supply of a decade or fifteen years ago. For traditional animators who are strangers to Maya, there is scarcely a market at all. The Recession and a high unemployment rate hangs over everyone like the Grim Reaper, making it more challenging to play hardball.

But even in tough times, the basics remain the same. You'll be able to level the playing field a bit if you:

1) Know what your bottom line is.

2) Know what the market rates are.

3) Have an inkling how badly they want and need you.

4) Have other job options in hand.

5) Know before you start what constitutes "unacceptable."

Face it. Sometimes you can't walk away from a mediocre offer because it's the only offer in town, and you can't risk blowing the gig. But understand that reality, accept it, and work to be in a stronger position the next time. (The only constant in the world is change.)

* Unions and guilds often have a harder time "walking away" than individuals. Strikes can be politically difficult, negotiations by other labor organizations have already set a pattern, and there is the ever-present issue of how much leverage one union has against a pack of multi-national conglomerates.


Anonymous said...

Great post Steve!

Adam Smith said...

" Google "Adam Smith" for further details.)"

Wow, I didn't know Union Reps heard of me! Figured Karl Marx was more your reading material.

Karl Marx said...

How soon they forget.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, that's the Pinko Steve that we've all come to love!

studiovet said...

Thanks for the post. It's true you have to be willing to walk away. And I've done it a few times - it's amazing how suddenly a studio that didn't want to give me a raise or a promotion was willing to do so when I said I was considering offers from other companies. (and I really was, by the way). Studios will call your bluff if you don't have other offers on the way - they have their ways of finding out what's really going on.

The important thing is, whether you stay or go, DON'T BURN BRIDGES!!! Other people move around too. Case in point: I was offered a job at a place, but didn't take it. A few weeks later, one of my interviewers started work at the studio that I'd decided to stay at. It can work the other way too - you leave, and then someone you didn't care for jumps over to your new studio. So my advice is, play nice.

But don't be afraid to leave if that's what you need to do to advance your career. Just make sure you have a job before you leave your current job!

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