When Being a Good Partner Isn't So Great

If you really want to collaborate on something great, here's a blueprint

Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Kelly Bayett and I am an excellent partner. Most of the time.

A common theme that comes up in bidding for work now is the request to be a great partner. I am seeing it across the board, in both the sound and production company. But what does it mean to be a good partner? 

In my experience, being a good partner means the following:

  • Accepting that the job is underfunded
  • Investing in the project
  • Understanding there is not enough time to complete the ask, but making it work with OT and weekends at your own expense. 

Once you agree to be a good partner, you may not draw any boundaries. Throw away everything you learned in Al-Anon, because having boundaries means that you are now a bad partner. Even if you have drawn the boundaries at the start of the project, enforcing those boundaries will make you a partner that "puts everyone in a bad position."

Partnership does not mean that it is mutual. If you think that by being a good partner, you are getting some creative control, think again. Being a good partner means that you will do what is asked of you. Push your agenda or opinions, and you are no longer a good partner. 

Here is an example on the post side. Recently, we were brought one of those big jobs for a billion-dollar company that had no money left for mix or sound design. They wanted two days of mix for the price of less than one day. We wanted to be good partners so we agreed. When we were given the eight spots to sound design in two days, we explained it just wasn't possible and we would need a week to do the extensive sound design and mix. "But we were looking for good partners, and we thought that would be you. This is a disappointment." Keep in mind, we had already agreed to a 67 percent reduction in costs, but that was not good enough. They left with a sour taste, because they wanted more than we committed to, and by drawing that boundary, we had taken advantage of them. 

An example on the production side would look like this. A job comes in that is filled with celebrities for another billion-dollar company. We are told the opportunity for our director would be incredible. We are also told that the client and their cost consultants expect us to be excellent partners and so they will anticipate our markup to be cut in half and to lower the director's fees. As we get into bidding, we are also made aware that a full week of prep on an already compressed job will be cut. Any inability to meet all of these requirements will keep us out of the job, due to the fact that we are not a good partner. As you can imagine, I was a terrible partner on this one. 

I have a theory that in our rush to get things done, to please clients and keep jobs, the humanity has been lost and an irritation attached to entitlement has taken over. By throwing out the word "partner," it makes you more invested and accountable. But what do we have at the end of the day? We partner up, but we are not financially invested in the outcome, as we have no actual ownership in anything. We don't get product, and we are typically prohibited from putting the project on our reel or doing any PR. The word partnership has been turned into tool for manipulation. 

Even on the corporate level, I read that Starbucks calls their employees partners, "because they are partners in our shared success." But are they? Is their portion of shared success 30 percent off food and drink and a pound of coffee a month? It's modern-day gaslighting. Fool people into making them feel ownership in something that does not serve them. No, thanks. Pass.

If you want to actually partner, it's pretty easy. I made it even easier with bullet points.

  • Be open and honest about your expectations. 
  • Accept that not everything may be possible in the way you want, but if we can all stay open and be creative, it will be done and might be even better than you thought.
  • Be clear and transparent in your communication. If anything changes, be it schedule, deliverables, anything, let your partner know right away so they can figure out a solution. Partnership jobs are a challenge for any company and you are constantly trying to balance against other well-funded projects. 
  • Patience is key. Sometimes we have to investigate the proper solutions and we can't always agree immediately, but we can all agree to do the best we can. 
  • Respect your partners and respect the process. Don't make assumptions about how things are done. Ask them the best way, and trust their experience. 
  • Appreciate your partners. Say thank you. Listen to their opinions. You have chosen them for a reason, and hopefully it's not just because they are the only suckers who will do it. 
  • Not every job is a partnership. Sometimes, you just need a favor. It's OK and even appreciated to call it that. 
  • Pay it back. Always.

There are times where we absolutely want to partner and invest. The creative level is high, the opportunity is great and the appreciation is mutual. The goal is to make great work and have fun in spite of facing new obstacles every day and battling them with creative responses. A true partnership is one of the most rewarding and wonderful experiences. I hope that everyone who utters that word from here on out experiences that version of partnership, to see how beautiful it truly can be.

Kelly Bayett
Kelly Bayett is co-founder and creative director of award-winning sound studio Barking Owl and managing partner of newly launched production company Love Song.

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