The Danger of “I’ve Done This Before”

Jeff Cochran


Sometimes through the course of a career we prepare for something so many times that it becomes second-nature.  We feel that we can begin to relax because we have such a great understanding of what we’re doing and what’s going to happen.  Our chairman, Ron Shapiro, likes to tell a story that reminds us to be careful when uttering the phrase, “I’ve done this before.”

The following is an excerpt from the book Dare to Prepare by Ron Shapiro.

The wisdom gained from hard experience has taught me not to say, “I’ve done this before.”  Indeed, one of the toughest lessons for me was the time I lost the opportunity for my sports firm to represent the great slugger Mark Teixeira.

Baseballs abiding sentimentality makes a hometown star one of the delights of the game.  The occurrence is rare:  Cal Ripkin, Jr., who grew up near Baltimore; Joe Mauer, a Minnesota boy; the return of Roger Clemens, a legend from his days at the University of Texas, to play for the Houston Astros.  So when Mark was slugging his way through high school baseball in my hometown of Baltimore, I felt very confident that my sports firm would end up representing him.

Mark was known to be a big Orioles fan; he came from a strong and famously grounded family; and we had even met on one occasion.  What’s more, his baseball coach was a friend of a former client, the Hall of Famer and Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson.

So, subconsciously, I did not prepare for my meeting with Mark and his family as methodically or even as vigorously as I usually do.  I said to myself, everyone is telling me this is destiny.  A local kid and a good family meet a local sports firm known for a high standard of values and relationships in a morally problematic business.  I said to myself, I’ve done this before.

What had I done before?  At my sports firm, we target clients just like Mark.  We have represented Brooks Robinson, Cal Jr., Kirby Puckett, and later Joe Mauer.  We are small and want to stay small, and we strive to find clients who want life coaches as much as contract negotiators.

I generally prepare for meeting this sort of client and his parents by proceeding through my preparation principles.  In particular, I focus on four of the principles: objectives, precedents, alternatives, and interests.  I set our objectives of making clear our desire to engage in a long-term relationship, collaborate with the client in building a solid personal brand, and earn a competitive fee.  I look thoroughly at precedents—the scripts and notes from previous presentations.  And I prepare to cite some of these precedents in the meeting with the potential clients.  I look at alternative ways to structure the potential client’s goals prior to the Major League Baseball draft and discuss this at the presentation.  And I try to determine clearly the interests of the client: How important is money to him?  What kind of organization would fit his personality?  How important are family and friends and relationships in general?  What other agents is he considering?

I did very little of this as we prepared to present our firm to Mark Teixeira.  I said, I’ve done this before, and my track record speaks for itself.  Guess who got to represent Mark?  Scott Boras.  Yes, the guy who got Alex Rodriguez the contract the size of the GDP of some small nations.  The guy loved by players seeking fortunes and feared by ownership and management for his winning track record.

Scott came on my turf and beat me at my own game.  I no longer was confidently saying, I’ve done this before.  I was struggling to answer to myself as I asked over and over, What have I done?

I walked into the meeting coasting on my career and my reputation as a good guy in Baltimore.  I did not have a deep understanding of the family’s financial objectives or Mark’s professional and educational goals.  I did not probe them with questions about what they looked for in an organization.  I did not present a thorough negotiating plan.  I did not prepare methodically.


The Little Smile Technique

Jeff Cochran


The Chairman of Shapiro Negotiations, Ron Shapiro, shared the story of how his little leaguer son used an unconventional technique that turned out to be a secret weapon.

“When my son, David, was a pitcher for his Little League team, he would concentrate so hard on throwing strikes that he’s get very tense, and instead of pitching better, he’d begin to lose control and start to throw wild pitches. The more tense he got, the less he found the strike zone. After a game or two with too many hits and run for the opposing team (which is saying a lot in always high-scoring Little League), I thought maybe I should try to help. Instead of giving David technical advice like “Change your stance to the catcher or shorten your windup,” I told him to remind himself to smile when he was on the mound. Baseball is supposed to be fun. Sometimes you forget that and get caught up in the pressure and have to remind yourself. I told him that I’d help remind him. After that, game after game, I’d stand at the sidelines, and to the amusement of other parents, I’d cheer him on with “Smile it up, David. Smile it up,” until I’d finally see a smile creep across his face. And right after the smile came the strikes.”

Sometimes a smile is the best medicine for stress. If it can work for a little leaguer it can work for you. If the next time you find yourself dealing with a difficult negotiator and the encounter is getting heated, stop, take a breath, and smile.


Learning and Adjusting to Mistakes in Hollywood

Jeff Cochran


Steve Mosko has a significant amount of power in Hollywood.  He is the president of Sony Pictures Television and negotiated the largest syndication of a program in television history—the multimillion-dollar, record setting Seinfeld deal.  Steve can control a room as soon as he walks in and seems completely at ease doing it.  Interestingly, some of his confidence can be traced back to the mistakes that he made.  Steve learned from those mistakes and used them as precedents to help him prepare better in the future.

The following is an excerpt from the book “Dare to Prepare” by Ron Shapiro and Gregory Jordan.  It shows that even one of the most powerful people in Hollywood can learn from mistakes to better prepare in the future.

Steve became a Hollywood executive at a very young age.  He especially impressed me with the way he realized that he still had a lot to learn even as his career took off.  That openness to making adjustments and learning from mistakes has contributed significantly to Steve’s progression and general competence.  Two of his mistakes, one simple and one significant, demonstrate Steve’s use of errors as opportunities to adjust his preparation.

The simple mistake is one anyone could make.

“In the early stages of the “Seinfeld” negotiations around the country, I made a simple but critical mistake,” Steve said.  “We were sending out our salespeople with an enormous amount of material for the presentations.  Binders, videos, PowerPoint, materials.  One day one of our guys checked it all in at the airport and the stuff never arrived in time for this presentation.  This is a multimillion-dollar deal and we almost blew it.  But we adjusted quickly.  We perfected a system of FedExing and verifying arrival.  We learned to package everything perfectly so that the materials would not be damaged.  We even negotiated a good deal with FedEx.  We sold “Seinfeld” in 213 markets and were negotiating with four to five stations in each market.  We quickly learned that organization would alleviate the anxiety of our salespeople.  That adjustment contributed in a mundane but significant way to our success.”

Steve made the significant mistake in the late 1990s when Sony developed a new program that was billed as the way to attract the growing young urban audience in the late-night slot.  A void for that audience had been created when Arsenio Hall ended his show.  Steve had a dream partner in the legendary music producer Quincy Jones and his trendsetting magazine, “Vibe”.  The combination of Quincy and Sony created great enthusiasm nationwide among local television stations’ decision makers.  They had the entertainer Sinbad as the host.  But after the program’s strong initial sales, the bottom fell out.  Why?

“We made a huge mistake,” Steve said.  “Rather than have one producer running the show we ran it by committee.  Everything from picking the host to designing the set, from deciding where we would shoot to setting a format, was made by group decision.  Everyone was being so respectful to each other.  We never had  a strong point of view or someone leading the charge.  We picked a young host who wasn’t the greatest choice.  Without a single clear vision, what could have been a major success got bogged down.  An amazing idea got all fouled up.  The program was off the air in a year.”

Steve, who was executive vice president of sales at the time, got a valuable lesson in programming that he continues to apply as president of Sony Pictures Television today.

“You can only have one head coach per program,” Steve said.  “There has to be one person calling the shots and being held accountable.  That is the only way I pursue programming ideas now.  You can take ideas from many sources, but one executive producer has to make the decision.”

Mundane or monumental, lessons like these can make the difference between someone who can adapt to situations or is overwhelmed by them.


Butler Conference 2012

Jeff Cochran


Three years ago, SNI Chairman, Ron Shapiro, founded an annual Business Conference, the Butler Conference of Leaders.  The Conference brings together business and non-profit leaders from across the Nation to address, among other things, economic, political, philanthropic and social issues. The Conference is held at Ron’s Farm in Butler, Maryland. Speakers have included names such as: Freeman Hrabowski , President of UMBC and one of Time Magazine’s 2012 “100 Most Influential People in the World”;  Brian Rogers, Chairman and CIO of T Rowe Price Group; Steve Mosko, President of Sony Pictures Television;   Bill Miller of Legg Mason Capital Management; Kevin Plank, Founder and CEO of Under Armour; , Mario Gabelli, a member of Barron’s All-Century Team; and Bob Costas, NBC Broadcaster. We were able to sit down with our colleague, Kim Talbott, the Butler Conference Director, and ask her a few questions about the Conference

The first three Butler Conferences have been huge successes. Can you talk a little bit about your role as the Conference Director?

The planning for the next year usually starts the week following the Butler Conference, so there’s not much downtime.  I’m part of the planning committee, which consists of Ron Shapiro, George Mister, Terry Randall, and Michael Maas.  We create a timeline that outlines the tasks that need to be completed month by month.  This leaves me with a lot of different responsibilities, some of which include researching  and brainstorming potential speakers,  collaborating on the scope of their presentations, developing the budget, coordinating travel and other logistics for speakers, , and lining up  vendors.

What inspired Ron to start the Butler Conference?

He said that it’s always been a dream of his to gather the brightest minds in one place.

What is the theme of the Conference this year and who is the keynote speaker?

We don’t really have a “theme” at any of the Conferences.  We try to cover a broad scope of topics each year.  That being said, the current state of the Economy usually impacts the focus of our Investment Panel – the staple of the Conference.  Our title this year is  “Confronting Challenge, Leading Change: Education, Journalism, Medicine, College Sports,  the Market and More.”

Freeman A. Hrabowski III is our keynote speaker this year and we couldn’t be more excited.  He is President of UMBC, one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, and one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever have the pleasure of meeting.

Can you tell us a little bit about the panels for this year’s Conference?

We have four panels in the Program this year. One panel will discuss the future of journalism.  Another will be a medical panel to speak about Alzheimer’s, stroke, and cancer.  The third panel will discuss the landscape of collegiate sports and the shortcomings/hypocracy of the current system.  The last panel will be focused on investments, which is a yearly fixture.  Each of their panels has the brightest minds in their respective industries.

Are there any new speakers this year that you are excited about?

I’m really excited about the medical panel.  It’s something different than anything we’ve done before.  I think the audience will appreciate the knowledge these doctors have and the insightful discussion they are going to lead.

What has been your most memorable moment from the first three Butler Conferences?

This is a tough question, too.  It’s hard for me to pick just one, but I guess it would have to be when Bob Costas did an impression of Howard Cosell.  He’s quite the character.