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Studio and production company owners keep asking me how to deal with client underlings and their shrinking budgets. My short answer is:

The antidote to a poor client is a better one.

I shared this in my private Confab group last week and – as you might have guessed – they weren’t impressed. “Thanks, Joel. But how?”

Then today I remembered having dinner in NYC years ago with a top decision maker: Sarah Barnett, President and General Manager at Sundance Channel (today she is head over all of AMC’s entertainment networks).

The dinner was a special moment in time when like-minded leaders met to discuss the shifting media landscape, the future of content, and solutions to Sundance’s complex challenges (read: potential work for my studio!).

Looking back I now see that was the moment when I fostered a strong relationship and planted seeds which led to several big projects later that year… which weren’t even on my radar at the time.

But guess how that dinner actually came about?

At the time, my studio was working with several of Sarah’s underlings – that was good – but I sensed there were juicier problems higher up the food chain – that were even better.

So I put myself out there: I invited Sarah to dinner with me and my business partner.

(Gasp!)

Sarah didn’t know me personally. But fortunately, she accepted my invitation.

I promptly booked a flight to NYC. I was excited. No, more like TERRIFIED. Because (full transparency here) I had no business taking a television network President to dinner to talk about God knows what.

Over the next two weeks, I prepared. I researched Sarah’s background. I researched Sundance in the trades. I researched the evolving cable industry.

Yes, I had no business. But I made it my business. And it worked.

So here is my encouragement to you:

If you are stuck dealing with underlings…

If you wish you could instead interface with their bosses (decision makers) like CMOs, GMs, MDs, SVPs, etc…

But you think you have no business connecting with those folks higher up the food chain…

Make it your business.

Cheers,

Joel