Your Competition is NOT Your Enemy

“Territory folks should stick together, 

Territory folks should all be pals. 

Cowboys dance with the farmer’s daughters, 

Farmers dance with the ranchers’ gals…”

– “The Farmer and the Cowman” from “Oklahoma”

Rodgers & Hammerstein

Here in the UAE (and in certain other global businesses, industries and neighborhoods, as well) one of the most effective obstacles to the growth of a strong and healthy theme park, show and spectacle production community is the aloofness and animosity between the Principals of competing agencies and companies.

This pretty much serves to stunt the healthy growth of what could be a far more profitable and impressive industry and undermine the quality of what is being produced and built, even now.

Many GM’s, Presidents and Officers of production companies and agencies in this part of the world simply do not speak to one another. It’s as though being friendly with the Competition is seen as somehow risking damage one’s own business.

Bad call, kids.

Let’s look at some relevant clichés:

  • Keep your friends close and your enemies (but they are NOT your enemies) closer
  • In unity there is strength
  • Divide and Conquer

Let’s face it: in the UAE we are faced with a privileged though uneducated client. Blessed with budgets to make dreams happen; the client in this part of the world does not know how to shop for Show nor for the most part how to refine and define what is actually being sought.

The result is

  • vast amounts of time and money wasted on the creation of briefs that do not represent the vision of the client,
  • a purchasing and sourcing system that virtually dismisses the creativity and quality that is sought (usually after it has been developed and pitched)…and needed if the vision for this part of the world is to be realized, and
  • ridiculous production timelines that can only result in shortcuts and shortfall; practically inviting mistakes and shoddily-rushed work, especially in Events and Show
  • often astonishingly ignorant decision-making, simply out of inexperience and fear, that results in
  • shows that do not meet expectation (much less surpass it),
  • egregious budget overruns,
  • clients being taken advantage of by vendors and companies of poor repute and simple inexperience…

…all of which ultimately makes the show and spectacle industry in this part of the world look amateurish.

None of this can be addressed effectively, much less alleviated, with a Balkanized “community.” There is work to do, clients to enlighten, an industry to evolve, grow and empower. There is wonderful production to mount in collaboration with educated clients.

This cannot be managed if y’all’re not speaking to one another.

One of the best qualities of the TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) in the West, Europe and newly in Asia and the Middle East is the collegiality amongst the entire membership. Production, Technical, Fabrication, Creative companies may bid against one another on a given project; then join together to pitch on something subsequent for which this ad hoc partnership renders the resulting consortium perfect for that specific project.

This is Professional, Adult, Evolved…and PROFITABLE.

It is also why that organization has gone from an informal association of small businesses to arguably the most respected Association of Entertainment professionals in the world; counting among its membership everything from the small creative content collective or individual writer, Director & Producer to the mid-sized, kick*ss lighting, sound or technical company to Disney, Universal, Paramount, Cedar Fair…

It is through the collective action of this organization that the relationships with the Big Corporate Boys of Themed Entertainment have become normalized, payment periods have shortened, mutual respect has been engendered and strengthened…all because everyone talks to one another, collaborates with one another, supports one another.

It is not necessary to reveal trade secrets in order to be friendly with the Competition.

Imagine how it might feel to receive a phone call from a competing company, congratulating you on winning a pitch against them. You must be willing to make that same call.

Build relationships, build this business.

Sometimes y’win, sometimes y’lose, but everyone continues working…

Rather than keep distance from one another; work with one another to evolve the client / vendor / production / creative culture here in the UAE to bring it into this century.

Virtually everyone complains about clients wanting complete shows designed and budgeted in a matter of weeks (or less) as part of a Pitch. This is wildly inappropriate and wastefully expensive as well as being misleading to the client while undermining the quality of production, not to mention degrading the potential creative product.

We appreciate the fact that this dynamic has grown from a history of historical client error and out of the client’s fear of buying something that can’t be delivered (and undeniably also our own fault out of our own industries’ failure to take responsibility for self-policing and proactively educating clients – discussed elsewhere on IMHO, as it will be again).

Thus, it is our collective responsibility to assure, reassure and enlighten the client that the level of detail for which they are asking in order to make a decision is a months-long, post-contracting process that should be collaborative, not created-in-a-ten-day-vacuum.

This must be communicated as an industry, as collective. Agencies and Companies, here in the UAE, are the only ones who can change the dynamic by which all this waste can be alleviated and the quality of the collective product can be elevated to world-class. Defining and then universally accepting, working toward and standing behind a change in the way things are done here will – when all is said and done – make everyone happier, more productive, more profitable and alleviate the angst and tension between the Creators of Experience and the Clients.

Of the plethora of agencies and companies with whom we’ve worked in the UAE, each and every one of them is headed by Principals with commitment and good hearts. While we may not agree on certain ethos or always jibe culturally, even those with whom we would not work again are led by men and women passionate about the industry. This is a fact to be acknowledged, appreciated and respected; and a foundation on which can be built an even stronger industry.

These individuals should all treat one another as peers, colleagues, professional friends; we’re all in the same trenches. All can learn from one another, and only together can the members of this industry effect the changes needed in order to succeed in upgrading the product and concomitant processes.

One’s business cannot be hurt by proximity to the Competition.

There are two organizations in this area working hard at building collaborative relationships between and among the production businesses, theme parks, agencies and consultants, here in the UAE; ILEA, the International Live Events Association and the aforementioned TEA Europe / Middle East Division.

Get involved, meet one another, collaborate, make a plan of action and address the disparities that are holding back these industries, here in the Middle East.

All you GM’s and Principal Officers who aren’t speaking to one another: get together for dinner and find your common ground. You’re holding back your own industries.


[As it happens, “IMHO : Creating Compelling Experience” is still a free download from the Apple bookstore and iTunes. Free. Read it. ]


5 thoughts on “Your Competition is NOT Your Enemy

  1. Here, as with each previous post, you present a clear, intelligent and committed call for common sense and uncommon results. Your logical consistency and unambiguous approach to the issues and lessons that drive your industry in the UAE leave me with a single question. Is anyone hearing you? More to the point, is anyone hearing you whose decision-making can positively influence the evolution you so passionately envision in your industry?

  2. Couldn’t agree more Kile. Too often in the industry I see companies isolating themselves from each other for no reason other than fear. Companies need to embrace the cross-pollination of ideas and ultimately people that lead to combinations of thought and personnel that result in success for the market as a whole.

  3. There’s also the problem that when nobody talks to each other, there’s no collective wisdom. I remember during the China boom there were more entertainment companies than clients getting fleeced, but because nobody shared what they’d learn, company after company got screwed by non-paying clients and there was never any collective response.

    In the Emirates it’s the other way around. Nobody’s talking, so everybody just shows up with their own approach and creates chaos.

  4. Couldn’t agree more Kile. The TEA event of several months ago was a good case in point of the kind of healthy dialogue that is not only possible but also relieving. Besides, a large group of the people on the “other” projects are friends and people I have worked with in other countries on other parks and expect to work with again. Those of us who walk the international theme park beat need to introduce the newbies and locals to our nomadic globe trotting group.

    Start with lunch. Whose hungry.

    I’m buying.


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