My friend Rusty Speidel wrote a post on my friend Gini Dietrich’s blog and used a made up word: “coopetition.” Words like that make me itchy, but I’m letting that go for now to focus on the idea behind the word. Rusty’s post was in reaction to one by Gini that said, in part:
“Don’t be afraid to let the competition know what you’re doing. You’ll be looking forward and they’ll be scrambling to keep up. Blaze the trail.”
I began my career with a series of agencies in St. Louis, Missouri — all highly competitive and not terribly cooperative (with other agencies). It was the culture of PR in St. Louis (and likely, still is). When I moved to Charlottesville, I was introduced to a much more collaborative culture, at the convergence of social media culture influencing business practices. Since social media is so important to what I do, it makes sense that my business philosophy would be heavily influenced by it, but it also makes sense that I’m influenced by the culture of the place where I do business.
Each year, at a holiday party hosted by my friend Suzanne, we go around the room and say how we know her. I often say, “I am friends with Suzanne because she called.” On the surface, people would view Suzanne and I as “competitors.” We both have virtual PR firms located in the same city. We network in the same groups and connect in a variety of ways. We offer our clients many of the same services. When it’s a better fit for her business, I don’t hesitate to refer a client to Four Leaf PR, Suzanne’s firm. (Look at that — I just linked to a competing PR firm! Who does that?)
That way of working was a new concept to me in 2005. Now it’s like breathing. Suzanne, besides being a mentor, a total rock star professional and a personal friend, has also had tremendous influence on my business philosophy.
I like this method of working in collaboration with others, of acknowledging differences in styles but not discrediting others’ work. It enables us to share ideas freely, establish trust and even rely on one another for backup when needed. (Who doesn’t need a little backup now and then?) We know each one of our firms isn’t the right fit for each and every client and interestingly, we have different interests in industries and rarely bump into one another as it is. Small town? Maybe. But somehow we’re able to all get along. Is that coopetition? Maybe, but I prefer to call it just being smart.