I just watched “Pay It Forward” for the 200th time and, of course, cried at the end. I don’t know why I do this. I think I’m going to make it through the end and then Helen Hunt crumbles and I lose it.

This time around, though, it got me thinking about business and competition.

When I started Arment Dietrich, the big, global firms sent business our way all the time. They had lots of companies contact them, who couldn’t afford them, but the leaders at the agencies wanted to be able to say, “Call this firm. We know they do great work.”

Now we do the same. If a prospective client can’t afford us or they don’t fit our niche, we refer business to a couple of freelancers and smaller firms that we know do really great work.

It’s the way our industry pays it forward – even though we compete against one another.

Competition Is Healthy

I belong to Counselors Academy, which is a Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) section for leaders of the PR firms. When I first learned about the organization, I remember thinking, “Why would I want to hang out with my direct competitors?”

Since joining, I’ve learned that we’re better together and some of my now closest friends I’ve met through this organization. But not just that, we share business practices, issues, and challenges and are able to find ways that we all benefit from the ideas and innovation in a way to better our industry.

But Not Just That

About 18 months ago, we decided to play pretty aggressively in the franchise market. We’ve always dabbled, having worked with some vendors and partners in the franchise industry. And I byline a monthly column for Franchise Times. But we’d never aggressively pursued it.

When we made the jump, the two PR firms who have the industry locked down were not happy. I heard, through the grapevine, all sorts of terrible things people were saying about us. In fact, one person said he wasn’t worried because we wouldn’t be working with any franchise clients in six months.

Much to his dismay, we do have franchise clients and our name is bounced around as often as the others. Now there are five firms (including the two that have serviced the industry for more than 20 years) that work in the industry and, with the exception of one, we’re all friends.  We share business challenges. We share client successes and failures. And we refer business back and forth when we have a conflict or it doesn’t fit our niche.

Plus the competition with one another is making the franchise industry better because we’re all working toward creating new services in order to further growth.

What’s the Moral of the Story?

Just like “Pay It Forward,” if you can change the way you interact with three competitors, and they do the same for three of their competitors, and so on, how quickly will everyone be working toward the same goal for the betterment of your industry?

It’s still important to compete, coming from one of the most competitive people you’ll meet, but what if we do it in a way to support our industries by always being innovative?

What if we do it in a way to help new businesses get off the ground, even if it means they’ll be playing in our backyard even sooner?

What if we do it in a way that we share business challenges and solutions so we’re all successful?

What if we pay it forward?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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