Politics in Business

There is as much politics in business as there is business in politics. Everyone loves a good product launch. You spend a ton of time, money and effort researching a concept, surveying a consumer space, developing your idea into something tangible, and marketing the hell out of it. In many cases all of these steps can be handled in house, or contracted out.

Anyone involved during this development portion of a product is essentially a factory line worker. The design itself may be cutting edge, unlike anything before it. This inherent value, quality or original content is sometimes seen as something that can “sell itself.”

Which is true, to some extent. We’re talking about word of mouth and traditional advertising, here. I heard from my neighbor about a cushioned magnetic toilet paper roll holder that works perfectly in his bathroom with brushed steel walls. It is an expensive and nearly custom piece of home hardware but a must-have for anyone with brushed steel bathroom walls. Eventually, word will get out that you can avoid destroying your nice walls and still place a “bathroom tissue” holder and the demand may rise to the level of manufacturing a supply of these things.

But what if you’re entering an emerging market that has burgeoning competition in your product’s space? Or what if you want to catapult your product beyond your the effectiveness of your organization. You must use personal politics as a foundation for building strategic partnerships.

Politics in business can refer to an informal friendship, such as a link off the roll of a popular blog. Or it may take the form of complicated strategic partnership where your product and another service or company bring value to each other.

It is important to remember that a strategic partnership is the result of careful politicking. You can draw a line between personal connections between business people and an increase in consumer enthusiasm for a product.

Business politics resulting in strategic partnerships is the development of the synergy between key people behind one product and another product or service that complements it. I’d like to cite a few examples of strategic partnerships that I believe (but can not substantiate) are the result of strong business politics at work:

  • The Baja Blast is a carbonated tropical fruit drink available only at Taco Bell. The drink is produced by PepsiCo, while Taco Bell is owned by Yum! Brands, which is a spinoff of Pepsico. Fast food restaurants make a killing on soft drinks, and PespsiCo created Baja Blast as a method of boosting high-margin soft drink sales at Taco Bell.
  • MusicToday, an artist’s services company recently had a majority stake acquired by Live Nation. Napster set off a trickle of suggestion that the record industry is working on a broken model, and that new services or companies would come along to fill the needs of artists. Live Nation is a spin-off of Clear Channel Entertainment. Music Today’s decision to sell out to Live Nation is without a doubt linked to this strong connection with one of the biggest forces outside the RIAA but within the hemisphere of entertainment.
  • Helio, a cell phone and portable device company headed by the guys who created the T-Mobile Sidekick (Hiptop) finagled their way into a partnership with MySpace. They were basically unheard of yet were able to get huge buy-in from the biggest website in the United States. The idea here is that MySpace can make it onto cell phones, and Helio should be the company to do it. Any of the cellular phone manufacturers or service providers would love to have the relationship Helio set up with MySpace.

Getting back to launching a product and fancy toilet paper rolls: it isn’t enough to be about word of mouth or pouring money into marketing anymore. The launch of a product or service can be exponentially more effective by careful strategic partnership choice, the best of which are the result of careful politicing.

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