The Rules of the Road

For many people who know me, one of my pet interests is the world of Hollywood and the intrigue that surrounds it. My bookshelf is stocked with books pertaining to show business, ranging from William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade (where he famously quipped that “nobody knows anything [in this business]”) to Edward Jay Epstein’s The Big Picture, both of which I recommend if you want to learn about the business side of the film, media and television businesses.

In the same vein, the talent agency business is equally as fascinating. In the old days of Vaudeville, talent agents were not highly regarded and it wasn’t until Jules Stein and Lew Wasserman came along and founded MCA (the Music Corporation of America) when all of that changed. Many of MCA’s agents went on to run new talent agencies, studios and other entertainment-related enterprises and it was because of their approach to business that Hollywood went from a studio driven world to a talent driven world. Things that MCA made commonplace were getting gross points on a movie in lieu of a salary, which made Jimmy Stewart wealthy when Universal couldn’t pay his high salary for Winchester ’73, after which every star wanted a portion of the back-end of a film or TV project. Another innovation was package deals — MCA would package a director, actor, producer and writer together, all of whom were MCA clients. CAA, UTA, Paradigm and WME-IMG continue to do this today, but it was MCA that pioneered this concept.

I’ve always wondered what MCA’s formula for success was in both the agency and studio businesses. After doing some digging, I found an iteration of their famous credo, courtesy of Jerry Perenchio, which is titled “The Rules of the Road.” For those who don’t know Mr. Perenchio, he was a former MCA agent, boxing promoter (the 1975 Ali/Frazier fight, dubbed the “Thrilla in Manila” was promoted by him) and media titan (he owned and headed Univision in the 1990’s & 2000’s, as well as being the co-head of Embassy Pictures with Norman Lear, up to its sale to Columbia Pictures in the 1980's).

With that being said, here are the fabled “Rules of the Road,” as told by Jerry Perenchio and as published in The Wall Street Journal:

  • Stay clear of the press. No interviews, no panels, no speeches, no comments. Stay out of the spotlight — it fades your suit.
  • No nepotism, no hiring of friends.
  • Never rehire anyone.
  • Hire people smarter and better than you. Delegate responsibilities to them. Doing so will make your job easier.
  • You’ve go to know your territory. Cold!
  • Do your homework. Be prepared.
  • Teamwork.
  • Take options, never give them.
  • Rely on your instincts and common sense. If you go against them you generally regret it.
  • No surprises. We don’t give them. We don’t want to get them.
  • Never lose sight of what business you’re in. Stick to your “last.”
  • When you suit up each day it’s to play in Yankee stadium or Dodger stadium. Think big.
  • If you have a problem, don’t delay. Face up to it immediately and solve it.
  • Loose lips sink ships!
  • Supreme self-confidence, never arrogance.
  • A true leader is accessible — no job too big, no job too small.
  • Communication is our business. You can reach any of your associates anytime, anywhere, anyplace.
  • If you make a mistake, admit it. Just don’t make too many.
  • Don’t be a “customer’s person” (man or woman).
  • Always, always take the high road. Be tough but fair and never lose your sense of humor.

I don’t know if I necessarily agree with all of Perenchio’s points but it’s an interesting approach of how conduct business in a professional manner. The key takeaway here is that you have to do everything with integrity, gusto and proper preparation, while minimizing conflicts of interest and ego.

For me, integrity has always been my #1 rule of the road. What are your rules of the road? Feel free to share them below.

Karl Brautigam is a brand strategist and MBA student with expertise in the media and technology industries across the sales, research, marketing and strategy functions.