Each year Ari Greenburg must generate millions of dollars worth of raises for his clients. An agent with the Beverly Hills-based firm Endeavor, Greenburg represents writers and producers from the hottest shows on TV: "The Larry Sanders Show," "Party of Five," "Murder One," and "The Practice." He brings in salary packages that run from $100,000 (for a first-year writer) to $5 million (for a hit-making producer). Like most Hollywood dramas, Greenburg's salary-raising campaigns are played out in three acts.
Act I: Creating Demand
In every department there are a few people who are vital to an enterprise's success. Perhaps you're one of those people, but the higher-ups don't realize it. The fastest way to telegraph your worth is to explore opportunities with other companies. Greenburg advises that you meet with other companies in public so that your company finds out about it. You're not threatening to quit — you're sending a signal that there's a demand for your services.
"One of our head writers was making just half of what he was worth on the open market," he recalls. "So we arranged meetings with other buyers, to prove that he's a hot commodity — that there's interest in him beyond this one show. Stirring up interest from other buyers was a wake-up call to the show's executives."
Act II: Saying the Right Thing
Greenburg avoids using a script when he starts negotiating. But he does have a few pet phrases. The most important is the one he uses when talks get rancorous, but hope for a winning resolution still lingers: "Let's get creative and work something out that will make everyone happy." This reinforces the notion that both sides are working toward a common goal.
Another favorite: "Give me broader responsibilities and more money." When you've hit a dead end and a final offer is on the table, he advises that you offer to work on an auxiliary project. In your industry, it might mean spearheading speculative R&D; in Greenburg's business, it means taking on a development deal. "Say you're a writer on 'Married with Children.' Instead of accepting a $25,000 bump, you ask for a $125,000 raise in return for developing a script for a pilot."
Act III: Let the Negotiating Begin
When the time comes to talk dollars, let your boss take the lead. "I want the production company's guy to tell me the amount he's willing to pay my client — that gives me a number from which to negotiate. So I'll ask him for a proposal. If he presses me for a figure, I'll give an astronomical amount and say, 'Agree to this now and the deal is closed.'" An agent's worst moment, says Greenburg, comes when he requests a figure and the other person quickly agrees. That proves he was lowballed.
Coordinates: Ari Greenburg, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Kaplan (email@example.com) contributes regularly to "SmartMoney" and "Los Angeles Magazine."