• 12.01.08

The Frenemy Relationship in Business

The friend-enemy relationship (aka friend-foe, or “froe”) has become essential to business — a thrillingly intricate dance that would impress even Bruno and Carrie Ann. Imagine Apple without the record labels, Google without Yahoo, and Harvey Weinstein without everyone else. The relationship can be so baffling, we humbly offer this field guide.

The Frenemy Relationship in Business
illustration by Post Typography

Frenemies in the Henhouse: Dances With Wolves


Delighting animal lovers the world over, these creatures shake using their right hand while plotting their prey’s demise with their left. Last seen at a Campus@ event, a bonding ritual where Google plies traditional ad agencies with beanbag chairs and bagel-and-egg sandwiches. In return for Google’s goodwill, all it asks is … more play for its ad products, meetings with the agency’s clients, and ultimately, the clients themselves. It’s your classic foot-in-the-door, door-spirited-away, foot-inserted-in-rear gambit. Sadly, the chicken thinks it can outwit the fox. “Milk ’em,” one Leo Burnett honcho instructed his employees about the visiting Googlers. Tomorrow’s blue-plate special at the Googleplex? Ad-exec fricassee.

Frenemies With Benefits: The Awkward Hug

The urge to mate is an awesome force, able to obliterate common sense, dignity, and even memories of how awful it was the last time. Also, the money washes away any regrets. Van Halen, prototypical ’80s rock band, acrimoniously split with lead singer David Lee Roth long ago. But Roth’s replacement, Sammy Hagar, was — what’s the word? — awful. And Diamond Dave, flying solo, was playing Vegas lounges. Unironically. So there were Roth and Van Halen in 2007 and 2008, once again, rocking America’s basketball arenas together, taking in $93 million in revenue. That’s a lot of booty for one call. And no regrets in the morning-after walk of shame.

Shotgun Frenemies: The Odd Couple

The mighty shark does not choose to hang around with the lesser pilot fish. Some powerful external force keeps them together. Like stock transactions. When eBay acquired a quarter of online-classifieds giant Craigslist from an early CL employee, Craig Newmark found double barrels aimed at his head. “Sadly, we have an uncomfortably conflicted shareholder in our midst,” a Craigslist exec lamented. Conflicted as in eBay sitting on its board and then launching a direct competitor called Kijiji (Megslist or Whitman’s Sampler must have seemed over the top). When Craigslist complained and offered to break up, eBay offered to eat Craigslist whole. Annulment proceedings currently drag on in kangaroo court.

Frenemies for Life: The Fighting Temptations

These duos are forever bonded in pairs, like the sandhill crane or the prairie vole, even if they don’t always know it. TiVo and DirecTV were passionate partners in their youth and separated when DirecTV thought it could sell its own digital-video recorders. But as the hunting grounds became less fertile, they reunited — despite latent resentments. If Edward Albee told the story, it’d be called “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Football? (Now on Pay-Per-View).” Besides, what’s better at smoothing over a couple’s rough spots than a full-featured DVR?