Ebay logoSo there I was, wanting to sell something on eBay. None of us could remember my wife’s password so we had to create a new account. And up came… the standard terms to click on. What do you do? You know these terms cannot be negotiated. eBay has millions of users and not enough bandwidth to negotiate standard terms with every individual, even if it wanted to – which of course it doesn’t. It doesn’t force you to sign the standard terms, but if you want to use the service you have no choice. This is an example of the power of having a “standard” on your side in a negotiation.

Standards can come from many different sources, a number of which I talk about in my new book about the modern art of negotiation, “The Yes Book” (out on Random House on 28th March and available for pre-order now on Amazon if you are interested). You may have legal precedent on your side or custom and practice, or, as in the case of eBay, a history of dealings on a standard basis with huge numbers of customers. eBay are not the only institutional supplier to enjoy this benefit – think of Banks and Insurance companies, too.

One good example from my own experience came from dealing with Locog, the administrative body set up to run the Olympic Games in 2012. Locog derived a lot of bargaining power from being the sole custodian of the use of the Olympic logo. Nobody else was able to use that “standard” without their permission.

Olympics Logo Rings Estate Agent NegotiationYou will no doubt have read of a number of examples of the power of commanding adherence to this standard. During the run up to the London Olympics, according to the Daily Mail, an estate agent who created a celebratory Olympics display using hula hoops as the famous five rings was ordered to take it down by Games organisers – and threatened with legal action if he didn’t. In what was intended to be a show of support as the torch relay passed through the area, staff at Webbers Estate Agents in Braunton, Devon, created a display featuring the rings, flags, a replica torch and a cut-out of cyclist Chris Hoy to ‘join in the spirit’ as the relay passed through the village. Soon after, Locog wrote insisting Webbers take down Olympic-related materials – or face legal action. It said displaying the rings without permission breached sponsorship deals.

Olympics Florists Logo Rings Stoke NegotiationA similar fate befell a florist in Stoke who decided to create an appropriate window display when the Olympic Torch relay was due to pass through her town. The five rings and a torch, all made from tissue paper, were a hit with customers. But then trading standards officials warned her that the rings constituted an ‘unauthorised use’ of the Olympic logo and left her at risk of being sued by Games organisers. A spokesman for Locog said: ‘Wherever Locog or trading standards officers see unauthorised use of the word “Olympics” or registered trademarks, we will take the time to explain to the business owner why they cannot do that.’

When I worked with the Royal Opera House I helped negotiate an agreement with Locog covering the ROH’s involvement in the Cultural Olympiad for the London Olympics. ROH was at the centre of this Cultural Olympiad which culminated in a London festival from June 2012 and gave leading artists and the public a chance to celebrate London 2012 through dance, music, theatre, film and the visual arts. There was also to be an Olympics exhibition at the ROH. It was very apparent that as custodians of the Olympics brand Locog took a very simple view of the contract – they could not agree changes because they had one approach and one approach only. There was a “standard”. This was compounded by the fact that Locog was effectively a virtual organisation; its equivalent comes together for every Olympic Games and then disperses afterwards. So, the organisation has no incentive to step away from a fairly regimented method of doing things, as most of its staff know their mission is only temporary anyway.

When dealing with the power of “standards” it’s important to find some other source of bargaining power which can be deployed to offset this advantage. The ROH is of course unique; a unique source of talent and content and creative inspiration. It would also be hard to imagine a cultural Olympiad set in London which did not include the ROH among its London ambassadors. This gave the ROH its own sources of bargaining power – “authority power” from its reputation, and niche “marketing power” from its unique position. This was enough to ensure that an agreement was signed that everybody was happy with despite the power of “standards” which Locog had at its disposal.