Business Lessons From Pretty Woman


I can't tell you how many times I've been in a business meeting where I turned to the other people in the room and said, "Well it all comes back to the movie Pretty Woman: You say who, you say how much, and you say when." There is always a reaction, and since most Americans over the age of twenty-something have seen the movie, they understand what I'm talking about.

I love movies. I also do a weekly show as Justine Hollister of Screen Thoughts, a podcast of movie and television reviews, as well as written reviews, that has a four-star rating on iTunes. I believe there are lessons in most movies, and in business I often use movies to illustrate a point I'm making.

So here are the biz lessons from Pretty Woman.

The Deal Can Change.

You can go into any deal sure of what you want to accomplish, sell, or buy, and come out realizing that there was a better deal to be had. Regrouping in the middle of a deal and assessing what additional information you have gathered is key to making sure you get the best outcome available. Edward Lewis recognized that the deal he originally went in to do - to purchase and sell off the parts of a shipbuilding company - was no longer what he wanted. He wanted the personal achievement of building something with a man he respected, so he changed the deal.

The price can be a win/win for both sides. Pricing means different things to different people.

In Pretty Woman, Vivian and Edward negotiate the price for her to be his beck-and-call girl in a bathroom scene that goes back and forth like a ping-pong ball, settling on the price of $2,500 for the week. For her, it's a lot of money and an easy workweek. The money means nothing to Edward, and he enjoys the repartee of the negotiation. They both are satisfied.

What's the lesson, you ask? The lesson is to ask yourself before you negotiate what the service or product is worth to the person you are selling it to or buying it from. Is money the prevailing deal breaker? Is it timing? Is it exclusivity? Figure out what matters to the person most, and then decide the price based on that assessment. Focus on what they want, rather than what you want, and you can be a better negotiator.

You say who; you say when; you say how much.

Make sure you remember this most important lesson of Pretty Woman. No matter how much you are paid or are paying, there is a limit to what you need to do for the money. Be sure to set up your company so you can walk away from any deal. In Pretty Woman, Vivian could walk away and go back to the street if she was feeling abused, and she wasn't afraid to remind Edward of that. Edward, too, is unafraid to walk away from the deal. Know where your battle line is, and be sure and be willing to stay on the winning side of it.

Business is business, and personal is personal.

In the exchange between Stuckey and Edward when Stuckey screams that he gave up everything to work for Edward doing difficult deals, Lewis clearly understands that Stuckey did it for the money and for the power, and that he was well compensated for his time and effort. Edward feels no guilt or obligation to Stuckey for his past performance - he is dumping him for his present performance. If you are paying the people around you a fair price for their work and you need to part ways, there is no apology necessary. This is not to be confused with loyalty and doing the right thing; this is all about choosing what is best for moving a company forward and making sure there is a separation between work and friendship.

There is an exception to every business rule.

One of my favorite characters in Pretty Woman is the hotel manager, Barney Thompson, who bends the rules about hookers in the hotel after talking with Vivian - and he is right to do so. He makes a judgment call and it pays off. No rule of thumb in marketing is absolute, and knowing which ones are bendable - assessing the value of following the rule - separates excellence in business from safe mediocrity.

Do not judge a client's potential by the way they look.

Remember the woman who wouldn't wait on Vivian in the clothing boutique? Mistake. Big mistake.

Shop assistant: "Hello, can I help you?"

Vivian: "I was in here yesterday, you wouldn't wait on me."

Shop assistant: "Oh."

Vivian: "You people work on commission, right?"

Shop assistant: "Yeah."

Vivian (holding up her bags of purchases): "Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now."

I think we are done explaining that lesson.

So there you have it. Pretty Woman's Business Lessons to celebrate the movie's 25th anniversary. And while I'm sure you are shaking your head now, wondering about my sanity, I promise that in the coming months, when you are with a client or at work, these lessons will pop into your mind. You can e-mail me your thanks.

Christine Merser, Managing Partner

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