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Creature CEO Dan Cullen-Shute on the art of negotiation


By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

January 27, 2023 | 4 min read

Creature CEO and founder Dan Cullen-Shute discusses his approach to negotiating with procurement teams.

Dan Cullen-Shute in front of a grey background

How should agencies go into negotiations to ensure a mutually beneficial outcome?

Early in Dan Cullen-Shute’s tenure as CEO of Creature, he was faced with a client's procurement officer with a particular approach to negotiations. After the initial conversation, this officer told Cullen-Shute that both parties knew that “it’s your job to get as much past me as possible, and it’s my job to catch you out”.

That combative approach to negotiation, in which both parties are seen as antagonistic to the other, is endemic – not just in marketing, but in all industries. The need to maximize outcomes for your ‘side’ is seen as a consequence of making sure that their side loses out in some way. Cullen-Shute says that attitude, while somewhat understandable, is disheartening and sets a bad tone for a working relationship:

“People talk a lot about trust having to be earned. I think mistrust needs to be earned a bit as well. And I just kind of thought ‘this is exhausting’. Before we’ve started – before we’ve had a proper conversation - we’ve decided the tone or you’ve decided the tone of this, and it’s not going to be fun.”

Cullen-Shute made the observation in a new podcast series hosted by Mike Lander, founder of procurement consultancy Piscari.

While he states that procurement is the primary activity in which that attitude comes to the fore, it is a constant throughout any negotiation. He said there is frequently a “macho” idea of what a working relationship is like. It is better, he and Lander agree, to avoid focusing on stealing a larger slice of the cake, but to focus on taking equal shares and increasing the size of the cake itself.

Cullen-Shute added: “Good guy, bad guy, one side, the other side... actually we all want the same thing here, which is a well-running industry that makes great work, that piles profits back into our clients so that they can then be pumped back into us.

“And it’s the difference between walking into a negotiation saying ‘our end goal here is the same, we want to build something bigger and better by agreeing on something together’, versus ‘you’re trying to get stuff past me, and I’m trying to catch you out’.”

To avoid that issue, he believes that the negotiation begins long before you step foot into a room together. He advocates making notes of your own primary objectives to refer back to during the meeting. He likens this approach to house-buying: while you might get caught up in enthusiasm while you’re touring a shiny new property, having the core requirements on hand helps you avoid any pitfalls.

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