Healthy Competition

I was recently catching up with a friend over lunch when a very interesting question arose: how do you handle competition in your field? Up until that point, I've never really given thought to my competition. Not to say I'm on top of the world, but most of my work calls for collaboration - which completely forces out the idea of competitiveness against others. As I dwelled on the question more, and thought about the work I do within public relations, something hit me. Most people tend to think of how lovely it is to be on a national news show discussing a current project, and assume that once you've made it to that level, you've met success, and well that's it. But few understand the behind-the-scenes efforts taking place daily in order to allow someone the opportunity to even be invited on such a show. The truth is, the level of competition for segments on your favorite national morning news shows, daytime talk shows, and even reality competitions are fierce. If I had to share a realistic probability for these appearances, it would be something like for every 1,000 pitches to a producer; they'll select 2 stories for air. And on top of that, the world of public relations and strategic communications has some of the most competent professionals across multiple industries, so you're also competing with a phenomenal level of quality work being sent to producers. This is how I see competition - as a stealth teammate that knows just as much as you, wants success just as much as you, and will fight just as hard as you for it. 
So how do you compete in today's world of under the table support, where decisions can sometimes be made in smoke-filled back rooms, out of the public's eye? First, one should examine their personal understanding of the idea of competition at it's root. We all tend to think of the sports world when the idea of competition arises. How strong you are, how well you perform under pressure, how far you're willing to go to get things done. We think of Darwin's explanation of survival of the fittest. Yes, by all means you should be aware of the competitive nature of business, but you also should consider refocusing your competitive thoughts from an external view, to one of self-reflection. Don't compete against others, compete against yourself. 
To help refocus your energy on bettering yourself, truly consider yourself as the one to beat. Each time you step into your creative space, never settle or stand down - even when your ideas are seemingly impossible. A lot of the time, we limit ourselves by the expectations others have set for us. The most important thing you can do for both your business and yourself is to create your own view of success, and use the opinions and recommendations of others as invaluable feedback that you'll use to grow. Understand that not every piece of advice is the right advice, and even the most successful people in the world can possibly guide you down a wrong path. Although you yourself may question your decisions, and there will be times when you will fail, make a habit of utilizing every experience as the road maps for which they are, learning all that you can along the way.

Now that you've shifted your thought process with regards to your definition of competition, what happens when you come across someone who is deliberately taking actions that compete with you and your business, in not such nice ways? Caught your competition having lunch with a client of yours? Noticed harsh words being said about your or your business via the advertisements of your competition? Is your competition making claims against the integrity of your brand to potential clients? Yes, these are all really disappointing situations to be in, but would you believe me if I told you none of these underhand attacks or "competitive moves" mean a thing? By rewriting your understanding of competition, you're giving yourself an opportunity to see situations for what they are, and most importantly, without resentment. When you see yourself as your biggest competitor, you begin to seek out ways to improve upon your skills in every situation. That competitor that just stole your commercial advertising concept becomes your lesson in copyright law. Running into your client having lunch with a competitor will remind you of the importance of putting your clients' needs first. Both your successes and shortcomings become the seeds you plant for personal and professional growth.

These are simple guidelines to help you maneuver the extremely emotional world of business. Because every business owner is passionate about their craft and trade, you're bound to come across the full spectrum of human emotions during your everyday routine. What is most important is how you handle the situations you find yourself in. Sometimes, all it takes to make a situation better is a positive outlook.

L. Blake Harvey is the Founder and Chairman of New York-based corporate communications firm Lawrence Blake Group International. Read more articles by Blake at