Colonel Parker was Elvis Presley’s business manager.  He was reported to be the toughest agent in the entertainment world.

Colonel Parker was a hard negotiator.  When he made a deal for Elvis, he made sure it would be enforced.  The logistics of a successful concert performance are mind-boggling. Most producers are honest, but some are flaky, still others do not have enough money, and some are just con men.  Entertainment producers too often have dreams of fantastically high show revenues that don’t live up to expectations.  It was up to Colonel Parker to protect Elvis and the high price he commanded.  It was his responsibility to see that everything necessary for a great performance was ready as promised.

Contract negotiations were hard fought.  The Colonel was a painstaking man who read every clause, dotted every “I” and crossed every “t.” The terms and conditions left little room for producers to do other than they agreed to do.

But Colonel Parker threw in one clause in his contracts that mystified the producers.  He handed them a specially designed Elvis Presley ashtray.  In the contract he specified that this ashtray, along with the balance of payment for Elvis’ performance, be sent to Colonel Parker’s office three days before Elvis would appear.  They laughed, signed the contract, and in most cases delivered the money on time, but not the ashtray.

That’s when the Colonel went to work and the producers stopped laughing.  Colonel Parker made it clear that if any term in the contract was not fulfilled Elvis would not sing.  No exceptions.  The producers went back and read the contract.  The ashtray was soon delivered by courier.  As for the producers, they learned to do exactly what was written in the contract.  They performed 100 percent; Elvis performed 100 percent.

We can learn something from Colonel Parker and his ashtray.  One of the biggest mistakes a negotiator can make is to include a stipulation or requirement and fail to execute it.  If you put an ashtray into the contract, make sure you get it.  If you don’t enforce the terms agreed on, you may find other, more critical areas of performance eroded beyond repair.  Be sure to get the ashtray every time.

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