Gold medal partnerships


These days, many companies are looking to build their brands, target new customers and launch new services using marketing sponsorships, outsourcing arrangements or business development alliances.  To do this, managers need to master partnership management with complementary firms, government agencies and non-government organizations.   Identifying the need for a partnership, however, is easier said than making one work. A myriad of issues can complicate key business relationships, including poor communication, misaligned objectives between the organizations, and weak integration between the entities.  

Our firm has identified a number of best practices around designing and implementing winning partnerships.  To illustrate these, we will look at two very different examples:  1) the Olympics and; 2) the software industry.

The Olympic Games

Recently, strategy+business magazine looked at the Olympics Games as a model for effective partnership management.  To successfully pull off the games, the International Olympic Committee must orchestrate a tightly choreographed dance of hundreds of sponsors, broadcasters and service firms. The IOC and its corporate partners have developed a world-class partnering model, based on the successful completion of many games (now including London) as well as a few painful experiences (think Montreal 1976).  Some of the IOC’s key learnings include:  

  1. Prioritize the brands

To maximize the value of the marketing sponsorships, all parties need to work closely to uphold the rules around brand usage and exclusivity.  Furthermore, corporate partners will drive better results when they have a clearly defined and powerfully articulated brand message that intersects the needs and desires of all stakeholders.

  1. Cultivate a few key relationships

Better outcomes are achieved by having fewer, deeper and longer term business relationships as opposed to more numerous, shorter term, and more superficial arrangements.  This ‘less is more’ strategy triggers each partner to invest more resources, capital and effort against longer term goals and to work more diligently through teething pains.

  1. Anticipate political pressure

The involvement of the public sector or a NGO usually brings some form of subtle (or not so subtle) political pressure that could run contrary to the financial interests of all players.  Managers should be aware of potential risks when structuring partnership deals and develop contingency plans to handle unexpected problems or political interference.

Software Industry

My firm was engaged to help a software company resurrect a stalled business development alliance with a global IT services firm.  Initially, the client thought they had the key ingredients – great technology and strong personal rapport at senior levels – for a winning relationship. We quickly discovered, however, through internal research that the partnership needed a structural, process and cultural tune-up to realize its potential. Three key lessons emerged:

  1. Align around common goals

At the outset, it is crucial that all players agree on what a successful partnership looks like, how it is evaluated and where their marketing and operational strategies converge to produce a mutually beneficial relationship. Not surprisingly, alliances based on similar long-term objectives & values, a ‘win-win’ deal and a ‘partnership mind set’ have a much greater chance of flourishing.

  1. Establish troubleshooting mechanisms

When disparate organizations come together, there is a good chance that modest disagreements and latent misperceptions could rapidly escalate to derail program implementation.  It is vital to deploy a high-level, cross-organization steering group that can quickly resolve issues before they can jeopardize the entire alliance. Moreover, this senior team can also support ongoing priority-setting and resource allocation.

  1. Foster intra-preneurialism

Rock solid contracts and detailed plans can not deal with all the demands and snafus that come with executing partnerships.  It is up to the ‘people in the trenches’ to make partnerships burgeon.  These vital individuals are most effective when they can act like intra-preneurs i.e. internal entrepreneurs.  To encourage these behaviors, key managers need a high level of empowerment, sufficient resources, and the opportunity to communicate extensively with their counterparts.

Some final and poignant thoughts come from John Boynton, Chief Marketing Officer, of Rogers Communications Inc. “Rogers prefers bigger partnerships. Bigger to us is a deeper, longer term, more integrated relationship. You know when you have a done a good job when you can’t tell who in the room is from which side. Getting one partnership or sponsorship to work on as many levels as possible provides a better return.”  To a prominent sponsor like Rogers, great partnerships are based on strong customer appeal.  “A lot of sponsorships don’t make sense to customers”, says Boynton, “because the target audience doesn’t line up in the “sweet spot”, or that companies choose the sponsorship based on profile or personal interests. Having a very tight overlap with the sweet spot and ensuring the sponsorship addresses the target customer’s “passion” are the keys.”

Despite the best intentions, many business partnerships will ultimately fail.   They need not.  Managers can follow a variety of marketing and organizational best practices to improve their odds of long term success.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

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