How to Reap the Benefits of Partnership Marketing
Every brand knows the feeling. At some point, you realize you’ve only been buying a widget or a content series, and what you actually want is a partner. You want your agency to up the ante from the one-off project or iterative task work that you hired them for to providing brand-level strategic advisement. The agency wants this as much as you do as a potential partnership is more valuable to both of you in creating the best work and outcome. So, how do you get there?
Seek a shared vision
First, you have to move beyond the day to day tasks. Yes, your agency should accomplish iterative needs, but you should expect they seek ways in which to add value. They should have been attempting this from the onset, but often loftier ideas and discussions get shelved for the daily fire drill. Their job is to help push the boundaries. However, the drive to do so can decline over time if they perceive that the client is uninterested or annoyed that they might be trying to elevate their station. To move beyond a task-oriented relationship takes both parties to declare their interest and intent. After they prove themselves with project work, start setting this expectation for meetings moving forward.
Expect active listening
I don’t mean look for nodding heads. My experience has taught me that becoming a partner is no different than developing a friendship—it develops over time and requires commitment, trust, and listening to their needs. You want to know that your agency is interested in your marketing problems, so be sure to partner with someone excited to find new ways to solve them. This starts with patience as the agency will need to invest time to understand your current needs and future objectives. It also comes with transparency—if you can share the full story and the motivation behind it, they should be bringing real solutions to the table.
Build a true partnership
As I said, the process of creating a partnership is much like friendship. Early in my career, I mistook asking clients about their weekend plans and their kids as a means of accomplishing this goal. Don’t get me wrong, your agency should be getting to know you as a person, but their main aim should be solving your business problems. I should have been more thoughtful in my approach, reading about their industry trends, inquiring more about the metrics were driving the business decisions, and finding out the challenges that kept them awake at night. That’s the level of effort and investment you should see. Of course, this comes with time and trust, but if you aren’t having more authentic and productive conversations and your contract is halfway through, it’s time to reassess.
Ensure their investment is evident
While they may start the year with goals to flex the big picture muscle, it’s easy to become complacent with the daily demands of meetings, schedules, and smaller projects. Before you know it, it’s Q4. If you feel like their team is falling into the get-it-done mindset, ask what agency thoughts are on your industry at present and any overarching challenges they see. We do this for our clients by blocking time devoted to those topics, and it’s a team effort to engage everyone in discussing their ideas and solutions. If they aren’t all on board, you shouldn’t be either.
As you take these practices into your work, notice the ways to tweak and them your own. Lean into that. I hope they help you land on the right approach for your company that, moving forward, you measure partnership success not solely on how much an agency produces, but by the kind of impact they help you make.