Choosing Strategic Partners that Really Partner
Ever feel like a six-armed octopus? "If I only had two more arms, I could accomplish so much more!" Every entrepreneur is a master multitasker, always doing several things at once. Strategic alliances are the best way to extend your reach and accomplish more.
My definition of a successful strategic alliance is a long-term partnership. It must be win-win in order to be sustainable and mutually beneficial.
How to choose wisely? Begin by conducting a strategic analysis of the market sectors and target audiences that make the most sense for your business. What are the most profitable areas? Where is the greatest growth? Understand clearly where you are so that you can find the partners that best complement you.
Once you've done the right analysis, ponder the following questions: What's your gut feeling about the partner you're considering? Is there synergy? Is there a natural fit in terms of values, integrity, and personality? Do your potential partners "get it"? That is, do they have a solid understanding of your objectives and goals, and are they genuinely excited about joining forces for an alliance?
The Halo Effect
"The right relationship is everything" is the signature theme of one of our clients, the Chase Manhattan Bank. That's true of any strategic alliance in which the right partner elevates your company's stature, adding prestige and thus creating a positive "halo" around you and your company.
For example, to bring attention to how women are portrayed in advertising, Advertising Women of New York wanted to acknowledge advertising that celebrates women and blast advertising that is offensive. AWNY teamed up with Lifetime Cable in a strategic alliance that brought together clout, credibility, and cash, making the event (now in its third year) an enormous success. The alliance enhanced the prestige of both organizations.
When you are looking for a partner, consider checking with professional and industry organizations, professional service providers such as CPA and law firms, and parallel businesses in your industry -- for example, a magazine might team up with its printer for mutual branding opportunities. Even direct competitors can establish a noncompetitive relationship, pooling resources and ideas that help each other.
If you're like many entrepreneurs (including me), you are so wildly passionate about your business and vision that you assume other people are as high energy and as ready "to do whatever it takes to get the job done" as you are. Wrong. In my experience, it's smart to get references from people who have worked with the potential strategic partner.
Once you've identified a possible partner -- one you think fits a profile of what could be successful -- it's also wise to ask yourself the hard questions: Does this organization seem like a good fit? Are its people the best at what they do? Could I get someone even better?
Don't sell yourself short or "settle." If you do, you're going to be spending a lot of time and energy holding up your end of the relationship. If you have a big-name strategic partner that doesn't live up to promises of bringing in customers or making managers available to the alliance, you may find yourself in a bind. Take time to make sure you are choosing wisely.
Here, because they've worked so well for me, are what I consider "killer concepts":
Cast your net wide by creating sensational events. These provide excellent opportunities for building awareness, interest, and excitement in your company. We worked with Hermes Capital, a $40 million asset management firm, to form a strategic partnership with the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. We negotiated with the museum for rights to use photographs of several pieces of artwork in a new brand-identity campaign and brochure, which we created for our client. In exchange, Hermes joined the museum as a corporate sponsor. We also arranged a spectacular event, which started with a private tour of a Roy Lichtenstein exhibit and was followed by dinner for 75 Hermes clients in the museum café . In addition, Hermes was featured in full-page ads in the New York Times, in which the Guggenheim thanked its corporate sponsors. Hermes was listed immediately before IBM. That engendered great credibility and endorsement for a company, which at the time was only a year old.
Reach thousands of people at once by using the power of the media. Boxtree has negotiated strategic alliances through which we've secured guest columnist positions for several CEOs. In one instance, we arranged for the CEO of an investment firm to write a column in a magazine for physicians. The reason? Doctors, with substantial sums to invest, seemed like a good target audience.
There is so much that you and your partners can do together to extend your reach. Share mailing lists. Link to each other's Web sites. And when you cosponsor an event, you can provide the sweat equity and let your partner provide the cash!
With these workable ideas and others that you create yourself, you should be able to find strategic partners that really partner. And you'll discover that you are an eight-armed octopus after all.
Lisa H. Buksbaum is the president and founder of Boxtree Communications Inc. Founded in 1991, Boxtree's steady growth has been driven by advertising, direct response, corporate identity, public relations, and new-media programs.
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