Monday, January 18, 2010

Does Partnership Align With ‘New Normal’ for Doing Business?

Are you doing business with someone you refer to as a “partner?”  I hear business people use this word in conversation frequently, declaring they are working as partners, or in partnership with one organization or another.  What does the word “partner”mean to you?

I researched, from some online resources, definitions for the meaning of the word “partner.”  Here’s what I learned:

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines a partner as “one that shares” and a partnership as “usually involving close cooperation between parties having specified and joint rights and responsibilities.

Wikipedia defines partner as a “Friend who shares a common interest or participates in achieving a common goal” and a business partnering as “the development of successful, long term, strategic relationships between customers and suppliers, based on achieving best practices and sustainable competitive advantage.

Alfonso Montuori, Ph.D and Isabella Conti, Ph.D, co-authors of an article entitled “The Meaning of Partnership,” profess that “partnership” has many different meanings.  It refers to relationships with vendors, limited partnerships, business alliances, the emphasis on team work, and a new spirit of seeking out opportunities for collaboration and networking. Partnership is much more than a fashionable new buzzword. It literally calls for a complete shift in the way we view and,above all, create human relationships.

I thought it would be helpful to gather the perspectives of some Events Industry Thought Leaders, on this subject.   I created a Google Wave, for that purpose.  These individuals have varied backgrounds and experience.  Here are their responses:

Cameron Toth (Social Media Educator) likens a partnership to a marriage …

“Now being in a true partnership with someone, on work related income generating opportunities, is a bag of worms best unopened, if you can avoid it.  Not to say that it can not work but they (partnerships) are difficult at best.

Think of a marriage with both spouses fighting over money. There is a reason the US divorce rate is very high, and I am not looking at the statistics, but I believe financial pressures is one of the leading causes … and lets not go into illicit deals behind the other partners back…”

Lara McCulloch-Carter (Regal Tent Co.)  shares her company’s experience with partnership for the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics…

“As you know the Winter Olympics are taking place in February.  Regal had a few options when deciding how we were going to go after business.  We have significant advantages over many other temporary structure companies in both Canada & the US.

What we don’t have are the relationships and a local presence.  (in Vancouver)   We set out to develop a strategic partnership with another tent company, located in Vancouver. Why I call this a partnership is for a few reasons:

  • We each bring value to one another and fill the gaps the other has.
  • We set it up so that we equally benefit from the relationship.
  • Despite us setting up the partnership specifically for the Olympics, the relationship is long-term.
  • We have a great deal of trust and admiration for one another. Trust is such an important element of partnership success. This is made possible by having constant and open dialogue.
  • There also has to be an element of elasticity. What we imagined the partnership to look like at the beginning of the process evolved slightly as the process went on. This is very important – a good partnership requires each partner to learn, adapt and evolve from experiences.”

Christina Stallings (Non-profit Medical Society Staff) treads lightly when when referring to the word “partner” in her world…

“From the eyes of someone who works for a non-profit medical society (in a time where increased scrutiny and perception are very important factors), that obtains some funding from pharmaceutical companies, the word “partner” can lead to a negative, and false perception, that the funding company played too large a role in the planning/development process of programs. The word partner is generally avoided, and instead we tend to usually thank the sponsor(s) for their “generous support”.

However, when we receive funding for a campaign that helps patients, and falls under the charitable category, we are more inclined to use the words partner or collaborator. This demonstrates the corporate supporter’s commitment to a good cause and really does not pose any risk for a negative perception. I think the Wikipedia definition is the most appropriate in my industry.”

Jenise Fryatt (Co-Owner of Icon Presentations, an A/V Firm) frames it up this way…

“I use the term “partner” as a verb to describe how I am collaborating with a colleague or other business. I think most of us, if we are honest, can count many instances where we have “partnered” with others to achieve a goal we could not accomplish on our own. We just don’t usually call them partners, although they clearly fit the definitions you cite above. To me “partnering” with someone on a project, implies a mutually beneficial bond and a sense of trust. To me, that’s exciting, compelling and adds an aspect of commitment.”

Samuel J. Smith (Independent Event Professional & Technology Guru) is succinct in his remarks about this topic …

“To me, there are a couple of things that make a supplier-client relationship a partnership:

  • The two parties are working together toward a common goal.
  • The relationship is collaborative.”

Jessica Levin (President and “Chief Connector” of 7 Degrees Communications) considers “partnerships” to be paramount to doing business with someone …

“I rarely do business with anyone that does not look at our interaction as a potential partnership. In business it is critical to have trust and to have both parties benefiting from the relationship.

True partners understand that you may have to give something up today for the greater good of the relationship. Partnership is often defined when it comes to contract negotiations. Vendors that understand my point of view and the pressures that I am facing and work to help me accomplish my goals stand out from those that are simply looking to maximize revenue. Of course, there must be balance and I recognize and acknowledge that the other party must benefit. If two parties view the interactions as a partnership, they are more likely to work together to find solutions to difficult situations. There is huge value when someone approaches a problem by trying to reach a solution rather than saying “this is the way it is.”

Jeff Hurt (Director, Education & Engagement, Velvet Chainsaw Consulting) has these insights into the concept of “Partnerships” …

“I think “partnerships” is a word that is overused. It is often one of the most misunderstood words in today’s business world.

Ideally a partnership would benefit both parties 50/50. Yet people don’t think in those terms. They think in terms of “how can this partnership help me?”

While that may be a good starting point, it’s a recipe for failure. As soon as the partnership loses value on one side, it falls apart altogether. If your partner isn’t gaining as much as you are, you both lose.

The goal would be to think in terms of “how can this partnership provide as much value to our partner as it does to us?” You need to realize that if the balanced equation tips in either direction, the partnership is going to burn up.

A partnership isn’t a joint press release or an announcement on a blog. It’s a long-lasting, value-exchanging pact that demonstrably grows both companies faster.”

Those are some insightful words of wisdom from this group of professionals.  I think the term “partner” or “partnership” is used a little too casually sometimes.  In my mind’s eye, partnership is  not so much an action as it is a way of thinking.

Arguably, one of the strongest messages of the Holy Bible is the Golden rule… to treat people the way you want to be treated.  I think the principles of partnership closely follow that simple truth.  If everyone were to incorporate that way of thinking into their business communications, strategies  and tactics, our world would be a much happier and productive place!

In this “new normal” for business, building and sustaining relationships is a top priority.  From my vantage point, the philosophy of partnership, as described in this article,  seems to fit logically into that business focus.  What do you think?

Question — What is your perception of the term “partner” or “partnership” and how do you see it playing out in your business activities?  We look forward to reading about your insights on this meaty topic!

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Traci Browne January 18, 2010 at 8:19 pm

I do like this one a lot Michael. You’re right, this word gets thrown about quite a bit these days.

I like to use the word partner instead of sponsor when it comes to expos and events that I produce. It creates room for a dialog with those signing up to participate in our events. To me, using the word partner says I don’t just have my own interests at heart, but yours as well. I want our ‘partners’ to be in it for the long haul…not just one event.


Michael M McCurry CMP January 18, 2010 at 8:22 pm

@Traci Browne,

Amen to that Traci… the word does get thrown around a lot.

But… in its proper perspective it has wonderful implications, and in follow through, great results.

This way of thinking will help our business thrive long into the future, if adopted consistently across sectors and brands.

Thanks for adding to the conversation!



mike mcallen January 19, 2010 at 11:09 am

Partnerships have made my career. When I was in charge of staffing and all the production and media for my old employer we used a pool of freelancers worldwide. Most of my internal co-workers were administrative. As you all know shows come and go so it was a balancing act to keep everyone in line with the budget and schedules which changed so so much.
Keeping up these partnerships with forming respectful relationships by give and take. If I had to cancel someone at the last minute they would move to the top of my list for the next event etc. We were producing several proposals, meetings, events, videos, animations etc… a month. (the good old days ) When I left 6 or so years ago to start Grass Shack Event & Media with another producer and my wife we had partnerships all over the world to do creative and production. If I did not have these partnerships I would not be in business today. With the advent of social media tools my pool has only grown and if the darn economy would come back I would be able to get a Harley and ride with you Michael….
Thanks for the post keep them coming!


Michael M McCurry CMP January 19, 2010 at 1:19 pm

@mike mcallen,

This is really a great testimonial, Mike, to the value of partnerships. Thanks for sharing it!

The funny part about life is we never know who we are going to be working with or, better yet, working for. That’s the part where a giving spirit and a kind heart goes a long way towards sustaining relationships on a lifelong basis.

Clearly, Mike, you have that type of spirit, and it is a pleasure to know you as a friend and do business with you as an event professional.

Thanks for adding to the conversation.



Dave Lutz January 19, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Mike, great post. I love the google wave thingy (technical term) you’re using!

When I hear the term “partner” I often think of a hotel or CVB partnering with a client and/or 3rd party to execute an exceptional event. Last year’s downturn, though, really strained these relationships. When a hotel would not drop their rate or waive attrition, they were told that they were a bad partner vs. someone holding up their side of the contract. Moral of the story is that partnership is a term that is often used loosely in our industry and more for positioning oneself for negotiations.

When you look at the business world, I’d have to agree with Jeff’s assessment. According to Accenture, alliances/partnerships represented somewhere between $25 and $40 trillion in total value a couple years ago. Most of these will fail to meet their sponsors’ expectations and less than 2% will survive beyond four years.

The reason for failure is often due to the fact that one party is trying to benefit more than the other. You never want to make a partnership because there will be referral fees paid back and forth or to your sales personnel. You want to form a partnership because collectively you solve client problems better together than apart.


Michael M McCurry CMP January 21, 2010 at 7:08 am

@Dave Lutz,

Sadly, there is a lot of truth to your words, Dave.

While there be many failures with business partnerships, I think with the change in the business environment, we are gonna see some really strong partnerships develop in the coming year. More than ever, people are realizing just how important sustained relationships are to business health, and also the increasing specialization of businesses to niche services will create more opportunities for orgs to work together strategically.

Thanks for adding to the conversation, as always!



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