The possibility and peril of partnerships

The possibility and peril of partnerships

Everyone in business has to form partnerships of one kind or another. Sometimes they are a massive joint venture, sometimes they support operations, and sometimes they are just obvious marketing ploys wrapped up in a partnership bow.

Like the one highlighted in a recent Oliver Burkeman article. It seems hotelier Marriot has partnered up with a not-for-profit, which sounds great on face value until you learn:

Marriott International has joined forces with a nonprofit called A Woman’s Nation to launch The Envelope Please, a campaign to encourage hotel guests to leave “tips and notes of thanks for hotel room attendants” in envelopes that Marriott will graciously provide. (You can contribute to Marriott’s marketing budget – sorry, I meant “donate to A Woman’s Nation”! – here.)

Read the article if you’d like to know more. But suffice to say that “encouraging” guests to tip your hotel staff more under the guise of showing your gratitude is a pretty nifty way to avoid paying higher wages and also avoid actually give more than lip service to your core value of “Take care of associates and they will take care of the customers.”

Of course you don’t have to go far to find examples of partnerships that feel a bit on the nose. McDonald’s and the Heart Foundation anyone? Baker Hughes “pink” drill bits and Susan G Komen … insert your own WTH example here.

So whether you are building a joint venture partnership to build the latest toll road, or planning something on a much more human scale, how can you best harness the possibility of partnership without getting caught out by another company’s actions or agenda?

It will come as no surprise that I recommend that you start with values. Sure the opportunity that made you think about the partnership in the first place has to be there. But if you don’t take a good, cold hard look at what the partnering organisation stands for you’re opening yourself up to potential blow back, because others will be. And if those others are your customers or other stakeholders, the cost of the partnership can rapidly take a toll on your organisation and your brand.

High profile examples from Nike, Apple and others have driven a much higher awareness of the importance of knowing what’s going on at your partner’s business.

Here are a few areas of potential misalignment worth a second look:

  • What are their goals for the partnership? Are they shared or on completely difference planets?
  • What are their values?
  • How does the other group treat their people?
  • Have you visited their operations? Who does the work and under what conditions?
  • Who are their investors (if they have them)?
  • Who else are they in partnership with?
  • Where are they located (cultural differences can cause all sorts of  problems)?
  • And there are many other facets of a partnership deal that you should take the time to explore…

All of this impacts how you will work together. Even a marketing partnership can and will have operational in-roads, so it’s important to know who you’re getting in to bed with!

No one can go it alone anymore and when done right partnerships can be great things with the potential to help grow and strengthen your business. The trick is to avoid the peril that comes along with them.

See you next week with “Get a Grip”.

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at

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