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Pick a partner: why working together is the key to success

James Trowman

We could all learn a lot from Tom and Jerry. Mindful of the dizzying changes set about by globalisation, businesses have started to realise that sometimes they need to park competition for the greater good and adopt this “frenemy” approach instead.

Back in 2004, when tech giants Sun and Microsoft partnered to better meet the needs of their mutual customer base, some doubted whether these historical rivals could play nice together. But over time it became clear that both companies did well out of the partnership – together, they held more weight in the competitive market. And a plethora of tech corporations have followed suit.

IBM is one of the most prevalent examples. In 2014, the company rocked the boat by announcing a partnership with Apple, its long-standing rival. Many expected fireworks, but instead, the partnership generated 100 successful enterprise apps that wove together IBM’s big data and analytics capabilities with Apple’s iPhone and iPad software. Each company’s market-leading strengths were harnessed and a mutual goal was met with success. Both companies realised that if they were to make their mark on the future, it was time to leave their pride at the door and walk hand-in-hand with their past rival. Because, of course, Apple had things that IBM didn’t – and vice versa.

IBM’s focus on partnerships doesn’t stop there. Last year, it rounded up an SAP-IBM-Apple “love triangle”, and historically it has teamed with Cisco to produce more expansive product offerings. These partnerships have allowed IBM to provide integrated offerings with greater worth that benefit all the parties involved. As collaborators, these tech firms can expedite business growth and boost market share while also bulldozing the rest of the competition.

And it’s not just working for tech: marketing and creative agencies are also recognising the benefits of partnering with the competition. Every agency can’t be a jack of all trades, and once we stop seeing one another as competitors, powerful partnerships can form (sometimes between multiple agencies). Clients have increasingly sophisticated requirements that span beyond the fundamentals of many individual agencies. Taking inspiration from our friends in the corporate world, strategic partnerships between agencies can provide broader, more exciting offerings, enhanced global experience and tremendous bank of national and international clients – all of which will help agencies to meet the needs of the clients.

Sleeping with the enemy

At the Frameworks, we’re big fans of agency partnerships. But why?

First, consumer habits are becoming increasingly complex and now involve a whole spectrum of disciplines and channels (from PR to SEO). No agency alone can be amazing at all these things, so agencies can partner with each other to add missing skillsets to their working portfolio. The Frameworks has always partnered with agencies and consultants who fulfil skills and expertise we lack. This has meant that each agency and individual involved can focus on their own specialism rather than risk diluting their approach to many. With each agency working tirelessly on delivering the best result for its discipline, the highest-quality outputs are delivered to the client.

Second, agency collectives can provide a more diverse portfolio of work that spans across numerous industries and geographies. Historically, clients have leveraged the locations of agencies in our collectives to not only support international campaigns, but also to acquire specialist knowledge of localised niche markets. These valuable insights set campaigns apart from the competition, thus making collectives more valuable to the client.

Partnering for briefs is especially beneficial to small agencies; the collection of skills and experience in a partnership provides greater firing power when pitching to win clients. And individual teams within each agency can link up to demonstrate an agile approach to work. By capitalising on each other’s strengths, the agencies leverage competitive power and win over more clients who are attracted by the opportunity to work with the best teams, who will be agile enough to flex responsively to their needs.

Of course, these collaborations won’t be entirely free from competition or setbacks – people don't always play fair. But partnerships do offer the opportunity to use friendly competition as an advantage. Creative people thrive on the desire to do better than one another, so everyone is hungry to deliver; this rivalry can be harnessed to drive better outcomes.

Collaboration from the get-go

Increasingly, our clients are realising the benefits of agency collectives and actively pursuing them. For IBM’s campaign around Wimbledon 2017 it assembled a group of agencies, specialising in different fields, to bring the big idea to life. IBM recognised that to create the best deliverable, a collective with a diverse skillset was required.

Working on the ideation of this project made us realise the importance of bringing agency minds together from the beginning. By encouraging collaboration from the get-go, the work was more transparent and time-efficient; starting with a group creative brainstorm meant that all the teams involved were integrated for the rest of the campaign journey. And the deliverable was all the stronger for it.

Clients sometimes restrict this approach – to their detriment. Agencies are kept apart from one other for fear that they will bare their competitive claws. Clients must realise that time spent to-ing and fro-ing between agencies could be better spent elsewhere. Also, the lack of communication could result in costly mistakes and strained relationships (as the agencies may not be working towards a mutual objective from the start). Allowing agencies to collaborate from day one will reap early benefits as everyone’s ideas are aligned.

Our framework

Partnerships are woven into our DNA. By actively encouraging and harnessing strategic partnerships with multiple agencies we have been able to leverage our competitive advantage and win clients, building a powerful, solid and successful business framework. Collaboration has also ensured that our working process is enriched with diverse ideas from multiple sources, meaning we have produced better outcomes – achieving goals that we could not have accomplished individually. An all-round positive business strategy if you ask me.

For us, there are a couple of points to keep in mind that help sweeten the deal when it comes to forming an agency collective. Complementary cultures and mutual respect are key; we want our partners to be as open, transparent and friendly as us so we can feel free to communicate and express our opinions. And sharing a focused vision is just as important – when the goal is focused, the collective will be, too.

Many hands

We’ve learned that by partnering with other agencies and consultancies we can leverage each other’s strengths, win clients, create work we are proud of and maximise client success. In our experience, partnership working has always been a positive business strategy for all those involved, so we won’t be slowing down any time soon. As the age-old proverb goes, “many hands make light work” – clearly, collaboration is the key to success.