Good rules make for good partners

Colin Tener is president of Tener Solutions Group, a customer relationship management consultancy based in Toronto. In today's increasingly complex business environment, it has become common for organizations to partner with companies whose core competencies complement their own, rather than...

Colin Tener is president of Tener Solutions Group, a customer relationship management consultancy based in Toronto.

In today’s increasingly complex business environment, it has become common for organizations to partner with companies whose core competencies complement their own, rather than try to do everything themselves. Sure, some companies still try to be all things to all people. But in many situations clients recognize that a team drawn together for their specialized expertise and experience is often preferable to the one-stop shop. Why risk the danger of the ‘weak link’ from a mediocre component?

But of course that presumes that a good collaborative arrangement represented by a loose partnership of companies can overcome its own set of dangers.

At TSG, we are often asked by direct marketing agencies, database vendors and software companies to lend our expertise in data mining and customer relationship management to address a particular client issue. At the same time, there are a number of clients who have asked us to coordinate the team. Over the years we’ve gained some insight into what makes such a collaborative effort successful and how the potential pitfalls can be avoided.

Before embarking on any kind of partnership arrangement, however loose you may wish it to be, there are a few things to consider. Know what you want out of the partnership. Is this simply a short-term revenue-generating opportunity or are you each looking to establish a more formal relationship over time? What are your respective corporate cultures? Is one very centralized in its decision-making while the other prefers to empower project managers to make decisions? What are the quantitative and qualitative measures that will define success? Do each of you see this as a true partnership or does one think the other is a sub-contractor? Confusion about just what everyone hopes to gain from the relationship is a good way to start off on the wrong foot.

Once you’ve each decided that a partnership makes sense, the first step you should undertake is to clearly spell out the roles and responsibilities of each party. Defining precisely who will do what and when goes a long way to ensuring the partnership will work. And it’s not enough to just outline the roles. Everybody has to know what they are and accept them, from senior managers down to project participants. If problems are going to arise they won’t tend to be at the corporate level, where collaborative arrangements are usually hammered out, but down in the weeds where the day-to-day realities lie. Unless the project participants from all parties are on board, politics, greed and ego can quickly get out of hand.

Once roles have been established, allow them to proceed. If one partner is bringing with him expertise in a particular subject, then they must be allowed to take the lead on matters relating to that expertise. If you chose a creative partner because you value their imagination and design expertise, don’t start second guessing them the first time they bring you mock-ups.

It is also critical to establish who ‘owns’ the client. If you are the lead, then the client is probably looking to you for ultimate project responsibility and the other players need to recognize that. The lead needs to be involved in key decisions and is probably the main conduit for communication back to the client.

On the other hand, the point of the team is to combine skill sets. A lead who tries to stifle the involvement of the other team members is not doing the client a service and will probably have a hard time pulling a team together again.

The overriding rule is simple: communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure all parties are aware of new developments as they arise. Clients will call whomever they think can address their issue and we all know that is not always the designated point of contact. Rather than let that be a problem, make sure that there are procedures in place to keep everyone informed.

When the project is complete have some process for sharing the learning. Did each partner achieve what they wanted to? What could be improved next time? How did the client evaluate the joint effort?

Finally, everyone must recognize that the relationship between partners will change. At one point the agency may bring the client to the table, but next time it might be another partner. And it can get even more complicated than that. We have an arrangement with a decision-support software company that has been beneficial to both parties. On any given day however, we can be designated project head, partner, sub-contractor, client or even competitor depending on the nature of the work that our respective clients are asking us to do. Establishing trust between the partners and recognizing that we will still sometimes be on opposite sides of the table ultimately builds strong ties that benefit everyone.

Collaborative efforts are likely to become even more the rule than they are today. Establishing a few simple ground rules up front can go a long way toward ensuring the successful outcome everyone is looking for.

Colin Tener can be reached at (416) 585-2900 x 26 or by e-mail at

In Brief: The Garden picks CDs to take on daily creative leadership

Plus, Naked names two new leaders of its own and Digital Ethos comes to Canada.

The Garden promotes two creative directors

ACDs Lindsay Eady and Francheska Galloway-Davis have taken over responsibility for day-to-day creative leadership at The Garden after being promoted to creative director roles.

The pair will also help develop the agency’s creative talent, formalizing mentorship and leadership activities they have been doing since joining the agency four and three years ago, respectively. In addition to creating the agency’s internship program, the pair have worked on campaigns for Coinsquare, FitTrack and “The Coke Challenge” campaign for DanceSafe.

Eady and Galloway-Davis will continue to report to The Garden’s co-founder and chief creative officer Shane Ogilvie, who is stepping back from daily creative duties to a more high-level strategic role, allowing him to focus on client relationships and business growth.

Naked Creative Consultancy names new creative and strategy leadership

Toronto’s Naked Creative Consultancy has hired Yasmin Sahni as its new creative director. She is taking over creative leadership from David Kenyon, who has been in the role for 10 years and is moving into a new role as director of strategy, leading the discipline at the agency.

Sahni is coming off of three years as VP and ECD at GTB’s Toronto office, where she managed all the retail, social and service creative for Ford Canada. She previously managed both Vice Media and Vice’s in-house ad agency Virtue.

Peter Shier, president of Naked, says Sahni’s hiring adds to its creative bench and capabilities, as well as a track record of mentorship, a priority for the company. Meanwhile, Kenyon’s move to the strategy side, he says, makes sense because of his deep knowledge of its clients, which have included Ancestry and The Globe and Mail.

Digital Ethos opens a Toronto office

U.K. digital agency Digital Ethos is pursuing new growth opportunities in North America by opening a new office in Toronto.

Though it didn’t disclose them, the agency has begun serving a number of North American clients, and CEO/founder Luke Tobin says the “time was right to invest in a more formal and actual presence in the area.” whose services include design, SEO, pay-per-click, social media, influencer and PR,

This year, the agency’s growth has also allowed it to open an office in Hamburg, Germany, though it also has remote staff working in countries around the world.

Moray Hickes was the company’s first North American hire as VP of sales, tasked with business development in the region.