Partnerships, teams and collaboration: the "new normal" in marketing
RSMP session run by: Martin Sirk, ICCA; James Rees, ExCel London; Yvonne Nassar, RAI
Amsterdam; with special thanks to Jan Roelof Polling, local ambassador for IOA 2016 for
helping to provide the client perspective.
Recommendation to all RSMP delegates:
Set up annual "partnership review" for your organisation.
Work out how well all your existing partnerships are working.
Work out if problems are because of your input into the partnership or other
factors (clue: the first problem can be solved by you, the others are more difficult
Think about other partnerships that you might benefit from, using the check-list
below of the type of partnerships that are possible.
Particularly think about how to make clients, or local Ambassadors, part of your
true teams, not outsiders.
Whenever you face a new business problem or opportunity, routinely ask the
question - "should we do this alone, or would it be better handled with partners?"
General points to remember:
Partnerships, collaboration and team working require trust as a foundation.
Look for partners with similar corporate cultures, leaders of
companies/organisations who share similar outlooks and attitudes.
Remember that every team member has personal objectives from working within
the team; respect differences but work to help team members understand that
these individual objectives can often be met by temporarily focusing on common
goals. This is a constant, ongoing communication process, not something that can
be solved as a one-off action.
Always think about client motivations when they are part of your team. These can
be wildly different from those of industry partners (thanks to Jan Roelof for this
timely reminder!): Association ambassadors, for example, are primarily motivated
by academic recognition and for helping to advance the academic discipline that
they are passionate about. Finding ways to help the ambassador achieve these
goals is vitally important if they are to feel part of the team.
Build your teams and partnerships before you need them (thanks James!). Going
to someone for help is much more difficult unless the initial trusting relationship is
already in place.
Teams evolve and change, they take time to work well, they require input. Don't
complain that your city team or country team isn't working well if you aren't
volunteering, contributing, offering your own resources.
Think "relevance of purpose" when setting up team. Don't be afraid to not include
some potential partners if you don't think they fit in for that particular objective
(obviously, diplomacy skills are vital here!).
Any ICCA member supplier can initiate the setting up of a team - don't just wait
for the NTO or CVB to take the lead!
Here is a check-list of areas of teamwork, with a few examples:
If your own company's internal team isn't working well, the foundations for any team
working will be weak. We came across examples where the department responsible for
corporate meetings weren't willing to work with the department handling associations; or
sales and operations never spoke; or branch offices in different countries never shared
knowledge about clients (who were treated as domestic clients, even though they had
relations with international business).
This is the most important team for dealing with the international association
sector. Making sure that CVB, centre(s), hotels, local PCOs, etc are working together is
vital, since the client can easily tell if a city doesn't do this (and can compare with those
that do!). Is there common understanding about strategy; are the same key messages
being given consistently, are hotels competing at the stage in the bidding process when
they should be collaborating (competition is fine, when the bid has been won against
other cities!). Is everyone sharing data (including about ICCA qualifying events, so that
all events are being counted in ICCA statistics rankings?).
Often we only think about those who are directly working in the meetings field. The city
team can be expanded to include politicians (are they your friends, do they participate
actively to help win business, if not, why not!), it can also include other businesses
(James gave example of shopping centres, local sports centres, local schools), definitely
it should include universities (not just as sources of ambassadors, but for their
knowledge - just think about the wide range of skills and expertise that is sitting in these
institutions). Then, don't overlook your population, and specific segments of your
population (bloggers, sports and social club leaders, enthusiasts of all kinds, young
people, etc etc). Involving them in some activities and bids helps to make events feel
Hint: when bidding for any "citywide" congress, always promote the strength of the local
team; clients need to know that the city will work together when this type of event takes
place. Usually this isn't requested in the RFPs!
Look at the country stands during IMEX and EIBTM. Who has their act together? Think
about what elements they've put in place to give the impression of one team working
together. How are the stands designed, how are people dressed, what is the attitude
given off. Obviously the country team takes many forms, and there are many lessons
about how to build an effective one, but knowing whether a country team is working can
be seen easily during these big trade shows, so look and think about what they are
doing. If your country isn’t working well together, is this because of lack of leadership,
or does the fault lie with the cities and venues?
Look at the example of Scandinavia in the US market - shared stand, shared research,
joint sales calls, shared leads, common collateral. Back in Europe, friendly competition
takes over (but they still work together to make sure that stands at exhibitions are
placed nearby, to build synergies).
Works for cities, centres, PCOs, DMCs. Key thing is not to be too big, to be very clear
about the things that make the team members similar (e.g. Energy Cities Alliance are all
cities with strong oil and gas industry locally, and work to try and keep more energy-
related events within the circle; World PCO Alliance are all relatively small, strongly
hands-on owners, very entrepreneurial but led by relatively "laid-back" individuals. Use
ICCA to get to know rivals who could become part of such a network.
Vienna has a deep collaboration with Barcelona; Brussels CVB handles European
promotional invitations for Washington DC, whilst DC invites US association contacts to
promotions in US run by Brussels. Strange alliances exist and we expect more. This sort
of partner can also be brilliant at persuading politicians or other top decision-makers
about your strategy or the importance of your work - a respected outside voice usually
carries more weight than an internal voice, even if equally experienced!
Think about partnerships with technology companies, communication agencies, others
who are not in the direct industry (ExCel works very closely with CISCO, for example);
some new congress centres are being built next door to Research & Development
institutions, so that intense collaboration can be set up immediately with these leaders in
intellectual capital. Is there a great website company based in your city; could you be a
showcase for their latest web innovations - this is how Montreal worked with Human
Equation, who are now working with ICCA on our Big Data project.
Leverage all the relationships within the associations you are active in (obviously,
especially ICCA!). Always be thinking, who could be a potential partner (for the long
term, for a particular geographical region, for a particular project). Get to know people
socially, build trust, find out similarities, but then offer something of value. Reciprocation
is a great strategy, and you can lead off with the first offer.
SOCIAL MEDIA NETWORKS
We didn't cover this in the session, but this is obviously growing in importance. Small
physical teams can be expanded dramatically over virtual time and space. Messages can
be amplified by a global team voice.
Again, always think about how to include them. A basic ambassador programme is not
really a team or strategic partnership. However, ambassador programmes can evolve
into genuine and very effective partnerships (e.g. where "super ambassadors" start
recruiting other ambassadors).
Jan Roelof made the critical point that whenever associations select a PCO, venue, or
city, they are very conscious they are entering a 3-6 year relationship, so they either
consciously or subconsciously are looking for partnerships, not buyer-seller relationships.
They will be asking themselves the following:
"Do we like these people?"
"Do they understand us?"
"Will they listen to us, or care about us?"
"Will it be pleasant and easy to work with them?"
A team isn't for life. A particular project can enable you to build a unique team that may
only last for one or two years.
James suggested having a "tool kit" of potential partners, with whom you've already built
a relationship, so that when the opportunity arises you can pull the right companies or
individuals together quickly and efficiently.