Sustainability as a Commercial Partnerships Catalyst column
ECM September_Layout 1 03/09/2012 13:34 Page 50 50 Columnist: Toby Webb Ethical Corporation • September 2012 GEHRINGJ/ISTOCKPHOTO.COM Business strategy Sustainability as a commercial partnerships catalyst Ambitious heads of corporate responsibility will help create the cooperation deals of the future, says Toby Webb ere’s a prediction for you. Sus- Board and chief executive buy in H tainable business strategies will one day soon encompass brand-to- to long-term, broad-based partner- ships with a commercial benefit is brand partnerships that incorporate key. They will need to be fed the the needs of society with social and idea and take it on as their own. Bring it all together environmental concerns. That might take some time. There are not many of these A study on how, when and with The skills needed will have been arrangements around so far, but whom such partnerships could honed both in the business and in more are on the way. work will be essential. Getting the emerging markets. So moving talent Brand-to-brand partnerships are funding for this could take some around is going to matter much not new. Some have succeeded in the years. Collaboration with a business more than it does today. Partner- past; many have failed. I’m suggesting school or management consultancy ships in China will be very different the next generation of smart partner- to research the topic could help re- from any in the UK. ships will use sustainability and social allocate existing budget as well as Equally, when EU, Japanese or US concerns as a framework to lock in gain new money to pay for it. brands collaborate in their domestic long-term interests. These examples of markets, those arrangements will be cooperation may last where others Who’s driving? Board and chief entirely specific to the needs of those have not. Collaboration may replace Once boards and executives “own” executive buy localised customers. The experience riskier mergers and acquisitions. the idea and opportunities are in to long-term, required to do lasting deals will be in To make these brand-to-brand sought, the question of who in the many cases vastly different from partnerships work, companies will business drives and manages part- broad-based those in, for example, India or Brazil. need to focus on executive skills and nerships arises. It’s clear that partnerships Tolerance of the risk of failure will knowledge development. Experi- whoever gets the job must under- be vitally important. There will be enced managers will be needed to stand both the business and the with a some high-profile failures, there’s no negotiate and manage successful sustainability agendas. commercial doubt. No brand wants to become that cooperation with other companies. Like most effective executives, benefit is key business school case study or that These arrangements will be long they’ll come from inside the busi- ever-dredged-up example archived on term and multi faceted. They will ness with many years of knowledge. web search engines. Chief executives not just be about a three-to-five-year But they’ll need to understand big- and boards will have to be persuaded return on investment. ger social and environmental issues. that the reward is worth the risk. Let’s say that a European or US So picking out these executives All of the above and more will retailer and healthcare company years before they might be needed is need considering as big brands seek want to partner to offer their prod- vitally important. People who know to collaborate, partner, and create a ucts together, to market both the business can be trained in sus- sustainable corporate ecosystem wellness products but also wellness tainability. Doing it the other way that works for two or more distinct services. These would be sold online around is much harder. parties but also for society. and on the shop floor. The detail will Executives and managers will also Smart companies are preparing be complicated. have to be shown that the dual busi- the ground now. They are spotting Importantly, how would a sustain- ness cases must be understood. emerging and domestic manage- ability executive put the idea into the Traditional deals are all about “what’s ment and creative talent. They are heads of those really senior executives in it for us?” Lasting and profitable moving it around, even in and out of who would make it happen, and gain partnerships will also be about sustainability departments in short their buy in and “idea ownership”? “what’s in it for them?” and “how do stints. Even across continents. I Those skills are much needed. we make sure what’s good for us in These are crucial questions. Here five years is also good for them?” Toby Webb is founder of Ethical Corporation and are some thoughts on how a head of The concept of “them” will be Stakeholder Intelligence. He teaches corporate corporate responsibility or sustain- complex: it will be not just about the responsibility at Birkbeck College, University of ability could be a catalyst for partner brands but also about the COLUMNIST: London, where he is undertaking a PhD in commercial partnerships. society the arrangement serves. TOBY WEBB business strategy and sustainability.