Communicating Successful Partnerships

Communicating successful partnerships can be challenging – understanding the multiple audiences and how they measure and judge progress is vital to success.

What feels like success for one partner does not always resonate with another.

Broadly, for a company, success is something that boosts shareholder value. The effect may be quite indirect – such as strengthening positive perceptions of the brand through a clear ‘brand purpose’ or building staff loyalty and retention – but these can probably still be estimated in financial terms in one way or another. Cause-related marketing such as promotional endorsements would be an example of the former and staff volunteering an example of the latter.

Other benefits could be in risk mitigation – for example working with academics to understand flooding in low-income countries may help to protect assets in richer countries – or in developing and testing new product concepts.

These can all be understood and appreciated by even the most hard-nosed investor, whilst pure philanthropy may be a harder ‘sell’.

For an NGO or civil society partner success may look similar in some instances. Lending their logo to a product may bring in some much-needed revenue but, some would argue, at the price of ‘selling out’ to commercial interests that are along way from the central mission of the organisation. This feeling can be quite intense, as one client noted ‘if we had done that fifty PhDs would have downed tools and stopped working’.

Other benefits are likely to centre on scale and access. By collaborating with a large commercial partner there may be the opportunity to reach thousands or millions more people, to protect vastly more natural heritage or get access to centres of power and communication – which are just beyond their normal resources.

So for corporates communicating successful partnerships with NGOs may often be evaluated – indirectly – in commercial terms, such as brand reputation, access, research and development. For NGOs communicating successful partnerships with corporates  may focus on how they have advanced their mission with the minimum compromise to commercial forces.

As should be obvious by now, one style of messaging is unlikely to satisfy all of the internal and external audiences involved, but it should be equally obvious that all of the messaging should come from the same set of facts to avoid confusion and dissonance.

Thinking about these different audiences – internal, external, commercial and philanthropic and what they need, at the very start of the partnership, pays dividends. If a corporate wants to know how many otters have been saved so that the number can go in their annual report, it’s a good idea to find a way of estimating this from the beginning (and if it is impossible finding another measure). If the sponsoring department wants to communicate effectively internally they may want other demonstrations of value such as Social Return on Investment (SROI). Thinking about the metrics early on will save a lot of heartache and estimation later.

Social media will often be a key way to get the messages out and this requires a flow of images and stories, endorsements and use of logos. Again the framework for this should form a core part of any partnership agreement. Some form of policing may also be in order to make sure that all partners are pulling their weight, acknowledging the support they receive, and communicating effectively. The more varied and supportive the voices, the greater the benefits.

At the weightier end of the communications spectrum intelligent reports and white papers often add weight and lustre to the partnership’s results, but these are rarely read in their entirety except by the authors, the commissioners and a very few enthusiasts. In a disaggregated world these become resources for smaller and more accessible pieces and insights that greatly extend their reach and impact.

So thinking and planning early, creating a common repository of facts and stories and understanding the different audiences and their needs can transform the communication and increase the duration of partnerships. But expertise, vigilance, flexibility and dedication to the task are necessary to ensure the message gets out there, stays out there, and is clear and effective.


If you would like to find out more about how to communicate about your partnership from strategy to execution, do get in touchC

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