My oldest child turns 13 next week, which means I’m in my twelfth year with Marketing Partners. My how time flies! During this time our industry has seen many changes, the proliferation of social media chief among them. While change can be a good thing, sometimes it’s the things that remain the same that are most reassuring—especially as it relates to the way our firm has done business. Our approach to the work we do has always been based on collaboration and partnering with our clients (hence our name, Marketing Partners).

Collaboration handshake logo

What is collaboration?

Pat wrote some time ago about the differences between collaboration and consulting and how people’s perceptions of the two terms can vary.

To some the difference between the two may seem small. To our firm, the difference is immense.

Collaboration is defined as:

“…working together to achieve a goal…a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals…”

Whereas, in my mind, serving in a consultant role is more reactive, based on providing advice from time to time or reacting to something that has already been decided or created. It’s more project-specific or shorter-term in nature. This type of relationship often lacks context or a sense of the bigger picture. How can one provide effective counsel without an understanding of the “big picture”?

Synonyms for collaboration include teaming up, uniting, cooperating, working in concert—terms that suggest a process that results in an outcome far greater than if one were working on their own.

Imagine listening to a musical piece played with only one instrument versus that same piece played by an entire symphony. Which experience is richer, more powerful?

Marketing power and effectiveness comes from both the client and agency working together, pooling their resources, experiences, backgrounds and knowledge to create something better.

Who knows a client’s customers best? The client, without a doubt. And who brings a wealth of marketing insight, research, objective analysis and best practices to the table to help develop a solid marketing strategy? The marketing firm.

Drawing a line in the sand

When we begin working with a new client, they want specifics on what we do, who does what, how much does it cost, etc. While these are certainly important questions, the process piece that describes how we work is equally important. I find that trying to draw a line in the sand between who does what, can be difficult.

Our firm has always prided itself on getting to know our clients, working with them closely to learn everything about their company, their team, their culture, their products or services, what they’re all about and forging a mutually rewarding partnership based on collaboration. It’s a give and take process, but both sides are always working toward that shared vision and making something better, whether that is a marketing plan, a tagline, an ad campaign or new brochure. As an employee, I find this a much more enriching and satisfying process than what I had experienced before.

Of course, not every agency approaches its work in such a collaborative manner. Certainly the first ad agency I worked in was more of a consulting agency. We did projects driven by the client’s request, with creative direction from the agency’s president. Our work was not necessarily based on having a deep understanding of the client’s customers or mission. Interesting to note that the firm isn’t around any longer.

The consulting relationship is more like the one you may have with your hardware store, quickie mart or dry cleaner. You, the customer, tell them what you want, they give it to you and you pay for it—nothing more, nothing less. But in a truly collaborative relationship there is more–much more.

So when I am asked what we do for clients I first touch on process and how we do it, talking about how we follow a collaborative approach to develop a solid marketing strategy for them.

Sure, there are days when we are asked only for our input or to carry out certain tasks, but for the most part these occasions are few in number. Our clients realize that real marketing effectiveness comes from a collaborative process with a trusted business partner that knows you and your business goals inside and out.

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image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACollaboration_logo.svg