“Splitting up the Pie,” as (they) say, is not easy. That is where collaboration between two or more companies usually falls apart. For nearly 20 years I have helped develop collaborative relationships to build business, portfolio, team skills and to broaden the breadth of this agency. It has, without a doubt, been one of the least rewarding tactics I have employed in terms of measuring success against effort. I relate it to the journey of finding the love of your life: You have to go through a lot of “crazy ones,” rejection, self illumination and then growth, as well as consternation and outright “failure to launch” before you actually find the right ONE(s).
In advertising circles, we must often collaborate whether we want to or not. Most clients have brand agencies or digital agencies or tactical agencies, etc. already engaged. Often we are brought in to collaborate and jump start what has gone stale, in some regards. So we are forced to collaborate with other teams that immediately feel territorial. That is totally understandable. In each instance, my goal is to get in as quickly as possible and try to get face time to make sure our intentions are understood. It is important that I get a good read on how defensive the other agency will or won’t be, then work to alleviate those fears by actions not words.
I have found that direct honesty is the only way to go when faced with these situations. “We aren’t here to replace anyone or make anyone look bad. We just want to help, and through our collaborative effort, get added to the roster and continue to work with you.” I absolutely mean that. That said, no one believes a word I say. It’s only our actions that will prove our intention. At bk, we adhere to the good Karma plan and strive to maintain honor in what is often a bit of a cutthroat game. We’ve been burned, of course. Not everyone plays that way. But that is to be expected. All we can do is stick to who and what we are and let our work and actions go before us.
Don’t get me wrong. If it’s a shoot out to earn business or an opportunity arises because a prospective client is unhappy with their current agency, we will go to battle. However, if working together is the requirement, we won’t be the bad guys. Ever.
Now that the premise is set, let me get into the good part about collaboration.
We have begun to work in a different category of collaboration. Since you read my blog each month (ahem!), I am certain you remember my last post was on how we are leading our agency into diversifying further and growing our government services niche. Well, now I am very thankful for all of the “on the job” training I have unknowingly had over the years by collaborating with other agencies on shared projects and clients. In the government services world, he who goes it alone often ends up alone . . . and out of work.
One smart thing I credit our leadership with (many others exist, but not going to brag) is we stick to what we are best at and don’t make it up with smoke and mirrors. We pride ourselves on being direct with our clients and letting them know what tactical services we do not offer. Generally these are technically-driven and we provide the strategy and goal for that tactical piece. We prefer to manage that piece in terms of helping point the cannon, but we let the experts in their field do their thing. Just as we request they let us do ours.
In collaborating in the government sector, it goes well beyond my simplistic explantation. In most instances, RFPs are convoluted with mixed specialty and HUB Zone requirements that one company simply cannot win on their own. So this has made an entire new network of needy friends out there to meet and collaborate with. One may have expertise with higher education clients, but not have effective digital strategy down. Or another may have superlative reporting and specialized accounting, but not analysis and research. Sill another may be in a specific HUB Zone, meaning they need capable friends outside their area they can trust and get in lock step to win the work.
What I have learned as we drive down this new course is that collaboration is even more dependent on honest approaches. To misrepresent your skill level or background is to put everyone at risk of missing out on opportunities, not to mention being able to deliver on promises. So by carefully networking, reaching out, going through deep discovery discussions we find other honest entrepreneurial spirits out there that just want to do good and be good at what they do. Very refreshing, indeed! I love when people work together to make a plan come together. Collaboration means new colleagues and friends, as well as new business and more opportunity. When done right, collaboration rewards the company through necessity and reputation. If your reputation remains stellar and important to you, collaboration becomes a pipeline your business will enjoy through out its existence.
Call me up and let’s talk collaboration. You can reach me direct at 214-254-3805. I am open to talk and look forward to discover the ways we can work and grow together.
Eric J. Hirschhorn is a principal at bloomfield knoble. For 17 years he has helped lead the Dallas-based advertising agency from start up to becoming a premier, full-service agency whose clients include some of the most influential companies in America. Eric lives to spend time with his family, to work and to travel the world in search of unique fishing adventures.