Rules for Successful Partnerships

This is a guest post by 2013 Wine Tourism Conference speaker, John Cooper.

Partnerships. We’ve been told that to succeed in life and business you need partnerships. In this era of scarce resources, that’s the case even more. But in marketing destinations I have heard the term bantered about flippantly and without true commitment. I’ve had folks state that they wanted to ‘partner’ with us when really what they wanted was our money or for us to shoulder the weight of some project. Sound familiar?

For a partnership to be truly successful:

  1. It requires that all partners decide on, understand, and agree on their roles and responsibilities and document them in writing.
  2. All those involved should equally shoulder the duties and commitment.
  3. It must be mutually beneficial.
  4. Mechanisms must be in place to evaluate the success and benefits of the partnership.
  5. Communication is crucial.

That’s not to say that all successful partnerships follow these tenants. Some can work without all or some of these rules. But usually for a partnership to reach full potential these guidelines are important. So let’s look at them more closely.

Decide on, understand, and agree on roles and responsibilities: We enter partnerships for many reasons- ranging from politics that press us to do it to situations where it ‘sounds like a good idea.’ In the best of worlds there should be rhyme with the reason. The partnership should support your mission, and it should match your marketing/business plans. If not, think twice. When you decide to enter a partnership, act like an attorney when you write up a business partnership contract, agreement or understanding. Obligations need to be discussed, understood, agreed upon and put into writing. That way if there is a misunderstanding, there’s a document in place to keep things on track.

Equally shoulder the duties and commitment: This seems like a no brainer but surprisingly this does not always happen. In some situations the partners may agree to differing levels of duties, but the underlying point is if too much falls on one person or entity, resentment can build and the partnership may not last. And if everyone is not in agreement on end goals and committed to working towards those goals, it will fail.

It must be mutually beneficial: Especially when hard dollars are on the line, all parties need to discuss how this partnership will be mutually beneficial. Otherwise it can turn out to be a subsidy for one participant and a drain on the other. For example, be wary of esoteric end results like ‘ this partnership will improve the local economy’ or ‘it will create more visitors’ without any hard metrics to back those claims. Ask the potential partner: ‘If we participate, what will be the direct benefit to our business/organization in terms of… (new revenue, increased brand recognition, etc)?’ ‘What specifically can you offer us in exchange for our involvement?’ Don’t accept ‘warm and fuzzy’ statements, get specific.

Evaluate the success and benefits of the partnership: How will you measure the success of the partnership, both in tangible and intangible terms? Mutually agree on those metrics and again, document them. Sometimes things do not work out as planned or at all. In those cases the partnership needs to be reassessed and revised or abandoned.

Communication is crucial: This goes without saying, but sometimes communication breaks down or is not very open and things break down or worse yet, blow up. Make a commitment to open and frequent communication. Be honest and open and request your partners to do the same.

Follow these steps and the partnership should be good for all concerned. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on these rules and any others that make for a good partnership.

About the Author

John Cooper is President & CEO of the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau. A 20-year veteran of the tourism industry, John was previously head of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, the Southern Oregon Visitors Association, and the Corvallis Oregon Convention and Visitors Bureau. He was awarded Washington State Tourism Professional of the Year in 2003 and Executive of the Year by the Washington Society of Association Executives in 2001.

John, along with Michele Boyer will be leading a Friday, November 15th breakout session, Strategic Partnerships and Why They Are Important

You can register for the Wine Tourism Conference here.

photo credit: nImAdestiny via photopin cc