Let me paint you a picture.
It’s the middle of Q3. You have your head buried in your inbox, focussed on chasing down those last few MQLs to hit your annual quota.
“Just one more webinar, Billy, and we’ll be drinking champagne this Christmas!” you mutter under your breath, to no one in particular.
Ding. A notification catches your eye in the top right-hand corner of your screen.
‘Partnership 2021?’ reads the preview text of an email from your media partner of the last decade.
“Is it that time of year already?” you think to yourself, slowly realising that the last six months has either seemingly fallen out of the space-time continuum or you must be suffering from a severe bout of amnesia.
You open up the email and attached, as always, is the same sponsorship agreement your company has signed over and over again, like some warped marketing version of Groundhog Day.
30-day masthead ad with a 0.02% CTR – check.
Logo placement on a minimum of six emails sent to the entire database – check.
One speaking opportunity in a room no-one visits at their annual networking event – check.
“Please revert with the signed contract ASAP – lot’s of interest this year. Oh, and say hello to Steve in accounting for me,” finishes the sickly-sweet email from the Account Manager you’ve known for a third of your life but still couldn’t pick out in a crowded room.
And you do revert with the signed contract. Because it’s what you have always done.
Why partnerships break down
Unfortunately, this situation isn’t uncommon. B2B companies – particularly in niche, non-software industries – fall victim to activating the same sponsorship opportunities with their media partners year in, year out.
I’m talking about organisations like trade magazines, industry associations, community programmes and analyst firms who have built an audience around themselves and charge brands for the right to access it.
This in itself is not a bad thing. If a company has done the hard work of collecting a group of your potential buyers in one place, it’s only fair to expect they will want to be compensated by you to engage with them.
The problem arises in what this engagement looks like. And often, it’s pretty archaic. I still receive offers to sponsor a single banner ad on a trade magazine’s homepage for five-figure sums.
But B2B brands keep paying for it. And I can think of three reasons why:
- Habit. “We’ve always done it and there’s a reason for that.” This is illogical. If Henry Ford had taken this attitude, we’d all still be riding horses to work.
- Competition. “There’s nothing else that will deliver the same opportunity.” This sounds like you’re suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Blink if you need help.
- Pressure. “The boss loves that we do it.” This is just silly. Strategy led by vanity is how you end up in a situation where James Franco has a directing career.
It’s 2021. There has never been as many tools, channels and opportunities to make your budget work harder for you. And that means you have never been in a better position to put pressure on your media partners to deliver an ROI that satisfies your goals.
So here are four things I’d be asking when you get that next renewal email.
#1. “What can you do to deliver X?”
You have goals. So does your media partner. The difference is that your goal is somewhat complex (generate leads, grow awareness, maintain thought leadership) and their goal is somewhat straightforward (make a sale).
Here’s the point. They don’t need to explain what they need from you – it’s obvious. But unless you believe they’ve cracked the ability of telepathy, they won’t know what you’re being measured by unless you tell them.
Make the first agenda item of your renewal meeting a detailed breakdown of your personal goals. Not just from the partnership itself, but everything you’re going after in your role. This guarantees you’re all operating from the same place.
#2. “What new campaigns did you launch last year?”
Asking for details on the success of other sponsors is a good way to get a sense of how switched on your media partner is to the shifting trends of B2B buyer behaviour.
Look out for investments in digital conferencing platforms with audience engagement or networking functionality, examples of experiential marketing initiatives that drove quantifiable results, and ‘bundle’ programmes – where a partner helped a brand share their message across a combination of offline and online channels.
Any partner worth their salt should have their creds deck up on screen before you’ve even finished the question, what with how excited they are to show you their creative chops.
#3. “What will be our IP?”
Long gone are the days where a speaking opportunity existed only within the confines of a conference hall – now it’s all recorded and put on the partner’s website, racking up views forevermore.
Or how a piece of thought leadership made an appearance in a magazine, enjoyed for a fleeting moment by an interviewee who picked it up from the waiting room of your company’s coffee table before an interview. Instead, it’s published online to pad out your partner’s archives.
When you’re entering into a partnership that involves content of any description, it’s important to lock down the rights to the IP upfront. If you have a hand in creating the asset, you should have a claim on its future use outside of the partnership.
#4. “What are you doing about this issue?”
I don’t need to waste words on justifying a brand’s responsibility to highlight and support social causes. It’s table stakes, simply put. What is worth mentioning is that this responsibility extends to the companies it chooses to associate with.
We still see panels made up exclusively of white men. We still hear nothing but silence from organisations afraid of speaking out against racial injustice. This is unacceptable. We have a moral duty as sponsors to demand action.
Understanding how our partners aim to address these issues and where we can contribute to supporting the cause has to be part of any renewal conversation in 2021 and beyond.
One thing I think it’s important to stress as I finish up this piece is that most media partners want to see you succeed. After all, your failure is their failure. I’ve never worked with an organisation that was disengaged from the process of trying to help me win.
My point with this article is simply to encourage you to dust off the playbook with partners where things have started to feel a little stale and, together, think of a few new moves that’ll give you a reason to clink champagne at the Christmas drinks.