You can always tell when a marketing discipline has turned the corner from low-end afterthought to sitting at the marketing top table – it changes name. And so with partnership marketing which until quite recently was known, confusingly, as third-party promotions.
It is a discipline that is gaining ground and marketing budget as a new generation of marketers understand that the real money is in effortlessly introducing world-weary consumers to brands or services that they may not have considered before, or used in an isolated one-off fashion.
The obvious mistake in partnership marketing, but one that is still being made, is entering into agreements on the basis that the deal may halve, or at least cut, your own marketing costs.
In fact, Bob Salmasi, partnership director at The Marketing Store, says: "Partnership activity should be used to enhance your existing strategy and budget."
Although many brands seriously consider partnership marketing as part of an overall marketing campaign, the most successful ones are those where saving money is not the issue, but rather the compatibility and long-term benefits for the brand are what matter.
Marc Lawn, marketing services director at Britvic, adds: "For brand partnerships to work most effectively there needs to be a two-way mechanism that gives payback to and from the parties involved.
"Take AIG’s sponsorship of Manchester United. AIG is American, predominantly business facing and its corporate colours are blue. The brands share little common ground and the relationship is probably a one-way revenue exchange."
He contrasts this to Manchester United’s previous sponsor, Vodafone, which he says is young and vibrant, serves the global consumer and has red corporate colours. "The two parties met at a brand level rather than just in the boardroom which complemented one another to mutual benefit," he says.
Taking the idea of partnership marketing one step further is SPF 15, which describes itself as a "mindset marketing" company. Founder and managing director Tamara Gillan focuses on consumer groups rather than brands to develop partnership marketing programmes. Her target at the moment is women, and specifically at significant moments in their lives or, as Gillan calls them, "big little moments".
The launchpad for this idea was Superdrug’s Summer 2006 campaign in which Gillan was responsible for pulling together a number of partners including Lastminute.com, Procter & Gamble, Weight Watchers and the National Magazine Company to target women going on holiday.
Through these various partners, women were exposed to marketing messages from the time they booked their holiday online to 14 days after their return. Gillan says/ "It’s all about reaching consumers in a different way. So, for example, with Lastminute.com and Superdrug, the idea was that Lastminute would get access to the high street, and Superdrug would get access to consumers online."
For some clients, partnership marketing is the only viable way of getting messages to key audiences, notably the Government.
Jane Asscher is managing partner and chairman of 23red, which does a lot of work with the Department of Health. She says: "Partnership promotions are hugely powerful at delivering results. They add value to brands."
Asscher refers to the DoH’s 5-a-day initiative, working in partnership with other Government departments as well as commercial and non-commercial organisations with the overall aim of increasing the consumption of fruit and vegetables.
Traditional media channels
Asscher says: "It would have been very difficult to get this message across through traditional media channels. The people we wanted to target don’t accept messages from the Government. So the whole strategy for getting people to eat more fruit and vegetables had to be done through trusted partners."
Despite the obvious advantages of partnership promotions, their development is not easy. There are pitfalls, which practitioners say are easy to spot, but are not necessarily avoided.
Lawn from Britvic comments: "A great deal of energy needs to be put into finding the right partner for promotional activity. The first steps are to fully understand your brand, its proposition and motivation. You then draw the shortlist of potential partners based on the brand and its values."
Caroline Deutsch is group account director at Carbon Marketing, which last year conceived and executed a partnership programme on behalf of its client Alpro Soya and Holmes Place Health Clubs. She says difficulties can arise "when overall objectives of the relationship are not clearly defined and if evaluation techniques are not discussed beforehand".
She adds: "You must ensure that your chosen partner will not have more resonance than your brand. For example, if you are new to the market and you align yourself with Coca-Cola, consumers are more likely to think that the promotion is from Coca-Cola. Also check that your partner is reputable. If you are promoting an organic brand, you don’t want to discover that your partner has a huge carbon output."
It seems that the way forward with this discipline is with longer-term, more strategic partnerships. Given the time, effort and money it takes to develop a partnership programme, it makes sense to make the relationship work for longer.
Andrew Spratley, director at Parallel Promotions, says the way forward will be long-term strategic offers rather than tactical promotions. "We are getting more involved in affinity partnerships. Once you have a strategic partnership that works, there is no reason to change it."
It is in the film sector that partnership promotion really comes into its own with brands desperate to link up with high-profile films that have a marketing life all of their own. The most recent success story was Faith Shoes linking up with the Oscar-winning Dreamgirls. Dynamo Marketing Communications put the deal together, on behalf of its client Paramount Pictures, and account manager Eddie Mills says that as films have increasingly tight marketing budgets "there is an obvious appeal of getting engaging activity in the market without spending huge amounts of money".
Inevitably brands tend to beat down the doors of those working on the promotion of films but the difficulty lies in the long lead times before the film is released and then the very short window of promotion (usually only around two weeks) as the film is released.
So, for partnerships to work, they have to be closely linked with a brand’s marketing strategy with, according to Salmasi, "commercial benefit at the core of any potential relationship".
The brand fit also has to make sense to both parties. Salmasi concludes that in any partnership negotiation/ "Park your ego at the door. While you might be a respected and well-known brand, it is also important to remember that others are as passionate about their brand too. So it is important that when you are drawing up a shortlist of potential partners that you not only identify commercial reasons why you should want to work with them, but commercial reasons why they should want to work with you."