Nurture a healthy relationship with your marketing vendors

This article was originally published in the September 16, 2013 issue of Mainebiz.

We all know marketers tend to wear many hats (insert head nodding here). For companies large and small, outsourcing to a few marketing partners can be a welcome complement to internal expertise. But what happens once you hire that graphic designer, website developer, event planner or public relations guru? Navigating the relationship can be complicated.

Here’s how to help ensure a healthier union.

1. Stay open-minded

You need to hire someone with direct experience in your industry, right? Not really. Don’t get me wrong, specialization is a good thing and means (hopefully) that they understand your pain points. Focus on the relationship first and look beyond the touted client list. Will you enjoy working together? Do they understand your vision? Culture? You might end up with cookie cutter approaches otherwise (“Oh, we’ve done countless websites like yours!”).

2. Establish communication norms

Do you prefer phone, email, video or in-person visits? How often do you need updates? What do they prefer? Most of the time we forget these simple but meaningful questions. Doing this not only shows respect for each party, but improves efficiency as well. If everyone knows the best way to reach Jane, you can bet she will respond that much quicker.

3. Get on the same page

The CEO was thinking splashy video campaign, you were thinking conservative documentary and the vendor is confused. Uh oh. Time to get everyone in the same room. By getting all stakeholders together you facilitate an open forum to figure out priorities and assign next steps. Get it on paper and send around to all participants to sign off. This process also helps you avoid a “creeping” scope, which can be a nightmare for both parties (consider splitting your project in phases if that happens).

4. Define success

Have you communicated your short- and long-term goals and objectives? How will you measure success? Think of the big picture and you’ll have a strategic partner who can grow with you.

5. Ask for a project manager

Who’s on first? Enough said.

6. Be on time

“So, were they on time?” That’s the No. 1 question I get asked when serving as a reference and it always makes me smile. Why? Rarely does a vendor cause a delay. If you are on time with your deliverables, that allows the vendor to stick to the agreed schedule. If you decide to put the project on the back burner or change your scope, chances are when you decide to resume you’ll have to wait. Figure out what is the true cause of the delay. I’m willing to bet it is an internal one. Did I mention to ask for a project manager?

7. Know the budget

What happens after the project is completed? Do you need more education on new technology? Does your event need on-site support? Find out what is in the budget and what is extra. Be mindful of pay structure. Do they charge by the hour, for example? Being upfront about your budget and establishing protocol to deal with out-of-scope requests can help avoid surprises and prevent a good relationship from turning sour.

8. Create a two-way street

The relationship is not over the day the ad campaign ends. Take the time to learn about their business, too. Be genuine and creative about bringing value to your partners and you will have a long-term business ally.

9. Celebrate together

Projects can be as short as a few weeks or take more than a year. It is important to recognize the hard work and to show results. This doesn’t mean you have to roll out the red carpet. It can be as simple as telling a story, sharing metrics and photos of your project in your internal newsletter, blog and social media sites. Brag on your partner too.

Disclaimer of Liability: This publication is intended to provide general information to our clients and friends. It does not constitute accounting, tax, investment, or legal advice; nor is it intended to convey a thorough treatment of the subject matter.

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