“A man with a plan” is an old but relevant saying. Why? Because everyone needs a plan, especially in partnership marketing. Without it, you’re navigating through choppy waters without a life preserver and you risk being hurled overboard to drown. It may sound dramatic but I’ve seen it multiple times. Brands that don’t have a plan for how they will solicit and manage partners end up with no partners… or a mishmash of off-brand relationships that provide very little value and suck resources dry (both finances and talent).

What’s a Partnership Plan 

…and why should you have one?  First, most brands have a media plan, a PR plan, and even a general marketing plan. All of them provide structure and direction for how to meet goals. A partnership plan is no different.  It lays out expectations and identifies the types of partners that fit with your target demographic.

Discovering Your Strengths

A partnership plan is designed to look at how you approach and evaluate partners and what can be offered in exchange so that the potential of each deal is maximized.  It allows you to be strategic about partnerships instead of arbitrarily piecing them together or ‘buying’ them via media. It’s created to be flexible, so multiple marketing team members can use it, but also rigid enough to control how company media assets are bartered and shared.

Most importantly, getting the attention of top partners and closing deals is frequently done within a short timeframe. Having your ducks in a row provides a tremendous advantage when it comes to interacting with the high-level strategic thinkers at brands that can create the most robust partnerships.

The BrandAgent

As a BrandAgent, I discuss monetizing and leveraging assets with marketing partners on a daily basis. Too often brands are willing dip into their wallets and pay for a partnership. If you shell out big dollars, you automatically get the visibility you desire, right? Wrong. Typically, you end up with a whopping invoice and not much to show for it.

Here’s where a partnership plan steps in.  It creates a structure for what you want, what you expect and if you need to attach a monetary value.  It allows you to recognize the vehicles you can leverage and how you will internally approve a deal. All of this shortens the process, helps you close deals faster and avoid delays.

Planning for Partnerships

So, what do you need to include in a partnership-marketing plan?

Here are the top 5 things to consider:

Inventory and assess your media assets, determine how to leverage them. For example, are you a retailer with valuable window space? Do you distribute a newsletter to your database? All of these are vehicles you can monetize and sell to a potential partner.

  1. Evaluate what you want from a potential partner. What is your dream activation? Do you want to acquire new names for your database, get more followers on social media or just want to attract an audience on a particular day?
  2. List out potential partner categories and provide examples. Include a rationale for each category. For example, if travel is a theme, list the types of companies you want to approach – such as airlines, tour operators, etc.  Name specific brands that would seem to be a good match.
  3. Include themes that are relevant to your brand or corporate campaigns. Look at your brand attributes and market differentiators and make sure the themes you select are thoughtful, specific and focused. Thematic ideas could include things like music, color, architecture, travel, etc.
  4. Finallyset standards. How will you evaluate and select a partner? How will the partnership be presented publically and how should confidential information be disseminated internally. What types of activations are you willing to put on the table and which ones are off limits. How will you evaluate success? Most importantly, develop a process that allows you to quickly gather feedback and approvals as opportunities present themselves.

​Most partner brands won’t be willing to invest the time so this last point gives you a big advantage over other partner-seekers. Also, create an agreement template and include the minimum requirements for any brand.

Traversing through the nuances of partnership marketing is tough. It’s easy to create relationships haphazardly or by throwing money at them. It is much harder to ensure that partners actually deliver what you need. Brands must hold partners to a high standard. Having clear objectives and direction in the form of a plan allows you to work out pre-approvals ahead of time so you can close deals faster. In an era of crafting plans for every marketing disciple, failing to have one for partnerships is tantamount to brand malpractice.