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  • Writer's pictureSophie M

Ethical partnerships and how to ensure you protect your values

Sometimes a story comes out that is incredibly relevant to conversations we are having internally and the Stagecoach and Turner Prize announcement is one of those examples.

A recent conversation, we had as a business was when evaluating our own values (an exercise we do annually), do all our partnerships and clients align? Thankfully, yes!The announcement from the Tate and the Turner prize to end the sponsorship by Stagecoach South East due to links to their parent company’s chairman’s views, is a surprising and rare showcase of upholding your brands values in the face of commercial support and pressure. We are under no illusion that this would have been a discussion internally about the loss of income versus ensuring their own legacy.

We all know interaction with brands have changed.

We are now in a customer centric and knowledge era - where company values are now not only regularly cited but a huge part of what people consider when looking at anything; from a new role, to buying a product or interacting with a brand. Now, creating, understanding and upholding your values is more important than ever. Ethics in sponsorship and partnership hasn’t always been at the forefront of people’s minds, with commercial factors sometimes being the only aspect worth considering, this shift shows how the times, they are a-changing.

Our world has definitely changed, social media is regularly the judge and jury and sometimes can do more harm than good - with people being condemned for sometimes unreasonable situations. This time having a vocal group means a brand was able to quickly ensure they aren’t alienating their customers or members. And are actually able to take the high ground and keep their reputation.

We know what you are thinking, if every company with a chairperson with a dodgy history, backstory or focus is out, how will brands, organisations and/or individuals ever find a partner or sponsor, let alone, the ‘right’ sponsor or partner?

The answer: transparency.

Creating partnerships with organisations that align to your brand, ensuring your values match and never limit to one organisation at a time, help build robust foundations of a partnership that works and more importantly, can provide longevity. Going back to the Tate and Turner Prize, sometimes you have to make the hard decision that if something as important as diversity doesn’t match, that company may not be right for you – no matter the commercial benefits.

But let’s face it, Turner Contemporary in Margate probably had no idea about Stagecoach’s Chairman’s social and political stance stemming back from the year 2000 when they negotiated this sponsorship in the first place. We’d also go as far as saying we’d be surprised if the marketing person at Stagecoach had even been aware of this either… Digging around and due diligence is key even at the most local, branch or regional level and tying localised sponsorship's even if negotiated locally back to national/HQ partnership policies and criteria is critical.

If your brand and/or organisation is in the pre stages of development or sourcing partner or sponsor support, we have shared some our go-to tips to secure the right commercial and value-added partnership:

1. Guidelines Does your company have sponsorship guidelines? If so, do your team uphold them and does this extend to regional/branch activity? With the introduction of new legislation including GDPR, the Code of Fundraising practice and Charity commission guidelines are being rolled out in how we contact people and what we do, however these haven’t reached sponsorship in the same way … YET. Being ahead of the curve and ensuring your organisation guidelines for partnership development means everyone starts from the same page, including; when operating both at a local and national level. It also goes the other way as well; will an organisation want to align to you if you don’t have an ethical stand point. Is that one legacy relationship cannibalising all your potential relationships?

2. Communication Always communicating why your organisation is doing something is important. Are we doing this project/ programme to create impact? Will it enable the organisation to move forward or grow? Will it establish us as an expert or allow us to do something important? Communicating and understanding ‘the why’ you are running the programme and why partnership will add value is the key starting point for any work. Is this project available just for commercial benefits? We find the best programmes come from a place of guidance, knowledge and a push for organisational growth. If you are not doing a programme for a value add to your organisation and to drive added-value to the partner, should you actually do this programme?

3. Ring-Fence One of our favourite buzzwords internally after transparency is ‘ring-fence’.  Ensuring your partnerships are ‘ringfenced’ means that a partnership revolves around a specific, topic, theme, sector, industry etc. and can be exclusive but you can work with similar organisations across different programmes on different areas without worrying about either competitive brand clash or one brand being seen to dominate. As they say, variety is the spice of life and should always be part of your partnership development strategy.

4. Research Research is also key, a true question is, should the Tate and Turner Prize even be able to have gotten as far as publicising the sponsorship without doing the due diligence of the partners they have chosen? Remember whilst sponsorship is important, damaging your brand could have irreparable repercussions on your business. Objectives, focus and research into organisations must be something everyone does internally to ensure values.

Although the Tate and Turner Prize’s decision made was based on ethics, brand and values. Ultimately, these areas ought to be, ‘business as usual’ and part and parcel of your basic partnership development. But we all know that this is not always the case.

Maintaining consideration of the core foundations of your own organisation guidelines and ethics should always be at the forefront when looking to align with an organisation outside of your own brand. Paired with the latter and b2b’s go-to tips to secure the right commercial and value-added partnership’s, be rest assured that you will be winning in securing partnerships that succeed.

One thing we always encourage our clients to consider is the end goal and objective and so to end this post, we ask you to question:

- Do you have a set of guidelines you adhere to?

- And are these guidelines as extensive as they should be?

- Has your organisation considered ‘why’ you wish to source sponsorship and/or a partner?

- And relating to your current partnerships, question has your organisation evolved and changed to a point where your partnership strategy and/or agreements may no longer fit against your current guidelines?

If you haven't considered the above, this may be something you wish to develop and if you’re looking to think outside of the box, we’re here to help.

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