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Partnerships: “It’s not the similarities, it’s the difference that count…”

Paul Vallee is managing director of the international destination marketing association BestCities Global Alliance and executive consultant with Gaining Edge, which consults to the convention and meetings market. Here we discuss the power of partnerships…

Paul Vallee

 Ami Why are partnerships so important?

PV We seek out partners to be able to do things we wouldn’t be able to on your own, to expand our skill-sets, resources, and offerings. The beauty of a partnership is working together to complement one another and to build something creative and fresh that one may not have otherwise been able to do. That’s the primary advantage and the purpose of partnering.  BestCities has built its foundations on partnerships and works to help destinations and associations identify partnerships that would work for them.

Ami How can an association find the right partner for them?

PV You have to consider your association’s needs and areas of strength, using that as a basis to define where the best fit lies. What is it that will make you as an organisation prosper? The best way to identify a suitable partner is to find those who are complementary to what it is that you are doing. It’s not about the similarities, it’s the differences that organisations may have that can make the partnership flourish – meaning that even the more unconventional pairings shouldn’t be ruled out when considering a partnership. When an association is considering a partnership, it needs to find a party that is willing to put in an equal amount of effort – which takes shape in various forms, from money, to time, resource, knowledge, and man power.

Ami What are the key benefits of a partnership?

PV The key elements where partnerships can benefit an organisation are, like anything in business, improving the bottom line, whether it’s financial or otherwise, increasing sales and enhancing reputation. Those benefits can be reaped through: Knowledge sharing; the efficient use of resources; and brand association – partnering with an organisation that already has a strong reputation in your own market or a market you want to capture.

Ami What’s an example of an effective partnership that you have observed?

PV One that I have overseen and have been closest to would be between BestCities and ICCA, because while we exist in the same sphere, we are not exactly the same. We work together with ICCA on various programmes that give back to the industry, such as the recognition programme and Incredible Impacts. We’re a business and a global alliance, whereas they are an association that works in education and holding conferences. They offer areas of skills and expertise that we don’t have and vice versa.

Ami What are the challenges that associations would need to overcome in partnerships?  

PV One thing to consider is that ‘no partner is more important that the other’. Regardless of the scale of the organisation, it’s key to avoid a hierarchal partnership, as each organisation involved should be bringing an equal amount of value to the collaboration. Another potential challenge is being able to agree upon and streamline the common goal and objective to work towards. You’ve got to be tolerant, you’ve got to be flexible, you’ve got to trust one another and recognise that each partner has strengths and weaknesses – understanding and overcoming cultural or operational differences.

Consider your expectations. One cannot expect the other partner to commit to doing something that you would not do yourself. You have to establish clear direction as partners and agreeing what success looks like in terms of the partnership itself and how it impacts all parties involved. Finally, you have to have champions who are able to look outwardly, as opposed to the typical scenario where associations can be very internally focused.

Ami Where do you see the future of collaboration and partnership with associations going and BestCities’ role within that?

PV When associations and destinations find common ground, great things can happen. For example, an association that specialises in the eradication of a disease will find common ground from destinations that wants to improve the health of the citizens. Or for instance, an association whose purpose is to reduce child poverty is really no different to a destination who wants to see their young people survive and thrive.  What we’re moving towards is associations taking advantage of the benefits of collaboration and partnership in refreshing new ways, using these to extend offers and working towards a better future that benefits all. That’s a partnership to me. A key element of BestCities’ mission is to inspire associations to look outwards, beyond your own organisations, industries and existing skill-sets, learning from other associations, destinations and industries to enhance each other’s abilities and enrich our industry.