Advertising is built on relationships. They are fundamental to its success.
A brand’s relationship with its customers. A marketer’s relationship with their agency. And – for those of us responsible for architecting partnerships to support our clients – trusted relationships between providers. These relationships are the foundation upon which the advertising industry stands. They serve as the fuel for our evolution and innovation.
The technification of our work has changed the partnership development approach and, in the adtech space, we’re often intent on solving for the technical aspects of a partnership necessitated by the complexities of the digital ecosystem. With areas such as data, technology, identity, and privacy usually the main focus, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of relationships. We can miss the opportunity to build a deeper partnership in our hurry to simply close the deal.
So why should we care about the relationship? Why does it still matter what happens behind the scenes if one can simply plug into a “tech stack” and wait for the results?
The fact is, no provider is an island – to blatantly misquote John Donne. In the interconnected world of adtech, an advertiser that chooses to work with one provider will inevitably end up working with at least a handful of its partners. The strength of the relationship between provider and partner, and specifically the level of dialogue between the two, will directly impact their ability to navigate through complexity and create true value.
Certainly, data, digitization, and technology have transformed our industry – enabling us to think smarter and react faster. However, it is still the human connection that allows the media economy to function, innovate, and flourish. This situation makes it vital for everyone to understand what strong relationships look like when they’re choosing partners.
I’ve been lucky enough to witness many long and prosperous partnerships during the two decades I’ve worked in the industry. While I don’t claim to be a master of relationship building, I have studied and practiced what makes them work. Here are three ways to build and sustain productive partnerships, which are particularly relevant to navigating a complex media ecosystem.
- Create a win, win, win approach
Partnerships are not a zero-sum game – every participant should benefit. We’re past the days where partnering with a provider meant squeezing them to get the cheapest rates possible. Or if we’re not, we really should be.
While competitive costs are of course important, partnerships should be about mutual benefit and overall value, not just the most efficient rate. They should be about working together to co-develop solutions that make sense for clients, are respectful of people, and drive innovation.
Tighter scrutiny of transparency continues to grow due to the “tech tax” conversation, and rightfully so. Obfuscated fees that are assumed across the buyer, infrastructure provider and supplier ecosystems are a thing of the past. Supply paths are being managed and consolidated to streamline efficiency, remove duplication, and drive value return.
Understanding which providers help you create effectiveness, and removing unnecessary waste or resold assets, is part of that process. When you understand which providers are necessary to drive value, platforms and data providers get the appropriate fees for what they support, exchanges receive value for assets they deliver, and publishers get better rates for their inventory. Ultimately buyers maximize working media to drive performance, and people see better, less intrusive ads. A win-win-win for all.
- Align on objectives
With hundreds, if not thousands of potential partners in the ecosystem, all parties need to be selective about the relationships they focus on. Regular review and consolidation may well be required to ensure partnerships are still delivering maximum value all round.
The best partnerships are generally built on a set of shared strategic objectives. This means you need to think carefully about what you are trying to accomplish and work closely with partners that share the same vision, working side by side to achieve your goals. Priorities will, of course, change over time, but restating your objectives is important to building lasting relationships.
As identity, regulation, and privacy continues to evolve across the industry, understanding and sharing objectives becomes even more important. Having full knowledge of how providers capture and utilize data, along with the privacy compliance mechanisms they use, allows all parties to mitigate risk. Interoperability is the future, so we have to understand privacy constraints on all sides to enable connectivity.
Furthermore, the identity space has focused too heavily on audience match counts as a proxy for success. While audience overlap with a brand’s core consumers is important, it is by no means the overall objective. Understanding how much of your audience is captured in a given media environment is actually useless if those users are not logged in or active, or if the supply is not available when you want to connect. At the end of the day, the goal is to scale the availability of a message to a consumer, not simply to understand audience overlap.
- Understand trust must be earned
Strong partnerships are built on relationships and human connection, but that doesn’t mean trust is a given. It must be earned. The strongest relationships are those able to stand the test of time.
In any relationship, open and honest communication is key. Trust is established not only by saying you are going to do something but also by delivering on those commitments. Priorities and objectives will constantly change, and you have to have open conversations on those changes to level set deliverables.
Accountability is also important in establishing trust. As relationships mature, being honest about where you may not be able to meet previously identified objectives is as important as delivering on those you can. You have to hold all parties accountable for what they’ve signed up to, or at least understand the rational for why something may not be delivered.
A Vested Return To Relationships
The strength and longevity of the relationship’s providers have with their partners continues to be a great driver of value. When choosing partners we would all do well to not only evaluate capability alignment but also ensure everyone is set up to benefit, strategic objectives are shared, and trust has been earned.
In the complex, technology-driven digital advertising space, relationship building can feel like a lost art. It is not. Relationships remain fundamental to any partnership success, and some would argue they are even more critical in a rapidly changing ecosystem such as ours. Relationships are the fuel to take us forward. They are out there to be built; we just need to invest the time in cultivating them.