Strategic alliances to build and benefit from relationships

by PR Coach on May 23, 2012

Guest post by Craig Pearce

Strategic alliances for public relations reputation management purposes provide three benefits for organisational positioning, differentiation and communication: enhanced credibility for each alliance partner; an expansion of organisations’ communication ‘footprint’; excellent ROI, partially due to minimal program costs.

Strategic alliances are often formed for whole-of-business reasons. Rationales for their instigation include to:

  • reduce the costs of logistics
  • create a ‘team force’ that helps dominate interconnected but segmented markets
  • accelerate the pace of entry into new markets
  • share R&D
  •  assist with target audience communication, marketing  and engagement.

Applying the strategic alliance approach to communication, then, is really just giving this an added dimension, one which enriches an organisation’s relationship management programs and embeds the organisation deeper within target audience psyches.

Predictably, where there is actual work being done together by the alliance organisations (other than communication alone) then the forming of the ‘communication-centred’ alliances is made easier. It presents a more obvious business case, you could say, and makes potential alliances more receptive to your alliance ‘sales pitch’.

Strategic alliances in the full business context are common these days. They help organisations achieve results in a cut-throat business environment where competitive advantages are highly prized and come in many forms.

Choosing an alliance partner

The question of who or what the reputation management alliance should be needs to revert to the three benefits of initiating them:

  • What organisation and its employees (normally high profile leaders) have credibility with, and influence over, the initiating organisation’s target audiences?
  • What potential alliance partner has communication mediums in place that allows for effective communication to the initiating organisation’s target audiences?
  • What costs are involved in creating the strategic alliance?

Another very important question is will the alliance be helpful or a right royal pain in the alliance process? Pain is a drain and even though all other aspects might look rosy, the sanity and stress of those involved in the process need to be considered.

Strategic alliances as issues management

A further benefit of forming strategic alliances with credible organisations, and one marketers are not typically adept at identifying, is that the approach epitomises an issues management methodology.

It acts as a form of ‘reputation insurance’ for organisations for instances when their reputation comes under threat. Target audiences that are aware of the relationships and web (sic) of connectivity that exists between the initiating organisation and its alliances are much more likely to be hesitant to modify (i.e. downgrade) their perceptions/knowledge of the organisation than if alliances did not exist with other organisations.

Communication content and credibility

Having strategic alliances assists in addressing one of the greatest challenges content marketing presents: the delivery of enough content. As long as the content is relevant to all alliance partners and the target audiences of the alliance partners who the content is designed for, it can help meet an increasing content need.

Using an alliance partner’s content also brings with it 3rd party credibility, potentially enhancing the ‘pick-up’ rate of the content in addition to promoting organisational credibility.

Different organisations will have different levels of commitment to, and interest in, the alliance, of course. So it is entirely feasible there will be a single driving force behind the alliance that will end up getting more leverage from the relationship.

This is not pyramid selling, however. There will need to be mutual benefits to the potential partners if the alliance is to get up at all, let alone continue for the required period of time.

Duration of a strategic alliance

How long is a piece of string? Whilst, clearly, there needs to be a sound business rationale for instigating an alliance, they can be for either long-term or short-term needs.

The fact that an alliance can be primarily for a discrete initiative that may not be ongoing (say a product launch, event or a need to undertake community consultation for an infrastructure project), or an embedded part of a holistic communication strategy will be part of this ‘longevity consideration’.

Challenge: who should instigate the alliance?

The instigating entity in the alliance will probably be the one that has the greatest need for it, has the insight and creativity to realise its potential and/or has the energy to drive the bus to its destination (or destinations plural).

It is not unusual for one entity to do 90% of the work. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the less active partners are happy to go along with this. Each organisation, after all, has its own communication and marketing imperatives and you can’t expect all partners to place precisely the same level of importance and budget to the alliance. Some alliance partners, for instance, may be going along with it for partner relationship reasons alone.

Marketing or public relations to drive strategic alliances?

The answer: it doesn’t matter. Or does it?

  • If building a relationship with target audiences is the main reason for the alliance, then PR is probably best suited for the role
  • If generating profits is the main driver for the alliance, then marketing is best suited.

Of course, the model that is used can be a hybrid PR-marketing one, too. There is no hard and fast rule. But it will be influenced by who has relationships with potential alliance partners, too.

Whatever business area does the driving, fruitful collaboration where necessary is key. An example of this is in the area of which business area is responsible for the management of different communication mechanisms – for example, social media, website, public speaking programs, media relations, community liaison, direct mail, database. Each of these tactical areas needs to be looked at to see which of them are suited to underpin strategic alliance communication.

This post is an edited version of an article in a free white paper, The Holy Trinity of Public Relations, produced by corporate communication practitioner, Craig Pearce. The white paper is available as a free download for email subscribers to his blog, Public relations and managing reputation. The white paper provides an overview of the strategic dimensions of, and practical implementation tips on  thought leadership, 3rd party credibility and strategic alliances.

Illustration: guydownes.com.au ©