In a post on Advertising Age, Millie Olson brings out the question of whether an agency is a vendor to a customer or a business partner. The comments are interesting, too. In a conversation today with Mike Lewis, President of the Business Marketing Association for the greater Boston area (we’re working on the New Marketing Summit together), he mentioned that PR firms are often selected by a company’s marketing department, as part of a vendor selection process, and this surprised me (mostly because I’m a technologist, not a professional marketer).
I guess I imagined that the senior team picked them out. My last boss and business partner, Jeff Pulver, most definitely picked out his own PR firm. I was on the calls, but it was his decision. So, maybe it varies per organization, or maybe PR firms are often the vendor executing on a marketing department’s strategy. (You tell ME in the comments, okay?)
Pull this back from the specifics above, and think about your use of social media, the value you’re attempting to add to a business, etc.
Are you a vendor?
It’s a bigger question to consider than you might originally think. It’s a question of how you choose to connect and do business with companies. This question affects how you talk about what you do, how you price it, and how you choose to come to the negotiating table.
To the point in Millie’s article above, she viewed herself as a partner. People in the comments section said that marketers (especially external agencies) aren’t usually partners- they’re vendors. There’s a HUGE difference between two entities thinking of each others as partners versus a company thinking of itself as the prime and you as the vendor.
If You ARE a Vendor
There are ways you need to structure your ideas and offerings and how you intend to do business, if you’re going to take the stance of being a vendor.
- Remember that your job priority is your client’s success. Be clear about that in your work, in your positioning, and in how you propose things.
- Build relationships with several clients. Putting all your eggs in one basket is a great way to find yourself looking for a new job.
- Structure your business arrangements so that you can serve your client in a modular fashion. You might now always be the right person for the job. Don’t be a jerk and hook yourself in just because you’re the vendor on the other parts of it.
- Look for opportunities where you DO offer a value-add to other organizations, and position yourself appropriately in your efforts.
- Be clear in your contracts and in the deliverables. This is where vendors (especially less professional/experienced ones) get into trouble quick.
With regards to what you’re doing, are you a vendor? How are you finding the waters out there? What other advice would you offer other vendors? And what do you think about Millie’s ideas?
Photo credit, Mshades