Successful Business Collaboration with ConsultantsWhether you work in an agency, in-house, or as a solopreneur, you are going to have to work with other consultants.

In the field of communications, business collaboration is not a question. It’s a rule.

Maybe you work with a web developer or an SEO firm.

Or your organization outsources social media or content.

Maybe you have a rockstar earned media partner who handles all of your media and influencer relationships.

No matter what your individual set-up, you will work with other consultants.

Your ability to work with them in a manner that spells success for your organization or client greatly affects how your own work and abilities are perceived.

And yet….

Why is Business Collaboration Between Communications Partners so Hard?

When we work with communications teams and agency owners, this is one of the most frequent struggles and frustrations they face.

Aren’t we all on the same team?

Why can’t we all get along?

Why is business collaboration often so challenging between communications professionals?

It doesn’t need to be.

And it’s your job to make the best out of your communications partner relationships.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stepped into organizations to help manage the partners who were on the verge of being fired, only to make a few simple tweaks and have the entire relationship turn around.

Here are the five rules I find are crucial, but often missed, when building successful business collaboration relationships with other communications consultants.

Make Sure You Share the Same Vision and Goals

The number one problem we see when trying to navigate tenuous communications consultant relationships is each side has a completely different vision and understanding of the organization’s goals. 

If business collaboration seems to be a constant struggle or if you find you all seem to speak a different language, take a step back and clarify goals.

The best way to do this is to ask each partner to write down the goals and objectives of your work together.

Do not say, “Our goal is XXX. Do you understand that?”

Because if they have a different vision, it is easy for them to take what you say and translate it into something that aligns with that vision.

Instead, ask the question and then bring everyone together to discuss the varied answers.

Work together to realign the collective vision and goals properly.

Then set measurable PR metrics for each partner to use to evaluate success.

Respect Their Expertise

Sometimes the most significant struggle comes from a lack of respect or sense of lack of respect.

Has this scenario ever happened to you?

You start working with a new communications partner.

It becomes evident to you in the first week they are not well aligned with the vision of the organization and don’t seem competent.

You worry. You don’t want them to ruin all of your work. So you start telling them how to do their job. You might be slightly condescending or speak to them like you would an intern.

You don’t mean to treat them this way, but you also don’t want their lack of ability to ruin everything you’ve been working on.

So you’ll tell them what to do until you can convince your boss or client to fire them.

Unfortunately, some funny things happen when you treat people this way: they almost always live up to your low expectations. 

Now sometimes there are dud firms.

But nine times out of 10, this situation arises because of a lack of clear understanding of goals or process and a case of the curse of knowledge on the current partners part (this includes you).

Your behavior, not their ineptitude, makes your fears become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Instead, treat them like they are the experts they were hired to be.

Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Don’t assume just because they don’t do things your way or see things from the same perspective as you do they are wrong.

And most of all, give them the tools and the chance to succeed.

Guide Through Questions Not Demands

Questions are powerful.

From a brain science perspective, asking a question helps people engage their frontal lobes and as a result (in non-brain-sciency lingo) improves creativity, memory, and learning.

When you feel frustrated with how another communications partner deals with things, ask questions.

  • Why are they doing it that way?
  • What does that mean?
  • What do they feel is the best course of action?
  • How do they think it’s best to perceive?
  • What does success for this project look like?

It will force them to evaluate their own thoughts and help everyone get out of “tactical” mode and think in terms of goals.

Understand How They Operate Best

You know how your organization has a process? A way that everyone in your organization works best and most efficiently.

Your communications partners have one, too. And chances are it isn’t the same as yours.

When you first start working together, you need to discuss the process and agree on how you will communicate and work together.

Take the time at the front end to create this and set expectations all around.

It will save much grief, time, and inefficiency in the long run.

Share Success Openly

Finally, share success. Share it often. Share it loudly.
We often spend a lot of time talking about what isn’t going right or how we can improve. Both are important. But it’s also important to acknowledge success. Openly and publically praise the other consultants when they have a win. Thank them for their work. Encourage them by appreciating them.
It’s simple. But it’s a must for successful business collaboration.

Your Business Collaboration Tips

Next time you have a partner you feel frustrated or annoyed with, instead of being angry and waiting patiently for them to be fired, look at how you can empower them to do their best work.

You might be pleasantly surprised at how well you work together and how great of a fit they actually are…once given the opportunity to succeed.

What other tips for working with communications consultants and partners would you share?

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

View all posts by Laura Petrolino