ANALYSIS <b>The Agency Business</b>: To satisfy clients, sometimes two firms are better than one

After working together on a project for Eddie Bauer, Clearpoint Agency and KS Promotions came to realize the added value to clients when agencies combine their specialties.

After working together on a project for Eddie Bauer, Clearpoint Agency and KS Promotions came to realize the added value to clients when agencies combine their specialties.

Strategic alliances are a good way for agencies, especially small ones, to offer clients services outside their bailiwick. An interesting example of such a coupling is that between Clearpoint Agency, a four-person PR and marcomms outfit in Solana Beach, CA, and KS Promotions, a four-person sweepstakes-marketing shop in Carlsbad, CA. Both companies are located just north of San Diego, 15 miles apart. In spring 2003, at the recommendation of a mutual client, KS tapped Clearpoint to handle an event tour around the sweepstakes promotion for the launch of Eddie Bauer's Sport Shop Clothing Collection. The tour included displays in 16 Seattle-area venues, such as concerts and ball games. "We needed someone who could do the events because we weren't staffed to do" that, says Kelly Strange, president of KS Promotions. The two agencies found they worked together easily. Bonnie Shaw, president of Clearpoint, says they reviewed estimates together and conducted weekly conference calls with the client. "Clearpoint would put together a weekly report, and we would share it with KS to see if they had any comments or questions." Simple, perhaps, but it's easy to envision a scenario where conflicts and jealousies would arise. The partnership also eased things for Eddie Bauer after the campaign was over. The two agencies created one report to show how the PR and sweepstakes worked together. "We were able to definitely show a spike in game-piece redemption in the areas where they had the tour, which was really beneficial to Eddie Bauer because they were able to see the benefits of having the event," says Strange. Shortly after the success of that campaign, the two began thinking of collaborating in a more formal way. "We looked at each other and said, 'Look, we're both small firms, and this alliance was a good experience for us,'" says Shaw. "We thought an alliance could really help us to expand our footprint." They sat down and hammered out an agreement. The document went into areas such as how they would present each other on their websites. They also devised a list of services each offers, which helped them understand the scope of what each did. Clearpoint handles the promotion of the alliance for free; it also does PR for KS but gets paid for that. (This is the first strategic alliance for KS; Clearpoint has several other affiliations with, for example, a web-development firm and a graphics firm, but Shaw says the KS alliance is the most formal arrangement.) The document also addressed how account management would be handled. The firm that brings in the client is the account manager and bills the client for both firms. The other agency will discount its fees to the lead agency, which would charge the client in full, so that the lead firm gets paid for the work involved in overseeing that account. The two decided to issue a news release in February "to make it more official," Shaw says. They split hard costs, such as putting the release out on Business Wire. The arrangement can mean working together or simply making referrals to each other. Obviously, a KS client wanting an event for its sweepstakes would be a candidate to also become a Clearpoint client. But Shaw says she has mentioned to Clearpoint clients that they may want to do contests. She has also mentioned to clients that they may want to provide prizes for KS' sweepstakes. "As we move along, we see more opportunities to work together," Shaw says. After they inked the formal alliance, the two firms worked on the concept for an Eddie Bauer Father's Day sweepstakes. They plan to pitch to "a major credit-card company," Strange says. "We went to Clearpoint and brainstormed some ideas that would benefit this promotion." Shaw and Strange say a formal alliance has advantages over pretending that you can do a certain kind of work and then outsourcing it. "We consider ourselves experts at public relations, marketing communications, and event management," says Shaw. "We really aren't the experts in sweepstakes. When we get the opportunity to put a sweepstakes or contest component into a campaign, we'd love to bring Kelly in because she is the expert."
  • PRWeek welcomes topic ideas for future Agency Business columns. Please send them to news@prweek.com. Developing an alliance Clearpoint Agency and KS Promotions offer the following tips:
  • Make sure your business philosophies are similar
  • Discuss and agree on financial arrangements early to avoid confusion later
  • Discount each other's work to allow the managing account to earn a share
  • Give each other billing on each company's website
  • Get out of the way if a client really just needs the services of one partner
  • Don't charge each other for work done to land accounts
  • Don't hide alliance partners or try to convince clients your company offers the services - clients will see through that quickly and never trust you again
  • Don't rely solely on any alliance to bring in business

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