There has seemingly been a rise in partnerships between corporations, and either educational organizations or media. This is, no doubt, due to the latter two looking beyond their traditional revenues for diversified stability and corporations looking to leverage a partnership into greater thought leadership. The challenge these unions face lies in convincing a distrusting public that the symbiosis is neither disingenuous nor unbalanced.
In September, the Economist Group partnered with Chevron in launching a Sims-like online video game, allowing players to power their own city in an effort to teach the many complex facets that surround the oil industry (PRWeek, September 10). The messages from both entities seemed clear: both were looking to stress the delicate balance between protecting environmental concerns and the global economy.
Not all unions have gone so well. The American Petroleum Institute (API) rescinded its $5 million donation to the Smithsonian Institute after it was leaked to The Washington Post that certain board members were fearful the API would leverage the donation to influence a planned "Ocean Initiative" for the National Museum of Natural History. The API, apparently miffed at such cynical accusations, took its money off the table; effectively ending a potentially rewarding relationship.
Both sides in any partnership are in it to increase their own brand value. Often during the partnership, those brand positions will conflict - as might other facets of either side's business. But unions are rarely a full win-win; they require flexibility on both sides and a willingness to overlook minor points for a singular goal.
Education and media groups are rightfully steadfast in protecting their independence to keep credibility. Companies wishing to partner with them would lift their own credibility by not reacting poorly to such concerns.