Three Top Tips For Navigating Brand Partnerships In A Time Of Crisis

VP of Brand and Corporate Marketing at Fuze, overseeing brand strategy, public relations, customer advocacy, content, and creative.

It’s no secret that the public is scrutinizing how U.S. brands respond to both the Covid-19 pandemic and the fight for social justice and equality across our country. Organizations are under the spotlight more than ever and must work strategically to help set the tone for success for months to come.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen many new and unlikely brand partnerships born as businesses come together for the greater good of society. Take DoorDash and United Way, for example, which partnered to expand the Ride United Last-Mile Delivery initiative, bringing food and supplies to vulnerable populations in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Large retailers also forged new partnerships, like Nordstrom’s partnership with Kaas Tailored, Providence Health & Services, and Ascension to bring almost 1 million face masks to healthcare workers.

But what about brand partnerships that were established before Covid-19? For many, the sudden absence of live events, sports, travel and the abrupt shutdown of society as we knew it turned existing partnerships on their heads. Sponsorships were halted, and campaigns were either redirected or terminated. Overall brand relationships have been tested.

Over the past eight months, businesses have been faced with navigating this new normal, attempting to remain agile while preserving vital business relationships. At Fuze, our partnership with BSE Global, the company that manages and operates both Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets, was put to the test, and we emerged with some steps other brands can follow to nurture successful partnerships during these unusual circumstances. 

Prioritize Open Dialogue And Communication

Two major components of our relationship with BSE Global were put on hold once the Covid-19 closures hit: our brand impressions and the ability to entertain customers and prospects at events hosted at Barclays Center. To make the most out of great events in the past, we’ve hosted various networking sessions and speaking events. As soon as Barclays Center was forced to shut its doors, our account manager proactively came to us, and we mutually agreed to pause the partnership conversations for a few months and revisit it in the summer. Once summer rolled around, BSE Global’s team proactively reached out, and we brainstormed ideas for building a digital program to finish out 2020. 

Communicate often and honestly with your partners. Now is the time for real conversations about how to mutually move forward and drive business value while remaining authentic to your individual brands. Prioritize a regular check-in call weekly or monthly to discuss how the partnership is going and brainstorm new opportunities together. While some ideas might fall outside the scope of the current partnership, they can provide great building blocks for expanding the partnership going forward. 

Flexibility Is Key

Barclays Center has been front and center during various protests in recent months, and BSE Global made a decision to adjust the arena’s Oculus, a massive exterior digital screen, to feature messages of support for protesters and the calls for social justice, instead of featuring traditional partner advertising. As a partner, we completely understood and agreed with that call.

During the fall, we were approached with an opportunity to be part of the conversation and develop a visual for the screen that showcased our position on social progress and racial injustice. We jumped at the opportunity and provided quotes from both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Lewis about the power of the vote. This flexibility on both our parts allowed us to rejoin the conversation and align with our partner in a way that was authentic to both our brand and company values.

Be prepared to redirect plans and campaigns last minute as you never know what tomorrow has in store. As a leader, make sure your own team understands that in a crisis, traditional metrics that the partnership was built on can be put on hold while you try out some new ideas to keep the partnership alive. Getting the team thinking of the period as a pilot opportunity should put them in the frame of mind to co-create new concepts with your partner. 

Lead With Empathy

One of the most powerful things to come out of our relationship this year has actually been internally focused. After a candid conversation with our account manager at BSE, discussing our own challenges and admiration for the work they were doing in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), the company introduced us to its head of diversity and inclusion, who has since been consulting with Fuze on our own DE&I strategy. The openness they had in sharing their experiences and expertise on this critical issue has been invaluable to how we are moving forward as a company.

Partners will appreciate a “we’re in this together” attitude as they are likely dealing with what’s happening in the world in similar ways. Leading with empathy in a crisis is critical, and there are a few questions leaders can ask of their internal teams and external partners to get to that space:

1. What has changed in your world since the last time we spoke?

2. What else can I be doing to support you right now?

3. Is there anything else that you think my company should be doing?

While no one can predict the future of many businesses over the next year, one thing is certain: Brands must think, operate and partner in new ways during these unpredictable times. And we all must learn, evolve and lead together with transparency and kindness.

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