Choosing a Marketing Firm: Choose Partners, Not Vendors

By Tim Good

Hiring a marketing firm is like hiring a contractor to renovate a home. Some contractors operate as vendors, approaching the job as a set of discrete tasks. Vendors are available to discuss unexpected items—but the meter is always running, with each new issue treated a la carte. Other builders operate like partners, offering the hands to get the job done and thinking collaboratively and proactively with clients about how the completed home will serve their goals. When challenges or new ideas arise, true partners consider the whole and apply their expertise to suggest solutions that fit within the client’s budget.

Clients get the most value for their money when they hire partners, rather than vendors. Clients hire firms like ours because they seek the depth of experience that comes from serving many organizations in varied circumstances. They want a seasoned, independent perspective to their challenges and opportunities. The best way for clients to take full advantage of this resource, then, is to incorporate consultants into a holistic discussion of marketplace priorities.

Even if the immediate task needed is specific in scope, this mindset lays the foundation for the most productive working relationship. When clients involve us as true partners, their values become our values. Their concerns become our concerns. Giving us the opportunity to think not only about the present, but also about the future, puts the full range of our skills and experience at a client’s disposal and leads to maximum brand impact and cost-savings.

An example of this occurred recently when an independent school hired Good Design to update the monogram for its logo-wear. As with many historic schools, this institution currently represents the blending of a boys’ school and a girls’ school from eras past. In researching this project, we discovered that some members of the alumni community felt disenfranchised, thinking that their school heritage had been lost in the merger. Meanwhile, this school was also looking ahead to a milestone anniversary. Thinking strategically, we recommended that the school use this moment in time to revisit the school crest, alongside the monogram. Updating the crest to prominently feature important symbols from both original schools strengthened the alumni community. It also informed the development of the monogram, so that both elements are a cohesive part of the school’s visual identity.

Partnering together over time allows consultants to make valuable connections between products, programs and initiatives. This happens frequently with our long-time clients, who reap significant cost-savings as a result. When the admissions department of one school client, for example, wanted to update its viewbook, we saw a link to work we had done on the alumni magazine, which was published from a different department. A series of alumni profiles suggested a theme that served as a powerful hook for prospective families. We repurposed the text and imagery gathered for one project to serve the school again in a fresh way.

When businesses and schools invite consultants to think about the big picture, we can meld organically with their organizations to maximize coordination and success. At Good Design, we often find ourselves serving as a liaison among internal departments, each of which has specific communications needs. Because we truly partner with the organization, we offer a professional, goal-oriented perspective that can unify the work of others.

One final reason to hire partners rather than vendors is that it makes the work more fun. People go into consulting because they like a challenge. Nothing gets our brains ticking like the opportunity to apply our creativity to solve a problem or further a goal. When clients enter into true collaboration with people that they genuinely like, everyone benefits from that chemistry. The best communications strategies are creative solutions in pursuit of a goal. They should not be treated as chores to check off a list. Seek out partners to help you accomplish your business or organization’s mission.

Tim Good is the co-founder of Good Design, based in Connecticut. For nearly three decades the firm has specialized in developing effective marketing strategies and multi-media materials that businesses, independent schools, and other organizations need to succeed.



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