Forging Partnerships for Your Exhibit Program: Operate like The Avengers


Learn from the Avengers, success is built on forging partnerships–with exhibit houses, with ad agencies, with lighting companies, with digital marketers—with superheroes who can solve problems and create a common force. One minute we are standing in an empty space on a concrete floor; the next in a branded environment. What makes this happen? Reliance on a strong partnership network that is created one partner at a time.

On any level, partnerships are made, not born. Forging strong partnerships is not always easy. Some of the best partnerships are characterized by a coming together of strong personalities, passions, and experience. Consider: Iron Man has to work with Captain America; Ant-Man has to get along with Black Widow; and Hulk is a casualty of not being able to get past his emotions. Making partnerships work assumes shared and clarity around goals, even though there may be differences of opinion about achieving those goals.

As the person in charge of a face-to-face marketing program, you are responsible for initiating and maintaining partnerships as well as peaceful coexistence. The task can be daunting, but when it is done well, the result will allow you to take your place among the super powers.

How do you find partners, cement the relationships, and then build a partnership network, one partner at a time?

  • Conduct your due diligence. Talk to colleagues in your industry: what is the word on the street? For example, has there been a sale or a merger that has altered the personality—and personnel—at the potential partner company?
  • Forge partnerships with people or companies who share your values and understand your industry. Partnerships are rarely productive if one party (you) has to bring the other party up to speed on a regular basis. Since responsibility for achieving the goal rests squarely with you, you don’t want to burden yourself with unnecessary work.
  • Choose a partner you like. Period. You will spend a lot of time together, and if there is something that irks you initially, chances are it won’t get better. Personalities need to fit, which is not to say that they can’t be different.
  • Because so much rests on their shoulders, exhibit and event managers feel the need to control. However, a successful partnership means that you need to recognize the value each of your partners brings to your program and be willing to let go of the reins just a little bit. (If they don’t bring value, they are not good partners.) William Wrigley, Jr. of the chewing gum empire and The Chicago Cubs is reputed to have said, “If two people always agree on everything, one of you isn’t necessary.”(or something like that.
  • The Avengers solve problems by combining their unique abilities and skills. They have learned how to handle conflict and resolve differences–often the hard way–to create a powerful force. That wisdom came too late for (possible spoiler alert) The (late) Hulk: he was powerful, but he couldn’t control his rages, never mind controlling the team at times of internal conflict.
  • Before you enter into a partnership agreement, prepare a clear list of responsibilities—not just those of the partner but your own and those of your entire network of partners. Be very specific about who communicates outside your partner network. If you are the one to communicate with show management or association personnel, tell your team that any deviation from this could be a deal breaker. Organizers report receiving calls from agency partners that conflict with what they have been told by the “official” contact.
  • Determine how you will measure the success of the partnership and by what means you will reach consensus. Will that include careful budget management? Will it include adherence to timelines? If you are in a situation that requires approval at elevated levels within your company that may result in changes being made, not respecting the timeline where necessary hours for approval are built in can result in a budget disaster when you start to incur rush charges.

The face-to-face industry appeals to us because we like the sense of creation. There is a feeling of accomplishment that is hard to replicate. Sharing that accomplishment with your partners is a reason to celebrate big time. Encourage participation and creativity from all partners. You aren’t in the avenging business, but you can take a page from Captain America’s book: Being a captain and leading a team into battle has got nothing to do with powers and everything to do with a calm demeanor, strategic prowess, and experience. That’s you!

Enlist your partners to stamp out boring exhibit programs like the Avengers would do. Download our workbook, Creative Bravery for Your Face-to-Face Marketing Program.