Why twelve are better than one – the importance of partnerships in impact work

with Paul Vallee, MD of BestCities Global Alliance

Paul Vallee (pictured) speaks on association partnerships.

Paul Vallee is Managing Director of the BestCities Global Alliance. He is responsible for the successful delivery of the alliance’s strategic plan, performance monitoring and overseeing its operations. Paul is also executive consultant with Gaining Edge, which in addition to managing BestCities, provides consulting exclusively to the convention and meetings market. Here he speaks on the growing trend for partnerships in associations and how the industry can benefit from collaboration.

Why are partnerships so important? 

We seek out partners to be able to do things we wouldn’t be able to on your own, to expand our skillsets, resources, and offerings. That’s how you create something of value. The beauty of a partnership, to me, is working together to complement one another and to build something creative and fresh that one may not have otherwise been able to do. That’s the primary advantage and the purpose of partnering. BestCities as an alliance has built its foundations on partnerships and works to help destinations and associations identify partnerships that would work for them.

How can an organisation find the right partner for them? 

Finding the right partner in association work is no different to finding a personal relationship or partner. You have to consider your association’s needs and areas of strength, using that as a basis to define where the best fit lies. What is it that will make you as an organisation prosper? The best way to identify a suitable partner is to find those who are complimentary to what it is that you are doing. It’s not about the similarities, it’s the differences that organisations may have that can make the partnership flourish – meaning that even the more unconventional pairings shouldn’t be ruled out when considering a partnership. 

When an association is considering a partnership, they need to find a party that are willing to put in an equal amount of effort – which takes shape in various forms, from money, to time, resource, knowledge, and man power. 

What are the key benefits of a partnership?

The key elements where partnerships can benefit an organisation are, like anything in business, improving the bottom line, whether its financial or otherwise, increasing sales and enhancing reputation. Those benefits can be reaped through:

  • Knowledge sharing; sharing of practises, skillsets and expertise across industry/destination/association. 
  • Efficient use of resources; using partners to save time and combine forces reduces and prevents redundant work that you can do by finding a like-minded partner.
  • Brand association; partnering up with an organisation that already has an existing strong brand reputation in either your own market or another market you want to break into is critical.

What’s an example of an effective partnership that you have observed?

One that I have overseen and have been closest to would be between BestCities and ICCA, because while we exist in the same sphere, we are not exactly the same. We work together with ICCA on various programmes that give back to the industry, such as the recognition programme and Incredible Impacts. We’re a business and a global alliance, whereas they are an association that works in education and holding conferences. They offer areas of skills and expertise that we don’t have and vice versa. 

The foundation of any partnership is to establish what it is you’re hoping to achieve, what does success look like, and how you plan to deliver it. That’s the basis of what a successful partnership is; identifying successful outcomes for all parties and a path to that success. In the case of BestCities and ICCA, our idea of success was to recognise associations that are doing outstanding work and legacy development to support associations and collectively build our reputation in the industry overall.

Are there common challenges that associations would need to overcome in partnerships? 

There are definitely challenges that can arise when establishing a partnership. One thing to consider is that ‘no partner is more important that the other’. Regardless of the scale of the organisation, its key to avoid a hierarchal partnership, as each organisation involved should be bringing an equal amount of value to the collaboration. Another potential challenge is being able to agree upon and streamline the common goal and objective to work towards. You’ve got to be tolerant, you’ve got to be flexible, you’ve got to trust one another and recognise that each partner has strengths and weaknesses – understanding and overcoming cultural or operational differences. 

Consider your expectations. One cannot expect the other partner to commit to doing something that you would not do yourself. You have to establish clear direction as partners and agreeing what success looks like in terms of the partnership itself and how it impacts all parties involved. Finally, you have to have champions who are able to look outwardly, as opposed to the typical scenario where associations can be very internally focused. Establishing a partnership adds another layer to the association and the benefits of this should be communicated and shared. 

Where do you see the future of collaboration and partnership with associations going and BestCities’ role within that? 

When associations and destinations find common ground, great things can happen. For example, an association that specialises in the eradication of a disease will find common ground from destinations that wants to improve the health of the citizens. Or for instance, an association whose purpose is to reduce child poverty is really no different to a destination who wants to see their young people survive and thrive. 

What we’re moving towards is associations taking advantage of the benefits of collaboration and partnership in refreshing new ways, using these to extend offers and working towards a better future that benefits all. That’s a partnership to me.

A key element of BestCities’ mission is to inspire associations to look outwards, beyond your own organisations, industries and existing skillsets, learning from other associations, destinations and industries to enhance each other’s abilities and enrich our industry.

How does BestCities decide on which destinations to join its partnership?

There is key criteria for the Alliance when considering new destinations joining the partnership. Among many things, we consider destinations that have demonstrated leadership in working towards joint goals, being accountable for results, having open and honest communications and thinking long term. 

We look for partners that demonstrate a track record in partnering and collaboration, with a compelling reputation, which adds value to the Alliance through everything from cultural diversity, geographic balance and client reach. Furthermore, we look for general compatibility – from agreement to subscribe to BestCities commitments and Code of Ethics, to destination appeal, positive environmental reputation, cultural sensitivity and political stability.