Etiquette for professional services partners
It’s the same in brandland as in so many other areas of endeavor: collectivity rules. Alliances and networks of small, highly specialized firms can deliver thinking and programs every bit as powerful, if not more so, than the so-called “full service” firms. In our experience (and that of others like us), clients appreciate the honesty and transparency of knowing who, exactly, is doing the work, and where, exactly, the competency lies. They also appreciate the lack of conflicting agendas between, say, Strategy and Design.
On one hand, a “full-service” firm generally touts the benefits of its “integrated model”. On the other, a narrowly-focused “networked alliance” firm (like us) will tout the “best in class” expertise of its allies and friends. We’ve got a stake in this argument, and we believe we’re on the winning side of it (at least, most of the time). But we also know that the “networked alliance” model is relatively new—at least, as a business model that’s been outed and is now publicly okay to embrace. Like all new models, it’s still got some kinks to work out. A few of these are: What are the right rules of the road for working together? Who owns the client relationship? Who should manage the project? And so on.
After dozens of engagements, we’ve arrived at the following etiquette, more or less. We share it as a window into the way we build teams (and collaborative relationships) and as a starting point for further conversations elsewhere. We share it as a way we like to be considered, and the way we like to consider others in turn. Please forgive the lapses into legalese.
If you don’t want to get into details, we can summarize the etiquette into five simple principles:
- Every firm on the team represents itself as itself.
- Every firm on the team is acknowledged as the author of its own work
- Every firm on the team presents its own work.
- Every firm on the team enjoys direct communications with the clientwith respect to its own work.
- All team members will respect the firm that owns the relationship while retaining responsibility for their own work.
INVITATION TO PRESENT WITH A CREATIVE SERVICES COLLABORATOR TO A PROSPECT THAT IS NEW TO BOTH FIRMS [JOINT NEW-BUSINESS PITCH]
When we present with a collaborator on a new business pitch, we represent our company, processes and work, as our own (in our case, “Applied Storytelling”).
In acknowledgement of our collaborator partner as the “lead collaborator” from a business development standpoint, we allow our collaborator partner to determine the time and place of the presentation, and to be the sole point of contact with the client prospect with regard to matters relating to the presentation.
Request for Proposal: If the team is asked to provide a proposal that includes the services we offer, we consider that we have helped to win the business and expect to benefit in a manner commensurate with our efforts. Namely, we do not consider our collaborator partner to be our “client”. Our obligations to our collaborator partner differ significantly from our individual and joint obligations to the client.
Obligation to Collaborator: If the prospect has originally contacted our collaborator partner, then we regard the prospect as having the potential to become the collaborator’s client. We absolutely respect our team member’s right to “own the relationship” with the client outside the specific scope of services that we provide. Any recommendation or request for services that we receive, and that falls outside the services we offer directly, will be referred by us to our lead collaborator partner.
We extend and abide by the same considerations we expect of our collaborator partners.
Proposals: We provide our own proposal and pricing for any brand consulting and naming services we are asked to provide.
If we are presenting at the invitation of a collaborator, we gladly provide our proposal to the collaborator to be packaged with the collaborator’s own proposal, providing the collaborator responds to the client within a reasonable timeframe. In such circumstances, we expect that our proposal will be presented intact as delivered to the collaborator, regardless of any cover letter or “wrap” the collaborator might wish to add. Our collaborative partner agrees not to amend or revise our proposal in any way without our express knowledge and consent.
In the case of a referral from a collaborator (versus a co-presentation), we expect to submit our own proposal directly to the prospective client.
Communications: We copy our professional services collaborator on all written communications and apprise our collaborative team member of all meetings and presentations we will be making to perform the services detailed in the scope of work. We expect that our collaborative partner will not communicate directly with the client regarding our services without our express knowledge and consent.
We actively seek to represent and recommend our collaborator partners at every opportunity as well as to coordinate our workflows and deliverables to strengthen their own work products and client relationships.
Project Management: We expect to manage the project(s) for which we are engaged to provide services. We freely inform our collaborator partners of the steps and approach we are taking, and we may solicit opinions from them, but we remain the sole authority and decision maker with respect to the process, steps, tools and people we use to perform the services for which we are engaged.
Billing: In line with the project management we provide for the work we perform, we establish direct billing with the client.
Representation of Work: We represent our work as our own. Our work is not co-branded with our collaborator partners.
INVITATION TO PRESENT WITH A CREATIVE SERVICES COLLABORATOR WHO ALREADY OWNS A CLIENT RELATIONSHIP [OR WITH COLLABORATOR WHO HAS BEEN ASKED TO RESPOND TO A FORMAL RFP]
Certain distinctions between this situation and the previous situation apply:
Billing: Provided the collaborator partner has a history of timely payment with us, we allow our billing to be run through the collaborator partner. Note, however, that we retain control of project management for services provided.
Representation of Work: We allow our lead collaborator partners to repackage our work in their own format provided our work does not materially change without our express knowledge and consent, and provided that any reformatting does not materially effect project steps and timing. We consent to our work being co-branded with our collaborator partner’s, if desired by the partner.
REQUEST FOR SERVICES FROM COLLABORATOR
Additional distinctions between this situation and the previous situations apply:
Billing: Provided the collaborator partner has a history of timely payment with us, we consent to run our billing through the collaborator partner.
Communications: To be successful, we must hear the client’s voice directly. We agree not to contact the end client without the participation of our collaborator partner—who is, after all, our fellow team member. At the same time, our professional services collaborator agrees to include us on all phone calls of substance relating to our work product, and agrees to allow us to take the lead in presenting the deliverables we develop. Our collaborator/client further agrees to send no deliverable provided by us to the end client “over the transom” (i.e., without a presentation or walk-through to the client) without our express knowledge and consent.
Representation of Work: We allow our professional services collaborators/clients to repackage our work in their own format provided our work does not materially change, and provided that reformatting does not materially effect project steps and timing. We consent to our work being co-branded with our collaborator partner, if the partner desires. We never allow a professional services collaborator/client to represent our work as its own without our express knowledge and consent.
Project Management: We acknowledge the professional services firm as our client, and perform services under their project management lead as set forth in our working agreement with them.