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Civil partnerships: ITV sales director on why the boorish days of the adversarial airtime sales model are long gone

By Kelly Williams

April 16, 2013 | 4 min read

Business, Marketing, Sales, Consumer, Customer – so often nowadays, these words are merely the prefixes for the all-important ‘partnership’ pay off. A cynical bid to sell more stuff and appropriate what looks like the language of success or, genuine attempt to shake off an old-fashioned dictatorial business model? Mention ‘partnerships’ in the same breath as ‘revenue’ or ‘profit’ and there are still many who will raise a cynical eyebrow.

A new era of partnerships made Corrie's meerkat deal possible

The traditional airtime sales model was almost adversarial in nature – for all sides it was about winning, coming out on top, getting your own way. With increased competition and further fragmentation of the media landscape, it now seems ridiculous that combative tactics were ever thought acceptable.

And while it is now generally accepted that we all benefit from ditching those boorish values, there is still some reluctance to embrace the notion of partnering with advertisers and brands. I wonder though if people would be so quick to reject the notion of partnerships as soft or compromising if they really examined the value this model brings to businesses.

For instance, it’s only through a unique partnership built on trust that the famous meerkats can stroll down Coronation Street. The use of the set of the iconic soap is revolutionary for a sponsor, it fulfils their business needs and brings extra content to viewers. There are, naturally, multiple, often opposing agendas to satisfy in an operation of this scale, yet it is achievable when stakeholders genuinely work together.

Our partnership with Morrisons would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. A complex deal involving the media agency, creative agency, advertiser, broadcaster and producer, covering spot advertising, sponsorship, multiple high profile shows, the biggest double act in the country and many of the supermarket’s own staff could be precarious to say the least. Cooperation, openness and trust among all parties is non negotiable on a project of this nature and is why it is so successful.

However, not all successful partnerships are as huge in scale and complexity - our recent tie up with Felix, our pet food partner for Britain’s Got Talent, is a case in point. This is a neat, charming idea designed to find Britain’s cleverest cat. Not as high profile as some but there are still multiple interests to protect, and again, this was only achieved through a proper, robust, honest collaboration.

The key is authenticity – John Lewis calls its 84,000 employees ‘partners’ – but this isn’t euphemistic or opportunistic – the workforce are shareholders in the company. Automatically this means the staff has a vested interest in making the company a success. What looks and feels like an altruistic gesture is, in fact, really good business.

It is this thinking and behaviour that makes for happy staff, great work and financial success. I see no reason why all businesses can’t adopt similar principles for the good of the company. Using cooperation, trust and creativity in an open and honest culture is better for everyone – it attracts great people, content and brands, and it is certainly helping to transform ITV.

Kelly Williams is group commercial sales director at ITV

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