by Shawna Suckow, CMP
• Collaboration is fundamental
• Consider moving outside your comfort zone
• Experimental cooperation
Those of us “of a certain age” remember vividly when a has-been band collaborated with some newcomers to the music world, and changed the entire music industry. I’m talking about none other than hard rockers Aerosmith and hip-hop group Run-D.M.C. (as an aside before I get into my story, I love that ‘DMC’ has an entirely different meaning in our industry, i.e. Destination Management Company instead of the initials of one of the famous rap duo).
Stay with me here, because even if you weren’t born in 1986 when a little slice of musical magic called ‘Walk This Way’
happened, I do have a point.
Aerosmith, headed by Steven Tyler, was on its way down the charts after a string of gold and platinum albums in the 1970s. They were known for hard rock and hard partying. As they struggled to regain their original stardom in a changing industry, along came the rap scene.
How is this relevant to the meetings industry, you ask? Well, I see a lot of silos in our industry, run by companies who choose to compete rather than collaborate. What opportunities are passing us by, because we’re too busy trying to beat out the competition, rather than asking them to join forces on a project?
Beautiful collaborations happen all the time in our industry – in fact, a meeting is a vast production requiring collaboration. But those collaborations are between complementary companies, and rarely between competitors.
What could it look like if we joined forces occasionally?
Do you see your company as the older, more established Aerosmith in this scenario, or are you part of a newer organization that is less well known, but on the rise? What did Aerosmith have to gain by working with some young upstarts who wanted to rework one of their greatest accomplishments – the song ‘Walk This Way?’ What did Run-D.M.C. have to gain by working with some old rockers who already had their time in the spotlight?
Thank goodness both groups took the risk, or the music world might not be as fluid and collaborative as it is today. Hardly a song plays on the radio that isn’t some form of collaboration between artists.
Who do you compete against in the industry? What skills do you bring to the table that they don’t, and vice versa? How could potential or current clients benefit from a unique collaboration? Perhaps your company is small, nimble, and uber-creative, while your biggest competitor is huge, steadfast, and has tons of resources you don’t have. Rather than competing for a slice of the pie, why not go after a bigger piece and share it from time to time? How could such a collaboration leave a permanent mark on our industry?
If you’re with an established, behemoth event-planning firm, both your team and your clients could benefit from an infusion of fresh energy and fresh eyes. Who are the up-and-coming firms you are starting to compete against more and more? Why not have a sit-down and see if there’s an opportunity to work together on a proposal, thereby increasing the likelihood you will win it?
If you’re a small supplier without a big marketing budget, why not approach the established Big Dog Company and see where you can complement each other? I’m not talking about a permanent partnership; rather, a joint effort whose results are bigger than the sum of both parties involved?
If you’re a corporation or association, why not challenge two competitors to work together to produce something truly remarkable?
‘But Shawna,’ you say, ‘this is crazy. You want me to sit down with my competition and share my secrets?!’ Of course, you have to start from a position of mutual respect and trust, and that’s not always easy with competitors. But old, established, giant companies in our industry can get reputations for being too traditional, too expensive, and too regimented in their thinking. Young, upstart companies in our industry have no reputation, because they don’t have the large marketing budgets to go to all the tradeshows, nor the extensive client rosters to build trust. Which one are you?
Can a fresh collaboration bring new attention to both companies? Attract new clients who are intrigued by the possibilities? Achieve some amazing results and change an entire industry? You bet.
The 1986 version of ‘Walk This Way’ achieved some amazing results indeed. The ingenious collaboration helped usher in hip hop into mainstream radio, catapulted Aerosmith back into the spotlight, and earned both bands a Soul Train Music Award for Best Rap Single in 1987.
Today, Aerosmith is the best-selling American hard rock band of all time (Wikipedia.com), Run-D.M.C. is viewed as a cross-genre pioneer, and collaborations across musical genres are commonplace…all because two groups agreed to try a little experimental cooperation.
Can you move past your initial hesitation, try reaching out to a competitor, and breathe fresh life into your client’s event?
Shawna Suckow, CMP, founded SPIN, the Senior Planners Industry Network, in 2008. Today, she is a global speaker on industry trends and a sought-after sales trainer for industry suppliers.