• Ben Finzel

Partnerships, Perspective and Protocol


Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion on partnerships as part of an internal training course being conducted at the U.S. Department of State.

The conversation was focused on providing practical advice about developing partnerships. As I learned in the conversation, 23 federal agencies are now actively engaged in partnerships of all kinds with the private sector and with other agencies. The audience for this week’s course was State Department employees who help to develop, manage and run partnerships (or who will soon).

I found the conversation fascinating. And it reminded me that when it comes to partnerships with the federal government (and well, really everyone), the key is perspective. As with so many things in life, how you view an opportunity is key to a successful outcome. While federal government employees managing partnerships may see the opportunities one way, the companies with whom they are engaged are likely to see them another way. Bridging that perception gap is key to developing successful partnerships.

To that point, during our Q&A, one person asked us what companies look for in partnerships with the federal government. Although there are many ways to answer that question, I chose to tackle it from the perspective of what a company might need to hear from the federal government to be interested in pursuing a partnership. To me, that means a simple protocol focused on three key principles:

  • Clarity – What are you asking the company to do? What will the partnership do? Why is it important? What expectations do you have for engagement? The clearer you can be about the opportunity (and the work required by all parties), the higher the likelihood a company will be interested in partnering.

  • Flexibility – What are you expecting the partner to do? How fast? While it’s important to have a fully developed plan to present at the outset, it is just as important to be willing to adjust specifics based on partner feedback and input. In the example I gave, I said that if you could be clear about the goal, but open to different ways of reaching it, that would be helpful to companies considering partnerships.

  • Results – What is the company going to get out of participating? Beyond the reputational boost from working with the federal government (and yes, a partnership with the federal government is still generally viewed as prestigious), what positive outcomes will accrue to the company for being involved? This can be a challenge for the federal government given the obvious concerns about engaging with for-profit companies, but it’s not an insurmountable obstacle. For example, for many companies, the opportunity to enter new markets or showcase new technologies that is afforded by collaboration with the federal government can be quite helpful.

RENEWPR is focused on the idea that collaboration – in the form of partnerships – is one of four key principles of communications. I enjoy working on partnerships because I love finding ways to leverage multiple parties’ commonality to achieve broader outcomes. Working collaboratively with different organizations to achieve a common goal is rewarding. As I continue with my mission to restore common sense to communications, I will continue to look for opportunities to work with clients to build and leverage partnerships for everyone’s benefit.

What’s your perspective on the right protocols for successful partnerships? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


Washington D.C.'s Union Station was restored and reopened in 1988 thanks to a public/private partnership. Photo Credit: Ben Finzel


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