A Cannes-Do Attitude for Partnerships

Unleashing the Power of Partnerships

By Martin Coady, Executive Director, Marketing Technology at VMLY&R 

It wasn’t surprising to hear a lot about the importance of partnerships at this year's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. But it was surprising to hear about the commitment to and depth of collaboration that’s necessary to achieve benefits for all involved.  

The other interesting aspect of these partnerships was their scope, which ranged from within a company to societal commitments.

Within the C-Suite — McKinsey & Company presented research highlighting the most successful CMO type — the “Unifier.” This person creates partnerships across the C-Suite, which leads to longer time in the role, participation in overall corporate strategy and a lower chance of budget cuts. 


  • Our push to engage more with CIOs and others is a good step to help create these results.

Within the tech ecosystem — It was hard to miss the Google and Facebook beaches, and Adobe and IBM popped up everywhere. Many attendees likely spent as much time with strategic technology vendors like Google, Facebook, IBM and Adobe as they did with their own agencies. More than any other relationship, tech relationships require collaboration and coordination between agencies and technology vendors to provide the value clients expect. And the savvy clients were spending the remaining time looking for what is coming next so they can differentiate and get a competitive edge. The session presented by Withinlink, a Chinese startup incubator, is a good example of upcoming tech. The highlighted companies are ready and eager to find global partners to work with.  


  • We need to continue our commitment of spending time with technology partners to efficiently align in our overlapping work.
  • We should bring more relevant startups into our conversations to diversify the view that is now dominated by global providers like Google, Salesforce and Adobe.  

Within a client’s industry — Mars Petcare took “tech as a differentiator” one step further by creating a new division, Kinship, “a new business innovation, data, genetics and consumer technology division partnering with start-ups. Kinship goes beyond investment; it exists to collaborate with businesses to help them grow while adding a new entrepreneurial dimension to the Mars Petcare brand. (Buildinga Coalition for Industry Transformation session description).” The company is fundamentally moving away from the idea of ownership to an ecosystem of connected solutions that improve the experience of end users and their own teams, including vets. Mars will make more money through its improved experience for customers, which may lead to more engagement overall and additional funds as the startups it has invested in grow. A less structured but no less impactful partnership model was announced between Thrive Global and P&G.


  • We must always conduct a robust partner, buy or build analysis to bring new experiences to life.
  • We should consider alternative business models for funding ideas.
  • We need to look beyond immediate relationships to find complementary partners or brands. We often look to our other client partners and within our larger WPP family on behalf of our clients to help play matchmaker.

Within society — The conversation about the role of purpose in relation to brand was highlighted by Alan Jope’s session. He called for everyone to avoid “purpose washing,” and to commit to it only if those involved are engaged with groups in the real world and can show it.


  • The idea of elevating partnerships between brands and the groups that help deliver rather than just provide results lends interesting avenues for bringing to life the commitment, benefits and impact of the work. 
  • There are real benefits to treating partnerships as variations with more commonalities than differences. In other words, try to view partnerships as frameworks that can be applied to help solve problems, whether the issues are internal or external, big or small. 

A framework approach to partnerships creates:

  • Efficiency — Don’t reinvent the wheel each time you look to onboard a new partner, change an existing one, etc. Document and share each partnership’s best practices with everyone who is looking to create a new partnership.
  • Effectiveness — Create a better sense of what’s achievable by realizing a relationship could be deeper or broader based on a comparison to the range of other available possibilities. This way of thinking could also expand how we approach collaboration in general. For instance, why couldn’t we collaborate to make the business better, behaving similarly to how we work toward a solution that helps the world?  
  • Applicability — Allow a partnership to become one of the solutions you can apply to fix other problems.

Using this approach in our work with clients helps us create another sought-after outcome: innovation. Innovation is more than just a unique product or experience; it should transform how you accomplish a task, where you do it and with whom. Partnerships should be catalysts for innovation and transformation. 

Together we can help brands explore additional and alternate revenue models to grow their business,  and can even discover new ways of engaging with agencies and technology partners through different business models. And this doesn’t require a lot of work or a formal structure.

You just need to be open to bringing internal stakeholders together to uncover what they have in common and then have them share that knowledge with each other. From there you can include external stakeholders like agencies because they have their own experiences about partnerships to share with this group. And you can also ask existing partners who else partners well with them.

To knock down the final barrier, “bringing together” can be as simple as setting up an email distribution list or collaborative space. And never underestimate the lure of free food to drive a discussion over lunch. For example, one of our clients funded a global program based on the savings from the sharing and collaboration from its email distribution. This innovation wasn’t technical in nature, but including people with a different @ in their email made all of the difference in creating change. 

Not every group that is brought together will benefit, but the minimal effort to try makes the energy put forth worthwhile. Before all of this, though, a can-do attitude to change is the first step, and it’s one I’ve tried to keep up throughout the last 20 years of leading partnerships and clients. 

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