Every company gets to the point where it needs to hire an outside vendor or consultant.
Maybe you’ve hired someone to assist with marketing materials or accounting needs. Maybe you’ve contracted with someone to help you determine future staffing opportunities or to complete a one-off project.
At Reach Partners, we often step in when a business’s internal team is too busy to complete a job or an organization needs our expertise in planning and problem-solving.
We’ve been asked to determine the best way to move 18,000 people from numerous parking lots to an event site in less than three hours. Our clients have hired us to launch a seminar series in three states and to keep a coalition of experts on task.
Every single time, we see ourselves as partners – not just vendors or consultants, but actual partners.
Huh? What’s the difference?
For us, being a partner means we’re a seamless extension of another team. We bring value and structure to a process, but we don’t take it over. Our favorite successes are when a client’s clients or colleagues don’t even know we’re part of the process.
So, how do you know when you’ve hired an actual partner – and not just somebody who completes the job?
Enjoy your partnerships!
Every milestone deserves a good celebration.
For its 20th anniversary, Aldevron wanted to host a party for employees and their families after its annual all-staff meeting.
But the Fargo company’s staff were stretched to meet the daily demands of a quickly growing firm in the biotech field. To throw the fun celebration they imagined without adding pressure on full-time employees, they needed additional support.
Ellen Shafer, senior director of marketing and communications, contacted Reach Partners about two months before the event.
“She needed someone she could trust to handle the details,” says Rachel Asleson, co-owner of Reach Partners.
Staff had already identified the framework for the celebration – an open-house picnic with family-friendly activities. Reach Partners managed the details of the day.
We established the best way to layout the elements and served as a liaison between the event vendors – audio-visual professionals, caterers, entertainers, etc. – and Aldevron staff. We identified vendors, managed the contracts, and confirmed everything was set up as planned. If a contractor had questions or needs on the day of the event, we served as the point of contact.
We also established a process for tracking RSVPs.
While we hovered in the background, the work we did ensured that the day’s activities rolled smoothly. More than 275 people attended.
“Thank you for jumping in on such short notice, working with me and the team, and helping with all details to make a great event,” Ellen wrote to us afterwards. “Your management of the day gave me the peace of mind to take care of what I needed to take care of.”
A year later we received the best compliment of all – a request to help again with the all-employee picnic. This time the celebration coincided with a ground-breaking event for Aldevron’s newest facility in Fargo.
We are always grateful when we can help our partners focus on the daily demands of their work while we take care of the details that make one-time or occasional events run smoothly.
What We Delivered:
With a 150th anniversary approaching, leaders in Otter Tail County knew they had a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to celebrate the region’s history and culture. People were excited and passionate about getting involved in the milestone event, but that enthusiasm came with a price tag.
“The more ideas there were, the more opportunities there were for things to get chaotic,” says Nick Leonard, communications and external relations director for the county.
Key stakeholders including the Otter Tail County Historical Society and the Otter Tail Lakes County Association established a planning committee for the sesquicentennial, but the group needed someone to serve as a single point person for communication and project management.
Reach Partners stepped in, helping with event strategy and support.
The committee established a budget and goals for the celebration. Anita from Reach Partners helped to keep these things on track.
“She knew when to dig deeper and ask questions, and when to challenge the group,” Leonard says. “Thanks to her, we stayed hyper-focused on our plans.”
While the committee wanted to promote the region, it decided the 150th was an opportunity to celebrate all who live, work and play in the county. The committee met monthly to identify and plan events. Major events for the celebration included a musical production written for the anniversary, an ice-themed winter gathering, and a historical reenactment of the first county commission meeting. Other events included community walking tours and historical displays.
Events were held over the span of a year and throughout the geographically expansive county, but planning started months earlier.
“There were a lot of moving parts,” Anita says. “These are people who love their county and they wanted to celebrate.”
To help the group stay on task, Anita created agendas for each meetings. She identified logistics that needed to be addressed for the major events. She also managed a micro-grant program that offered support for community projects that promoted Otter Tail County and its history.
Planning and coordinating numerous events can be stressful and time intensive, especially for staff who don’t do this regularly. Asking Reach Partners, which has the expertise and experience, to take on this role was an easy choice, Leonard says.
“Planning a big event is one of the most visible things you do as an organization. It leaves a lasting impression on people. You want to make sure it’s done well,” Leonard says.
PHOTO CREDITS: Dan Broten. All photos were taken at Otter Tail County's 150th anniversary kick-off event.
In our work, we get some interesting requests.
One of the most memorable came from a client who regularly produces commercials. One afternoon we received a panicked call from the project manager overseeing an upcoming shoot.
The team had written the script, cast the talent, and ordered the props. The production team was scheduled and ready to go.
There was one problem. Because of unexpected circumstances, a major element of the set was missing: the walls.
The phone conversation went something like this:
“We need materials for interior walls, plus the wall constructed and installed at the set by eight a.m.”
“Give me 20 minutes, and I’ll call you back,” said Anita.
Within 10 minutes, Anita identified a solution. She found a builder and confirmed materials, building plans, and delivery. Less than 36 hours later, the set walls were delivered and assembled.
These types of requests are rare, but at Reach Partners we embrace the challenge of making the seemingly impossible become possible. In particular, we are thrilled when we can connect the right people at the right time to get a project done.
We can do this because we have good connections – a short list of go-to people whom will take our calls any time of day. These people have been in the trenches with us before and know how to work with us. We can skip formalities and focus quickly on what needs to be done.
Everybody needs these types of relationships – vendors, subcontractors, and amazingly talented people who can save your butt (and project!) when the unexpected pops up.
For many clients, Reach Partners is on that short list – mostly because we have those connections that can solve seemingly impossible problems. We recognize that these relationships and connections are among our most valuable resources.
Do you have a short list of go-to folks whom you rely on professionally and personally? Whom do you call when you needed promotional items ordered yesterday? Or your hair stylist moves to Texas?
If you don’t have a short list of go-to connections, now is the time to start developing one. Form a close relationship with a lawyer, editor, fix-it gal, restauranteur, graphic designer, printer, massage therapist, yogi, accountant, cook, talent agent, writer.
There’s no end to the skillsets and networking – the value – that these connections can bring to your work and life.
Suicide and suicide-related behaviors can be newsworthy topics. But how those stories are shared makes a difference in how others in the community view and respond to suicide.
We helped to shine light on this topic when we designed and planned a communications conference for news media and spokespeople.
Mental Health America of North Dakota and partner agencies wanted to erase the stigma around suicide, while increasing the likelihood that vulnerable individuals would seek help after viewing or reading a story about suicide.
To address this issue, they received a grant to hold a communications summit for news media and organizational spokespeople. They asked Reach Partners to join the summit’s planning committee and to oversee details of the conference, which was held in both Fargo and Bismarck.
“It was an honor to do this,” says Anita Hoffarth, co-owner of Reach Partners. “We were a key part of the committee.”
The group invited Daniel J. Reidenberg, executive director of S.A.V.E. (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), to share best practices in reporting on suicide. In addition, a panel of survivors of suicide loss shared their personal experiences. They spoke about what it was like to be interviewed by members of the media and how the language and headlines used affected their families.
Sixty-five members of the media, public information officers, law enforcement and educators attended the conference. Conference planners assembled educational resources to distribute to those who had been invited but couldn’t attend.
During the half-day event, attendees learned more about suicide and how reporting and messaging could make a difference in whether viewers and readers would consider suicide or seek help.
One best practice shared was to no longer use the phrase “commit suicide” since the verb suggests the person conducted a crime. Instead reporters were encouraged to say “died by suicide.”
In a post-conference evaluation, 100 percent of the attendees said they were likely to use the information presented the next time they had to report on a suicide.
“I learned a lot of useful things and important considerations for my stories in the future. Thanks!” wrote one attendee.
Local news reports began to reflect many of the best practices shared at the summit – and journalists continue to be more responsible in their reports.
“I’ve even become more careful in how I talk about suicide and share with others what I learned,” Anita says.
When it comes to designing and planning events, it’s important to tap your creativity.
That was the case when we worked with Sanford Health and its partners – LifeSource, Dakota Lions Sight & Health, and Minnesota Lions Eye Bank. They wanted to honor the people who gave eyes, organs, and tissues during the 15 years the health system has done transplants.
The group designed and installed a Wall of Donor Heroes to honor living donors and those whose death extended someone else’s life.
But they needed some help when it came time to plan a reception to accompany the reveal of the wall to donors, donor families, and recipients.
The group of stakeholders included partners from throughout the community. The group led by Sanford Health’s marketing office was passionate about the project and had lots of ideas, but struggled to bring them to fruition.
“They were thinking about all of the necessary details, but they were trying to answer all the questions at the same time and became overwhelmed. That made it hard to move forward,” says Rachel Asleson, co-owner of Reach Partners.
Complicating the planning process, Sanford’s point person for the project was leaving and other Sanford team members were focused on the upcoming opening of a new hospital.
Sanford Health asked Reach Partners to step in and help shape a gathering filled with the dignity that donors and surviving families deserved. Reach Partners then guided the group to plan and execute the details in a timely, organized way.
Rachel worked with the project group to create an intentional event that celebrated new life while honoring the individuals who had passed away.
Before she came on board, some details had been predetermined. The reveal was scheduled for April, National Donate Life month. The group also wanted the reception to be held near the Wall of Donor Heroes at the Sanford Health Broadway Medical Center in Fargo.
These decisions brought with them some event challenges. The weather in mid-April is unpredictable, meaning that the event would largely have to be planned for an inside space. The lobby around the Wall of Donor Heroes, however, was not big enough to hold the number of guests the group wanted to invite.
To solve the problem, Reach Partners recommended a rolling program conducted during a two-hour reception. Guests were invited to wander through three levels of the lobby.
Instead of one long program, speakers presented short messages throughout the evening. This allowed attendees to come and go as they needed. During the presentations, those in attendance could easily gather and stand near the Donor Wall. Screens also were strategically placed so that guests could see a live-stream of speakers without being near the wall.
“Rachel did an awesome job wrangling this event,” says Brian Fuder of Dakota Lions Sight & Health. “I am truly impressed with her abilities. Reach Partners is a solution provider!”
The event was well-received and, more importantly, appropriately honored organ and tissue donors. More than 500 individuals attended the event.
As project managers, we need to be flexible and versatile. Those skills were important when we assisted Sanford Health in Fargo with the launch of its pilot concierge services.
A framework for the program was in place, but few people within the sprawling health system knew about the plan. The manager of guest services, tasked with overseeing the program in Fargo, needed help sharing the details.
Reach Partners was asked to help inform departments and staff. We then identified how to use each department’s communication touchpoints to distribute details of the new services to patients and their families.
The new concierge services were designed to meet the needs of patients beyond the medical care that happens in the hospital or clinic. For example, the concierge helps out-of-town patients and their families identify nearby hotels and transportation options.
“The patient is taken care of when he or she is in the hospital,” Anita says. “The concierge services are an added value to assist the whole family during that time.”
To bring the project to success, we needed to understand how departments communicated with patients and their families. Anita met with stakeholders who included everyone from the nurses who call patients before day surgery to the hospital’s patient advisory council to emergency room personnel.
She spent much of her time asking questions and documenting feedback.
“We needed to find the best way to get this information to patients and asking good questions was important in doing that,” she says.
After meeting with key staff and determining how best to inform patients and their families, Anita coordinated the completion of communication materials. These included updated phone scripts used for pre-scheduled surgeries, flyers for patient packets and website updates.
“She showed professionalism with her presentation and communication skills, and through this project continues to demonstrate versatility in the ways that Reach Partners can provide business support,” says Chris Hames, guest services manager at Sanford Health.
Sanford’s pilot project was a success.
Thanks, in part, to feedback gathered and information distributed by Reach Partners, the guest services manager justified adding a full-time position to staff the concierge service.
We can do more together than alone.
It’s true, but hard enough when individuals want to work together. Those challenges multiply when organizations with different motivations want to collaborate. Even actions like identifying goals and determining how to share resources can be complex.
Organizations may agree that a partnership will lead to good outcomes and stronger relationships, but they also may be overwhelmed and uncertain about how to get there.
Rarely is there a one-size-fits-all approach to facilitating these partnerships. Yet there are two valuable elements to keep in mind when gathering people with different perspectives who want achieve a common vision: stability and communication.
Create a system of stability
It doesn’t sound sexy at all, but stability has the power to ensure that completed collaborative work doesn’t get undone.
It starts by building trust among group members. Trust is supported by guidelines of conduct (e.g. be respectful, show up on time, listen carefully, and participate) and guidelines for meetings and communications (e.g. limit discussion via email thread, keep to an agenda during face to face meetings, promptly distribute supporting materials).
Dale Carnegie once said that “people support the world they help create.” You want members to add their voices and share their expertise; it’s why they’re a partner. Building trust gives diverse members of a group ownership to keep specific details, items, and issues moving forward.
Stability also highlights the expertise of group members. It provides opportunities for multiple voices to be heard during meetings and supports a group when responsibilities and resources are shared.
A system of stability is built when a group defines the processes and structures for intra-organization and governance. Especially important is how the group decides to resolve differences. This task can become more difficult as the number of members exceed 6 to 8 organizations. At this size, a hierarchical governance structure and an outside firm (like Reach Partners) may be needed to keep the group and its mission stable.
Financial stability becomes important when resources are needed to advance a cause or policy, or required to create an object, event, or process. In these cases, partnerships can help to maximize resources including funds, expertise, and influence. Long-term financial planning is one challenge of nearly all partnerships. For these reason, groups typically look for short-term solutions, for instance leveraging funding sources like grants.
Communication. Communication. Communication.
Communication supports the momentum of the group and creates a case for collaboration.
What is the purpose of the partnership? What are the proposed outcomes? How does each member organization and participant’s actions move toward that purpose? How does that group’s participation move their own business needs? Questions such as these inform communications, align partners, and help to focus internal and external communication.
Communication techniques, such as storytelling, can bring the group back again to the narrative and goals that hold the group together. Taking time to highlight stakeholders’ motivations (a nonprofit’s mission, a business’s goals, an agency’s role) and the benefits they receive by participating can help to keep the group on task.
An experienced facilitator can understand how to navigate the differences between organizations while carefully pointing out the risks of pursuing the goal alone. An experienced facilitator will encourage collaboration, giving organizations both small and large an opportunity to contribute and share their expertise.
Yes, we can do better together than alone. It takes patience; it takes flexibility. In the end, it is well worth the effort.
Examples of how Reach Partners has facilitated partnerships:
As organizations and businesses seek to market their brand, they often consider hosting events. Both On the Minds of Moms, a parenting magazine, and Onsharp, a digital marketing agency, asked Reach Partners to help them determine what resources they needed to successfully host an event and to help imagine what the event would look like.
The two organizations had different missions and goals, but Reach Partners used the same process to help each business determine the best route forward.
Reach began by asking each business to identify the stakeholders, the people who needed to be involved in the initial discussions. We then facilitated meetings with the stakeholders.
“It was about asking questions and a lot of listening,” Anita says.
Among other details, Reach Partners asked both businesses to consider five W’s and one H: Who would be involved? Who would attend? What did the event look like? When did they want the event held? Where might it be held? Why did they want an event? How would it look and feel?
Reach Partners then developed a strategic guide and preliminary budget for an event that matched the organization’s needs.
“We didn’t tell them what they should do, but helped them determine their goals and objectives,” Anita says.
After receiving recommendations from Reach Partners, Minds of Moms decided to move forward with the event plan and brought its magazine to life with a one-day gathering.
After Onsharp received its recommendations, it decided to not host a full-fledged event. That said, the process was a success.
“Choosing Reach Partners to help us plan our event strategy was a great decision. They guided us through a process that helped us define success, articulate goals, define a budget and identify a venue. It was exactly the information we needed to make a decision about our next steps. We completed the process much more quickly and effectively than we could have done on our own. And, we had fun along the way,” says Kirsten Jensen, who was Onsharp’s director of marketing at the time.
For us, Thanksgiving is more than a once-a-year celebration. It’s something we practice every single day.
Gratitude is an integral part of who we are at Reach Partners. Collectively and individually, we are thankful for the work we do, the clients we partner with, and the communities we serve.
The past year has been packed with new opportunities and new relationships. It’s been filled with occasions to deepen the partnerships we’ve already made. In the process, we have been blessed and have had a lot of fun along the way.
Here is a sampling of the things we are grateful for in 2017!
What are you grateful for?