Keys to a Successful Partnership

The American Marketing Association’s approach to learning reflects an awareness of when you need others’ assistance, while leveraging your own strengths.

Partnerships are two-way streets—each side of the partnership needs to feel like they’re getting something out of the experience. So when the American Marketing Association began looking into partnerships around its education program in 2019, it knew what it needed—access to best practices in niche areas, developed and delivered faster than it could provide itself.

“We were looking at the digital marketing space and saying, ‘We really need to make sure this exam is staying relevant,’” says Molly Soat, VP of Professional Development at AMA. “We’re not able to hit that alone. We need someone who can really help us accelerate the program.”

It was through those discussions that in 2020 launched a certification program with the Digital Marketing Institute. The program has proven successful enough that last September it expanded into a dual-certification offering for U.S. college students. In the process, AMA has gained access to DMI’s expertise in an ever-shifting field, more efficiently than doing so internally.

“It’s not to say that we couldn’t have done it ourselves, but it made the most sense to harness those existing experts in that niche space,” Soat says. “We wanted to identify who’s doing an incredible job now, to be able to get the most relevant content into the market as quickly as possible.”

In return, Soat says, DMI members get access to AMA’s broader resources and authority in the industry. “The added layer we offer is our perspective on how these specific entities fit into the entire broader world. of marketing,” she says.

The success of the DMI partnership prompted AMA to launch another partnership in a niche area: Last October, it announced it would work with the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) to create a certification in content marketing. The effort was in part a response to AMA’s own research of its membership, which found that content marketing was “a significant area of growth and/or skill development.”

Another factor that made the new partnership make sense from AMA’s perspective is that it knew that the DMI partnership proved to be an additive one—it drew DMI members into the AMA fold, instead of draining AMA members toward the niche group.

“This is two plus two is more,” says AMA CEO Bennie F. Johnson. “These are different offerings, different spaces, different connected communities. These offerings are hybrids—they don’t exist by themselves, so being a part of this is an entry point for the broadest part of the marketing industry and community. It’s not the reality that somebody can only choose one. That’s not really the market choice.”

This is two plus two is more.

AMA CEO Bennie F. Johnson

Naturally, AMA is measuring the number of people who engage in the education programs to determine their success. But it also looks at how the niche areas around the learning programs are adopted more broadly. “One way we know the partnership is working is, do we have more scalability and sustainability in the marketing space?” Johnson says. “Do we see more content-marketing best practices being used? That elevation of the industry, the mission part of our world, is important as well.”

As fast-moving areas with a lot of changes, the partnerships are designed to be revisited and adapted often. The secret of the partnerships’ success, Johnson says, is that focus on improvement. “The partnership should always make both parties better,” he says. “It’s always a work in progress, and it should elevate the business.”

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