Mark Athitakis is a contributing editor to Associations Now.
When growing globally, it's important to know yourself, your target region, and your options in order to identify key partners to help advance your association's goals.
North American associations working outside their familiar boundaries will need to build connections with vendors, government agencies, educators, and other groups that can help advance the association's goals. So how do you identify partners? Do you need a contract for a successful sustained partnership? And what are the best ways to end it?
Know your mindset. Anglo cultures "think that transactions trump relationships, but in the rest of the world, it's the other way around—relationships trump transactions," says Howard Wallack, global markets executive at the Society for Human Resource Management. "You have to be attuned to how you develop trust."
Understand the country. Similarly, the partner vetting process should be attuned to the particular needs of a country or region in which you work. Barbara Connell, CMP, CAE, COO of the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, notes that while ASGE's revenue model around the world involves education, the type of partner it uses to satisfy that goal often changes.
"It depends on the region, it depends on the specific country, and then the bureaucracy within that country," she says. "Sometimes the societies can do it, sometimes it has to be through a hospital."
Don't insist on a contract. Contracts help solidify relationships, but take care not to push too hard for one. Dorothy Deng, an associate at the law firm Whiteford Taylor & Preston, recommends contracts for any partnerships involving money and use of intellectual property. But, she adds, "sometimes, at the end of the day, we tell our clients there's something called insurance. If there's a risk, and the other side hates your indemnification clause … ultimately we do have insurance protection."
Set a timetable. Associations with successful global presences often establish time limits on their global strategy—three to five years is typical. That allows an association enough time to establish a foothold in a new market but sets a schedule for making an exit if the effort proves to be unsuccessful.
But the limitations aren't just there in case of failures. A strategy naturally evolves over time, and regular markers are opportunities to reassess the association's value proposition and the relationship with a partner.
"We've learned the hard way that you need to go into a relationship with the expectation that there will be, at some point, an ending," says Susan Cantrell, senior vice president and managing director, DIA Americas, at the Drug Information Association. "And if it continues repeatedly because it's a successful activity, then great. But if not, realize that there are very different reasons why you might enter into that collaboration or partnership."
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Essential Steps for Global Partnerships."]