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Developing Smart Strategic Alliances

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According to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, an alliance is “an association to
further the common interests of its members.” Like prospecting for authors and
generating sales, developing alliances is all about furthering the interests of
your business by networking and building relationships—with authors,
other publishers, associations, distributors, affinity groups, and other
business entities.

 

Examples of alliances include:

 

·      selling complementary products
produced by other business entities or associations to your audience via direct
mail and through e-commerce

·      partnering with other
organizations to co-publish a book or series of books

·      working with a business entity to
offer a value-added product or service to your audience

 

In their various forms, alliances
can generate additional revenues as well as prestige for your products. For
example, when I worked with banking books in one of my first editorial jobs,
our goals included expanding our market. Since our existing market was limited,
we looked for organizations that could help us expand. A local banking
association that was interested in testing our books for their members started
with an order for 100 copies and then increased their order to 100 per month.
Business with that association eventually brought in more than $100,000 over
two years.

 

Identifying Promising
Prospects

 

There are numerous ways to explore
potential alliances. I recommend using a process much like the ones you use for
planning other key publishing initiatives.

 

Step
1: Understand your audience.
For
obvious reasons, you need to begin by knowing your audience and the needs of
its members. Key questions include: What groups serve my audience? What
products are my customers especially loyal to? What types of products do they
value? What leisure activities are important to them? Which hot topics interest
them now? What price range are they comfortable with? What value-added products
can I offer my audience? What products do my competitors offer it that I don’t?

 

Step
2: Research potential partners.

Begin by making a list. To gather ideas and identify opportunities, I start by
listing relevant:

 

·      associations

·      businesses, including competitors

·      conferences

·      family and friends

·      meetings

·      newsletters

·      observations

·      statistics

·      Web sites

 

Step
3: Organize your efforts.
The next
step is determining your goals. What are your top priorities? How many
alliances will you start with? What kinds of alliances will you offer? What is
your revenue target? As with most publishing initiatives, starting small makes
sense. I recommend beginning with one alliance partner and making that project
a success before moving on to others. Think in terms of a phased approach. For
instance, if you are adding products to sell to your audience, you might offer
one or two of them in phase 1 and make your phase 2 goal 10 additional products
within three to six months.

 

A worksheet like the one below can
help you keep track of ideas and projects in one place.

 

Alliance
Project

 

Category

 

Goal

Date Started

Date Approved

 

Status

Apple Computer

Electronics

Create iTunes library of
downloads

1/2006

In process

Contact Apple

Graphic Image

Gifts

Create member benefit with
discounts on high-quality leather goods

9/2005

11/2005

Contract in process

Harvard Business School Press

Publishing

Generate revenue by distributing
noncompetitive print and electronic products

4/2004

9/2004

10 books selling; adding
electronic downloads

Merriam-Webster

Publishing

Generate revenue by distributing
bestselling reference books

6/2004

9/2004

10 books selling; adding 5 more

 

 

Step
4: Ensure ongoing success.

Beginnings are important. Make sure that expectations are clear on both sides.
Execute any necessary contract or distribution agreements. Set up inventory
checkpoints for reordering. Establish patterns for regular communication.
Devise a strategy for expanding the relationship and, if need be, ending it.

 

A Quick Case Study

 

At the American Bar Association,
we determined a few years ago that offering high-quality reference books would
be a valuable member benefit, and that those books would not compete with our
other current business offerings. Through research, we identified about a dozen
potential partners and found one—Merriam-Webster—that was already
successfully selling dictionaries to lawyers. We decided to test two
Merriam-Webster products in phase 1, by selling a dictionary and a thesaurus
via our Web site. In phase 2, we brought the product total up to 10. Eighteen
months later, building on success, we expanded the relationship. Today we offer
15 products via this alliance.

 

Although developing an alliance
can take several months to a few years, the process can clearly be beneficial
to your publishing business.

 

Kathleen A. Welton is
director of book publishing for the American Bar Association. Over more than 20
years, she has been involved in all aspects of the publishing industry,
including strategic planning, acquisitions, sales, marketing, and e-commerce.
Working with organizations such as Adams Media, Morningstar, and Random House,
she has developed award-winning books and series as well as alliances.

 

 

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