Lisa Hu is the U.S. Vice President and General Manager of Blippar.
Just as aspiring musicians dream of signing on with a top-tier label, every startup is looking to get its big break by forging partnerships with the most ubiquitous brands in the country.
Indeed, it seems the road to success is paved with big-name deals: Shazam has been used in commercials for Jaguar, The Home Depot, and American Eagle; KeyMe inked deals with 7-11 and Bed Bath & Beyond to place its kiosks in the chains’ NYC locations; and Songza has created sponsored playlists for Taco Bell, Samsung, and Colgate.
Another conference. “Great.”
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Of course, securing a partnership with the likes of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, or Toyota is no easy feat, especially when you’re the new kid on the block. So how can you make it happen? What are the do’s and don’ts of landing a corporate client or partner?
Amplify your industry profile
You’ve been looking for a big break, and there’s a hugely influential company that you’ve wanted to partner with for a while now. So how do you establish credibility and get them to buy in to your proposition?
First, work on building your professional reputation by adding your voice to the most important discussions in your field and positioning yourself as a thought leader – whether through contributed articles, posts on your company blog, or a friendly Twitter debate. By sharing innovative ideas and commenting on industry trends, the right people will start hearing your name over and over, and they’ll take notice.
Admittedly, this is easier said than done (especially since leading a burgeoning startup places incredible demands on your time), but it’s worth the effort.
Attract attention at the right events
In addition to lending your voice to high-level conversations, it’s important to become as active as possible in your industry. The goal here is not to be at every conference or expo, but to choose quality events over sheer quantity.
Often, the “foot-in-the-door” opportunities don’t come from the massive conferences where thousands of other startups are competing for attention. You’re more likely to make connections at intimate gatherings with key stakeholders in attendance.
If you do attend a big event, you’ve probably realized it will be tricky to stand out in the crowd. I’ve found that it helps to hold a unique product or create a distinctive, recognizable look.
Gary Sharma, who curates an impressive list of tech events at GarysGuide, has made himself a fixture at New York City networking events – and he’s always easy to spot in his signature red tie. I’ve been known to carry around my trusty Heinz ketchup bottle wherever I go. It’s a great conversation starter, and it allows me to quickly demo one of our most successful our augmented reality campaigns.
Make introductions and forge connections
You already know how important it is for entrepreneurs and startup founders to accept every introduction, but it’s equally as important to tap into your own network and offer to connect others.
In my experience, I’ve found that after I’ve established a genuine relationship with clients and learned about their business priorities, I’m able to make meaningful introductions that can propel their work forward. By taking the time to get to know your business associates on a personal level, you’ll be seen as a trusted confidante – or even a friend, in some cases.
It’s these kinds of relationships that will not only lead to repeat clients and ongoing partnerships, but also will enable you to establish yourself as a valuable liaison. Brands will value what you bring to the table, and you’ll be seen as the go-to contact for mutually beneficial connections.
Bring your “A” game
Undoubtedly, your parents, teachers and mentors have told you time and time again that you only have one chance to make a good first impression – and they’re absolutely right. From learning everything you can about your potential client to presenting documents that look professional, make sure that you are always putting your very best foot forward.
It may feel strange to trade the beanbags and Ping-Pong table for the corporate boardroom, but your ability to adapt to different environments will be a huge asset to your professional career and help you seamlessly straddle the corporate vs. startup divide.
Understand corporate processes
Once you’ve gotten in the door, it’s important that you are mindful of how large corporations function internally.
First and foremost, be mindful that there are often a number of different entities – from agencies to media buyers to consulting firms and more – at play when a deal or campaign is signed. Additionally, unlike in the startup world, your first contact is unlikely to be the decision-maker, and he or she will need to go through seemingly unending layers of approval, especially from the legal team, before you get the green light.
If you manage to check all these boxes, you’ll give your company a strong boost that will help you rise above the noise and catch the eye of highly influential brands. And, with just a pinch of luck, you’ll be landing your first major partner in no time. Good luck!