27 Mar, 2017

The D.O.C.K. of Strategic Partnerships – A Look At How Variety & Sports Illustrated Worked Together To Produce One of The Standout Events of 2016

 -DOCK of partnerships

In a recent interview the two masterminds from Variety and Sports Illustrated who produced the Sports and Entertainment Summit 2016, one of the standout events from last year, detailed what made their strategic partnership so effective.

“Editors and conference creators are smart, skilled people. In this kind of arranged marriage by the two CMOs, we had to allow plenty of room for intelligent behind-the-scenes debate, discussion, and, sometimes, a clear-eyed argument for each side.” Slattery, Time Inc.

An analysis of this interview with Dea Lawrence, CMO, Variety and Damian Slattery, VP Client Solutions, Time Inc. (former CMO Sports Illustrated), demonstrated that there are clear characteristics of successful partnerships emerged. These characteristics come together to form the D.O.C.K. of strategic partnerships.

D = Definition

When working in a partnership, it’s vital that all parties involved understand the ultimate objective and the role they need to play to achieve it. Defining the objective of the partnership from the outset is vital to the successful fruition of a partnership, as it influences the direction each party heads.

With any strategic move, taking the time to effectively plan is always the first step. There can be multiple reasons behind choosing to enter a partnership. Untangling these and defining a clear objective will help all stakeholders maintain focus.

Without defining the goal, the parties involved will not be working in a coordinated fashion. Often, this leads to effectively working against each other.

Slattery described how they assigned clear roles and goals for each team.

“The success was driven by setting clear roles and goals for each partner.

Variety was already in the planning stages of an event around this topic, so they deserve all the credit for event logistics when the scope and scale of the event grew because of our partnership. The key being respective editorial/content teams getting on the same page to build an outstanding lineup that featured top talent.

Together we pulled in names and experts that we both believe would’ve been much tougher gets if we were each on our own. The mash-up of Sports Illustrated and Variety had a special magic to it, a unique quality that appealed both to expert participants and to the SRO crowd of attendees. On the sponsorship/sales front, Dea and I tapped our respective leadership to coordinate client outreach, packaging, and pricing. At every turn, I would say the folks on each side were inspired by the marriage of our two brands to deliver something totally fresh and different.”

O = Organization

From the outset of the partnership, with a clear definition, the leaders immediately portrayed the importance of organization. Merely setting a clear definition is not enough. Effective partnerships work in an organized manner throughout, keeping that defined goal in mind and tracking progress with clear metrics. Also critical is the effective communication of these steps and results, as Lawrence describes.

“Staying organized and understanding what is expected from each partner is the key to a successful partnership. We each knew what we had to do and no one stepped on the other’s toes. Weekly meetings/calls are also critical to ensure communication and move the process along. We also had clear points of communication between the two brands in terms of who was responsible for what. We respected one another and knew that we had to be flexible to accommodate the opinions of both organizations. It could have been challenging if one of us had a “my way or the highway” attitude but that didn’t happen…thankfully. We like working together.”

C = Collaboration

Or Communication, which as previously stated was vital to the effective collaboration between Variety and Sports Illustrated. When choosing a potential partner, thanks to the digital age, they no longer need to be your next-door neighbor. However, it is still necessary to consider the time difference, or if face-to-face meetings are required, the possibility of long distance travel.

By focusing on the strengths of each team, the partnership worked efficiently and effectively. Additionally, this helps foster trust between both parties. Lawrence detailed the division of labor,

“One of the reasons why our collaboration succeeded was that we each focused on our strengths…Both teams were very collaborative and engaged. Sports Illustrated’s team built the sales deck and Variety’s team created all of the marketing materials. I would advise brands to clearly state expectations in as much detail as possible. As Variety sells sponsorship and tickets to our summits we took the lead on that and Sports Illustrated was enormously helpful in procuring talent, speakers, panelists, and topics to explore.”

K = Kinship

Teamwork is of course core to a strategic business partnership. As leaders, Lawrence and Slattery fostered an environment of innovation, that encouraged healthy debate amongst all the players. As Lawrence explains,

“Both teams were very collaborative and engaged…Our editorial teams have enormous respect for one another and speaking from the Variety side, we were excited to engage with the editorial team at Sports Illustrated.”

As Slattery noted, “Over time, through that process, trust and comfort were built. Dea and I had that bond immediately in Miami [Transformational CMO Assembly] but we had to transfer it and translate it to our wider teams.”

The D.O.C.K. of strategic partnerships provides a structure from which all parties involved can moor their efforts.

Powered by fantastic collaboration, clear communication, and strategic organization from the outset, the Sports and Entertainment Summit is a great example of the power of partnerships in business.


Partnership 101Download the eBook now to find out:

  • The steps to choosing the perfect partner
  • What makes a successful partnership
  • Tips for ensuring effective collaboration between both parties
  • How to marry the stories of two brands together
  • Unique insight into the successful launch of the Sports and Entertainment Summit 2016 from the CMOs behind it

Happy reading!


Dea and Damian will be delivering a keynote presentation at Transformational CMO Assembly April 2017 based on the success of this partnership. In only two weeks, they will be offering further insight to those in attendance.

The Transformational CMO Assembly will bring together North America’s most prominent Chief Marketing Officers, from all major consumer-driven industries. C-Level executives around the world are anticipating a highly complex marketing environment over the next few years; making the role of the CMO more important than ever before.

The digital revolution has forever changed the balance of power between individual consumers and brands. CMOs know that there is an explosion of information that is creating the digital enterprise. In addition, marketing leaders having an understanding that social media is the key channel for engaging with customers. Knowing how to measure these results will help organizations stay ahead of the competition.

A series of executive education roundtables, keynote presentations, collaborative think tanks, educational workshops, and networking sessions will offer industry-specific topics and trends to ensure your company sustains its competitive advantage.

Transformational CMO, April 2-4 600x100

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