By Becky Watt Knight
It’s funny how seemingly small moments that transpired long ago leave a lasting impression. I recall sitting in a boardroom early in my career when a long-term client introduced my agency colleagues and I as ‘one of our vendors.’ At the time I was less than a year out of college—tackling with enthusiasm whatever task came my way. I felt honored to be included, and I still vividly recall how deflating his comment was. I remember thinking that I never again wanted to be considered so interchangeable or dispensable.
In the years since, countless clients have referred to my colleagues and me as ‘our agency.’ More times than I can count, we’ve been warmly introduced as ‘our team.’ I appreciate the acknowledgement that we’re all in this together, reflecting that we share the same goal, that our clients’ challenges are our challenges, and that we allocate their resources with the same fiscal responsibility that we do our own. It recognizes that while applauding their victories, we take pride in the position we play on their winning team.
When we brainstormed names for the recently formed McCabe Message Partners, we intentionally emphasized the word ‘partners’ because our philosophy is that we are truly all partners in the work. From the most senior to the most junior member of our team, we embrace a ‘roll up your sleeves and get the work done together’ attitude. For instance, while many PR agencies have a separate team of media pitchers, every one of us comes to work prepared to pick up the phone and call a reporter about the health news du jour.
We also consider our three dozen clients—many of whom we’ve been working with for a decade or more—to be valued partners, and we refer to them as such.
The dictionary defines a vendor as ‘a person or agency who sells,’ and a partner as ‘a person who shares in some action or endeavor.’ In other words, a vendor is someone who provides a service for a fee and delivers exactly what the buyer requested—no questions asked nor advice offered. A partner, on the other hand, is someone who brings deep knowledge, experience and honest counsel to the table and shares in the vision. I’ve had my share of uncomfortable, but ultimately project-saving conversations with clients about, say, why their announcement might not warrant an in-person news conference, but what a still ambitious, yet more pragmatic, media approach may be. In other words, a partner is someone who genuinely engages in the project with a dose of tenacity to achieve a shared goal.
We like to think of ourselves as the latter, and believe our clients will agree.