Peasants, partners & prima donna's

Recently, I’ve had several conversations about the relationships between an organization or brand, and its marketing firm or ad agency. I’ve seen similar discussions here. Most company-vendor relationships fall into one of three categories: partner, peasant, or prima donna (as my friend Todd Kinley likes to call it).

One of these three types of relationships produces long-term quality work that is mutually beneficial to both companies involved. The other two types lead to turnover and distrust.

How you approach the relationships with the vendors that help you will ultimately serve as an elevator or anchor for your organization.


Do you see the companies that support your business as a lowly vendor or a cheap widget that can be interchanged at will, while you are always on the lookout for a cheaper version? This is usually the result of insecurity and fear. Caution. You are paying for their expertise. Denying them the space to help you reach your organization’s potential is self-defeating.

Prima Donna

We’ve all seen them. They are too cool for school.  And they carry a sense of superiority. They wear their awards on their sleeves and beat their clients into submission with Addys and Golden Pencils. These folks may not do what is in your brand’s best interest long-term because they are focused on making themselves look good. Yes, they do good work but be careful.


This is the ideal relationship. It is long-term and cultivated through servitude. Partnerships grow both companies. There is a sense of equality and shared responsibility. You watch each other’s backs and work towards the accomplishment of a shared goal. When you trust and mutually respect each other, the work and results come easy.

I see these relationships similarly to the caddie-golfer dynamic. Some of you know I played professional golf for a while. I used to see these three scenarios play out all the time. In reality, the golfer is the boss, just like the brand is to the vendor. However, your best golfers always have caddies who are partners. This means they have the authority to speak up or challenge the golfer if he/she is about to make an error.

Caddies who are treated as peasants never feel empowered to be an asset to the golfer.  They are used for little more than a breathing pull cart. On the other end, caddies who are prima donnas lose an understanding of their role, and to their demise, bite the hands that feed them.

You see, there is only one relationship dynamic that is a win-win.

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