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I hadn't planned that my first post should be about Speak & Spell, but last week I was in contact via LinkedIn with my first ever boss - Irfan Salim. Irfan was always marked for success and after setting up Lotus (Lotus1-2-3 remember?) in Europe, he has gone on to lead many successful companies and now does the same living in San Francisco.

But back in 1981 he was the Marketing Manager for Texas Instruments Consumer products division in Bedford, England and he hired me fresh from university to be marketing product manager for Education Products. My portfolio included a few handheld calculator type games, plus the much more expensive Speak & Spell and its stable mates. And this lead to me becoming recording producer and editor of the British Speak & Spell.

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Is customer Hospitality** a justifiable Marketing expense? Under what circumstances is it sensible, reasonable and cost effective to take a few customers to a major sporting event or a holiday in an exotic location? Or is it the case that this kind of expense is simply largesse without a real business justification? We need to know as budgets are under pressure.

To an accountant all Marketing expenses are part of the operating costs associated with sales. One definition is ...

The expenses incurred to sell (e.g. advertising, salesperson commission) or distribute (e.g., deliver) merchandise.
Therefore, to an accountant, all sales costs (including the cost of the sales team) and distribution costs are part of the marketing costs. This is helpful to accountants but less helpful in the real world when marketing budgets are being determined. The reason is that there's a difference between the accounting definition of marketing versus the professional definition of a marketing role. A marketing professional needs to consider all the costs in their marketing plan (so that they concentrate on maximising profits) BUT a marketing professional is rarely in control of all costs. Sales and logistics usually have their own lines of management and their own budget. And this is fine, its a very practical solution but it does cause a problem for marketing budgeting where there are grey areas. Hospitality and Entertainment is one of those grey areas. Ask sales and they will tell you its vital, marketing might not agree.

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The words ‘partners’ and ‘partnerships’ are bandied about a lot in business; but rarely are they used to describe what a dictionary defines as “an undertaking with another or others with shared risks and profits”. One example of a partnership is a marriage (or at least it should be) and so is a joint bank account, or a joint venture - each partner will have their share in good times and each will suffer in bad; legally its called joint and several liability.

But this is not the kind of partnership that many businesses aspire to have. They want to share the good times but they want to walk away if things get bad. I think that it would be more accurate to describe this kind of alliance as a ‘brief affair’ or ‘fair weather friends’ and not partnership. But why does this matter? 

It matters because businesses need alliances so that they can maximise opportunities throughout their business cycle; from raw materials supply chain through to end user sales and support. No business is so vertically integrated that it can thrive without alliances; but do they need partners? Well I say yes, and here's why. 

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"The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow". You might think that these are the words of some eager internet start-up, but they are not. These are the words of Rupert Murdoch owner of News International the world's largest media conglomerate. What Murdoch recognises is that "with the Internet it's easy and cheap to start a newspaper and there are millions of voices and people (who) want to be heard". And it's not just publishing that is affected. All of our customers' businesses are affected. They all need to be fast and getting faster. For us to succeed we need to help them.

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