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How To Collaborate Right · Robert Gordon

Small Business

Right now there are 2,178,605 images on Instagram with the hashtag #collaboration, and a quick search for ‘business collaboration’ on Google will surface more than three-and-a-half-million results. Collaboration may be trending, but is it worth the effort for your business? How do you choose who to collaborate with, and what should you expect?

We spoke with Kate Gordon, Head of Design at Robert Gordon Australia to discuss the highs and lows of collaboration.

16th February, 2018

Robert Gordon’s recent Feast Bakeware collection, in a shoot by The Design Files. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Robert Gordon creates more than 150,000 individual products per year across tableware, kitchenware and other ceramic homeware. Photo – Eve Wilson.

The iconic Australian ceramics brandnd boasts more than 3,000 stockists across the globe. Photo – Eve Wilson.

The Gordon family, of Robert Gordon Australia. Left to right: Kate Gordon, Sam Gordon, Robert Gordon, Barbara Gordon, Bobby Gordon and Hannah Gordon. Production – Lucy Feagins, photo – Sean Fennessy for The Design Files.The Gordons. Photo – Sean Fennessy.

Feast Bakeware by Robert Gordon Australia. Photo – Eve Wilson.

The brand has some new exciting projects in-the-works, and architects are likely to love it! Photo – Eve Wilson.

Fiona Killackey
Friday 16th February 2018

‘Respect your brand – ask yourself, does the collaboration work in favour of that?’ — Kate Gordon.

The wonderful Amy Poehler once suggested, ‘As you navigate through your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own.’ While she may not have been directing these thoughts at small business, it’s perhaps the greatest sector in which we’re witnessing collaborations come to life. From product design through to in-store fit-outs, event marketing through to Facebook Lives, collaboration has become a part of many brands’ business-as-usual marketing.

‘We’ve always dabbled with collaborations,’ starts Kate Gordon, Head of Design at Robert Gordon Australia – the iconic Aussie ceramics brand that creates more than 150,000 individual products per year across tableware, kitchenware and other ceramics, and boasts more than 3,000 stockists across the globe. Created by Kate’s parents, Robert and Barbara, in a tin shed in their Gembrook backyard in 1979, the ceramics brand quickly expanded from selling at market stalls through to its purpose-built headquarters in Pakenham (where they remain today).

For Robert Gordon, collaboration part of the business since the 1990s.  ‘In the early 90s Mum and Dad collaborated on work with a famous English ceramic designer, Robert Turner, and we also worked with Christopher Vine during the 90s’ Kate says.

Overall though, Robert Gordon are very selective with the collaborations they commit to. Part of the reason for this, Kate says, is financial. ‘For our brand, it works best that we limit the number of collaborations that we do – one or two a year, max. Ceramics is a costly venture. To even make a new shape, using our production methods, can start at a cost of around $5,000. That’s just the moulding fees.’ Not surprisingly, Kate and the family run business – which employs more than 30 local people at its Pakenham premises – need to ‘tread carefully into each collaboration. We don’t take them lightly.’

As one of the country’s most recognised and respected brands, the brand is regularly invited to collaborate. But given the resources involved, what do they look for when assessing each invitation? ‘For us, there are many reasons for doing a collaboration’ says Kate, ‘The choice depends on whether or not that person or brand fills a particular need for our business at the time.’ Kate suggests sometimes it’s about the marketing opportunity that is presented, touting their recent collaboration with Gourmet Traveller as an example. Other times, it’s about the brand being able to create items not currently within their standard collections. ‘The recent Little Louli collaboration filled a gap that we are missing in our story, which is a fun kids product’.

Then, sometimes, admits Kate, there are collaborations that just feel like ‘an absolute gift’. Discussing their collaborations with The Design Files, Kate says: ‘Creating collaborations with Lucy for The Design Files has opened so many doors for us, and has meant that we have more brand recognition. Her collaborations and the products she designs are so unique that they also help showcase our capabilities’. Adding to this, says Kate, is the fact Lucy ‘comes with a very clear sense of what she wants and is also incredibly respectful of the process – in particular, the cost involved in making in Australia.’

Regardless of whom they collaborate with, Kate says the team is always looking to increase brand recognition. ‘Sometimes you can note tangible things like a jump in numbers to the website after a collaboration, but what you really want is more brand recognition — more calls about custom jobs, more people visiting our factory and even interest from larger clients who may not have previously known about us. The world is so small now that sometimes a collaboration can gain international attention for us, which is fantastic.’

For those brands considering collaborating, Kate suggests you make sure you ‘respect your brand – ask yourself, does the collaboration work in favour of that’.  Also, beware of costs blowing out, ‘Honestly, not all collaborations work. They can be super costly and when there are too many people involved or too many “mouths to feed” (as Dad would say!) it’s hard to justify’.

Overall, says Kate, collaborations have helped the business when they are considered and in line with the vision for Robert Gordon Australia – a vision she says is an exciting one. ‘The past five years have seen us consolidate our manufacturing plant in Pakenham. We have also moved our imported product to a managed warehouse so that our Pakenham business is now only focused on producing pottery — largely for the hospitality market. We have also updated our Factory Outlet and are currently opening a restaurant on the premises. Our markets have shifted. Designs have changed and we are more than excited about the future.’ Finally says Kate, ‘we are working on something beyond exciting at the moment! It’s still in the early stages, but all we can say is architects in Australia will be very happy!’

Shop Robert Gordon Australia online or visit the Robert Gordon Factory Outlet at 114 Mulcahy Road, in Pakenham Victoria.

Photo – Eve Wilson.

TIPS FOR BIZ COLLABORATION

 1. Do Your Research

Set up Google Alerts (https://www.google.com.au/alerts) for the brand or person you wish to collaborate with prior to connecting, to ensure you’re across the key messages they’re putting out and the reputation they carry across social, news media and blogs. Check any brand or relevant hashtags and review “photos of” the brand or person on social to get an idea of who their audience is. Also, check which other brands, if any, they have collaborated with and what the outcomes were. If someone has contacted you, don’t be afraid to ask for this info before you get into any serious conversations.

2. Crossover on Curiosity

Team up with brands whose audience is curious about the same things as your audience. Say, you’re a ceramicist and you wish to join forces with a boutique hotel. Your audiences may share an interest in travel, interior styling, design, and aesthetics. Or, you could be an activewear company in which case one of your target audiences may be new Mums. A great collaboration option could be with a maternity bras company given the definite crossover in your audience. While it’s tempting to accept the first offer to collaborate that comes along, take the time to ensure it’s the right fit for your brand.

3. Set Clear Objectives

What do you want from this collaboration? Are you clear on your answer? Is it more sales, increased brand awareness or the ability to leverage another’s networks? Ensure you discuss your objectives with your collaboration partner well before you commence any activity. Any partnership should provide equal opportunities and growth for both businesses. This may include remuneration, promotion channels, hours worked and press opportunities.

4. Assume Nothing

It’s all too easy when you’re collaborating to get caught up in the ‘fun’ parts of the project. The biggest risk to a successful collaboration is assuming the other party thinks, works or acts like you. After setting clear objectives about what you both want from this collaboration, the next step is to nut out a plan including who is responsible for what and a detailed timeline for key activity. For example, if you’re running a launch event who will be in charge of RSVP management or paying the indemnity insurance for the venue? It’s the small things like this that can add up to giant headaches and cause friction between collaborating brands.

5. Review & Revise

Regardless of the duration of the collaboration, make sure you have dedicated “check-in” dates where you analyse and (if necessary) improve things to ensure your agreed-upon objectives happen. This may include adjusting ad spend, or website copy or removing offline elements from the overall campaign due to time or financial constraints. It’s essential you also have a post-activity review to determine what did/didn’t work and make any adjustments for future collaborations.

Fiona Killackey is a business consultant and the founder of My Daily Business Coach, a consultancy that provides information and education for starting and growing a creative small business.

Need help with your Marketing? Fiona is running a full-day workshop on Marketing for Your Small Business Sunday 15th April at Oak & Monkey Puzzle in Daylesford. Buy the last remaining tickets here.

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