An idea company specializing in marketing and events.

An idea company specializing in marketing and events.

Vendor, Resource or Partner?

We’re like many businesses in that our client relationships differ one to the next. The relationship tends to reflect the client’s needs, its resources (human and financial) and the business space where the client plays. In our experience at 54 Brands these relationships tuck us neatly into one of three categories — we’re either a vendor, a resource or a partner. Do you know the difference? Allow me to spell it out for you with a little color commentary. Maybe our views will help you with your own business relationships.


You have a need for a product or service, and you don’t really care who supplies it so long as it’s serviceable and, most important, priced right. You’re looking for a vendor. Feeling comfortable with them is nice but not required. Added value? Don’t really care. You need a box of screws delivered every Tuesday or website by X date and your budget is Y. Now who wants the business?

Have we entered into these kinds of business relationships? We have. Will we again? Likely. Do we like them? Honestly, they’re not our favorite.

It’s not that being a vendor sucks, per se; it’s that being a vendor leaves so much talent and expertise and value unused.

Being a vendor so often reduces the relationship to commodity that it constricts the conversation and the investment we, as marketing experts, can invest in the project. Like the client, we are a business that has to think about margins and returns and all of that.

There’s always someone willing to sell the widget you want a little cheaper. Perhaps that is all you want. But understand what you’re missing.


When you hire a resource you get a deeper connection than you would by hiring a vendor. Yes, you are spending a bit more but you are looking to get the full value of the service provider’s knowledge and expertise (and willingness to disagree with you), not just an order-taker. As such, the hiring process goes deeper than looking at a few samples and negotiating a price. You’re going to want to know how the resource thinks, how they work, how they communicate. Much of this process is qualitative and measurable, but some of it isn’t. Some of it is gut and chemistry. Do you like this resource? Will working with them be a joy or a chore? You won’t get great work if you have a crappy working relationship.

When a company hires us as a marketing resource, it’s an acknowledgement that they recognize our experience, our insight, our network and they want to tap into it all and extract the full value. It means that 54 is part of the bigger picture, helping the company achieve a long-term objective. We don’t take that lightly and we work like dogs to protect resource relationships.

Does a resource relationship lock you into a long-term marriage? A so called “agency of record” status? Not at all. No contract is necessary; just a desire to benefit from the full value of your marketing resource.


Like a resource relationship, a partner brings to your company all of their knowledge and talent. And then some. A partnership deepens the connection by tying each company’s success to the other’s.

In terms of what we do at 54, we like to live in the resource and partner categories. Almost every company we work with relies on our experience beyond creative and corporate engagement services; with some, partnerships have produced the most meaningful results.

Partnerships also create opportunities for alternative compensation models. We like being invested in our clients’ success, having skin in the game beyond our intellectual and creative capital. It’s more challenging and more fulfilling in the long run, wedding our success to how effectively our ideas and efforts grow our clients’ businesses.

In today’s landscape there is no right or wrong relationship — at least from our perspective. We’ve done great work for clients who fit into each of the categories. Businesses will do what businesses deem best for the situation; whether that situation is to address an immediate need or to craft and execute a strategy for long-term goals.

Take a moment to contemplate your relationships. If you’re a business dissatisfied with some of them, perhaps you’re paying for a resource and getting a vendor instead.

And if you’re a taken-advantage-of vendor, maybe you need to be charging more for your widget and start calling yourself a resource.