Leveraging Internal Partnerships for Library Success

Informal exchanges of information between team members became more common and more productive when a librarian was embedded within an organization’s brand unit.

BY JILL STOVER HEINZE, MSLS

Last year was one of momentous change–in our economy, our society, and, for many of us, our careers and organizational roles. Some of this change has been painful. But, welcome or not, change often brings with it opportunities to do things differently and, ideally, better.

The tumultuous economy certainly affected my company, sharpening our focus and forcing us to develop new strategies for solving rapidly evolving problems. Consequently, the need for information and my services became greater. During the height of the tumult, I found new ways to deliver value to my clients.

For me, keeping up with change meant relying more heavily on my partnership with our Brand Communications Unit (Brand). We leveraged each other’s strengths to improve our individual projects while discovering opportunities to create new deliverables with positive results for our company.

Leveraging My Skills While we now enjoy a productive relationship, the Brand Communications team and I did not always have a close partnership. When I was hired as a solo research analyst and given responsibility for competitive intelligence (CI) tasks, I worked with a variety of units in the Marketing Department to keep them informed about marketplace developments and to produce ad hoc topical analyses. This work required me to reach across organizational boundaries to subject matter experts and clients. Aside from meeting with clients, however, I worked almost completely independently.

The company president soon recognized an opportunity to leverage my skills in more productive pursuits. At her request, I moved from my isolated cubicle to a location in the Brand Communications area. While my job had always been embedded in the Marketing Department, this move entrenched me in one of the department’s key functional areas. From that point on, the nature of my work evolved to more closely align with organizational needs at higher levels, increasing my internal visibility and generating greater awareness of and demand for my services.

The president’s decision to embed me within the Brand Communications unit was purposeful and strategic. She recognized the considerable potential value in the informal information exchanges that take place among team members. She wanted me to work alongside the Brand staff to encourage the natural sharing of information that occurs when people are in close proximity to one another.

As she saw it, Brand staffers excel at delivering our company’s messages in appealing packages. What they need, and what I am ideally suited to provide, is substantive content and context that can make their messages more effective. Her expectation was that I would share (both formally and informally) pertinent news and research findings I regularly encountered and that they would apply this information to their work.

As it turns out, her vision became a reality. I readily use the Brand team as my sounding board when I learn of interesting developments and inform them when I come across research and best practices related to promotional techniques or information about their target audiences. When I worked independently, such interactions were rare outside of formal channels and requested deliverables, thus limiting the exchange of ideas.

An unforeseen but no less important consequence of our close relationship is that the Brand team gained insight into my role and use their communication talents to advance my work. Previously, no one in the organization (outside of my manager) had a deep, holistic understanding of my skills and the full value I could bring to the organization. Simply by talking casually to me about my challenges and ideas, the Brand team grew to recognize my unique needs and helped me become more effective by applying their design and copywriting skills to my work. This arrangement even generated new, collaborative endeavors that helped our organization weather the economic upheaval.

Identifying Success Factors One of the more obvious keys to the fruitful CI-Brand partnership is high-level executive support. In our case, the Brand team and I were paired because we have complementary skill sets that can produce synergies in terms of the scope and quality of our deliverables. The Brand team excels at understanding our firm’s unique value proposition and communicating it to external audiences through e-mails, press releases, conference presentations, speeches, RFP responses, and so on. Their work is credited with winning new business and building our image in the marketplace. Theirs is a crucial communication role with high visibility that garners attention.

To be fully successful, however, the Brand team must understand the competitive environment, current and prospective clients, consumer behavior trends, and marketplace developments. As a librarian who possesses substantial research skills and continuously monitors the external environment, I can contribute the necessary underpinnings to ensure Brand’s messages resonate as intended. In fact, our combination of skills not only allows us to improve the quality and value of our assigned projects, but to create new offerings. For example, Brand staffers and I recently co-wrote the company’s first white paper, which incorporates market research and the president’s thought leadership.

From my perspective, the CI-Brand collaboration is a success. Not only do we enhance each other’s abilities, we also learn from each other’s strengths. One of Brand’s specialties is communication, whereas I, like many corporate librarians, face an ongoing challenge to communicate the information I gather clearly and succinctly. While I consider myself to be reasonably good with words, it wasn’t until I began working with Brand that I recognized the importance of visual elements in business communication and how matching words with the right images magnifies the impact of both. By participating in the Brand team’s decision-making process for selecting charts, graphs, photographs, and other visuals for marketing pieces, I am developing a better understanding of graphic design that I can apply to my work.

The images accompanying this article, which were created by the Brand team to make my CI deliverables more clean and professional in appearance, illustrate the value of good visual communication. Figure 1 is a logo that I include on all of my products. Notice that the element on the far left includes the hidden letters “ci” and that the “i” also looks like a person in the center of the circle. The color choices and use of lower-case text also give it a modern appearance.

Similarly, Figures 2 and 3 show the evolution of my e-mail newsletter, originally named News Points and now titled newsin(forum). The new name gives readers a clearer sense of its purpose–to be a forum for current news and information–while the light bulb image represents the ideas that can be generated by reading the articles.

In addition to marrying complementary skills, the decision to embed me within the Brand Communications unit also put me in close physical proximity to the people I support. It may seem strange that something as simple as sharing a workspace can have such a positive effect, but it’s a crucial component of our relationship because it fosters a common knowledge base. By sharing a room, we are, in effect, “on the same page.”

The Brand team’s office area is the hub of our Marketing Department. There’s not an employee in the entire department who doesn’t like to drop by to enjoy our creative workspace, which includes comfortable sofas, toys used in brainstorming sessions, plenty of M&M’s candies, and brightly colored walls. As a result, the Brand team and I learn a great deal of information about new projects and sales efforts and gather executive perspectives, all of which we put to good use in our work with internal clients.

While it’s important for embedded librarians to focus on concrete outcomes, it’s equally important to develop the interpersonal relationships that can transform a group of individuals into a cohesive team that can collaborate to solve clients’ problems. Operating side by side and sharing our insights with each other, Brand staffers and I are truly a united team.

Yet another factor in the success of the CI-Brand partnership has been our ability to jointly anticipate and react to quickly evolving problems. Because we share the same internal client base and role within the organization, we can lend our respective expertise to supporting business functions such as sales, product development, and account management. This shared perspective connects us with a common sense of purpose that became indispensable as the financial crisis worsened last year.

For example, a substantial portion of Affinion Loyalty Group’s (ALG) work comes from financial services clients. When the financial system began to collapse in 2008, these clients sought innovative solutions. In response, ALG quickly focused on modifying product offerings and positioning them to meet new market demands. Traditional Brand roles such as copywriting, product naming, presentation development, sales collateral creation, public relations, and trade show preparation assumed heightened importance.

The company needed to understand the changing regulatory environment and shifts in consumer behavior to determine how best to sell our products and serve our customers. Management relied on Brand staff and me for many important tasks, including researching emerging trends, packaging new and existing products in different ways, and using public speaking events as opportunities to share our thoughts and demonstrate our leadership.

By being part of a team that was integral to many high-level initiatives, I was aligned with projects that gave me exceptional visibility and offered opportunities to add value for the appropriate audiences. For example, I carved out a niche for myself as the internal expert on legislative and regulatory developments. This expertise, combined with Brand’s abilities, enabled us to create public relations pieces and industry articles that demonstrated our understanding of legislative impacts and how our products could mitigate them.

Wielding More Impact I realize that the benefits I have enjoyed since becoming an embedded librarian are largely the result of chance, and it was only recently that I learned there is a label for my role in relation to Brand. However, once I became embedded, it took me no time to understand that I could wield much more impact as part of a high-profile team.

For those of you who seek similar success, I recommend you go beyond thinking how you can support your clients’ work. Instead, consider how you can create new value and learn new approaches by finding partners who possess complementary skill sets, share a common mission, and perform strategically important roles. If you find that economic and environmental changes are creating new organizational needs and demands, welcome these changes and treat them as avenues to take on roles and partners that will integrate you into key initiatives and make you essential. SLA

JILL HEINZE is a research analyst in the Marketing Department at Affinion Loyalty Group in Richmond, Va. She is a member of SLA’s Competitive Intelligence Division.
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