People will forget the price, but they’ll never forget the quality, famous designer Jil Sander was once quoted. For marketers, her point couldn’t be more true (from my cmo.com column).

Your ideal agency partners may be a six-hour flight away, and expensive. But working with the best could make all the difference for your business growth and for your career.

Let’s learn something from Steve Jobs. I wouldn’t normally use him as a marketing leadership role model, as for most marketers today his often intimidating style would be the fastest possible way out of the company door.

But Jobs did one thing exceptionally well; he spared no effort to find and work with the best people in their fields, no matter where they were, starting with the brilliant computer engineer and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (who actually invented lots of Apple’s cool stuff).

In 1982, for example, Jobs flew to Japan to secure advanced parts from Sony for his groundbreaking Lisa computer. Three years later, he paid top designer Paul Rand $100,000 for his NeXT company logo. And do you recall who was behind Apple’s groundbreaking designs? Jonathan Ive.

Working with the best, no matter where they are, isn’t just what Jobs did. For example, ReD, a small Danish consultancy, is often credited with much of the success of German sports goods maker adidas. I’m sure you know examples too.

Are marketers always working with the best? Nope.

In the largest global study on marketing leadership, only 62% of senior marketers say they strive to work with the best. Many marketers settle for (typically local) partners they already know.

Don’t Settle For Who You Know

Going the familiar route can be the right thing to do–or not.

Here’s an argument I sometimes hear: “We can’t afford the fees of the best.”

I disagree. Working with the best isn’t a straightforward fees question; it’s a returns question. If you succeed, create profitable growth, and get a good financial return, your company–plus your standing within it–will benefit (and people will forget the price).

In Patrick Barwise’s and my latest study, working with the best external partners made it into the top 12 levers for business growth and marketing career success. It’s a big deal.

But take note: the best partners for you may not be in your city. They may be in Hamburg, Miami, or Seoul.

Staying In Touch With The Best

Here’s how some of my most successful marketing leader clients stay in touch with the best:

  • Invite new partners in for a talk from time to time. Be loyal to your existing agencies—it’s a big deal. But there’s no harm in inviting new people in for a discussion from time to time. (Just be honest: you’re not currently looking.)
  • Go to conferences; not just in your backyard. Many agencies and experts hang out at conferences to meet new clients. While some of you may find this a pain, you’ll often meet very interesting people with good ideas (that’s how adidas met ReD). Make sure you go to meetings outside of your country, too.
  • Look for success. What are the best marketing ideas and campaigns in your industry internationally? Which external partners are behind these successes? For every industry, there are blogs and magazines that feature the best marketing work. Have a close look.

You are a marketer. Your key role is to tackle the customer’s and the company’s big issues (see my earlier article). Imagine that your next marketing idea will be a breakthrough. Isn’t that worth the trouble of finding the best?

Don’t go it alone. Marketing leaders work with the best.