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January 29, 2003
How many consultants does it take?

How many consultants does it take to do the job that advertising agencies did alone 15 years ago?

Hold on -- I'll have to check with my consultant.

What the hell is wrong with us? We have consultants to get us in pitches. And we have consultants to get in front of those consultants. Consultants for the RFP. Consultants for the research. Consultants for the creative. Consultants for the presentation. And then, once we're in the door, there are consultants that tell us how to do the most basic parts of our jobs.

Like hiring branding consultants. That kills me. It's like an NFL football team hiring a tackling coach. Gimme a break. In advertising, branding is tackling. Bread and butter, my friends. If your ad agency doesn't believe, down to its very soul, that it does GREAT branding for its clients -- better than some parachute consultant can ever do -- then do yourself a favor and quit right now.

Hell, we even have consultants to help manage agency-client conflicts. Hello? Does anyone actually believe our clients should have to invest time with some marriage counselor, to save their relationship with their advertising agency, for God's sake? What are people thinking?

Did the greats in our business build their businesses through consultants, and mindlessly defer to clients who wanted to bring in branding "experts" and other high-priced security blankets? No way. They said, "We are the experts, god-@#$$it." And if they weren't experts -- they went out and made themselves experts. People like Bernbach, Ogilvy, Wells, Gossage, Chiat. They built their success on great people, great thinking, good, old-fashioned hard work and human relationships. You either got it or you don't. They didn't rush to pull in complete strangers to hold their hands and tell them what to do. And they didn't let their clients do it, either. Not without a fight, anyway.

Relationships are what make this business work -- and consultants are the antithesis of relationships. Consultants are a one-night stand. Agencies are in the marriage business. Yeah, we know we'll get divorced a lot. But that doesn't mean we stop trying.

Okay, so are consultants just a big waste of time and money? Not necessarily. Here's a great reason to use consultants: to remind us of the stuff we already knew, but let slip through the cracks on occasion. Like thinking outside the box. Hell, did most of us even realize there was a box when we first got into this business? Or, here's a disheartening one for you -- how to communicate. That one breaks my heart. Or how to forget the numbers for a few minutes and harken back to the days when your passion for the business oozed from your pores. Consultants have a great talent for helping ad folks clear away the barnacles of the business so we can gain fresh (or old, as it were) perspectives that got us where we are in the first place. Alright, and the occasional new trick here or there. And, yes, for this I am grateful.

But it's still a trend that we all ought to be worried about. Too many clients think they need consultants, because their agency hasn't told them they don't. And too many clients demand consultants for jobs their agency can do better. When the honeymoon is over with a client, they start looking for love outside the relationship. They need somebody to tell them that what you already told them is important. The consultants are great packagers, I mean, repackagers. They repackage the expired meat because it makes it seem fresh again.

We shouldn't take it lying down. We are our clients' brand stewards. So why do clients need brand consultants? Some say for objectivity. Screw that. I created this brand. I nurtured it. I lived it. I'm relentless in my scrutiny, because I want them to succeed so badly. That's my consultation. I'll take a year of passion over a couple hundred feet of perspective, anytime.

So let's revolt. Let's just say no to consultants -- most of the time, anyway. Let's solve our own problems. And let's tell our clients we can solve theirs, too.

Let's remember why we got into the business in the first place, and stop relying on outsiders to make our success with our clients. Let's be brave enough to claim to be a FULL-SERVICE agency. And if our clients need services we don't have -- let's get our asses in gear and get smarter. Let's learn what we don't know.

Let's get in there and get our own hands dirty. Let's build real relationships with our clients -- good times and bad. That's what our business is about. Let's take risks, without safety nets. Let's be the leaders they hired us to be.

If you're looking to break free of the consultant stranglehold -- call me and I'll help.

For a nominal consulting fee, of course.

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