The consultant as friend AND foe
There aren’t many things I dislike about my job, but there is definitely one: being seen and treated as the enemy. So when does this happen? Well it certainly isn’t the person that takes me on, but, and in very large organisations where politics rule, potentially can be almost anyone I encounter. For SMEs this is much less the case, as even if there are some internal politics and cultural issues in place it’s much easier to break them down. And generally anyway and regardless of business size, if an individual initially sees me as the enemy then it’s only a matter of time before I win them over – which I reckon I can do in 90% of cases (somewhat ironically, it’s often HR people which make up the 10% – but that’s another story).
But of course, consultancy often doesn’t involve just dealing with the management and employees of your client; it also involves dealing with their suppliers. And in my case ‘suppliers’ often means a raft of different creative and marketing services businesses and individuals, and for this group the stance almost always starts off as a hostile one – albeit generally with a half-decent attempt to disguise it in a cloak of insincere friendliness.
Of course there is some reasonable basis for this hostility, as, very often, the marketing consultant is there in the first place because things aren’t quite right – and perhaps not quite right because whoever is delivering creative and marketing services, isn’t doing it as well as they might be. The other factor worth mentioning which is often at work here is that, if it’s an SME, I’m also there in the first place because there isn’t the internal expertise – the perfect breeding ground for creative and marketing services suppliers to pull the proverbial wool over the eyes of their client, or even blindly advise on things they actually know little or nothing about (an even worse crime in my view).
On the other hand, the creative and marketing services businesses are also acutely aware that I’m likely to have an influence on whether or not they’ll still have their client at the end of my contract, so actually not pissing me off too much might not be such a bad thing.
The reality is though, that none of these businesses have anything to fear provided they come on board for the journey and listen and learn along with the client. Plus of course, I can often learn from them and indeed make a point of doing so as a) it helps build a more balanced working relationship, and b) it’s a great source of information for me – e.g. technical digital stuff.
However and despite my very best efforts, sometimes relationships really do go sour and that’s what happened recently with a local radio station my client likes to use for ads – and that use is something I fully support as the station has an unusually high chunk of the regional listenership, plus offers great value for money for your marketing buck. But if you’ve ever dealt with local radio stations, you’ll know they also offer in-house script writing, will handle sign-off by the RACC (essentially a body which ensures ads are legal before they go on air) and full production.
So anything wrong with all of that? Well nothing on the face of it, but even with a very tight brief and clear instructions not to drift away from it, with this particular radio station your ad will end up like a tactical slot for a weekend break at Butlins (I suspect even if it were for a funeral business…). Needless to say then, that I now don’t supply a brief (and I have tried in the past), but instead a final script – something I’m no expert on but I certainly seem to have a better grasp than the resident script writer (who I believe is also a DJ for the station – ummm).
My robust rejection of the internal services the station provides seems to have been the basis for the relationship to deteriorate, and with a less-than open dialogue between both parties, the potential for things to go pear-shaped was somewhat enhanced. And pear-shaped they did go when their application to the RACC for clearance of my recent script was not handled with the level of competency it might have been, resulting in the account handler advising that the script had been partly rejected and therefore had to change, when actually the RACC was just asking for clarification on a point of detail (won’t bore you with how I found that out, but fair to say that poor relationships give grounds for suspicion and therefore worth scrutinising email chains). But worse was to come, because with a relationship already in a place more akin to an East Enders TV set than Antiques Road Show, the account handler went to some extraordinary lengths to try and cover their mistake up (read ‘lying’).
Credit where credit is due though, because one excellent service this radio station does provide is production. Every ad they’ve produced for me, including for other clients, is always right and right first time (because the guy listens and follows my brief, plus adds value to it in areas he knows far more about than I do).
Any lessons for the consultant here? Probably only that I could do with getting a tad less grumpy with the provocateurs. So I’m making a mental note of that now for next January’s New Year’s resolutions.
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