It’s almost a seasonal event, like Sakura season in March/April and beer in October.

“My agency/consultant/project contractor was not able to deliver again!”

“We gave them lots of chances to produce results, and the only thing they did well, was disappoint us.”

“As the lead, I had to put them on notice. They are not going to hit our KPIs by the end of FY.”

Does the inhouse-agency or the client-consultant relationship almost always have to end in tears?

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful if our external partners performed well and helped us with our goals?

The answer is actually yes. You have control over what you can control.

You likely brought the agency/consultants in to help with skills or competency gaps, or to provide more resources, and maybe even to counsel leadership/management.

There are many areas – time, relationships, history – that is beyond your control.

However, what you can control is the environment for both your team and your agency/consultant.

If you can set up the environment for success, it will kick the process off on a good note, and the positive momentum can provide you and your team with the advantage of a good working relationship from the start.


How can you successfully work with consultants in support of your goals?

Here are some steps to try out.

strtgcommsgrp - how to work successfully with consultants

Sidebar: Why we experience tension working with our consultants and/or contractors?

As a team lead responsible for communications programmes and campaigns, it is important to:

This approach can go astray and contribute to frustration when there is:

Sometimes, the brand or the team lead has to pay attention to the following factors or triggers that can impact the working relationship with the consultant:

The success of many programmes or campaigns depends on a strong working relationship between the brand and their consultants. It is important for all parties to establish clear expectations, communicate effectively, and work collaboratively to achieve their shared goals.

What are the key differences between a consultant and a contractor?

Many brands assume that consultants and contractors can perform and code-switch constantly with changing scopes.

However, from a time and cost perspective, that is inefficient. Getting the service provider to do the wrong scope will result in more time or resources spent; and therefore, more fees charged to the organisation.

It is not surprising that many consultants are also highly capable contractors when it comes to execution of communications and marketing execution. The industry expects retainers and projects to cover both the conceptualisation, planning and thinking as well as the doing and measuring.

However, this creates a potential area of tension as the scope for a consultant and that of a contractor can differ.

A consultant is focused on building a plan with strategic intent and ensuring that the structure, positioning and approach is good to implement. The contractor – while typically the same provider – can be different. Contractors deliver on tactics and operational outcomes. Also, it is within a brand’s prerogative to hire a contractor to deliver the plan; and not always hand it to the consultant that came up with the plan.

Contractors come with a variety of engagement models. They can be outsourced partners, tasked to deliver specific tactical outcomes or they can be the equivalent of a full-time team member, working within an organisation to deliver a variety of outcomes.

Being clear about the scope and outcomes can help with the thinking behind selecting a consultant or contractor for your project or campaign. 

Building mission-focused teams made up of inhouse and consultant resources

Many in-house teams continue to adapt – post pandemic, and in a weak economy – by focusing on improving operational efficiencies. Some of these actions include becoming even lean (lesser people), more reliance on automation and technologies, as well as outsourcing/off-shoring tasks and projects.

The composition of the in-house team has also changed from building/having a ‘fully complete’ function composed of members with varying experience levels, a good balance of generalists and specialists, capped with some prior experience from the same sector, industry or a competitor.

Instead, it is starting to evolve into more of an on-demand model where the team lead selects between generalists and specialists of various experience levels, and expertise as and when the scope and outcomes require them.

The analogy has shifted from having a ‘best eleven’ football team, and into assembling a ‘mission or field’ team where having the wrong combination of talent and capability in the campaign or project team can result in a negative outcome. Leads are selecting campaign and project team members with care proportional to how important the mission outcome is.

Balancing resources supporting your in-house team and your consultant.

strtgcommsgrp - balancing resources with team and consultants

While it might appear counter-intuitive at the start, working with contractors or consultants can help to save or optimise resources. Examples of such scenarios include organisations that are just beginning to build their PR/marketing function (or more likely only have a single generalist handling many outcomes), or looking to connect their marketing directly to revenue triggers, or those looking to work on a brand campaign, or a product roll-out. Across these scenarios, the master plan or roadmap has been decided upon, and the combined internal-external team is assembled to help the brand deliver against the plan, or take on the revenue stream, or even to provide support for marketing operations such as building the budget, or milestones for the team.

Working with external team members will always require its cost in terms of both budget and time. Management should always allocate time to align the organisation’s goals and outcomes with the external support person or team. Time is also required to set up the brief, workflow, checkpoints, output, actions and outcomes.

Understanding what is realistic when applying the entire budget – finance, time from team and organisation input – is key to balancing resources. Begin with the strategic communications plan and evaluate whether the outcomes and the milestones needed are achievable. Being honest with management and the team at this point will save a ton of resources down the road when the point of no return has been crossed, and money cannot be recouped.

The other resource to be realistic about is people. It is easy to set ‘stretch targets’ for teams but if they do not have the capability to achieve it, that’s setting them and the organisation up to fail. Being clear about the team’s capabilities and time, can point towards the gap and the need to bring in external support to bridge and solve.

Organisations should always look at how external resources can help to increase the team’s learning and insight. When the external support team’s effort starts to bear fruit either by launching, growing or delivering results, start thinking about whether it is the right time to move an in-house team member to take over, or to bring such as a specialist into the in-house team. Consider redeploying the external specialist support to other projects to keep the relationship ongoing. This will help in tapping on more support with people or teams that are already familiar with your organisation culture and structure, goals, and the in-house team.

I provide communications and PR solutions for organisations and practitioners through counsel, consultancy and training. With over 20+ years in the industry, we have created frameworks, methods and content that enable you and your team to launch, grow, level up and earn revenue effectively and efficiently.

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