Consultancy: A cost or a saving?

by James Diba

Consultancy - A cost or saving?

Anybody within a marketing team will no doubt have seen finance teams shudder at the mention of the word ‘consultancy’. It’s a brush that has been tarred for many decades, largely owing to the perceived ‘extortionate fees’ that many of the gargantuan consultancy groups have built their businesses on. I use the word ‘perceived’ very carefully here and I’ll explain why…

Firstly, let’s address the elephant in the room…..an article about consultancy fees being written by a consultant. I get it, but I’ll try to be as unbiased as I can.

It is often the case that consultants are overlooked, or projects which require consultants are deprioritized, due to the fees that are required for their services. In too many cases consultants are seen as a last resort or to be used only when there is excess budget available towards the end of the quarter/financial year.

This short term view of investment can be detrimental to advertisers and prevents ambitious growth.

Whilst it can be difficult to internally champion the use of consultancy, here’s some things to keep in mind if you are planning to do so:

Consultants should always deliver a commercial return. This can be in the short term or long term, but if you don’t see how a project being delivered by a consultant is going to provide a return, you probably shouldn’t be using a consultant!

The identification of how you will see returns should be a crucial part of the scoping of any project. Set expectations and work with the consultant to ensure that those expectations can be met.

Consultants are charging for knowledge, more so than time. It is all too easy to look at an effective hourly rate that a consultant may be charging and to compare it directly to the cost of an hourly rate of a salaried employee. Keep in mind that consultants spend many years honing their skills in their specialist fields, as well in most cases they have lots of ‘unsold’ time in which they spend refining their craft. Clients are paying for knowledge and time, rather than purely just time.

Consultants can uncover additional areas for commercial return whilst on projects. Speaking from personal experience, I have delivered many projects where I have uncovered opportunities to claw back hidden fees or found ways to get extra value from something outside of the initial scope. These discoveries on a particular project meant that a return on investment of over 4000% was achieved! This is of course an extreme case, however, it indicates how consultants can provide additional value beyond the defined deliverables in the scope of work.

So why is any of this important? Well, I personally feel that consultants can provide immense value, particularly working in a time and industry where we are seeing rapid change. For that reason, I’d encourage businesses to see the opportunity for consultancies to drive value rather than be seen as a sunk cost.

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