Hiring a consultant can be a very expensive second opinion

While it’s great to read about falling unemployment, this week I was amused to run into an ex-colleague who, last time I worked with him, was a rather under-performing middle manager.

The Secret Marketer

Now he’s set up on his own as a ‘marketing consultant’.

We chatted, and it appeared he had done quite a bit of work of late – including some big brands – and was charging an eye-watering day rate.

This got me thinking. Do we really know what we are buying when we take on a ‘consultant’? They may pitch to us about great brands they have worked for, amazing product launches they have been responsible for and amazing crises they have overcome, but why are they any better than the team we already have?

What is it about the term ‘consultant’ that makes us forget the basics that are top of mind when we’re hiring someone full-time? And why are these people not with any of those big brands any more?

The same is true about some agency people. When you scratch the surface, many of those who work in the agencies we employ have no more experience than the people in our teams, and probably know a lot less about our brand and our sector. So, why do we put so much trust in them to provide that amazing campaign – that market cut-through that puts our competitors to shame?

The reality is that sometimes we just don’t trust our own people enough. I have worked for many big organisations that have hired the likes of McKinsey or Accenture to re-present my own thoughts, ideas and plans, because they want the security of knowing that one of the ‘big boys’ has vetted them. That is a very expensive second opinion… and when has McKinsey ever been there to implement anything?

Our brand and product managers do often know best, and sometimes we should trust them to do what we pay them to do. We should bring in agencies and consultants only when we truly can’t do it ourselves, and when we genuinely believe that they know more than us.

In other words, probably a lot less frequently than we do today.