I’ve been doing this for a while (marketing, communications and content strategy, that is). And I’ve been on both sides of the table (on in-house creative teams and acting as a consultant, that is). I’ve had both good and bad experiences, but each time I’ve been a part of a rebranding exercise, a new website or a fresh marketing strategy, I’ve learned more about the best way to go about working with outside consultants.
If your company is considering hiring a marketing, communications or content strategy consultant, these are the things you need before getting started.
- Be Able to Explain Why
In your heart of hearts, why are you *really* hiring a marketing consultant? You’ll need to be prepared to give your team and your higher-ups a solid answer, so you might as well think it all through before you start sending out RFPs.
In my experience, it’s probably the right thing to do if you can honestly say one of the following:
- You don’t have the in-house resources to take your company where you want to go with clients and your brand, and you don’t have the time to hire and train a team right now.
- Your company is on the cusp of regional, national or even international growth and you need support from people who have been there, done that.
- You need fresh ideas and new material to stay relevant in a rapidly changing industry and global economy.
If, after being honest with yourself, any of the following are your real reasons for hiring a consultant, it will end badly for everyone involved. Sit on the idea and come back in a few months if:
- You don’t think the people on your existing team have the skills or creativity to do the job (in this case, you need professional training and some frank conversations from leadership about expectations before you even consider hiring an outside consultant).
- You know a project is going to be mired in so much corporate political turmoil that you want an outsider you can blame at the end (You will look bad. The consultant will look bad. Your company will look bad. Just don’t do it.).
- You have no idea what you want, no measurable goals and you think hiring an outside firm will take the responsibility off your plate because you don’t have time to focus on marketing (See point three: working with a consultant can be incredibly fruitful, but it’s still work, at least in the beginning).
- Figure Out What Type of Consultant You Need
Do you need a complete brand and marketing overhaul? Are you starting from scratch with very little staff? Or do you need support with something specific like media relations or content strategy?
A good consultant will ask you these questions before you sign a contract, but more often than not, consultants will tell you they can do anything and everything well. This is rarely the case.
Too many companies use “marketing” as an umbrella term when their real strengths lie in on aspect of marketing and communications, like web development or social media. These are invaluable skills to have, of course, but you don’t want to fall into the trap of hiring a PR firm to do design work or engage what is essentially a graphic design team to write blog posts. Figure out exactly where you need support and only consider firms who have that expertise already. Then be prepared to ask some tough questions about whether they have the capabilities you need right now.
- Make Time to Commit
In the beginning, hiring a marketing or PR consultant is often just as much work as doing it in-house, even when you hire the best of the best. One of the reasons is that companies almost always underestimate the insider knowledge and industry expertise of their own people. Even when you hire a truly excellent marketing or communications consultant, be prepared to spend time sharing that knowledge and walking them through your processes and culture. If you hired a team that’s a good fit, they’ll be off and running in no time with very little support needed from you.
- Think of Alternatives
If you don’t have the three points above just yet, there are other options over hiring a large, comprehensive marketing consulting firm.
- Consider professional training for your existing team. It builds loyalty, gives your people new opportunities and it builds the skills your company needs in people you already know and trust.
- Start small by hiring a sole proprietor, like a freelance writer if you need help with content strategy, a graphic designer if your marketing materials need a new look, or a web developer who can focus on your digital presence. You can always go big if you need to, but starting small allows your company to test the waters, see where you might need other support and get some fresh ideas without blowing your entire marketing budget.
- Take some time to form a strategy. By giving yourself and your team 3-6 months to come up with a plan, you can see what holes need to be filled with outside help and have the best chance at success. Learn from my experiences—rushing to hire an outsider without a vision or goals is a surefire way to make everyone miserable.
When you’re ready to hire a marketing, communications or content strategy firm, and your put in the time to find the right fit, it will feel like the planets have aligned and you can work to create marketing magic.