Providing a Birds-Eye View for Clients
I’ve been a consultant all my life – always with clients, never client-side. My particular line of work is in brand strategy, which means I get paid to think and build pathways on behalf of my clients’ brands and markets. I’ve been at this career for 27 years and while much has changed in that time, the one thing that remains unchanged is this: companies like outside collaborators. We’re the bird’s eye for their view. We are like the unmanned drone in an unknown zone. We can see patterns that are more difficult to detect from the ground.
When I first began my career, I was busy as a market researcher in the days when research applied more to R&D than marketing, and marketing was brand new. Both budgets and timelines were generous, and internal marketing expertise was scarce. My clients liked having their consultants around because we added to their skill sets, and they were able to do more with what they had. They were also able to maintain reasonable work hours, knowing that the consultant would continue to work through the night to bring the next great idea to life. We had to; there was not yet an Internet. If you needed to conduct research or get in touch with the market, you needed to go out there. I spent most of my nights on a plane, and most days in an office in a distant time zone.
The next era saw clients being equally or even more experienced than their agencies, with internal marketing departments adding more specialists, even as agencies continued to catch all the major marketing initiatives. By this time, everyone was working around the clock and doing big, amazing things in the name of market growth and brand equity. Collaboration went global; we used zip drives and research libraries to keep our clients out in front of direct competition. It was around this time that marketing landed in the C-suite, and our new crop of CMO clients were busy expanding the marketing mindset throughout the entire organization.
Two bubbles – first dotcom, then debt – grew and burst, and somewhere along the way we lost the generous budgets and timelines but kept the breathless pace of business. Commerce and communication have blended. The CMO remains an executive function, and inside the organization, everyone is expected to be fluent marketers. Valuable consultants address both the prevailing needs and those which might arise as a result of the constant change. It’s as if everyone now has two jobs: today and whatever happens tomorrow. And because of tech proliferation, new media and social marketing, these expectations truly apply to anyone inside the organization, no matter the level of leadership. I have seen junior talent anticipate, and then become superstars simply because they leaned on the tools and perspectives provided to them by one of their outside agencies.
A good agency today should easily work to scale, both individually and collaboratively. Regardless of budget, team, objective, need or opportunity, any organization should be able to turn to an outside partner and get great work. That outside partner still flies like a drone, offering a clear view from above, around and outside the client’s organization to detect and manage the breadth and complexity of the open marketplace.