How Many Consultants Does it Take to Screw Up a Marketing Plan?

3 min read

If you’re a really good businessperson, you know two things:

  1. You don’t know everything.
  2. If you surround yourself with sycophants, you’re only reinforcing everything you don’t know.

That’s why you hire consultants—to get specialized expertise and outside-the-organization perspective. Ideally—because you’re a really good businessperson—you want consultants who will challenge you, bring you ideas, and make you more successful.

For marketing, it’s not uncommon to hire several consultants. You may have consultants for public relations, social media, search engine optimization, web development and maintenance, content, media buying—or you might have a couple of partners who, between them, handle all these tasks. You might have an agency partner or two and handle some of those functions in-house.

How do you make sure all those consultants play nicely together? Especially when their talents and capabilities almost certainly overlap? Here are four things you ought to keep in mind:

1. Hire known collaborators

Some people work well together. Some will try to undermine their colleagues to gain your favor. We’ve worked with both kinds, and there’s nothing good about the latter. Be sure you’re clear about which consultant does what, and what their expectations are. And look at firms that respect each other and are comfortable working together—maybe even have a track record of working well together.

2. Hire consultants who are willing to challenge each other

Just because I understand my lane doesn’t mean you should expect me to always stay in it. You want your consultants to challenge not just you and your organization, but each other. Your consultants should all be working for the benefit of your organization, and they should be able to share their opinions respectfully if they disagree with each other’s advice.

3. Assign one to rule them all

Developing a team of trusted consultants and agency advisors can make you smarter—but sometimes it can feel like too many chiefs and not enough accountability. Consider making one agency your coordinator: your project manager, convener, lead strategy partner. This doesn’t have to diminish everyone else’s role; rather, it provides a framework in which the entire team can operate efficiently and collaboratively, with clear expectations for responsibilities, deliverables, and results.

4. Consider one resource for overall analysis

On that last note: Think about hiring an unbiased resource for analysis and reporting. Are you reaching your goals? Are you reaching your audiences effectively? What could you do better? What’s going really well? You should certainly let all of your consultants report on their results and state their cases. But consider asking the consultant you trust the most to examine it all in greater depth.

Finally, remember this: Consultants are replaceable. If the team you’ve assembled isn’t working, fire somebody. Find an agency that’s a better fit. That’s one of the biggest benefits of working with firms: They’re not on the payroll.

But if you choose the right ones, they’ll be as devoted to you and your success as any employee. Manage them effectively, and everybody wins.


Illustration via Wikimedia Commons; source Wellcome Collection gallery (2018-03-22): CC-BY-4.0