Consultants offer more than meets the eye

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Consultants offer more than meets the eye
Consultants offer more than meets the eye

What comes to mind when you hear the word “consultant” is probably not positive. You might see them as jargon abusers, roll your eyes at faddish management theories or, worse, recall downsizing conspiracy theories. However, consultants  — or, as you may know them, freelancers or outsourcers — offer a wide array of solutions for circulation marketers who are short on staff, budget or time.

One can find a consultant for many tasks or problems, ranging from broad strategic guidance to assistance on microniche tasks — for example, fulfillment house switching. In fact, anyone with expertise on a specific topic and the ability to use it in a wide set of circumstances can find employment as a consultant, as long as he or she is willing to contribute actual execution as opposed to mere advice.

This holds particularly true for direct marketing, which is typically structured around discrete campaigns requiring specific, short and sometimes arcane tasks. And, thanks to a sluggish economy that has sent many skilled marketers out of corporate positions, the world of circulation has a glut of talent available for hire.

Technology makes hiring a great direct marketing consultant even easier, because it widens the pool of qualified and available candidates. Indeed, with cheap, efficient tools such as videoconferencing, Internet telephone, instant messaging and PDF documents, a resourceful marketer can exercise his or her craft from virtually anywhere in the world — our direct mail consultant practices hers from Madrid; our newsstand folks from New Jersey.

Even though they likely come at a premium, hiring almost always makes more sense than adding staff, because experienced consultants can tackle a task with minimal training or background requirements. Plus, because they come with built-in expertise, consultants include the implicit promise of perspective on best practices from your competitors.

Better yet, consultants are assigned to specific projects, meaning that their costs are directly tied to the tasks for which they've been commissioned — all variable costs, and music to your CFO's ears.

Consultants should never be confused with managers. Their only incentive is making sure the person who signs their checks is happy, and need not worry about long-term developments or about understanding company culture. At the same time, however, managers should think hard about undertaking tasks for which they have little expertise, or which may divert their attention away from crucial issues. For these, management consultants would definitely prescribe hiring consultants.

 

Patrick Hainault is the consumer marketing director at Mansueto Ventures. You can reach him at phainault@mansueto.com.


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