Leveraging Your Consultants

Andrew Fimka

Category: Strategy


This week I will have the great fortune of leaving Washington, DC and its 30-degree weather for the opportunity to attend and speak at the 2018 Advocacy Conference presented by the Public Affairs Council. I am certainly looking forward to it, as the conference has become a “go to” event for the industry’s best public affairs practitioners. And they will be rewarded with what has to be the strongest and multifaceted program to date. Plus, no one had to twist my arm about participating once I learned I would be setting up shop in sunny Florida for the week.  

At the midpoint of the conference, I will be joining a long time colleague and friend, Caitlin Donahue (SVP at the Curley Company), in presenting a skills building session entitled, “Leveraging Your Consultants”. Considering I have been on both sides of the equation – utilizing consultants and becoming one myself – I am eager to share what I hope will be some useful tips and recommendations for those attending.

But before the conference begins, I thought I would provide a top-line summarization of the presentation to share with you. These “do’s and don’ts” represent a few of things I have learned over the past 15 years I have been actively involved in the public affairs industry and certainly factor into my day-to-day activities leading the outstanding Strategy and Client Services team here at NJI Media.

I hope you will find these insights on Leveraging Your Consultants helpful as well.


Angie’s List is Great for Finding a Plumber, Not So Much for Public Affairs Help:

Selecting Your Consultant

  • DO: Have SPECIFICS in mind (i.e. what is the challenge that we’re solving for) and let those needs drive the process
  • DON’T: Rely on a singular criteria – like budget or a personal referral – disproportionally dictate the process

(Your Dad Was Right) A Goal is Just a Wish Until You Write it Down:
Defining What Success Looks Like

  • DO: Set clear objectives, yet also prepare for the (often) nonlinear issues environment that we operate within
  • DON’T: Believe your internal stakeholders are your primary audience for an advocacy/communications campaign

Do You Accept the Following Terms & Conditions?:
Formalizing the Scope of Work

  • DO: Expect scope development to be an iterative process that will force you to prioritize
  • DON’T: Agree to the scope until it achieves both clarity and consensus

Arranged Marriages Can Work!:
Developing and Agreeing to a Client Services Contract

  • DO: Expect your consultant to be flexible and work with you on parameters
  • DON’T: Assume it’s just a simple administrative hurdle

Do Your Need a Carpenter or Just a Hammer?:
Defining Your Consultant’s Operational Role

  • DO: Determine whether or not you will require your consultant to contribute and shape strategies or simply execute on those strategies
  • DON’T: Allow internal personnel who are not directly involved with managing your consultant (and the respective project) to determine how to best utilize them

“Production Meeting” Shouldn’t be an Oxymoron:
Coordination & Collaboration

  • DO: Provide more context/info than less – if you want them to understand your internal process and voice, share everything you think is useful
  • DON’T: Have meetings without a clear agenda and/or participants without clear roles

Put Down Your Pencil and Turn Your Paper Over:
Completing Reviews and Approvals

  • DO: Set clear protocols for who will be involved in reviewing and approving work produced by your consultant
  • DON’T: Allow for open-ended review and approval timeframes

Who Was Thrown a Ticker Tape Parade – Henry Gantt or Dwight Eisenhower?:
Managing Timelines & Deadlines

  • DO: Expect that a diverse set of factors can influence the overall execution/completion of projects
  • DON’T: Have timelines for reaching key milestones that vary wildly for your consultant when compared to your own internal planning

Team of Rivals Wasn’t Just a Good Book:
Creating a Productive Environment w/Multiple Consultants

  • DO: Be sure to set clear directives and guideposts in order to provide consultants with a defined “running lane”
  • DON’T: Create an environment where consultants undercut one another and/or compete on an uneven playing field

Is Your Free Agent Signing a Bust or Instant Success?:
Evaluating Performance

  • DO: Expect your consultant to provide quantifiable measures of success
  • DON’T: Forget or bypass having a “retrospective” brief or similar review at the conclusion of the project


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