What Clients Want from Consultants

A couple of weeks ago, Hill & Knowlton Canada held a professional development weekend called 'Values in Action'. The goal of this annual -- more or less -- training session is to discuss with junior consultants principles and best practices in our discipline so they are better armed to become trusted advisors to our clients. I think most participants would agree that one of the best sessions at Values in Action (and not just because I facilitated it . . . LOL) this time round was a client panel in which H&K consultants and a half-dozen clients discussed what clients are looking for in their relationships with us.

Herein, then, a completely subjective summary of key ideas I took away as moderator:

  1. Clients like our faithfulness to some of the simple things . . . living up to commitments, returning calls promptly, thinking strategically and proactively, coming up with creative ideas for marketing "mundane "products, acting like a small agency yet making big agency resources available if needed, and finding ways to create dialogue

  2. Clients also like to see us provide structure for them in the delivery of our services. They are pulled in dozens of different directions, so require from consultants clear project workplans and reminders about decisions required and deadlines to be met.

  3. Consultants could benefit from spending some time in their client's shoes. There is a feeling among clients that we don't fully understand the internal pressures that drive the way they act . . . pressures to cap costs, lack of decision discipline among senior executives within their organizations, and competing interests internally through which they have to navigate.

When it came to discussing significant business trends likely to influence decisions about purchasing communication services, there was good news and bad news: The good news (at least for H&K, not our sister advertising agencies) came from a client in the packaged goods sector -- and confirmed by others on the panel -- who anticipates a continuing shift of money out of advertising and into PR and online marketing; the bad news is that all our clients don't see an end to cost control pressures within their organizations.

Faith and Reason

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