Tag Archives: consultancy

Consultants: who needs them?

It may be an odd question for a public affairs consultant to ask potential clients, but what’s the point of consultants?

There are three reasons why you might use a public affairs consultancy:

  1. to supplement an in-house team
  2. as a substitute for an in-house team
  3. as an alternative to an existing, but deficient, in-house team.

But the value they deliver is largely in your hands. Getting the most out of your consultants is simple and here are some DO and DON’T tips to help you get value and keep the relationship healthy:

DO look for particular skills and experience that enhance your in-house capabilities

DON’T use consultants to do what you can already do in house

DO keep your consultancy on its toes by testing it against the market

DON’T put a consultancy through a pitch process if you know you’re not going to appoint it: it’s unfair and wastes everyone’s time

DO use them to challenge you with objective, external views; they may see things you’re too close to see for yourself

DON’T hire sycophants to tell you what they think you want to hear

DO listen to their advice, no matter how unwelcome; their fresh view might be more widely held among stakeholders than your own opinions

DON’T act on their advice without thoroughly questioning the reasoning behind it

DO use their networks to improve your political intelligence

DON’T expect access to Ministers: consultants should tell you who to see, when to see them and what to say. Politicians will meet with you because you have a legitimate right to communicate your business interests to them, not because a consultant calls them up

DO work with your consultants to define and hone your messages and materials

DON’T expect your consultants to articulate those messages: that’s your job

DO give your public affairs activities enough time and senior attention

DON’T be drawn into over-extensive stakeholder contact programmes with irrelevant stakeholders; it may just be the consultants trying to justify their fee

DO demand transparency of fees. If they charge a “management” or “administration” fee, ask them why – the practice is outdated: why should you pay extra for a consultant’s office costs?

DON’T blame the consultant if you give them no work to do; no good consultant is happy to take money for nothing

DO find time to engage with your consultants socially; a friendly relationship is usually a more productive relationship

DON’T let that friendly relationship stop you from challenging your consultant’s advice.

Businesses pay a lot of money to consultants. But both sides have an obligation to ensure that it’s money well spent.

Pleasure yourself. We do!

What is the perfect job? Apple gadget tester? Guinness taster? Most of us have a dream job, but in almost all cases it remains just that: a fantasy. But if you could set up a company and do exactly what you want, how you want, when you want, what would it be like? Well, we did and we called it Altitude.

A little over two years ago, towards the end of a second bottle of merlot, the conversation changed from “what if?” to “how?”, and the concept of Altitude was born. Three firm friends, who had worked together nearly 20 years ago, each with very different and complementary skills and personalities, decided to stop working for other people and to work for themselves.

We stole all the experience from one of our friends, who had done it five years earlier, and just seven weeks from that first conversation we registered our company. By then, we had already drawn up a five-year plan, setting our long-term objectives and goals and worked out the strategies, measures and targets (OGSMT) that would get us there. It may seem little over the top for a three-person consultancy, but it has given us focus and a framework in which to operate. Our OGSMT has barely changed since, other than to add a “J” for “Joy” to the end, of which more later.

It has never been about money: it is about choosing a way of living. Altitude is a lifestyle consultancy: a company created, for better or for worse, in our own image, allowing us to be and to do what we please in our own, idiosyncratic way. Providing a professional, top-notch service is, of course, paramount and we never compromise on the quality of our work. But that leaves our consciences clear when we mess about the rest of the time.

We have clearly-defined roles which play to our individual strengths. The Chairman is also Fire Warden, for instance. And we have a Company Secretary, Director of Finance, Director of IT, Director of Design, Director of HR, Director of New Business, Director of Grammar, Head of Car Hire, Chief Wine Taster, Health and Safety Officer and a Grand Pooh-Bah of Joy. Our diminutive consultant is also Stationery Manager, Women’s Officer, Head of Diversity and Small Business Manager.

We allow sufficient space for very different ways of working. So Altitude accommodates anally-retentive control-freakiness (Steve), fence-sitting forgetfulness (Tony) and deliberating, accident-prone introversion (Richard). Our flexible working arrangements provide ample scope for Richard to come to work an hour later than the others (despite getting up an hour earlier), and more holidays than you can shake a stick at.

We do everything by consensus. If we don’t agree there are several dispute-resolution mechanisms. The first is to browbeat the others into submission (the Steve approach); the second is to think about things for a very, very, very long time and then decide you don’t really care either way (the Richard approach); the third is rock-paper-scissors (the Tony approach – which he persists with despite never winning). When it comes to clients, each of us has a veto, though Richard can’t conceive of any circumstances in which he would ever exercise his.

We have half-yearly strategic business performance reviews, which have so far taken place in Krakow, Bruges and Rome. The next one, in June, is in Berlin and happily coincides with the World Cup and the appearance of big screens in beer gardens.

We always – and I mean always – look for the ridiculous and the humour in everything. We are relentless in exploiting each other’s weaknesses, winding each other up and playing tricks. This approach extends to our favoured clients, one of which we won while playing word bingo – seeing who could get the most words associated with his name into our pitch.

In fact, everything we do must be underpinned with Joy. So we have a Joy Agenda, directed by the Grand Pooh-Bah of Joy (Tony), with a Joy Budget and a Joy Index (with measured targets) within our five-year OGSMTJ. The aim is to exploit anything with Joytential. We have a range of Joy activities, many of which are conceived and executed at the Punch Tavern, including our annual Christmas party and our inter-client pub quiz. The long-planned Altitude Joy Olympics has been delayed due to holidays, but a dazzling opening ceremony will be followed by pool, darts, bowling, pinball, the quiz machine and other sporting events.

It may seem that we are a bunch of overgrown kids, and I suppose we are. But we are also running a business that has won, retained and expanded some prestige clients because of the utter reliability of the work we do for them. We only live once and we want to have fun in the time we spend at work. And how cool is it to start up and run a company and do exactly as you please with it?

Very cool. Take it from us.