There are three reasons why you might use a public affairs consultancy:
- to supplement an in-house team
- as a substitute for an in-house team
- 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 If they charge a “management” or “administration” fee, ask them why – the practice is outdated: why should you pay extra for a consultant’s office costs?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.