I’m often asked how the economy is affecting the market for the independent consultant. My answer, thus far, is that it’s hard to say. I have a few core clients keeping me busy and happy; at the same time, I’m feeling the need to do a little knocking on doors, so to speak, to fill up the pipeline with new opportunities (although, out of the blue inquiries are more than welcome!).
But the usual downturn analysis applies — there is opportunity out there for independents — there is more need than ever for experienced PR consultants, marketers and writers in both big comapnies and small. An experienced independent can do a great deal of this work better and at a more modest investment than they could with using an agency. As a client from way back once said, explaining how he pitched himself as an independent after leaving a big management consultancy: “I told them they could get Accenture experience for half the price.”
At the same time, big companies will continue to seek out big agencies. They need that combination of experience, creativity and ‘arms and legs’ they just can’t keep in house. However, the model is under pressure. The retainer is all but dead, and this latest downturn will put pressure on the agencies to deliver more on a ‘project’ basis, or to deliver more for less in a long-term relationship. Corporate purchasing departments will fight for discounted rates while smaller clients bear the full agency freight.
Agencies accustomed to increasing their fees annually will need to think long and hard. First, they’ll have to look at whether they’re truly earning the extra dollars, and they’ll have to look at what the market will bear. And then perhaps PR agencies will look longer and harder at the kinds of work they do today — from corporate counsel and strategy to media relations to web design, interactive and social media. Does the experienced-based billable hour adequately deliver reflect the value clients receive in return? Do they need dozens of full-time employees in on place, or will more flexible teams better fit changing client needs? I’d welcome input from agency friends — I’m curious to see how it will play out.
My own investment in the upswing will be to reach out to smaller companies — and larger ones as well — who see an opportuntiy to make a modest investment in branding, messaging, communications strategy and outreach to position themselves to lead in the upswing. I’ll do some updates to the site, and see if I can’t turn some of my musings on the blog into articles that I can share with prospects, and use them to do some media relations on my own behalf. I’m planning to get out more, see some speakers, eat some chicken-based lunches, catch up with colleagues and clients, and maybe even meet up with some of you folks around town.
And I’ll knock on a few doors.