The beginning of the end for Search Consultants?

Well, that’s a bit dramatic! And probably not the truth. Really great story in Adweek about the trend that search consultants are becoming less important. You gotta read this.

The story suggests that their share is steadily falling. So, of course, these guys are scrambling. What might this mean for small and large agencies? And, even for search consultants? Here are some quick…

…thoughts. Read what’s appropriate for you. Heck, read it all!

For Big Agencies:

  • Expect some more weirdness out there. Consultants with their hand out. The guys that make money from both sides of the relationship. What an awful practice. But this trend could force these small businesses – mom and pop companies, really – to get a little bit desperate.
  • It can also drive innovation. So, expect to hear an interesting pitch or two!
  • Expect fewer people to get into the straight search business. And for those that are already in, to broaden their service offering.
  • You must develop a procurement strategy. Sure, you can complain that these guys take their process for buying a widget and apply it to the agency selection process. But complaints don’t pay the rent. How ’bout being proactive? Can you make a friend of procurement? Lots of implications here. Yours truly will post some thoughts later this week.

Small Agencies:

  • Does this trend really matter to you? Eh. Maybe. If you have, say, more than $5mm in gross annual revenue, these guys should be on your prospect list. For the most part, search consultants are involved in pitches that deliver $1mm in annual revenue. Sure, they could be involved in smaller pitches – say, they set the field (and walk away). But smaller clients just don’t want to afford a fully outsourced search.
  • To me, this is yet another strong reason you should be specializing in a category, target, or discipline. This helps differentiate you, enable higher pricing, increase your transom, etc.
  • One could look at this trend and think, gosh, now that search consultants are less involved in pitches, maybe I should be going after the bigger marketers. I’d advise against it. Have you ever heard the saying, “no one ever got fired for hiring Leo Burnett?” Be realistic and think carefully about how and who goes on your list. (Another blog post for you to read sometime!) Rule of thumb: a popular search consultant once suggested that you shouldn’t be pursuing anything larger than something worth more than 20% of your annual gross income. Smart advice.
  • This, by the way, does not suggest you ignore search consultants. They are expert buyers of agency services, and can provide you with some terrific insights into marketers. Keep an eye on them.

Search Consultants:

  • Please avoid the temptation to approach agencies with your hand out. Don’t get me started!
  • How does your process differ from the typical one? How can it be streamlined? Customized? Made less painful for both client and agency? What is the value of your service? Who is it the best fit for? What other needs are related and connected?
  • Here’s a freebie: how are you leveraging your past successful efforts? There’s revenue in dem dar hills!
  • Do you need a procurement strategy? Absolutely.

Anywho, file away that Adweek story! And should any of the above spark a thought or two, feel free to comment. Or better yet, call! Thanks.

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  1. […] Implications in declining search consultant pitch share. Brief thoughts for agencies and searchers. […]