The consultant world in ad agency new business

Just read Mike Duda’s piece in Ad Age and highly recommend it. He offers some advice to clients on how to look for search consultants. He definitely is one to know, as for many years he headed up new business at Deutsch in New York.

His article got me to thinking there might be some value in breaking down the different kinds of models that exist out there. But over 700 words later, I still hadn’t covered the spectrum. And even I was getting a little bored! So I went back to the drawing board.

Here’s a 30,000 foot view of the current marketplace. There are really three main groups…placed over a spectrum of how the consultant makes their money. Meaning, who pays ’em.

On one end, the consultants’ clear clients are marketers. Typically, these consultants are hired by clients to find agency partners. Their scopes vary. They offer up either a full-boat search (crafting and managing the entire selection process, including compensation negotiation) or offer up bits of the process (say, they set the field, offer some how-to help, then walk away). There are a number of variations of this model, where the consultant also offers related services. Things related to the client/agency relationship. But then some offer services a step away. Like recruiting, for instance. Some will even do small-scale marketing communication.

Then things get a little murky.

Next up, the middle. Here, consultants make money in different ways through different parties. They could offer databases, information portals, matchmaking services, search, client/agency relationship counseling, perspective on agency credentials, etc. etc. All sorts of things. It’s this group of middlemen that causes the most angst. The worst offenders charge agencies significant fees to put be listed in their library or database, and then charge clients money to run searches. They can charge clients less for the search, because they make money from agencies. So they are popular with clients. Is this double dipping? What would Steve Buscemi say?

Or you have consultants who will do whatever their client needs. Their “side” changes depending on who writes the check.

Then, you have agency-side consultants. These guys charge agencies money for services or products that help in their new business efforts. Help can mean prospecting / meeting generation, RFP writing, agency positioning, client contact information, business news, etc. Some specialize in specific areas, while others are generalists. (Yours truly, BTW, is a generalist that serves agencies. Should you be a client looking for help, I will be happy to put you in touch with a search consultant.)

(And, of course, there are fun little models that blur the lines between these three camps. Including some truly ugly, but rare practices.)

Hope this helps. Should you have a specific question, feel free to contact me. Happy to help! You can find a ton of other search consultant related posts on this site.

In fact, here’s one that suggests our trade associations may be getting tired of “pay to play” activity.