Being an online communications consultant in Brussels: annoying conversations

These aren’t transcripts of conversations I’ve had, by any means, but not too far off.

Co = consultant   Cl = client (existing or prospective)

1. Being an online comms agency/consultant

  • Cl: Could you build this cool new flashy online gimmick for us please?
  • Co: Why? What are you selling? Whose opinion are you trying to shift? Who are you mobilising? Where does this fit in?
  • Cl: Ummm. I just want the gimmick. You’re an online agency/consultant, right?
  • Co: Yes, but we should figure out what we’re trying to do first, then think about the tools later.
  • Cl: But I’ve got a proper agency that charges €900 an hour to do strategy. Can you not just build the gimmick?
  • Co: …. (lost for words).

2. What’s the point of campaigning?

  • Cl: We’ve got a really contentious issue, but we should own it. We’re doing the right thing, we’re safe, we provide jobs and growth, we’re cutting edge.
  • Co: But politicians are screwing you?
  • Cl: They know we’re right, they’ve told us so. But the issue is super political they say. The public thinks we’re scum because pressure group X has done a really good job and the media has eaten it up. They need to keep their constituents happy. Politics, what can you do?
  • Co: Shouldn’t you campaign..?
  • Cl: No we lobby. We don’t need to campaign: we know all the relevant legislators and other stakeholders, so they know where we stand already.
  • Co: Clearly that’s not working though. Why not mobilise people in your industry? Answer people’s questions, alleviate their concerns? Try to shift the debate? Use the web more: why not bring all your arguments, 3rd party endorsements and relevant external content together in one place online and market it heavily to constituents?
  • Cl: Ummm. I told you, we don’t need to show politicians our arguments. They know them already. And anyway, politicians aren’t on Facebook (snigger, snigger).
  • Co: …. (lost for words).

The middleman and the benefit of being small

I was in Italy last weekend and met a chap who is a wine distributor and a middleman par excellance. He purchases wine direct from producers and sells it on to other, bigger distributors, who then sell it to foreign distributors, who then distribute to another distributor (or perhaps directly to retailers). That’s an awful lot of middlemen. Similarly, on a small project we’re currently working on for a client, we’re the middleman, working with two other agencies to produce some relatively simple deliverables. So between the client and a simple deliverable are not one but three agencies.

Is that a problem? No. The term middleman has always had shady connotations, but it shouldn’t anymore. We need middlemen! It’s a global market-place, as well as a complex, ever-changing one at that, and frankly you can’t know it all. Look at agencies. The best agencies nowadays – the ones that are truly cutting-edge and innovative – are often relatively small, because they are more flexible. They can adapt to fundamental changes faster, smart individuals tend to have more leeway, and senior people spend more time on clients than in management meetings. Most of all, smaller agencies have less of a tendency than big agencies to think they can do it all: they can usually mobilise a network of partners, freelancers or other agencies that have the expertise required to handle any given situation, while big agencies try to mould their own resources to match what’s required.

When does it usually go wrong for small agencies? When they get big and stop acting small. When do big agencies produce their best work? When they act small (and luckily, plenty of them do).

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