The Hidden Side of Consulting

Article contributed by Matt Prohaska, Principal, Prohaska Consulting

Provocative, huh? The title for this column is based on the tagline for one of my favorite books, Freakonomics, where economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner cover “The Hidden Side of Everything.” The original book came out in 2005, sold four million copies, and like many smart authors and publishers these days, Levitt and Dubner have extended the Freakonomics brand into two more books, a blog, a movie, videos, lectures, and a regular podcast.

I catch the podcast when I can and I notice this week’s podcast was entitled “I Consult, Therefore I Am,” which certainly caught my attention and I thought would be worth a listen. The main issue they debated was whether paying consultants is worth it. They did the usual nice job of covering all sides. They talked to someone who joined a big firm right out of school and who was put on a pharmaceutical account in a relatively-senior role without knowing a single thing about the business. And they reviewed companies that saved millions in costs or earned millions in revenue by spending hundreds of thousands on a strategic shop. They discussed motivations for hiring consultants, motivations for keeping them, and reasons for using or not using what they say. If you’re curious, it’s a good 35-minute listen during your next commute. (unpaid endorsement)

Now even though their focus was mostly on big firms hired by big companies, the podcast reminded me of the constant battle of fighting the negative stereotypes of consulting built up among potential and existing clients over the years in our business as well. We’ve all seen the classic scenes from Office Space with the two Bobs, right? I worked at a large publisher back in the day where one consulting firm was there when I arrived and a different one was there when I left years later. Both times I found myself certainly respecting the consultants’ intelligence and overall broad backgrounds, but thought they had a pretty sweet deal to be paid well to learn our business and then recommend major changes and not have to be as concerned with the cultural, personnel, or operational ramifications that followed. Looking back I don’t get upset at the consultants – they did what they were paid to do (maybe a little longer than some thought were needed) but they completed the job.

But it does remind me and could be a reminder to anyone in a fulltime staff position, at any level, to try taking three minutes each day, or week, or month, and ask ourselves if we delivered at least the value of our salary during that time period. If not, then why and how can we change that quickly? Companies need to be run more efficiently every day, and with the rise of programmatic buying, many articles have been written addressing the possible-changing value of direct media sellers and buyers.

I proactively suggested to a client of mine earlier this year that they probably should not continue with me at a certain level. I was originally hired to do a number of things, some of those things then got absorbed by someone else, and I didn’t think I was able to deliver full value based on what I was originally being paid to do. Certainly not suggesting everyone walk into their manager’s office suggesting a pay cut based on a random slow week, but let’s make sure just like those ad campaigns we all spend so much time ensuring are successful, we are personally over-delivering for our employers too.

Matt Prohaska is the Principal at Prohaska Consulting, a company that helps leading digital media and advertising technology firms with their digital sales, marketing, business development, and operational strategies.