Project Wonderful

Monday, September 21, 2015

Guest Post: Starting A Relationship With Your Consultants

Ben Holse is a Junior Account Manager at The Campaign Workshop. The Campaign Workshop has recently released its latest e-book, Ready Set, Go: Jump Start Your Next Campaign. Which you can get here for free.

Any experienced campaign manager or campaign operative can recall a bad experience working with a consultant. Perhaps the consultant couldn’t deliver what they promised, they were unresponsive or didn’t hit deadlines. Undoubtedly, a lot of what goes into a successful relationship depends on the campaigns and the consultants themselves. How you start the relationship is important. As a former political organizer turned consultant, here are my tips on how to jumpstart a successful relationship your campaign consultants.

Start Early
For campaigns, it’s never too early to begin a dialogue with your campaign consultant. Depending on the service you’re hiring the consultant for and the payment structure that is in place, there often aren’t any additional costs associated with beginning the process early. Early on, consultants can be helpful in recruiting campaign staff, putting together budgets and developing campaign plans. Beginning early is also in the best interest of the consultant, as it gives them a better chance of gauging their workload and can help to avoid learning curves.

Work Hard
In order for your relationship to be a success, there needs to be hard work and dedication on both sides of the table. Campaigns will rightfully expect their consultants to work on tight deadlines with quick turnaround. However this is a two way street. Campaigns will get out of your campaign-consultant relationship what they put into it. In order for consultants to hit deadlines, they will often need campaigns to be able to work hard and be able to get materials quickly.

Be Responsive
Without a doubt, campaigns can be hectic and chaotic. While being responsive can seem like a given in any professional relationship, in the crazy world of campaigns it can actually be tougher than you think. Emails from your consultant tend to get put on the backburner when you’re putting out fires elsewhere. While your consultants will largely drive the train on setting deadlines and timelines, it’s critical that campaigns are responsive. Even if you don’t have the time to shoot your consultant an email, a quick phone call or text message will often suffice.

Set Deadlines
In order for your relationship to be a success, there needs to be accountability. One of the best ways to set this accountability is by setting very clear deadlines. Most good consultants will ask for clear deadlines on when they need approval and feedback, and will follow up if they don’t hear back by the agreed time. But the campaign should also feel empowered to set these deadlines and ask for first drafts and feedback.

Push back when you need to
It’s important that your relationship is strong enough that you aren’t afraid to step on a few toes. In order for a consultant to do their job, they need to push the campaign to think in ways that they may otherwise not. And anytime you are asking someone to step outside of their comfort zone, there presents the opportunity for confrontation. If a campaign doesn’t think that a given tactic will be effective or if there are on-the-ground considerations that the consultant doesn’t know about, the campaign needs to feel empowered to speak up and push back. The campaign-consultant relationship needs to be collaborative and that includes not being afraid to be open and honest with each other.

Don’t overpromise
Campaigns are almost always built on short timelines. Within the context of these finite time constraints, there can sometimes exist the tendency to overpromise. But it’s important to remember that the campaign-consultant relationship is built on trust and there is no advantage to overpromising what you cannot deliver. This goes for both the campaign and the consultant. Overpromising will only serve to throw off timelines and deadlines and leave everyone frustrated in the process.

Don’t be a dick
While this one should also seem like a given, in the crazy world of campaigns, anyone can be a little on edge on any given day. Campaigns should of course feel empowered to push their consultants and expect high quality work. That said, for campaigns, there is little advantage to being a dick to your consultant. It won’t help move things along faster and it will only damage the relationship between you and your team.

Be up front
The relationship should, in some ways, be like the client-lawyer relationship. In order for your consultant to do their job, the campaign needs to be totally open and up front. You can’t hold back on things like not hitting field or fundraising goals just because they are embarrassing. Your consultant can’t help you fix a problem they don’t know exists. Not being upfront about any of the campaign’s potential negatives will only leave the team unprepared if and when these issues do come out.

Keep the lines of communication open.
Keeping the lines of communication open with your consultant is key. The best client-consultant relationships are communicative with a continual back and forth via email, text messages and weekly check in calls. You never know what connection your campaign consultant may have or when a second take on an issue can help bring a different perspective.

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