Marketing consultancy A new pool of talent

The increasing numbers of laid off marketing executives looking for consulting work has inspired two veterans of the marketing and advertising industries to form a new consulting network specializing in marketing.The Toronto consultancy, called Bench Strength, is designed to be a...

The increasing numbers of laid off marketing executives looking for consulting work has inspired two veterans of the marketing and advertising industries to form a new consulting network specializing in marketing.

The Toronto consultancy, called Bench Strength, is designed to be a formalized pool of self-employed marketing specialists who support one another and, in combination, offer clients more effective service than that offered by a consultant working alone.

Gary Acker, president and co-founder of Bench Strength, says the decimation of middle management over the last several years has led to a situation in which a large number of highly qualified marketing executives are trying their hands at freelance consulting.

At the same time, according to Acker, companies running pared-down marketing departments are beginning to ‘buy, a la carte, the services they do not need on a full-time, year-round basis.’

Acker, who spent 20 years as an agency account executive and 10 years as the proprietor of an executive search firm called Applicom, says he wants to develop a network numbering in excess of 100 people with ‘expertise in all marketing disciplines and all product categories.’

Currently, there are nearly 30 independent consultants signed on to the network.

Bench Strength’s general manager and co-founder is Tim Jeffery, a former Labatt Breweries of Canada executive who was part of the team that launched Blue Light in the early 1980s.

Acker says Bench Strength is structured as a type of co-operative that permits its members to retain their independence while deriving the benefits of being part of a professional organization.

Consultants who join Bench Strength bill clients through the consultancy. Bench Strength members bill their clients at their normal rate plus an administration fee of 15% to 20% to be paid to the consultancy.

In return for the fee, Bench Strength performs such functions as client billing and related paper work, advertising and promotion of the Bench Strength name, soliciting business and referring clients to its members.

Acker says the benefit to the client is that Bench Strength consultants have immediate access to the expertise of other consultants in the group.

Bench Strength consultants agree, when joining the consultancy, to provide 15 minutes of assistance to fellow members free of charge.

If more in-depth assistance is required, members agree to work on the project at a 10% discount off their normal rate.

‘What we have is a system that enhances the performance of the consultant, and we are confident the client will pay for this enhancement,’ Acker says.

Author and marketing consultant John Dalla Costa, who spent 16 years working in ad agencies, says he believes consultancy networks such as Bench Strength are the wave of the future.

Dalla Costa, whose first book, Meditations on Business: Why Business as Usual Won’t Work Anymore, says traditional company structures have been undergoing fundamental change ever since the business boom of the last decade collapsed.

He says that in past recessions, functions such as research were reduced in size until the economy picked up, but during the most recent recession, nonessential company functions have been eliminated.

‘I see [Bench Strength] as smart because it allows the bundling of specialists to work on specific projects,’ Dalla Costa says.

Hugh Gunz, associate professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Management, says the consultancy business has been growing lately because of company layoffs, but he does not see the growth lasting.

Gunz says the consultancy business expands ‘every time there is a shake out [economically.]‘

But he says companies soon discover downsizing fails to generate the cost benefits that are expected, since the laid off employees must be replaced by consultants who often cost as much as, or more than, full-time employees.