4 Ways Independent Marketing Consultants Will Change the Post-Pandemic Industry

As unemployment rises, marketers are striking out on their own

illustration of a woman opening a red door
Layoffs and a high unemployment rate is changing the face of the advertising industry. Getty Images
Headshot of Kerry Perse

A recent Forrester report just predicted that an additional 17,000 agency jobs will be eliminated next year, on top of the already staggering 35,000 jobs that were eliminated in 2020. This will lead to an extraordinary number of uniquely skilled people entering the job market. And it is already having a significant impact on how and where brands look to fill their creative, media and communications needs.

A large number of the roles that were eliminated were senior agency folks who have years of experience working across multiple disciplines. Even though there will be less seasoned talent found within traditional agencies, these people don’t simply vanish, and neither does the need for the type of higher order strategic work they perform.

Looking ahead—and to steal the phrase of the moment—what does this “new normal” look like for the marketing industry?

I found myself at a crossroads in my own career about a year ago. Knowing that I was ready to move on from agency life, I began to explore how I could do the work that I loved within a different, more autonomous setting. What I discovered was a thriving counterculture of independent consultants that had set out to change the way the industry operates and how marketing gets done.

The new normal is not one where brands diversify their agency roster. Rather, it’s one that diversifies who they choose to partner with to solve some of their most critical marketing challenges.

Independent consultants, often with decades of diverse and integrated experience, bring fresh perspective, flexible engagement structures and an innate desire to solve complicated problems to the table. They are highly adaptable and make excellent partners to brands and agencies alike.

Now take into consideration that there is the potential for an additional 50,000 of these self-employed marketing ninjas available to companies of all shapes and sizes, and you can’t help but imagine that a systemic shift is on the horizon.

Team structure

Partnerships are born out of mutual admiration, not convenience.

The nature of consulting work is not permanent. The terms and duration are based upon the exact need to be filled.

When consultants become part of a team within a brand or agency—or even with multiple other consultants—it is because all parties have identified that they want to produce work and solve challenges together. They recognize and respect each individual’s contribution and know that they will only work together as long as they are forwarding their mutual goals.

Mutual admiration and respect will guide the structure of teams and should result in happier team members and greater cost efficiencies.

Integration

The marriage of data and creativity becomes reality.

Most marketing consultants have been around long enough to have seen the pendulum of the “next big thing” swing in wildly different directions. They know what the job of exceptional creative, strategic and targeted communications and data-driven insight and activation actually are.

This integrated understanding makes them well-suited to develop processes and practices to truly bring data and creativity together for the benefit of consumers and brands alike.

Compensation

The agency multiplier is an endangered species.

Consultants have very little overhead, and time is their most valuable asset. When brands are assessing fee structures, the use of the agency multiplier as a way to compensate for the employee and cover overhead will fall under even greater scrutiny.

If a brand can secure a senior level consultant, sans agency markup, it will begin to rethink what types of partnerships it wants to leverage. The industry will likely move toward value-based pricing where brands compensate all partners based upon the market value of the deliverable or service, signaling a short future for negotiating based upon an overall multiplier.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 16, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@KerryPerse Kerry Perse is the principal at Influence and Inspire Consulting.
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