Consultants: Who Needs Them Anyway?

Having worked as a copywriter in the agency world for 17 years, Bret Sanford-Chung never considered hiring a consultant to run the review for Smith Barney’s ad account earlier this year. The New York client’s svp/director of advertising and marketing communications says her team knew what it needed and chose to go it alone.

“Because we have a very distinct audience, we have very distinct needs,” says Sanford-Chung. By playing an intimate role in the review, the company knew it would pick a shop, not just a campaign. “We needed to make sure we could live with these people day in and day out,” she says.

While Sanford-Chung has worked at New York ad agencies such as Lowe and Grey, her second in command, Diane Morgan, is an ex-media-shop staffer. Other colleagues have account-management credentials. “I had a fair amount of agency experience in the group, and it really helped,” Sanford-Chung says.

Well aware of the time it takes to fill out an RFP, Smith Barney decided not to issue one. “[The shops] were very appreciative,” says Sanford-Chung. Instead, after researching agencies, the client drafted a long list that it quickly cut to 12. After meeting, it chose four finalists: New York’s BBDO, Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, Merkley Newman Harty & Partners and mcgarrybowen. “We were very involved in setting the strategic direction,” says Sanford-Chung. “We saw creative and got involved throughout the process. There was an open line of communication at all times.”

Jon Bond, co-chairman of KB&P, was among the participants. “When there’s no consultant, we treat the pitch like we have the account,” he says. “We showed them work before the pitch and got to know all the people. If there is a consultant, then there are rules, and you have to play the game by their rules.”

In May, about five months after the review began, Merkley—a roster agency of the brokerage’s parent, Citigroup—won creative duties on the estimated $15 million account.

Sanford-Chung says marketers with a large target audience and a discrete message, like Coke and McDonald’s, may need consultants. But despite being deluged with solicitations from shops seeking to pitch the Smith Barney business, she says she would skip the consultants again, should another review be needed. “Yes, it was a lot of work, but we knew we would be better off in the end,” she says.