I’m an absolute consultant – and proud of it

What is a consultant? Whether you love consultants or hate us probably says more about the experiences you’ve had in the past than it does about the services we offer!

Like any healthy democracy, here at Challenge HQ we don’t always agree on everything. Over the years our disagreements have ranged from how much of ABM is really just normal marketing with a fancy new initialism to whether the best scrambled eggs are made on the stove or in a microwave (just to set the record straight, it’s Lucy that argues for the monstrosity that is nuked eggs).

Over the last few months, as we’ve continued to develop and refine our own messaging, one word more than any other has sat at the heart of the debate: Consultant.

By any simple definition there’s nothing too upsetting about the concept – consultants are people with specific expertise in a specific area, whose primary role is to offer strategic advice, rather than tactical implementation.

Putting aside for one minute the fact that we, and our team of experts, are all capable not just of talking, but of actually doing, we are the very essence of consultants: we’re not here simply to deliver what we’re told, but to help a client get to grips with the bigger picture, adding value every step of the way and ultimately proposing a solution that is exactly what a client needs, rather than what they thought they needed. We’re here to bring clarity to an often confusing situation, offering a level of insight that is often hard-to-find or prohibitively expensive to access.

It’s a self-evidently valuable service to offer, and one that businesses around the globe take advantage of across almost every department; so why the controversy?!

In the end, we realised, it all comes down to experience – in which industries have you worked, and in what way were consultants deployed within those industries?

I, for example, have worked in marketing for most of my career. I use consultants myself, extensively, when I need a greater understanding about a new field or approach, or am trying to get my head around the latest trends and technologies. For the last decade or so I have increasingly described myself as a Communications Consultant (a fact my mother likes to laugh to her friends about, something to do with the irony inherent in how poorly I communicate with her…), and it’s always sat very comfortably on my shoulders as a title. I do, after all, have an opinion on just about everything!

Christoph on the other hand doesn’t come from a marketing background. He’s been out there in the real world, making quite a name for himself in the energy sector… and to him, ‘consultants’ are an altogether different beast!

To Christoph, consultants are over-priced know-it-alls who descend on an organisation and charge far too much money to tell you things you already know, who throw out casual suggestions without any recognition of the impact they’ll have on friends and colleagues. They’re people who love the sound of their own voices, officiously proclaiming themselves to be the arbiters of truth, all the while hiding behind the fact that ‘oh, we’re just offering guidance, ultimately it’s up to you whether you do what we’re saying, here’s my invoice’. That’s not to say they don’t have their uses (there’s a reason there are so many of them!), but they’re a necessary evil more than a valuable resource.

Our opinions on consultants differ not because we disagree on the value they provide, but because our experiences of consultants have been so wildly different. Whether we call ourselves consultants therefore becomes less about how we see ourselves, and more to do with whether we think our audience is made up primarily of Charleses, or of Christophs (for the sake of eggs everywhere I have to hope it’s not just a load of Lucys).

Because it doesn’t matter what I think a consultant is if I’m constantly having to defend myself against raised eyebrows and subtle scowls, pleadingly explaining what I meant when I said it.

So I guess, in the end, what I’m saying is…. language is often subjective… oh, and speak to Challenge today, cos we’re a right bunch of consultants!


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