My first year in a communications consultancy after 17 years in-house

A few years ago, while working as a communications consultant at a listed industrials company, I was at a PR industry event and got chatting to the organiser. I casually mentioned to him that I was considering moving from my in-house position to try my hand in a communications consultancy. He looked at me in horror.

“No one does that!” he said, incredulity spreading across his face.

“Don’t they?” I replied, suddenly concerned about my intended career path.

Fast forward to now and here I am, a senior account manager approaching my first anniversary at integrated comms consultancy Madano. So, has it been as bad as I’d been warned?

In a word – no.

Consultancy vs in-house

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely been on a steep learning curve in the past year. In fact, it’s been a double curve, as I’ve had to adjust to the peculiarities of consultancy life while immersing myself in entirely new industry sectors.

Not surprisingly, one of the most challenging things I’ve had to get used to is the dreaded time sheet. Initially, dividing my working day into 15-minute blocks to be either billed (hooray!) or not (boo!) just felt so… weird.

Another big adjustment I’ve had to make is getting used to the sheer number of meetings that seem to take place every five minutes. In the early days I’d come in, see that my diary was virtually empty and look forward to a day spent catching up on work, or even getting ahead of myself. But then the calendar invites would arrive, one after the other, and suddenly I wasn’t nearly as free as I’d previously imagined.

Sometimes I miss the old in-house days, when I’d spend a whole morning working on one project and a full afternoon working on another. But I’ve gradually come to enjoy the extra structure offered by the consultancy working environment, and the discipline and organisational skills it demands of me.

One thing I definitely don’t miss from my in-house career is having to repeatedly explain to virtually anyone outside of my department exactly what my job entails. No matter how many times I patiently outlined how I was able to support their business objectives with strategic messaging or media relations techniques, managing directors, sales directors and even the brand marketing managers who were my regular points of contact would often ask me to produce an ad for them, or design a product brochure!

A favourite question I was often asked while in-house was: “Can we PR this?”

To which the answer was always: “What do you mean?”

Money talks

In my experience, the financial investment a consultancy’s clients are required to make tends to oblige them to commit a similar investment in time and effort, which ultimately makes for a stronger and more productive relationship.

Inevitably, this has inevitably caused me to view myself as a revenue-generator. Although slightly daunting at first, learning to think in commercially responsible terms ends up making you feel empowered, whether you’re going after new business or identifying potential opportunities with existing clients.

It’s all a long way from the uncomfortable feeling shared by more than one in-house practitioner of being unfairly seen as primarily a business cost and, worse, one whose financial contribution to the organisation seems unclear.

Culture

A final, pleasant surprise I’ve had over the last 12 months has been the friendly, supportive culture I’ve encountered within Madano. Working in-house, you hear all sorts of horror stories about the back-stabbing and infighting that goes on in agencies, but I’ve yet to experience any of that behaviour.

All of my colleagues are talented, collaborative and, most of all, fun to work with. If there are one or two Machiavellians among them, they’re very good at hiding it.

So, there you have it – one man’s journey from two decades of in-house service to cutting his teeth in a cutting-edge communications consultancy. The last year has been one hell of a ride and I can’t wait to find out what the next has in store.

Written by Mark Fulker, Senior Account Manager, Energy & Environment practice.

Madano is currently hiring for communications consultants. Click here to view the current job vacancies.