Most media consultants are generally pretty useless. This is a strong statement, especially coming from an occasional media consultant. Radio stations, Internet television organizations, and multimedia startups are all anxious to tap in to that magical formula that all-but guarantees success. Here’s the secret: That formula doesn’t exist.
Sure, you may find someone willing to offer their services that has a brilliant track record of creating content and building a business around an idea. This is a talent, and repeated success is worth noting and building from, but what worked in the past may not actually work for you.
Consultants rarely guarantee results. In fact, most results are difficult to accurately measure. At best, a multimedia consultant can steer you in the right direction for long-term payoff, but a variety of different variables can come into play that throw off even the best-laid plans.
Here are five signs that your multimedia consultant is wasting your money.
Billable Hours are Filled with Time-Wasting Activity
Does your consultant ask you a lot of questions that you’ve either already answered or don’t appear relevant to the task at hand? Do they talk very slowly and spend more time “building rapport” than actually giving meaningful information? Are they more involved in dispensing advice than actually taking steps to resolve issues and improve your company’s situation themselves?
These can all be warning signs that your consultant is in the business to waste your time and/or money. While you may perceive a time-wasting activity where one doesn’t exist, a combination of warning signs should always be taken into consideration when the first bill arrives.
You should rarely need to have organized meetings with your consultant that involve more than their report, plan of action, and your approval or disapproval. Too much meeting time (outside of the initial meeting and scheduled follow-up planning) is another red flag. Unless you’re paying for their advice, and only their advice, this time could be more expensive than it’s worth.
Long-Term Plans are Made Very Quickly
If your consultancy is opting to propose a long-term contract during the initial meeting when one wasn’t expressly requested by you and your staff, this should serve as a warning sign. Long-term consultancies where someone is present on a regular and ongoing basis can be extremely expensive. While it might be necessary in some cases, you should be very careful before you commit to anything that lasts more than a day or two.
Most multimedia industry issues can be spotted and resolved within 48 hours, unless you’re in a situation where you don’t have the staff available to properly carry out a long-term activity such as set building. In this case, you might be better off having the consultant find someone that can get the job done at a rate more suitable for a member of your staff.
Having a consultant on staff for an extended period of time costs a lot more than a regular employee or contractor. Consultants make big money because they are usually filling very temporary positions.
The best rule of thumb to follow here is that if you feel a situation requires a long-term contract, you shouldn’t hire a consultant to do it. Consultants should hire the contractors or employees to get it done in these cases.
No Measurable Results
A good multimedia consultant will take a relatively short amount of time to examine an existing process and make adjustments to the workflow to save you a measurable amount of time and/or money. Not everything they do can be immediately measured, but if they’re doing more talking than actual work, you’re probably wasting your money.
For example, an Internet television show has a number of different vital processes in the per-episode workflow that need to be done in a timely manner to keep everything on schedule. If you hired them because something in this workflow is either not working, or costing you too much for each episode, the consultant should be able to construct a plan of action that makes some measurable improvement.
Give your consultant the ability to devise a plan of action and make sure they go over it with you before you approve implementation. Once you agree, they should be able to deliver results themselves. There’s a very big difference between telling someone what to do and actually getting it done. I’ve personally seen too many instances where a consultant lists what sounds like a preset checklist of advice that is neither relevant nor helpful to the actual production in question.
If a consultant claims to have improved the workflow of your production, ask for the measured results. Given the ability to observe and note how the adjustments have actually improved time and/or quality of your production, they should be able to quantify the improvements with some concrete data. In areas where no actual numbers can be reasonably presented (such as lighting adjustments and audio), you should be able to physically see or hear the improvement in the final result.
Estimates Change Repeatedly
Estimates are just that: an estimate of how much a given job will cost. If changes are requested by the client, it’s almost impossible to accurately predict how those changes will impact the bottom line. Some consultants will actually up the estimate or demand a renegotiation. This isn’t actually a problem, unless this adjusted estimate is the result of some suggestion the consultant made not working out the way they had promised.
Here’s an example. You’ve hired a consultant to improve the audio of your production. They may recommend X amount worth of equipment and Y amount of time to install and set up. Once the equipment arrives and the consultant sets everything up, you discover that these changes are actually not giving you the results you expected. A wasteful consultant will then charge you extra to order a different or extra piece of equipment to fix the issues still existing after the original plan fell through.
It may be on you to buy the equipment, but the time it takes to fix something that the consultant failed to deliver on (with no significant changes on your part during the process) is a waste of your money. You should never have to pay for something that doesn’t work. After all, if you ordered a speaker and it came with a blown-out woofer, you would take it back to the store and exchange it for a new one, right?
Telling You Something Can’t Be Done
There is nothing more frustrating than spending hundreds of dollars for someone to tell you an apparently reasonable expectation can’t be met. If you’re asking for something on a budget or time frame that’s truly unreasonable, they should present you with a plan (or plans) of action that can get you at least close to where you want to be.
For example, if you’re trying to figure out a way to cut post-production time down from five hours to two, a good consultant will look at the situation and give you a plan of action that should deliver what you’re asking for — and at least one other plan that may fall short of your expectations, but allows you to avoid cutting corners that negatively impact quality. When I’m doing a consultancy, I’ll clearly explain what a client can get within the bounds of their expectations rather than telling them something is impossible.
Here’s a more detailed example of this situation.
You ask your consultant to deliver a lighting scheme that costs less than X number of dollars that produces quality comparable to Y example.
The consultant should come back and either deliver exactly what you want, or explain a plan that will meet one of your requirements and come as close as possible to the other. You might be able to get a lighting scheme for X, but it may not be as true to what you’d find in Y as you’d like. In this case, they should also draw up plans to get you to Y in a budget that is as close to X as possible.
In other words, never pay someone to tell you no. Pay them to get you to what’s possible, and give you options that are helpful to you.
Consultants are there to save you money in the long run. They get you where you need to be and point you in the right direction. If at any time they promise you too much or deliver too little, you may want to evaluate whether or not their wages are actually worth continuing the relationship.
Remember, your production is your own. Your path to success will never come in a box. There is no such thing as a universal business plan. The faster you pick up on these warning signs, the faster you can put their hourly rate to better use.