Mobilize And Integrate Industry Experts
By Gary W. Kullberg
After spending seventeen years with two worldwide advertising agencies and a decade running my own, it became increasing clear to me that clients were attacking the advertising industry because it wasn't responding to their problems. Because of the industry's primary commission-based compensation system, the answers clients got invariably involved spending more money on advertising. Even if a better use of funds might be to improve packaging, for example, or to develop a meaningful special events program, the agency's expertise was in advertising and, more importantly, their revenue stream depended on advertising.
That situation spurred me to see if I could mobilize and integrate industry experts in all of the disciplines of marketing and marketing communications to better solve a client's problem. In other words, would well respected, senior professionals in advertising, brand and corporate identity, direct response, marketing and market research, packaging and point-of-purchase, public relations, sales promotion, special events and sports marketing really work together, with candor, to solve a client's problem, without regard to their own particular disciplines?
And, could this be accomplished in a way that was affordable? Assuming all of these professionals would or could agree to work together in a traditional communications company, the cost would be staggering, and the client would ultimately have to pay for it. The multi-billion dollar communications empires of the 70's, 80's and 90's had promised this "synergy" but, in reality, never consistently delivered on it, not even to their largest, worldwide clients. Further, small and medium-sized clients would simply be out of luck, because they couldn't afford to pay for this integration, and/or they would be serviced by only junior level talent.
A Client Need
There clearly was a need to provide clients, of every size, with integrated marketing and marketing communications; however, the cost of bringing this talent together was obviously a major hurdle. After refining my concept, I reviewed it with a host of well-known professionals in a variety of marketing disciplines. These people all owned their own companies and were handling a variety of clients. While some employed as many as fifty people, many were single practitioners. All were highly experienced and talented. And all of them urged me to announce my concept. And, right away!
A Virtual Consultancy
Under my concept, each person would maintain his or her own company, clients, staff and, importantly, cost structure. They would all, however, be "of counsel" to my company, the Kullberg Consulting Group, LLC. KCG, as it has become known, would, in turn, become a "virtual consultancy" to client companies. KCG would offer both high level advice and execution by drawing on the Group's combined expertise, as needed, without being forced to sell one discipline or solution over another.
Similar to management consulting firms, but without the layers of junior people actually doing the work, we would charge either by the hour or by an established fee structure, to accomplish the task at hand without caring about the size of the client's budget. Simply put, since our role was independent of how much a client was spending on advertising or some other discipline, we were in a position to really tell the truth about what we thought should be done. And, considering the level of talent we possessed, we stood a pretty good change of being correct with our recommendations and executions.
Additionally, because we were three or four deep in each discipline, KCG could select the professionals with the greatest industry experience to match the client's particular industry or problem. Start up time, because of this industry expertise, would be quicker and more focussed. And, if a conflict arose with a member's existing client base, another consultant could be employed on the KCG assignment.
A Win For Everyone
The advantages we saw were: 1) the ability to provide extensive expertise, which other companies couldn't afford to have on staff; 2) the enormous synergy created when, for example, public relations executives were finally "allowed" to work directly with brand and corporate identity professionals; 3) the ability to court new business because of the resulting "cross selling" among Group members; 4) complete autonomy within each existing business, management structure and ownership; 5) the lack of an overall "corporate agenda", since none of us were interested in becoming a "global force" in the industry; and, 6) the ability to do some truly terrific, integrated work.
From the clients' standpoint, they were able to access this talent as needed. Without paying for corporate overhead, the KCG team working with them could be expanded or reduced as each situation warranted. They could hire us for a single slice or for the whole pie. And, most importantly, they would always know that these senior level professionals were speaking with candor.
Nine Years Later
KCG has recently completed its ninth year of business, and now consists of nearly sixty members. We handle a variety of assignments, for clients throughout North America. Some assignments are project driven, such as answering the question "How important is branding?" for a Top 15 financial services company; others involve on-going communications assignments for a variety of manufacturers, service companies and not-for-profit organizations.
In fact, KCG has been listed on the organization charts of three different client companies. In one case, beyond providing good work for the client, we were added to the internal organization chart by the CEO to impress his outside board of directors!
How many other industries could benefit from this concept? Downsizing and outsourcing have created a major opportunity for extending the concept of a virtual consultancy to many service industries. Finding the experienced executives is not the hard part. But finding talented people, who respect one another's disciplines, and actually care about the combined end result, is not so easy. But, as "intellectual capital" becomes the new rallying cry, the need for mobilizing and integrating an industry's experts is also bound to grow in importance.