Knowledge, Creativity, Management: The Role of the Search Consultant

Russel Wohlwerth
Principal External View Consulting Group

How would you describe your role?

I am a consultant that helps clients with most aspects of their relationship with marketing agencies. This encompasses agency search & selection, finance & contracts, client-agency relationship management, and determining the optimum agency model. I think “search consultants” fall into two buckets: consultants and process managers.

How did you get into this field – and what is the ideal background for newcomers?

This was sort of a lucky accident for me. I had 23 years of agency experience and was approached by a leading search consultancy which wanted to hire me. I was eager to get out of the agency business and this was the best career choice I have ever made.

How has the metier evolved over the past few years?

Procurement had a big impact as they run many of the reviews that used to be handled by consultants. Instead of working primarily with large companies, this has moved search consultants to the middle and lower tiers, i.e., smaller companies.
There are more consultants competing for fewer opportunities so the business has become much more competitive. The competition has caused search consultants to get involved in other consulting areas.
One thing that has not changed – and should – is the search process. Everything in marketing has changed but many clients and consultants still run the same process circa 1990.

What kind of skills does one need to do the job effectively?

Strong knowledge of marketing; ideally both client and agency experience.
Creativity. We are constantly asked to solve problems that initially seem to have no answers. In today’s crazy marketing world, creativity is more important than ever.
Project management. This is the less exciting part of the business, but it is imperative that you run a tight review.
A good “bedside manner”: you can’t be an asshole and be an effective consultant. There is a lot of drama in a search – divorce, dating, marriage. There is usually a lot of money involved. And people’s jobs are on the line. You need a calm hand on the rudder.