Like Pitching Greatness: The Role of the Search Consultant

Paul Phillips
Managing Director AAR London

What’s the role of a consultant in the pitch process?

To make the pitch a better one for brand owners (clients) and agencies. To ensure the pitch “ask” is commensurate with the size of the prize. To apply knowledge and expertise, because this is what consultants do all the time. To ask questions of the brand owner (client) that they haven’t thought about. For example: will the CEO want a role in the decision making?

To take away the pain for brand owners and agencies.


How did you get into the job – and what’s the ideal background for the role?

A combination of luck and timing. I was a board account director at CIA, a media agency (now Wavemaker) and wasn’t going to become MD or CEO (nor did I want to). I was introduced to AAR with the opportunity to set up the media practice and buy into the business. Twenty years later it seems to have worked out OK.

I think the ideal background definitely requires some time spent working in agencies (of whatever persuasion: creative, media, digital). Similarly some brand experience would be a bonus, but I don’t think is essential. There’s a degree of experience that helps quickly gain credibility and trust at the most senior levels that you deal with, brand and agency.

I do think it’s a mistake to think that having worked as a new business director in an agency gives you the skills required to be a consultant, but understanding the mind-set of brand owners when they are in new business mode certainly helps.

A degree of intelligence, wit, charm and common sense also helps – most of which my colleagues will tell you I lack!


How has the metier changed over the last few years?

The obvious answer is now dealing with Procurement as well as Marketing, but this has been normalised and isn’t really an issue. Making what could be complex simple, more easy to understand and deal with is certainly more evident today.

In many respects it’s interesting how a lot of what I do hasn’t really changed in the last 20 years. Brand frustrations with agencies (when they express them) have remained consistent: general dissatisfaction, lack of service, senior staff turnover, not understanding the business sufficiently well, always trying to sell more agency services, not playing nicely or recognising the contribution of other agencies. Thinking that a pitch is the answer to solving a business relationship problem. Agencies over-extending themselves and falling short in pitches (which they should never have said yes to in the first place).