The best client relationships are based on openness, trust and mutual respect. They require investments of time and effort on both sides to be truly valuable. Ideally they should be true partnerships, where both client and consultancy deliver against key commitments in order to achieve common goals, and where each partner understands and respects the imperatives of the other.
Finding the right consultant can be even more difficult than finding that magic internal hire. Just like the employee recruitment process, choosing a government affairs consultant requires balancing expertise and personal chemistry, and evaluating both tangible and intangible skills that make the sum of the parts worth more than the talents of each individual on the team.
Hiring and Managing Government Affairs Consultants. Foundation for Public Affairs.
When it comes to selecting a Brussels consultancy or law firm, it is vitally important that your choice reflects your needs. If your organisation has clear principles about performance and behaviour, you had better be sure those who are representing you will maintain your reputation. There are a number of examples on both sides of the Atlantic where unethical lobbyists brought their clients into disrepute.
Many firms offer a full spectrum of services, encompassing analysis through to advocacy. Others, however, specialise in sectors such as healthcare, technology, food and drink or digital; or in process towards policy-makers; or even emphasize their strengths and contacts within one institution such as the European Parliament.
In addition to finding a consultancy that has experience and expertise to fulfil your requirements, it is also important to give consideration to a consultancy’s values and culture to ensure it is a good fit for your organisation.
Given Brussels firms are in the business of reputation, their own standing in the market should be an indicator of the quality of their work. To this end, referrals and references for certain consultancies from other organisations should also form part of your decision-making process.
Mid-size to Large Firms versus Boutiques, Specialists & Start-ups
Mid-size to Large Firms
Large public affairs firms have traditionally enjoyed a clear advantage by dint of the sheer breadth of services they provide. Such firms offer everything from ally development programs to ongoing media outreach, and from corporate social responsibility consulting to political risk assessment. Having a wide variety of options can make it easier for clients that choose larger consulting firms because much of the legwork and strategic decision-making are removed from the process. One firm can cater to a host of needs — even if those needs shift over time.
Boutiques, Specialists & Start-ups
While large, one-stop shops have dominated the advocacy world for years, many client companies are voicing a distinct preference for boutique firms, which may charge less and yet provide more personal attention. The adjective most often used to describe these smaller, newer outfits is “hungry” — and it’s meant in the most complimentary way imaginable. Surprisingly, even many household-name companies are coming to believe that the service from a niche firm can be superior. Beyond service, some worry that a single consulting firm may not be able to attend to all government relations tasks equally well."
Grayling Public Affairs ran a pan-European survey in 2017 with some 300 public affairs professionals (from across a range of sectors including ICT, FMCG, energy, healthcare, transport) to assess the trends in purchasing PA services, the objective of which was to understand how the corporate world selects and retains their PA consultancies. Some of their interesting findings are summarized below:
50% say the demand for PA services will increase in the next 2-3 years.
81% use consultancies for monitoring and political intelligence, and 58% for lobbying and advocacy campaigns.
The three most important criteria when selecting consultancies are policy expertise (1); team chemistry (2) and connections with decision-makers (3).
90% of organisations work, or have worked, with PA agencies, with 76% viewing them as an extension to their team.
55% primarily recruit their consultants via a formal call for tender/RFP.
82% shortlist their consultancies based on an existing relationship, whilst 71% go by word of mouth referral. Only 29% undertake online research.
The person responsible for the RFP within the organisation is the most important decision-maker in the decision-making process, ahead of procurement and senior executives.
57% do not recruit agencies based on multi-market briefs, largely because clients do not necessarily adhere to the hypothesis that just because an agency is strong in one market, it is automatically strong in others.
The most common yearly spend on PA consultancies is between €50,000 and €100,000 (30%), followed by the “above €500,000” bracket (21%).
These 5 steps are essential to ensuring you make the right decision for the right partner for your organisation.
The authors are headhunters, and in our line of work a good search process leads to better outcomes. It starts with a clear job description which enables the compilation of a longlist of suitably qualified candidates, a shortlist of the best ones and appointment of the best one. A similar process applies for organisations choosing a winning public affairs partner, which starts with a clear Request for Proposal (RFP) document.
As a client it is important to appreciate that responding to RFPs and pitching is an expensive process for competing firms where time is literally money. Anything you can do to avoid unnecessary loss of time is appreciated – that includes for instance not asking firms to bid for your business if they clearly have no chance of winning; or just asking a number of firms to see if they have any good ideas that you could implement yourself.