woman with a big fake smile because they hired a marketing consultant without telling her

Let’s tackle the appropriate reaction for nonprofit communications pros to this situation: Your executive director or other senior managers may have just hired a marketing consultant without previously talking to you. They are excited about a meeting they just had — again without you. They think it’s going to be great and are so excited!

You, not so much.

What You Believe When They Hired a Marketing Consultant Without Telling You

It’s natural to assume that if someone hires a marketing consultant without first discussing it with you, they think your approach is flawed in some way.

  • Do they think you don’t have the skills?
  • Do they think you don’t know how to be strategic?
  • Do they not see you as having leadership potential?
  • Do they not realize you are already doing that work?
  • Have they not been paying attention at all?
  • Is my job at risk?

What the actual hell?

Why would they hire — or even talk to — a marketing consultant without telling you first?!

What They May Actually Be Thinking

Let’s face it: Most nonprofit leaders do not understand nonprofit marketing and communications. It’s a mystery.

When things are mysterious, folks will believe there is some kind of secret to the work that only certain people might know. When Claire Meyerhoff and I did a podcast back in the day, we called it the Magic Keys.

Leaders often believe there are magic keys to unlock the secrets of media coverage, major gifts, or whatever else seems mysterious to them. And guess who they think holds the magic keys? You got it: Consultants.

Sometimes, people will go through the full process of seeking out and gathering proposals without you knowing, but honestly, that’s not the usual scenario.

The most common scenario is that the boss knows someone, knows someone who knows someone, or was maybe even forwarded a blog post from a consultant. (It’s happened on multiple occasions with our blog posts). This could be a personal friend, someone a friend works with, or even a board member’s spouse.

They think, “Sure, let’s have lunch,” or do a quick call. Again, this is all mysterious, so they go into it thinking, what’s the harm?

Any decent consultant can lead a quick discovery conversation and offer potential solutions right there on the spot.

And whoa, your leaders can hear those Magic Keys jingling. It’s a solution to everything they don’t understand. That means it solves things they suspect you don’t understand either. They can get very excited about this.

How to React When They Hire a Marketing Consultant Without Telling You

Instead of immediately reacting poorly when your boss announces that they are planning to hire a marketing consultant without, well, consulting with you first, ask some or all of these questions instead.

“Interesting! Tell me about the conversation.”

Say this in the most genuinely curious voice you can muster without the slightest bit of angst or sarcasm. Try to get an understanding of where the conversation began and how it developed.

“What do you consider the next step?”

See if talking to you is the next step, or if the next step is waiting on a proposal from the consultant, or what. You are trying to discern whether hiring the consultant is truly in motion or just an idea tossed out there.

“What’s the scope of work?”

All consulting agreements have a scope of work. If this is going to happen, you want to have as much influence over it as possible. Offer to help create the scope of work with your boss and the consultant.

“How do you see us (you and the consultant) working together?”

You are trying to understand if they are expecting you to be responsive to whatever the consultant needs or suggests, if this is collaborative with the consultant in a facilitative role, whether the consultant will be assisting you with the implementation of something you are already working on, or what.

“When can I talk to them and give them the background info they will need to be successful?” 

 Again, if this appears to be happening, you need to insert yourself into the conversations ASAP. Any good consultant will want to talk to you very early in the process. If they don’t, that’s a warning sign that something is amiss.

Ideally, you can turn this surprise into something that is genuinely helpful to you and your organization.

Published On: June 18, 2024|Categories: Communications Team Management, Relationships, and Boundaries|