Guest Post: Minna Jung, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Some of my best friends are consultants. (No, really. I can name names!) Which makes me hesitate a little bit before confessing the following: getting pitched by consultants for business drives me absolutely batty.
Ever since I began my job as communications director at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, in September 2010, I’ve been pitched almost daily for business. Phone calls. Endless emails. Drop-by visits, even. Everyone begging me for a meeting, or a phone call. Graphic designers, communications/public relations firms, people who want to help me with media lists, with web sites, with our social media strategies, videographers, photographers—you name it, it feels like the whole consulting/PR world is beating a path to my door.
I find this endless pitching irritating. I find it especially irritating when someone won’t take no for an answer. If I say to someone straight out, I’m not looking for this type of service right now, and I’m way too busy to meet with you, so I will keep your name on file for future reference, many of them will ping right back to me and say, “Are you less busy now? Can we meet now?” With the subtext being, I know that if I could just get in the door and have a half hour of your time, you’d be so dazzled by the work that my company does, you’ll wonder how you ever existed without me.
Here’s the dilemma: one, I have a soft spot for people who are trying to make a living. I know that for many of these consultants and firms, they have no choice but to pitch. How else are they to grow new business? And then there’s the issue of fairness and openness: foundations tend to play favorites. The philanthropic sector is a networked sector. We pass around recommendations to each other about which firms and consultants we like. So it can feel like new firms and consultants hardly ever get a shot with us, even if it’s not true. But I really prefer dealing with the fairness issue by encouraging foundation staff, and grantees, to put out communications work for bid, with RFPs. RFP processes are giant pains to execute (does anyone really feel like reading twenty proposals, and sometimes conducting in-person interviews?), and giant pains for firms and consultants to respond to, but I often find them worthwhile.
However: I don’t want to paint all consultants and firms with the same brush. Not every consultant and vendor is aggressive about pitching, and I’d be the first to admit that so much of the work foundations support would not be possible without consultants and vendors. I’ve worked on big and small communications initiatives with lots of different types of consultants and vendors, and many times I’ve been humbled by and appreciative of what they’ve brought to the table. In fact, I’m sponsoring a breakout session on this topic at the upcoming fall Network conference in Boston, so people can talk about the highs and the lows of working with consultants and firms.
I will say that I am puzzled by how much I’m getting pitched in this job as opposed to when I was at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for almost ten years. While I was at RWJF, I had more substantial communications budgets to directly manage—here at Packard, it’s a different, less centralized approach to strategic communications, so believe me, I’m not just hoarding resources that are just crying out for the hiring of consultants. So maybe this is a case of mistaken identity—like, posting a classified ad that indicates you’re single when you’re not?
In any event, I’d love to hear from Network members—from foundations and consultants—about what you think about the pitch. Does this just happen to me? Is this just a reality of this job that I need to learn to live with, or do you have tips on how to better manage? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Minna Jung is communications director at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and a director of the Communications Network