Practitioners leaving established firms and striking out on their own are increasingly rethinking the established consulting business model.
In some cases, they’re starting to see the drawbacks of the retainer structure (it disincentivizes telling hard truths over the longer term), while others say they want to transform the work product from strategic counsel and execution to organizational capacity building.
Here’s where Sean Carlson, a former SVP and chief strategy officer at Revolution Messaging, is hoping to carve out a nice for his new digital consulting agency Apollo Collaborative.
“For some clients, we will be mostly focused on coaching, mentoring—and what we’re calling office hours,” he said, noting that could involve being in-house at an organization for a period. “Our goal is to work ourselves out of the job.”
Carlson said training has always been an important part of his career, which includes a stint as an organizing fellow at the now-defunct New Organizing Institute, which trained digital organizers on the left until it shuttered in 2015.
“When it went away, I noticed a huge gap on the left in terms of digital capacity building,” said Carlson, whose clients now include Human Rights Campaign and the Marina Orth Foundation.
Another service he’s offering is gaining popularity among similar practitioners: navigating vendor relationships.
“We want to be a good actor in this space that can help clients navigate the vendor side,” said Carlson. “It’s a big part of why we’re doing this. There are a number of firms out there who engage in some predatory practices.”
He added: “I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers, but I do think there’s a better way of doing business.”
In March, GOP digital consultant Eric Wilson launched a similar service, which is subscription based. “I like to find the right niche of what people are good at. Some vendors are good at one or two pieces. I don’t think anyone expects everyone to be good at everything,” Wilson, who launched the platform together with Arpit Patel, told C&E at the time.
“I think this will actually be welcomed by other agencies because they’ll be better clients—better informed and better trained.”
GOP digital practitioner Sam Osborne Reynolds made a similar play last year when she launched Battle Rhythm Strategies. At the time, Osborne Reynolds said: "There are so many tools and so many [platforms] out there. I'm trying to give them the best guidance on how to build and manage a digital operation. That's my service. Not the actual execution.” Osborne Reynolds subsequently became the senior director of digital strategy at Advoc8.
For now, Carlson sees his client profile as a group, union or IE. “I don’t think it totally works for candidates, because of the nature of that cyclical engagement,” he said.
The name of his firm was inspired by his grandmother, who worked for NASA while the Apollo program was landing astronauts on the moon.
“She did her job so that other people could do theirs,” said Carlson. “That’s what I want to do for organizations—do my job so that others can do theirs.”