There’s an old saying that a consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time. It’s rather an unkind cut to those of us who work for ourselves, trying to sell skills and knowledge, but given the proliferation of “consultants” in corporate life today the cynicism is understandable.
I used to call myself a corporate communications consultant, but these days I prefer the term “practitioner”. It’s a less pretentious, more honest description of my skills and my approach to my profession.
A practitioner is someone who acknowledges limitations or boundaries to his or her professional skills and doesn’t attempt to encroach on the territory of others. Doctors abide by this approach and have done for a long time.
By comparison, some consultants like to blur the boundaries; or better yet, encourage their clients to blur them. You know what I mean: you let a client assume that you are skilled in an area where you aren’t and you don’t correct them. This is a kind of fraud; not by commission but by omission.
Communications practitioners also regularly handle the tools of their trade, rather than simply “diagnose” or strategize. Certainly, they can go into a company and help senior managers assess issues and to advise them on the communication that may needed to help address these. But they can also produce the communication – shape it and infuse it with credibility.
This is called craft, and it is an absolute necessity for anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a provider of corporate communications and public relations services. It would be nice to get paid for only giving strategic advice, but most of the time clients want to see product as well.
In essence, they want to see strategy in action. It’s not good enough to tell a CEO he needs to make a keynote speech to the chamber of commerce on a critical issue: you also need to be able to help him develop it and even write it.
Craft doesn’t come from a university degree; no, not even from an MBA. You get it by doing: over and over. And you hone it by never believing that you have mastered it.