Getting it all done: When to recruit outside help

In a previous life, I worked in corporate finance, a time that included a stint in the procurement function. The Fortune 100 company where I worked contracted with a dizzying array of vendors (including, at one point, an events company that specialized in special effects for trade shows. The word “pyrotechnics” was involved.) Leff sits on the other side of the client-vendor relationship. In a neat mirror of some of my previous experiences, I’ve become acquainted with the various needs that inspire these relationships:

Capacity. The most straightforward reason to engage an outside vendor is capacity shifting. Offloading components of a project can give internal teams enough room to experiment with ideas, test out concepts, and question assumptions in all the ways that help teams be more creative, thoughtful, and agile. Trusted vendor partners can also lend an experienced hand to strategy development, or they can help create better project outcomes, especially when the alternative is to rush through the project and risk shortchanging its quality.

Outsourcing some capacity can simply give internal teams peace of mind. Corporate-security teams I’ve interacted with are masters of this mind-set: Why not call in a few contract security personnel if you’re expecting an unusual volume of traffic in the area, hosting an event, or if important personnel will be on-site? Likewise, if your team is preparing for a critical meeting, conference, or product launch, temporarily expanding the team can help protect your process.

Expertise. In business and marketing communications, a solidly constructed story that commands attention is gold. Subject-matter experts and their hard-won wisdom are the stars. Still, it can be difficult to know how to condense all of that information or arrange knowledge into a compelling narrative. Expert storytellers can tease out the strands of a narrative—grabbing the most relevant pieces of an expert’s knowledge and putting logic, facts, and language together in a way that makes a case, tells a story, or illuminates a solution. And we marvel at the depth of our clients’ insight.

An outside perspective. It can be easy to get lost in our own areas of expertise. In our case, we live and breathe business and marketing communications. Our immersion in the discipline is often an asset to our clients. Because we’re focused on creating thought-leadership assets, we have a deep well of knowledge about the best ways to position select ideas in the context of the conversation that has come before. And because we’re generally familiar with our clients’ fields of expertise, we keep an eye out for trends, unclaimed areas of expertise, and overexposed topics for which it’s hard to form a standout voice.

If you do bring in outside help, recognizing the need for help as early as possible in the life of a project is the best way to line up resources and, if necessary, to adjust the project timeline.

Give big-picture direction at the outset when possible—even if the direction is “we’re not yet sure what to make of the raw data we have. Please run with it.” This will help vendors give options, proceed in a direction they’ve picked out with the client, or suggest alternative approaches.

If you’ve already started a project in-house, tell the vendor—and any other contributor who’s new to the project—what has happened so far. This context will reduce time, expense, and the frustration of redundant efforts. Internal and external teams can work together to make sure vendors focus their effort on the elements that the internal team needs help with or hasn’t already addressed.

Stay involved. Many of our clients serve clients—so it can be challenging for them to find the time to stay engaged on knowledge-sharing and thought-leadership projects when it competes with their client priorities. The best projects with the best outcomes occur when we keep our dialogue going and ensure there’s guidance and conversation on any important-to-emphasize elements, constraints, and late-breaking changes that can (and often do) happen.

Partnering with outside resources can bring in some much-needed capacity, complementary expertise, and an outside perspective that can make projects stronger. Over time, trusted relationships with outside partners can simplify planning and allow your team’s efforts to grow exponentially.

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