EDITORIAL: Money talks

Here's an interesting bit of trivia for you. Many years ago I used to be a consultant. Not just any consultant, mind you. I didn't advise clients on the merits of Java, explain the difference between Linux and Windows, or detail the ramifications of a poorly configured corporate network.

I was, in fact, a public relations consultant. There, I've said it. You see there are few in the IT press who've had the experience and would actually own up to it, particularly in public, but there's a reason for my risky self-disclosure.

No, I'm not about to join the long line of journalists to take a bat to the public relations profession (although a debate on the word "profession" could certainly provoke some spirited witty retorts from my colleagues).

The word I'm interested in is "consultant". In a nutshell, my role as a public relations consultant was to understand and articulate an IT vendor's message to the IT media with the express intention of gaining as many positive column inches as possible.

Public relations consultants typically advise clients on a raft of corporate messaging and "media management" issues and conduct a wide range of activities from media training workshops to writing and distributing press releases.

So why is any of this of interest to you? PR people might beg to differ here, but from my experience a consultant sells three things: time, ideas and experience. It's the experience that helps generate great ideas, and both of these allow you to charge big bucks for your time.

Last week on ARNnet we reported that Braham Shnider has launched his channel consulting company Channel Enablers, a version of which is on page 1 in this issue. Shnider joins other companies serving mostly IT vendors and distributors, such as Emerald Logic, Pelorus International and IF Consulting.

Didn't know these companies existed? It's all about operating on a need-to-know basis and perhaps we didn't need to know.

Referral business has been quietly driving these channel consultants along in the background until now. I suspect the editorial publicity is a double-edged sword for these companies because other IT people are sure to seize the opportunity and create more competition, but I digress.

The point is that while little research exists on the total market value of channel consulting services, these few companies are already turning business away. With so few offering real experience for sale it's not surprising they've found pay dirt.

For a distributor, the concept is appealing because you can buy the advice instead of employing another ridiculously overpaid senior executive. Vendors need channel consulting because the industry is changing at such a rapid pace and the advice helps them align very specific corporate strategies with that of their partners.

But what of resellers? Emerald Logic's Geoff Wright made an astute, if not too obvious, comment when he told me "it's not as easy to cruise along any more". This is the biggest challenge for the manager of any reseller which struggles to rise above the day-to-day operations to gain a breath of air.

Aside from reading ARNnet every day (sorry, the repressed PR in me jumped out), I can imagine that taking advantage of an "independent" channel consultant, while expensive, might be exactly what's needed.

The cliche says you have to spend money to make money, and large vendors and distributors are already dipping well into their corporate pockets. So I'd love to hear if you're prepared to follow suit. Go on, promise I won't tell anyone. Trust me, I'm (a former) consultant.