Strum Consulting: 25 Years

It’s hard for me to grasp that while my ad career spanned 23 years, my consulting career is now 25 years old. In fact, Strum Consulting has been my “employer” for more years than any individual company (BBDO at 12 years is 2nd). Obviously, my advertising career and marketing consulting career are closely related.

A little background is helpful in understanding my consulting career. In the Spring of 1999 I sold my interest in my ad agency, the Star Group, where I had been its CEO. Shortly thereafter our family went on a cross country trip for 9 weeks that summer. It was an incredibly memorable experience for my family. But as August ended, we returned to New Jersey and our kids began the school year after Labor Day. The trip was great, and it was also the career halftime break I really wanted. I am thankful to have had the time and means to do a trip like this and would recommend it highly for those in a position to do so.

I had no specific business plans on our return, though I had many thoughts, interests, and potential opportunities Thankfully I felt no urgency to decide on my next chapter. In the fall of 1999, I had 2 opportunities to “help” friends in 2 businesses. One was McIntosh Inns, at that time a chain of limited-service inns throughout PA/NJ/DE. The other was MayoSeitz Media, a small, rapidly growing media agency which at the time was 2 years old and has grown substantially in the past 25 years.

I was now a consultant. Or was I? I surely was in function. I was heavily involved with both companies in their marketing and business issues. But even in my own head I was unsure what the “next chapter” was.

Within a few months, it was clear to me. Consulting was (and is) a noble profession for those who take it seriously, add real value, and are accountable. I respect that many consultants are “in transition” to their next gig. For them consulting is a financial band-aid between point A and point B. I realized until I committed, in my own head, to a career in consulting that others might view me as a less than serious consultant. I then committed structurally to a career in consulting by branding my business and established a corporation, Strum Consulting Group, Inc. that I would run. It would be an organization small enough that I could run solo, have 1099 relationships (of which I have had several), or perhaps employees (no, never went there and glad I didn’t).

One of the things that made me gravitate to consulting was the respect I had, and still do, for my buddy Al Martin, a very successful, brilliant consultant. Al is one of the smartest people I know and was a long-time consultant to Omnicom and other businesses outside of ad holding companies. I had met Al in the early 80s when he was a consultant to BDDO on the pitch for the Army account, of which I was the lead account manager. I learned what it was to be “Martinized”. With Al you were not worthy until you proved otherwise. He was tough and demanding and I took the challenge seriously. The “Martinization” made me an even better leader. Beyond our business relationship, Al and I became good friends and continue to this day.

My respect for Al and the value he delivered to Omnicom (and every client he touched) served as a model to me. I wanted to provide that level of value and to be seen as essential to the companies I was working with. I am proud to have achieved this with some clients, while others I have perhaps fallen short of “essential”. But in every case my goal was to get my hands dirty and add real value. I am proud to have batted 1.000 on that dimension at least in my own head.

I am also convinced that consulting was a terrific career for me given my strong independent streak. That’s a real personal strength (and perhaps a weakness too) but as a consultant it is an ingredient for success. And while some feel that consultants lose the socialization aspect that employment provides, I am blessed to have many long-term clients, ones which welcome me into their organizations.

I’ve now worked with 50 different clients over the years, and they have all been based on the East Coast, geographically ranging from Boston to the north and Richmond to the South, with the core in NJ and PA.  Easy to get to with a short drive or flight. That was critical to me as my business model has always been to operate on-site and not “dispense wisdom” from afar. I’d like to think my business antennae are finely tuned to issues and when I “visit” my clients I see and smell issues firsthand and help solve them.

So as Strum Consulting hits 25, I am thankful for my original clients who got me started, particularly to MayoSeitz Media where I continue to consult to this day.  And special thanks to those that refer me to others frequently (thanks, Dave). I respect all the companies that I have worked with throughout the years. People have asked me what it takes to be a successful consultant. The answer is simple—have clients. Delivering value is not as simple, but if you have relationships and deliver value, everything else falls into place.

Thanks to every Strum Consulting client during the past 25 years. I appreciated the confidence you placed in me. And I have always strived to repay that confidence every day. And I still do.

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