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Create your own expert panel

new projects project management

So, you have unusual project. It’s tricky. It’s never been done before or the information on how it’s been done before is not available. You are running the show. You don’t have all the knowledge, all the answers. Nobody does. What do you do?

Consider creating your own advisory board.

A group of people that have an interest in the project or an interest in solving problems, or an interest in connecting with each other.

What, you have no budget to pay for them? That’s not always a dealbreaker.


In 2011, I helped one of the top 5 creative UK advertising agencies set up the world’s first social listening lab for an advertising agency.

Gatorade Mission Control had been set up and B Bonin Bough, the global director of social media for PepsiCo, came over to the UK  in July 2010 and shared it with us at The Social Media Influencers Conference to show us how Gatorade was listening and taking part in social media conversations for brand building. It was a new thing.

I was fresh out of government and had a deep hand in early social media listening. I had set up social media listening, and importantly publishing what we were listening to publicly, as Head of Public Participation for the UK government. A role that made me head of profession for both social media and co-creation of policy making with the public.

I’d worked with other smart tech consultants to embed social media listening into every ministerial private office and comms team in central government. I knew some tools, although they were rudimentary back in the day.

The gig was: to work out what tech stack an agency needed, to work out what services you could build from the data that gives you, to work out the roles and types of people needed, to work out the cost of running the lab and the price and package to clients in what they could buy. It had never been done before.


Ok, what did I know? 

I knew how agencies cost services - I’d been part of the digital team in the Central Office of Information, at the time the UKs largest advertising agency in terms of spend, over £40m a year went through my team.

I knew how to vet new tools – setting up feeds during swine flu and working out ‘seats’ and licence costs and asking which countries the data was processed and stored in.

I could write a job spec, even if the role of social media manager did not yet exist.


I needed some help working out packages, smarter questions to ask tool providers, what the best tools on the market today were, what were organisations likely to buy.

I also didn’t know what I didn’t know and needed to road test my planning with people who had an opinion I valued.

So, I created my own expert panel, my own advisory team. I couldn’t pay them. But enticed by the proposition of creating a world first solution and the connections to other people on the expert panel, they kindly gave me some of their free time and opinions.

I reached out to a Tech Entrepreneur who had supported me in Government with social media listening. I had a connection in the Foreign Office whose role it was to engage bloggers and social media in over 70 countries in the world. An industry peer and digital strategist shared their knowledge on smart questions to vet Tech. The editor at large for Wired Magazine gave me big picture thinking and a fantastic data analyst in The Guardian expanded my knowledge on visualisation tools.


When putting together an advisory board, team or group, here’s some key considerations:


  • Do not let lack of budget stop you.


  • Be clear about the key skills or information you are missing.


  • Identify individuals who have similar or adjacent skills that would be useful.


  • Reach out to your network or people who have a relationship with them to be introduced.


  • Ask directly.


  • Be clear on the ask.
    • Is it a coffee?
    • One hour of their time?
    • A monthly call?
    • An advisory team for a set project period?
    • An ongoing Advisory Board?


  • Be clear on what you can offer the group or the individuals.
    • Connections to each other.
    • One lunch where you can get some budget.
    • One lunch where they pay for themselves, but you convene them all together.
    • An introduction to someone who may be useful.
    • Your skills and time on their business or organisations.
    • A connection for profile for them: a judging opportunity, a speaking opportunity.
    • Figure out what they want and need.