City & Corporate: We must have global ambition

During my 25 years as a financial comms consultant, a debate has swung back and forth as to the relative merits of specialist boutiques versus full-service consultancies.

When viewed from the most important perspective - what the client wants - consultancies have to become specialist to add value to clients' ever more sophisticated internal resources. Nowhere could this be more apparent than in the opportunities presented by an increasingly global market.

Communications challenges I have encountered around the world range from Chinese state-owned enterprises acquiring Australian natural resources companies to Gulf-based investment funds undergoing multi-billion debt restructurings; from Russian mining giants listing on multiple stock markets to major US retailers going through Chapter 11.

Our industry needs to learn from other professional advisory sectors that offer clients joined-up global advice. Investment banking has no fewer that ten global alternatives; accounting is led by the Big Four; the legal profession boasts numerous international firms. In financial comms there are only two or three consultancies that can deliver a functional global service.

A possible explanation for this lies in the cultural origins of so many of the players in the sector - those of entrepreneurial boutiques. Such businesses balk at investing upfront in the management tools that underpin a global professional services firm. These include: the HR resources required to invest in talent; the knowledge of management platforms to transfer expertise around the business; the incentive structures to ensure everybody works for the broader success of the firm; the compliance processes needed to deal with ever more regulated markets.

Growth opportunities for our industry remain boundless. We have to become as good at managing our assets as we are in providing an outstanding service.

Furthermore, a growing acceptance is needed among financial comms boutiques that industry consolidation will be the only way a healthy and competitive consulting sector can take its rightful place within the global professional advisory community.

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