’Management consultants are stealing our clothes!’ goes the
But why the panic?
Perhaps it’s a worry because it touches on that old insecurity about
being taken seriously as senior professionals. We know the holy grail of
a seat on the board demands managerial gravitas and respect from
professionals in other fields. If those peers look to management
consultants for communications advice, it implies there is something
wrong with the counsel they are getting from the usual PR sources.
Could management consultants be a threat because they come up with
better creative communications ideas? Clearly not, as some of the
entries for last year’s PR Week Awards, which I was involved in judging,
so clearly demonstrated.
Consider the creativity behind the award winning Framlington World Cup
or the NHS 50th birthday programme. These highlight the credentials of
PR people in agencies and in-house to conceive and execute new and
striking ideas which deliver a message.
PR people are also great at running campaigns. It must take considerable
stamina and intelligence, for example, to boost the British Legions’
Poppy Appeal every year.
So where do management consultants score higher than PR people?
Perhaps it is in the quality of research they do. PR people are often
not recognised for their skills at understanding a situation, because so
much of the craft is about intuition and perception. In the agency
world, research is often done for free as part of the pitch process -
clients are thought unwilling to pay for a review stage, and rather want
campaign ideas up front.
But no one would expect a management consultant to make recommendations
before conducting a thorough study. Naturally, managers are going to
place higher value on the advice they receive after a lengthy and robust
process of investigation and audit - even if the communications elements
If the data supports it, the recommendations have to make sense, goes
the thinking in management circles.
What then is to be done? The PR Week Proof Campaign is a massive stride
in the right direction. But will it be enough? I do not think salvation
will come from PR agencies denying their heritage and reinventing
themselves as management consultancies.
Rather, we should be proud of what we do well - campaigning, creativity
and project management - while mastering the tools of thorough research
and methodical analysis so as to give our counsel the depth and
credibility it deserves.
We can draw courage from the examples given by senior colleagues who are
appointing planners and analysts to their teams to benchmark and
research communications campaigns.
Already some are borrowing approaches from our advertising colleagues’
media planning. The course work analysis I have seen produced by IPR
Diploma students is further evidence of a brighter future.
None of us want to be upstaged by smart but inexperienced outsiders.
Personally, I don’t think PR is in much danger of that. But we do need
to be more systematic in applying intelligent processes to the
analytical work which precedes our creative executions.
Liam FitzPatrick is a consultant in communications and human resources
who has joined GCI to set up a UK change management practice.