Platform: PROs must learn to work more systematically - If PR is to fend off the threat of management consultancy, it needs to take a more analytical approach, says Liam FitzPatrick

’Management consultants are stealing our clothes!’ goes the cry.

’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

lack style.

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.

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