In the same week that former Burson-Marsteller UK chief executive
Alison Canning unveiled her new consultancy, Ogilvy Adams and Rinehart
has announced its restructuring along practice management lines. The
irony will not be lost on agency watchers. For it was B-M’s move to
practice management that left Canning suddenly without a job last year.
And in the same way, Fiona Driscoll now finds her role at OA&R is to
Like B-M, OA&R’s intention is to put itself in the best possible
position to handle global and international client business. There the
parallels end, however. OA&R is a different proposition, partly because
it lacks the sheer bulk of B-M, and because many of its local offices
are already focused on international clients, as its Paris office is on
IBM. And unlike B-M with its huge infrastructure, it expects to use
local partners to service business in some markets.
All the big consultancies are united about the importance of
globalisation of client business, and that some form of practice
management facility will be a prerequisite for success. But B-M faced
considerable scepticism last year, partly because of the perceived
absurdity of a structure which left no room for someone as talented as
Canning. Needless to say, the agency firmly believes the flexibility of
the new structure will give it an edge in attracting global and
international business without detracting from local strength. The
theory has worked for the agency in North America although it is still
too early to judge its success in Europe.
Some rivals think it is a high risk route, however. Shandwick’s Peter
Gummer, for example, believes one has to combine both structures:
practice management to meet the needs of global clients; and a more
traditional structure to prevent senior players from drifting away to
become high powered ’PR mercenaries’ acting directly for clients.
Which brings us back to Canning, whose new stripped down ’virtual’
management consultancy operation has something in common with the
’mercenaries’ that Gummer predicts will start to emerge. Like OA&R, her
long term ambition is for a lean international operation offering links
with local partners in PR, design and so on.
In their different ways, this week’s news highlights the two forces that
will have a significant effect in shaping the PR consultancy business
over the next ten years: the globalisation of client business; and the
drift of some of the brightest and best in the business into a strategic
consultancy role which is perhaps more properly called reputation
management than public relations.