So, former Burson-Marsteller chief executive Alison Canning - who
unveiled her latest project last week - doesn’t want to get her hands
She is planning to farm out the ’downstream’ elements of PR, advertising
and design work won by her new outfit First and 42nd.
External suppliers will execute press release distribution and events
organisation, leaving Canning free to offer top management
’research-based strategic consultancy’.
Strategy will not automatically lead to execution. Some work, like
issues and crises, will never need implementing. But when it does
Canning will liaise with the client to write a brief for agencies or
pass it in-house.
Canning believes this new kind of strategy-only consultancy is filling a
gap which would have been plugged by management consultants.
’This is going to sound controversial,’ she warns. ’But the PR industry
talks about strategy and hasn’t got a clue what it is. It is just
something which appears in proposals after objectives and before
She insists implementation is not a second class discipline and that it
will remain ’incredibly important’ and become increasingly
So are we glimpsing the future of the PR industry? A new breed of
factory-like implementers whose sole job is to execute the findings of
Canning is not the first to try the idea and probably won’t be the
Former president and chief executive of Hill and Knowlton Europe, Middle
East and Africa, David Wynne-Morgan set up his firm exactly a year ago,
offering a similar service of PR-focused management consultancy.
WMC Communications has ditched the hierarchy of a big agency in favour
of a much leaner structure with six top level PR and management
consultants and an hourly rate of up to pounds 300 an hour to match.
Implementation is passed over to the client’s in-house division, another
PR firm or WMC’s affiliate PR agency Manning, Selvage and Lee.
Twelve months on Wynne-Morgan is less convinced that the
strategy/implementation split is possible for two reasons.
Firstly he has found that once the client takes him into his confidence
he will often ask him to see the job through, perhaps not trusting other
operators. The second problem is potential conflict with the company’s
existing PR agency.
’It can be difficult if an agency doesn’t want to be just the nuts and
bolts,’ he explains.
’If, when I was running H&K my client said we want you to carry on but
these people will tell you what to do as they are better and brighter I
would have taken it as a major insult.’
And Wynne-Morgan believes the ’big money’ will always be with the
agencies as they are ideally suited for certain work like heavyweight
Former BBC head of worldwide public affairs Leighton Andrews
Last July he left the BBC to set up his own strategic political
consultancy with a brace of senior figures including Newsnight polling
expert Peter Kellner. Andrews is convinced that the
strategy/implementation divide is the future and goes as far as saying
that the traditional PR agency structure is ’doomed’.
Clients, says Andrews, want specialist services. They are tired of
dealing with junior staff and are fed up with senior people spending too
much time managing their own agencies. Having said that Andrews
acknowledges that his company of six senior and three research staff has
not totally escaped the execution element of PR.
Jackie Elliot, chief executive of MS&L is sceptical that this brand of
senior consultants will take over. She insists that the traditional
agency can provide both strategy and implementation and that clients
still want the global delivery they offer.
Elliot is happy with the agreement to execute work for WMC as it is
incremental business but believes there are potential problems with the
system. ’The biggest issue is quality control,’ she explains. ’Cultural
differences mean we may take one approach to implementation and David
may take another.’
The traditional agency, says Elliot, will see the job through, from
researching the brief and agreeing the strategy to executing the work.
The danger with splitting the campaign is that elements will be lost in
’We may have to agree guidelines in the future,’ she concludes.
Clients of Canning, like Inchcape group corporate affairs director Paul
Barber, are clear about the role of outfits like First and 42nd. Barber
uses Canning on an ad hoc basis for ’very top level strategy input’ to
help ’facilitate debate’ within Inchcape. He may then call on agencies
to execute her advice but, like many companies, feels his in-house staff
are more than capable of implementation.
’It’s a different use of a PR consultant,’ he explains. ’It’s an
injection of new ideas.’
But Barber dismisses the idea that the industry will give birth to a
dual system of strategic consultants and implementers, explaining; ’I
wanted Alison to do a specific job.’
He feels the main reason that strategic consultants will not become the
norm is that the top talent required to consult on this level is still
’It takes a certain very well respected and highly regarded individual
with kudos and credibility,’ he explains. ’That will always be a limited
group of people.’