Consultancy Management: Heralding the new age of dual level PR - Strategic advice is the main service on offer from the new PR-focused management consultants but opinion is split on whether these leaner structures represent the future of PR

So, former Burson-Marsteller chief executive Alison Canning - who unveiled her latest project last week - doesn’t want to get her hands dirty.

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

the consultants?

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

marketing campaigns.

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

the crossover.

’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.’

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