Platform: Time for PR to take a strategic policy decision - Strategic consultants don’t stop at communications, they offer the whole spectrum of corporate strategy, says Reginald Watts

The launch of Alison Canning’s new management consultancy, First and 42nd, sparks debate on an important issue. Some years ago Tim Traverse-Healy pioneered the separation of strategic consultancy from operations driven PR. He was, as he has been so frequently, ahead of his time and his counsel in chambers concept was a brave move.

The launch of Alison Canning’s new management consultancy, First

and 42nd, sparks debate on an important issue. Some years ago Tim

Traverse-Healy pioneered the separation of strategic consultancy from

operations driven PR. He was, as he has been so frequently, ahead of his

time and his counsel in chambers concept was a brave move.



The business climate has now changed. Chief executives have come to

terms with the fact that communications is not just the message carrier.

It is an integral part of corporate policy itself.



In our more transparent, media-dominated business environment the truly

strategic consultancy has come into its own. Senior communications

practitioners will vehemently argue they have always given strategic

advice at boardroom level, but what we are now talking about is advice

not on communications strategy but on corporate strategy.



The difference is a fundamental one summed up perhaps by the difference

between corporate positioning, and corporate identity or corporate

branding.



The discussion, therefore, is about giving advice on company strategy

and policy at its core, an arena which hitherto has been dominated by

the management consultants.



As more people trained in both business studies and communications

theory enter public relations we can, for the first time, create a

specialist area which offers corporate advice which is not simply about

communications strategy. The latter may be involved, but we are talking

now about advice which was traditionally given by management consultants

trained in accountancy or business studies alone.



The need exists for something new. The market research I see on CEOs’

views about our business highlights our failure to take a more strategic

approach. They do not mean a more strategic approach to

communications.



They mean advice which takes them further than what is offered by

mainstream management consultants.



The latter offer plenty of suggestions for change but little help on how

to achieve it. They offer ideas for NPD or joint ventures yet ignore the

fact that only people can make the policies work.



From our side we must realise that there is a difference between trying

to move into corporate strategy from the communications outfield and

attempting the more fundamental approach of starting from the

centre.



In effect, we attack the same problems as the accountancy-trained

management consultant but we approach the solution in totality and this

includes an understanding of the softer sciences of psychology and

communications theory.



What makes the launch of Alison Canning’s new company so interesting is

that operationally she intends to start from the centre. By taking this

route she may either be creating a new type of management consultancy or

be generating a specialist area within our own field of

communications.



The time may at last be right for the latter. In a recent article in PR

Week, Paul Barker was quoted as saying ’the main reason that strategic

consultancy cannot become the norm is that the talent required to

consult at this level is still very rare’. Perhaps we should not try to

make it the norm. It is a new specialisation, not an add-on to our

normal work.



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