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
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
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
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
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
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