OPINION: MILLS ON ... THE OTHER CONSULTANCY THREAT

A wise and experienced advertising hand once suggested to me the real reason management consultants are regarded with such awe: they have no trade press, certainly none comparable to that which covers the advertising, marketing and media industries, to expose their foibles, vanities and mistakes. While the comment was partly, I suspect, designed to flatter (it did, it did), it nevertheless seemed to contain a grain of truth.

A wise and experienced advertising hand once suggested to me the

real reason management consultants are regarded with such awe: they have

no trade press, certainly none comparable to that which covers the

advertising, marketing and media industries, to expose their foibles,

vanities and mistakes. While the comment was partly, I suspect, designed

to flatter (it did, it did), it nevertheless seemed to contain a grain

of truth.



Familiarity breeds contempt; mystery breeds respect and fear, and the

management consultants are nothing if not shrouded in mystery.



So it is with great pleasure that I have watched the first two

programmes in the Channel 4 series on management consultants (Masters of

the Universe, Sunday evenings), in the second of which McKinsey

demonstrated both its own vanity and law number one of publicity - never

allow the cameras in.



The result has been to strip away some of the hype that surrounds this

breed. Was the programme accurate or representative? Probably not. But

then were the recent documentaries on the Saatchi brothers and St Luke’s

representative of the advertising industry? Of course not.



None of which is to say that management consultants are all bad. They

have their place. But they are neither, as some clients believe, the

fount of all wisdom (ask the Guardian Media Group, or the BBC, which has

not emerged well from the series);



nor are they, as others would believe, an invincible foe hell bent on

eating the agencies’ lunch.



But that doesn’t mean agencies can sit back and relax. A much more

potent threat, it seems to me, lurks around the corner: the corporate

identity consultants. The role of the likes of Wolff Olins and

Interbrand Newell and Sorrell for clients like Channel 5, Orange,

Novartis, BA and Lloyds TSB is no secret. What is less well known is the

extent to which they are now influencing advertising and marketing.



If you think about it, of course, it’s a no-brainer. Corporate identity

is such a fundamental, top-down issue that, like McKinsey, specialist

consultancies start at the highest level with the client. And power

comes with the ear of the chairman or the chief executive. From there it

is but a small and logical step to offer to ’police’ whatever marketing

and advertising activity that follows on from corporate identity work.

Such offers are hard to resist: after all, the chief executive’s

credibility is invested in the new identity, and no agency is going to

be allowed to mess it up with a marketing campaign that goes in a

different direction.



Which brings us to why corporate identity specialists are a bigger

threat to agencies than management consultants: they can do creative

work, management consultants can’t. Quite how agencies have allowed

themselves to be marginalised out of this business I don’t know. But

it’s driven by corporate change - mergers, demergers, spin-offs - which

is the defining characteristic of the era. Agencies should ignore it at

their peril - if they’re not too late already, that is.



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