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
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
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.