I can’t deny that the staff of Campaign - and no doubt the rest of
the ad industry - derived a certain pleasure from reporting last week’s
news that McKinsey - the Firm, as it is known in hushed and awed tones -
is poised to appoint Ogilvy & Mather as its first-ever ad agency.
Some may greet this news with a hollow laugh. Surely the Masters of the
Universe - the ones Martin Sorrell himself warned agencies about - don’t
have an image problem? Some may see the irony of a WPP agency helping
out the very cuckoo its leader has been banging on about. Others, the
conspiracy theorists (and some of them are in O&M itself) wonder whether
this isn’t some kind of dastardly plot in which McKinsey secretly plans
to learn of agency’s branding and strategy techniques.
As is often the case, the straightforward explanations are often the
best. For all its reputation, there is no doubt that McKinsey - and
management consultants as a breed - have a poor image. They are widely
perceived to be populated by arrogant and uncaring twentysomething MBAs,
applying cookie-cutter solutions regardless of the problem. By the time
the client finds out he’s been sold a pup, the consultants are long
That’s power without responsibility.
It’s also possible that McKinsey may be suffering from a touch of
Their own promotional material, as shown on the recent Channel 4 series
was, well, dreadfully cliched. They will have seen the TV ads produced
by Young & Rubicam for Andersen Consulting and the extensive press
campaigns for PricewaterhouseCoopers. ’Hmm,’ they say, ’perhaps we
should have some of that too.’ And what an interesting strategic and
creative challenge that would make. Just how would O&M advertise
But wait. There are many parallels with agencies. Both are called on by
clients for their particular expertise in solving specific problems.
If they’re any good, as McKinsey and O&M obviously are in their
respective fields, they get lots of clients and become very big. On the
negative side, agencies too can be arrogant and uncaring. And they
sometimes apply cookie-cutter solutions.
There’s one big difference, however. An agency’s work for its clients is
by definition public - and therefore acts as an ad for itself. That is
the reason why agencies don’t advertise themselves. They don’t have to
because their client list is the ad (which means winning McKinsey is the
equivalent of O&M saying ’It’s a gold luv!’).
Similarly, McKinsey’s client list would be the best possible ad for
To which McKinsey would react by saying that that’s a total no-no since
client confidentiality is the currency it trades on and the very
foundation of its reputation.
I wonder why. Isn’t this an outdated view? Isn’t this obsession with
secrecy the very reason people distrust management consultants? People,
not unnaturally, fear what they don’t know.
Removing the veil of secrecy would have one other priceless advantage
too: it would allow McKinsey to run success or testimonial ads from its
clients, the equivalent of IPA Effectiveness papers. Unless, of course,
it’s got something to hide.