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Pressed for time (and materials)...

Or:   Why isn’t consultancy in the news?

 

In November 2015 the world learned about a special delivery… a little girl sent a telescope to a lonely old man…on the moon, using balloons.  And the latest John Lewis Christmas advert was out, making the news everywhere.

At the same time, Argos announced another special delivery:  a same day service, just in time for Christmas, outflanking even such digital behemoths as Amazon.

It gained some coverage but no-one asked how this had come about.  Even when it was named  Project of the Year at the MCA Awards for the remarkable change programme behind it—masterminded by LCP Consulting (now part of Bearing Point) there was nary a ripple of interest.

Why is this?  Is it just that we are more excited by the shop window than the engine room?  Why do consultants struggle to get a hearing in the press—or even among themselves?  Even the exciting world of accountancy supports a number of trade and commercial journals, whereas consultancy struggles to support a couple of websites and e-newsletters.

Certainly there are obstacles: having edited Management Consultancy magazine in the 1990s,  I encountered these at first hand.  

The first is money.  Even in those days trade publications were entirely funded by advertising.  We made a reasonable income from recruitment advertising but revenues never remotely matched the growth of the industry.  Selling the more lucrative display adverts for products was hampered by the fact that consultants rarely buy anything.  The “influence the influencers” got us some adverts, mainly in IT but was too subtle for most advertisers and we struggled against end-user titles.  

Now that recruitment has moved definitively online, many print titles nowadays are sustained by professional associations.  But unlike, say accountancy, consultancy remains stubbornly resistant to regulation.  This undermines the ability of its institutions to extract fees from members, and is unlikely to ever change (I will eat a hat or two the day someone is hauled off to prison for solving business problems without a licence)

This contributes to the dearth of news itself.  Consultancy is not a news-rich environment.  There is no stream of new and upgraded products as in IT.  No heartbeat of budgets, and regulations, or even financial scandals as in accountancy

Consultancy is shrouded in darkness. While a new advertising campaign or account win launches with a fanfare, a consultancy project might only be discussed months after successful completion --if at all.  And while there are often valid commercial and competitive reasons for this there is also a great deal of over-sensitivity. Using consultants is often seen as weak, where firms are happy to list their financial and legal advisers.  And the consultants’ desire for publicity is matched by paranoia that their precious “IP” will somehow leak out and be copied.

Even when we do discuss them, consultancy projects are not easy to marshal to the insistent “who-what-when” drumbeat of news.  Benefits stretch out over time and space;  the processes and concepts involved are complex and success has many fathers.

“Good news is also no news”— I lost track of the times when, as editor of a consultancy magazine I was approached by journalists or documentary makers eager for tales of how cowboy consultants had ripped off their clients and wrecked their businesses.  And consultancies have been complacent about this, preferring to promote their own brand than the value of the industry as a whole.

This is augmented by a certain professional rivalry between consultants and business journalists: “How dare these jumped-up ignoramuses tell business folk what to do?  That’s our job!”

This is, and remains, a missed opportunity.  In the 1990s I would find myself, say, having lunch with a senior consultant who was personally advising the finance minister of Hungary. Yet when the topic appeared in the news I would be hearing from a 26 year old analyst working for a London bank.

When consultants do appear in the news it is all too often in the context of money allegedly “wasted” by government departments or the rehearsal of frankly offensive stereotypes.  

This is all very irksome and we can be justified in feeling sorry for ourselves.  But this is not just an extended whinge about how unfair life is.

In an era where we are allegedly drowning in information I only see a rising tide of ignorance.  People don’t know how things work, and they particularly don’t know how business things work.  As we get nearer and nearer the sharp end of Brexit and the sweeping changes that come in its wake, this is of profound political importance.   

At the moment change happens, for all most people know, by magic.  Products and services are launched, stuff appears on the doorstep, jobs are created—and vanish.   Ditto industries.

A functioning democracy needs to be based on informed decision making.  The learning embodied in the consultancy industry, which touches so many people’s lives on so many levels, remains a largely untapped resource. This has to change.

Yes there are barriers to getting the message out. What the industry and the profession need to do at the very least is make sure none are of our own making.

I offer no solutions.  But if this has provoked any thoughts, particularly about how the Company could play a role, do get in touch.

 Mick James is a freelance business writer specialising in consultancy and professional services.  Currently working with the Company on marketing and communications, he is also helping create a repository of information regarding the history of management consulting for the Centre for Management Consulting Excellence.  https://cmce.org.uk/     All contributions gratefully received via mick@mickjames.com

 

Mick James
Director

Redhouse Media Ltd

Work: 020 8671 9922
Email: mick@mickjames.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mickjames/