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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
Cash-strapped consultants go brand-crazy
Defy the economy
Don't let a little thing like a recession get you down

When consultants hire consultants, you know things must be bad.


A new spirit needs to be felt throughout enterprises. One of embracing volatility and enjoying it. One that unites us against our common foe; The Economy

Cap Gemini Ernst & Young

Over the past few months, the world's leading consultancy companies have found themselves in need of a great dose of professional advice - notably mergers and acquisitions (taking each other over), human resources (sacking everyone), legal services (being sued) and business recovery (going broke).

As consultants and accountants marry, divorce and generally reinvent themselves, the service most in demand has been image and branding

Some management consultants, it seems, want us to forget who they used to be - or even that they were ever consultants in the first place.

"A lot of corporate failures have been laid at the door of consultancies," says Helen Blake, marketing director of Cap Gemini Ernst & Young ( CGEY).

Name games

Of course, image reinvention is nothing new in the restless world of management consultancy.

Accenture
The one that started the rot
Andersen Consulting became Accenture, and Arthur Andersen became - stunningly - Andersen well before the industry started to fall apart.

But the pace has picked up of late.

Last week, to widespread catcalls from the press, PwC Consulting announced it would henceforth be known as "Monday".

And this week sees the launch of the first concerted branding campaign from CGEY since it was formed two years ago.

Although stopping just short of a full-scale renaming, the CGEY campaign urges clients to "defy the economy" by means of something it calls the "adaptive enterprise".

Loud and proud

Until recently a somewhat reticent firm, CGEY was determined to make a splash.

"We wanted to say 'we're here, we're loud and we're proud,'" gushes Helen Blake.


It's no longer enough just to be part of the magic circle of elite firms; they are not selling services any more, but reputation.

Alec Rattray, Landor brand consultancy
The campaign, designed by quirky Dutch brand designers Strawberry Frog, personifies the economy as a nasty Big Brother-style character.

"The Economy" - boo, hiss - goes around leaving curmudgeonly messages, such as: "Due to extreme economic volatility, there will be no laughing in the work place," or "All success stories are to be postponed until the next millennium. Thanks for your cooperation."

Having got us all riled, CGEY then says we should thumb our noses at "The Economy" and seize back control of our own destinies - presumably by taking advantage of its range of consultancy services.

Yuck

The danger with this left-field approach is that it can stray into absurdity.

Monday: advertisement
Feel your toes curling yet?
Since the bursting of the internet bubble, our tolerance for management consultancy shtik - powerful value propositions, thought leadership, continuous reinvention and so on - has evaporated.

Although generally tasteful, the CGEY campaign does sometimes cause at least British toes to curl.

"A new spirit needs to be felt throughout enterprises," it insists.

"One of embracing volatility and enjoying it. One that unites us against our common foe; The Economy. One where we don't respond to the Economy but flourish despite whatever it throws our way."

'Not just boring process guys'

"Of course it's easy to be cynical," says Alec Rattray, marketing director of Landor, the agency that created the Accenture brand.

Arthur Andersen
Management consultants are not just boring guys
"And perhaps it's enjoyable to be cynical, too."

But as he points out, consultancies like CGEY and PwC can hide a serious purpose behind even the wackiest of brands.

"It's important for these firms to sort out who they are and to stress that they are not just boring process guys," he says.

"It's no longer enough just to be part of the magic circle of elite firms; they are not selling services any more, but reputation."

And while PwC's Monday brand might, he says, err too far towards arch post-modernism, the CGEY campaign has sound roots.

"They have latched onto a big universal truth - that firms feel themselves at the mercy of forces beyond their control."

Image is everything

Not everyone in the industry is doing it.

Some consultancies, especially those most dependent on the staid US market, prefer to play it straight.

"McKinsey & Company is a management consulting firm," is the daring tagline on one firm's website.

But all the big consultancies are putting more thought into how they present themselves.

Cap Gemini Ernst & Young share price
That's partly because of the bewildering game of musical chairs in the industry since the collapse of energy giant Enron, and the slow death of Andersen, its auditor.

But it also has a lot to do with the slowing global economy, which has bitten into consultants' day-to-day workload, and undermined their once-hallowed status.

CGEY, which specialises in technology consulting, has suffered especially badly, its shares losing 80% of their value in the past 18 months.

In this sort of pickle, any publicity is good publicity.

Crazy names, crazy guys

But there is a deeper danger is being too zany.

By striving to prove that they are "not just boring process guys", big consultancies may simply be throwing their boringness into sharp relief.

Like a comedy tie on the office dullard, a crazy name may look particularly absurd on a firm that, after all, offers strait-laced business advice.

Business and comedy make alluring but fickle bedfellows.

See also:

15 Jun 02 | Business
10 Jun 02 | Business
10 Jun 02 | Business
05 Jun 02 | Business
08 May 02 | Business
03 May 02 | Business
28 Jan 00 | e-cyclopedia
22 Jul 02 | Business
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