Zombie consultants and change management

Due to a nasty bout of food poisoning I found myself at a few hours notice on the platform for the inaugural PRCA Fellows/Westminster University debate on Tuesday – Everyone deserves PR representation.

I got rolled over. Not just a little, but completely.

Robert Philips and George Pitcher of Jericho Chambers, who were opposing the motion, used their combined charm, showmanship skills, and not a little bravado, to turn what was a majority in favour of the motion before the debate to a significant majority against following it.

Their core contention was that the PR consultancy world is bust, not fit for purpose and blindly churning our meaningless activity to meet the demands of clients that know no better. Zombie consultants if you will. This must change and PR must be a force for good and influence organisations to change their behaviour.

Pardon? No, stop! No, really, stop!

We are not change management consultants. Sure we can act as a client’s conscience if the needs rises and an honest and objective view can shine a light in dark corners. This is what the best consultants have been doing for decades. It is how great agencies build long term relationships with clients.

We can exert influence and we can advise but any real change will only ever come from within an organisation. It may be driven by external pressures resulting from a crisis, financial or otherwise, but it will have to come from within.

We also have to consider the reality of commercial pressures. These can result in campaigns being delivered that are run of the mill. But to suggest that the whole sector is made up of zombie consultants slavishly implementing pointless and ultimately doomed campaigns is very wide of the mark.

At a macro level, the fees of the PR Week’s top 150 have more than doubled in the last eight years. I doubt this is a result of a consistent failure to deliver value and influence change within client organisations. And on a micro level I meet innovative and highly effective consultants every week in my work for Agency People or researching my Agency Doctor column.

The sector is thriving despite a worldwide recession. Of course we give too much of our time away for free and so margins could be much better but to suggest we’re on the brink of extinction because we are not a force for good is arrant nonsense.

But one thing I have learnt – never share a stage with a priest or read another man’s speech in a debate. It will only end in tears.