AFRAID OF CONSULTANTS? WHY? LOOK AT HOW THEY ADVERTISE

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For proof that management consultants pose little threat to advertising agencies, all you need to do is walk through your friendly neighborhood airport. As you whiz along the moving sidewalk, there will pass before your eyes the most baffling barrage of gobbledygook this side of Lewis Carroll. Yep, it's advertising for -- and by -- management consultants.

Arthur D. Little Inc., which calls itself "the world's most creative consultants," invites the audience to "envision the future." Its future, illustrated with six pairs of empty sunglasses sitting on a patch of cracked, parched earth, looks very much like "Mad Max" -- the losing side.

Then there's the silhouette of a hummingbird, wings a flapping blur. "Move fast enough and it's nectar," reads the headline on this ad. That's from Ernst & Young -- obviously, an unmistakable leader in the cafeteria business.

Food is a popular metaphor in advertising by management consultants. Usually, it takes the form of live prey. Consider this airport favorite: Five osprey, talons extended, lifting a visibly irritated walleye from a mountain lake. "Are you making the most of all your strengths?" asks Andersen Consulting. Clearly not -- otherwise, I would have swum away.

Not that a few marketing staples don't show up now and then, as in this comparative ad from -- well, take a guess. In the upper left, the all-text ad reads: "McKinsey: The world's oldest consulting firm." Below and to the right, a rejoinder: "Deloitte Consulting: 'Definitely the up-and-comer amongst the group.' " Still can't figure out whether it's touting the established name brand or the green upstart? Here's another hint: The URL reads www.dc.com. Hey, sonny: Call me back when you get a job.

And so it goes. Cats and canaries. Stars in the sky. Similes in overdrive. And for this professional services advertisers are spending some $300 million a year. Equally significant is what they're not spending that money on: success stories, real people, basic explanations, reasons why and the other fundamentals of clear, consistent advertising.

If you assume (as you should) every client gets the advertising it wants and deserves, these communications deficiencies point to the most transparent reason management consultants are incapable ofperforming ad agencies' jobs: They lack the ability to communicate.

I'm not so glib as to say consultants don't perform services critical to the modern corporation. The Big 7 (or is it 6 now? 5?) have played an important role in streamlining bloated organizations, shepherding companies toward untapped markets, bringing new technologies to bear in the creation and distribution of goods and services, etc., etc. As a mere journalist, I've profited greatly from conversations with partners at McKinsey, Andersen Consulting and Booz, Allen & Hamilton.

But consulting too frequently is an exercise in obfuscation. Blame it on business schools that disgorge sub-literate grads, or the consultancies' grab for share in industries, such as advertising, they don't understand. Whatever the reason, the consultants' inability to tell straightforward tales about what they do points to a deep disjuncture between their skills and marketers' needs.

You can see that disconnect by comparing the consultants' ads cited above with the campaigns emerging from IBM Corp. courtesy of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. During Chairman-CEO Louis V. Gerstner Jr.'s tenure, IBM has probably become a greater threat to major consultants than any one of them has been to another. Credit, at least in part, Big Blue's limpid services advertising.

The now-ubiquitous "e-business" tag, its design as marvelously lucid as its language, has indelibly branded IBM as the helpmeet for the millennium. To the extent professional-services advertisers are trying to meet those millennial challenges by appealing to the next generation of consultants, you couldn't ask for better recruitment advertising than IBM's new "profiles" campaign. In a few months, it's managed to make America's stodgiest company the hippest place in corporate America.

This is not to say ad agencies don't face threats from consultants. Agencies' obsession with selling ads over insights is the industry's bane. The avalanche of glib copy and "ha-ha" headlines, the tsunami of MTV-inspired spots, all serve as a reminder too many agencies aren't as smart as marketers need them to be.

But as long as ad agencies are up against the drek served up by the suits, they will maintain a competitive advantage.M

Mr. Rothenberg can be reached at randallf@echonyc.com.is a popular metaphor in advertising by management consultants. Usually, it takes the form of live prey. Consider this airport favorite: Five osprey, talons extended, lifting a visibly irritated walleye from a mountain lake. "Are you making the most of all your strengths?" asks Andersen Consulting. Clearly not -- otherwise, I would have swum away.

Not that a few marketing staples don't show up now and then, as in this comparative ad from -- well, take a guess. In the upper left, the all-text ad reads: "McKinsey: The world's oldest consulting firm." Below and to the right, a rejoinder: "Deloitte Consulting: 'Definitely the up-and-comer amongst the group.' " Still can't figure out whether it's touting the established name brand or the green upstart? Here's another hint: The URL reads www.dc.com. Hey, sonny: Call me back when you get a job.

And so it goes. Cats and canaries. Stars in the sky. Similes in overdrive. And for this professional services advertisers are spending some $300 million a year. Equally significant is what they're not spending that money on: success stories, real people, basic explanations, reasons why and the other fundamentals of clear, consistent advertising.

If you assume (as you should) every client gets the advertising it wants and deserves, these communications deficiencies point to the most transparent reason management consultants are incapable ofperforming ad agencies' jobs: They lack the ability to communicate.

I'm not so glib as to say consultants don't perform services critical to the modern corporation. The Big 7 (or is it 6 now? 5?) have played an important role in streamlining bloated organizations, shepharding companies toward untapped markets, bringing new technologies to bear in the creation and distribution of goods and services, etc., etc. As a mere journalist, I've profited greatly from conversations with partners at McKinsey, Andersen Consulting and Booz-Allen & Hamilton.

But consulting too frequently is an exercise in obfuscation. Blame it on business schools that disgorge sub-literate grads, or the consultancies' grab for share in industries, such as advertising, they don't understand. Whatever the reason, the consultants' inability to tell straightforward tales about what they do points to a deep disjuncture between their skills and marketers' needs.

You can see that disconnect by comparing the consultants' ads cited above with the campaigns emerging from IBM Corp. courtesy of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. During Chairman-CEO Louis V. Gerstner Jr.'s tenure, IBM has probably become a greater threat to major consultants than any one of them has been to another. Credit, at least in part, Big Blue's limpid services advertising.

The now-ubiquitous "e-business" tag, its design as marvelously lucid as its language, has indelibly branded IBM as the helpmeet for the millennium. To the extent professional-services advertisers are trying to meet those millennial challenges by appealing to the next generation of consultants, you couldn't ask for better recruitment advertising than IBM's new "profiles" campaign. In a few months, it's managed to make America's stodgiest company the hippest place in corporate America.

This is not to say ad agencies don't face threats from consultants. Agencies' obsession with selling ads over insights is the industry's bane. The avalanche of glib copy and "ha-ha" headlines, the tsunami of MTV-inspired spots, all serve as a reminder too many agencies aren't as smart as marketers need them to be.

But as long as ad agencies are up against the drek served up by the suits, they will maintain a competitive advantage.

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