PricewaterhouseCoopers this week launched its first global advertising campaign – five months late. Accountancy Age understands that detailed plans, which included the use of the full range of media, were laid for a launch last October, but were abruptly pulled at the last minute.
The launch was to take the form of a two-stage approach with both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ elements. The soft launch kicked off early, with staff training and UK PwC chairman Ian Brindle pronouncing: ‘From 1 July, everybody has to be part of PricewaterhouseCoopers.’
The ‘hard’ part also began promisingly enough, with a coffee table-sized brochure produced by global advertising agency Ammirati Puris Lintas.
And then, nothing.
PwC head of corporate affairs Peter Wyman said last week that the campaign was put off because the firm had no track record and the campaign which had been prepared was not exciting enough.
Wyman refused to elaborate. ‘We did not think it was an appropriate time but we wanted to wait until we had bedded the merger down and had got something to say,’ he explained. ‘Anyway, there is no evidence that the business has suffered,’ he added.
The firm has used the services of APL again for its new campaign. One client services director of a major advertising company that specialises in the financial services sector said it was bad practice to dip a toe in the promotional water but then not get in the pool. ‘It is almost not worth bothering to do a brochure if you are not going to do it properly with a sustained process of layered activity because the initial message is lost,’ he said.
So what happened? According to one internal source, in the period after the soft launch, achieving consensus between partners from the former Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse was so hard that decisions taken by one side were routinely countermanded by their opposite number.
‘We would go and see an ex-PW partner on one day, and then the ex-Coopers partner would call us in and say that we could not do it that way,’ the source said.
Wyman denied that cultural differences between the two sides had scuppered the original advertising campaign but conceded that they were very different in the way that things were done.
‘The discrepancies were in the way that we operated, but it takes a while to work out new processes. After all, we did not get regulatory approval until the end of May, so we only had six weeks before we announced our merger,’ he said.
But according to marketing experts, six weeks is ample time to put together even the most complex of brand-building exercises.
‘Six weeks is not unreasonable to develop a branding campaign, but it could be done in three,’ said one.
Brand-building was important both to inform existing clients and recruit new clients. Clear branding was a vital component in reassuring employees that the company had developed a sense of identity which it could carry through in its work.
One Big Five competitor acknowledged that PwC had done well in choosing its name and design for the logo but added that the sheer size of the business could make it difficult to sustain client numbers in the longer term.
‘In an audit review, the two firms went from having a two-in-six chance of winning to a one-in-five chance. Unless it is completely focused, it will lose market share,’ he said.
As Wyman admitted, external audit is also the most visible service that accountancy firms offer, and although PwC has since won the internal auditing work for Diageo, as well as consultancy projects for Abbey National, the market still remembers that PwC lost their audits.
A lack of coherent values could have its most damaging effect on staff.
One insider described having to ‘operate in a void’ for the past year while the firm sorts out its identity.
Again, Wyman retorts by saying employee retention has remained high throughout the merger, despite fears that a downturn in the economy could affect morale.
This campaign heralds not only the ‘hard launch’ of PwC, said Wyman, it also precedes other important changes such as the worldwide introduction this summer of an intranet system to enable staff to manage knowledge more effectively.
The 18-month global campaign, rumoured to be costing around #20m, kicked off this week with a 12-week poster and national newspaper campaign in the UK. It will be supported by similar activity throughout Europe and television advertising on CNN and BBC worldwide.
The campaign will be rolled out across the US in April where it will also include terrestrial television coverage.
The concept behind the work is to communicate to clients and the public the idea that PricewaterhouseCoopers is more than just an audit firm. It will include images of assignments that the firm has been involved in and which have used the firm’s consultancy skills.
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