September 24, 2023

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Oh, a friend in PR was moaning. He just did a pitch, and thought it went well. Then he heard the senior institutional NED asking why they weren’t using Brunswick?

Let’s be clear, before Sir Alan Parker goes on the blower, I have nothing against Brunswick, always liked him, really always liked him, always found him helpful and fast (that’s enough Brunswick Puffery, ed.). But I wonder how intelligent city folk who consider themselves sophisticated and finicky in other aspects of their lives allow themselves to sink into big-name inertia.

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In PR, Brunswick, Finsbury and FTI should be on the ticket somewhere as far as city institutions are concerned. In law, allow one from the Magic Circle or you’re a nobody: Linklaters, Freshfields, Slaughter & May, Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy. In auditing, it must be a member of the Big Four: Ernst & Young, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG. In management consulting it has to be either McKinsey, Bain or Boston.

It’s a back covering exercise, of course it is. The modern city is known to be an extremely energetic, entrepreneurial place, where talent reigns supreme and the best ideas triumph. But most of the activity that happens there is fixed in the beginning, so the new lad, who is full of dynamism and may be the best offer, doesn’t get a glimpse. This cannot be good for customers or for the growth of UK enterprise society in the long run.

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It makes no sense, to dismiss others who may be more talented (sorry sir allan, i know it’s impossible, but sometimes…) and take new approach and get it , Hungry and offer more value for money. Obviously, though, this is perfectly acceptable, ruling out reason.

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While lesser firms find themselves clamoring for business, the reputable elite are able to pick and choose – they get plenty of time because of the brief. You have attained such a glorious status.

The nonsensical nature reminds me of a friend of mine in tech whom I introduced to a firm that was looking to redesign its website. MD loved him, thought he was great. “But we can’t use him, I can’t put him on the board.” When I asked why not, he replied, “He’s charging too little.” My friend was quoting £10,000. MD said the gig was his, “if he doesn’t end up putting in anything.” My friends, who were principled about these things (I know, nerds or what), refused. That was his fee, he was adamant on that. I suggested he could bill £100,000 and give £90,000 to charity, but he wasn’t doing it.

Coming back to the monopoly enjoyed by the few, it is time to kick off the many. Sheer laziness that says it’s other people’s money, who cares if it’s not being spent in the most profitable, efficient way, has to stop.

A case in point, definitely thumbing its nose at competition and market authority. Can you imagine Magic Circle Law Firm and the Big Four accountants trying and seriously explaining why they should go by the monikers. The Magic Circle and the Big Four, what do those words really mean? It will be a pleasure to watch their squabbles and protests. They shouldn’t be too harsh on others, but at the same time, they won’t try halfway either.

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It is not okay, yet it is tolerated. Worse, it is actively encouraged. Government departments are as guilty as anywhere else of choosing their advisors from the same small pool. As I read the other day, no one was ever fired for hiring McKinsey.

Trying to cheer up my frustrated PR mate, I said he might decline in the future. He said, what do you mean? I said, “Say no, you’re not going to bid.” No, he replied, he cannot do that. There will always be another agency that will replace them. No, he sighed, he would continue. There was a twinkle in his eye. “If you don’t go for it, you have no chance. You have to hope.

Chris Blackhurst is the author of Too big to jail: inside HSBC, the Mexican drug cartels and the biggest banking scam of the century (Macmillan)