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You do good work for clients, they appreciate and benefit from it, so why shouldn’t you get some wider recognition, asks Mick James.
It should have been you
 
 
   “See one, feel one,
touch one, See one, feel
one, win an award.” So
went the lyrics of I
wanna be a winner
by
Brown Sauce from 1981:
not so much a one-hit
wonder as a crime against
humanity. Apologies if
this horror is now
playing in your head, but
at least you know what
I’ve been going through
since inadvertently
tuning into Radio 2 a
couple of weeks ago.
  
   But for all the
awfulness of its
Noel-Edmonds-penned
lyrics, the song
expresses a noble
sentiment. You should win
an award. You do good
work for clients; they
appreciate it and benefit
from it. Why shouldn’t
you get some wider
recognition?
  
   One excuse might be
that there’s really no
point entering something
like the MCA Awards
because they are
dominated by the Big
Four. And at first sight
that seems to be true:
the Big Four proper make
up 20 of the shortlisted
places for firm awards,
and there’s a similar
story in the individual
awards. Add in the other
“Big” firms and that’s
 
 half the shortlist.
  
   But what about the
other half of the list?
There are plenty of
smaller MCA members
there, but not
necessarily unfamiliar
ones – particularly
because they are always
in the running for
awards. Moorhouse and
Boxwood, for example,
have both had
considerable success in
the past: they clearly
believe that the work
they do will stand up
against anyone else’s and
aren’t afraid to put it
on display.
  
   Big firms have one or
two advantages: they have
large and well-resourced
PR and marketing
departments, and a large
number of projects to
choose from. But it’s
easy to overestimate this
advantage. For a start,
working in marketing for
a big consultancy firm
isn’t always the walk in
the park you might think:
you’re a long way from
the action and without
psychic powers it’s
impossible to know which
projects really are the
best. In fact, awards can
be a major boon to
marketing teams to get
their fee-earners to
cough up the ammunition
they need.
 
   
   By contrast, in a
smaller firm it’s much
easier to keep your
finger on the pulse: also
much easier to get closer
to the clients, whose
cooperation the MCA has
wisely made so central to
winning.
  
   But why bother with
awards at all? Isn’t it
all just a massive
self-congratulatory
junket?
  
   I suppose the answer
is yes, but why is that a
bad thing? Let’s be
honest, awards are a bit
of an industry, and done
right they can be a bit
of a money-spinner. That
is also a good thing:
otherwise many of the
professional associations
and magazines you know
and love might find it
harder to survive.
  
   But awards also play
an important part in the
cohesion and morale of an
industry, and I think
that’s why consultancy
needs them more than
most. There aren’t too
many opportunities in our
world to actually come
together as an industry,
and even fewer to put
across an upbeat image of
consultancy. How many of
the positive stories
about consultancy that
 
 appear elsewhere in the
UK press have their
genesis in a MCA award
entry?
  
   For the smaller
consultancies as a group
the awards are a perfect
opportunity to underline
the point that
high-quality, complex and
challenging consultancy
projects are not the
exclusive domain of the
big firms. That may be
what you tell clients all
the time, but it’s easy
to say things like that:
every time a smaller
firms walks off with an
award, though, it’s proof
that it’s true. Many
smaller firms are in two
minds as to the benefits
of joining the MCA:
surely the chance of
winning an accolade that
puts you on a par with
the biggest names in the
industry would be a major
incentive? If you can
beat the big boys in the
marketplace, surely you
can see them off at a
black-tie do?
  
   Finally, any award
needs to be seen in the
wider context of how
consultancy is purchased
and managed in its
entirety. All sorts of
interesting things are
coming out of my
involvement with the
Consultancy Buyers Forum,
 
 but one theme in
particular that is
emerging is the vexed
question of What Good
Looks Like. In the
absence of hard-and-fast
performance measurement,
managing expectations
during consultancy
projects is a tough ask.
The case studies that
underpin MCA awards may
be broad brush, but this
is what excellence in
consulting looks like: if
your project looks
nothing like them, you
may want to have a word
with your consultants.
  
   Awards play so many
important roles, but one
area where they may fall
short is in reflecting
one of the consultancy
industry’s greatest
attributes: its
incredible diversity. And
that shortcoming cannot
be laid at the feet of
the organisers but those
who, while eligible to
enter, fail to do so.
  
   In April you’ll be
able to see who has
triumphed in the MCA
Awards this year. I urge
everyone to follow them
carefully and think: “It
should have been me!”– a
much better song to end
on.