The dreaded consultants are not that different to us

MANAGEMENT consultants usually provoke a range of reactions in journalists including suspicion, contempt, cynicism and, sometimes, anger.

It
was not surprising, then, to read the anonymous quotes from journalists
at the Bath Chronicle about the arrival of Northcliffeappointed
Effective Consulting (Press Gazette, 5 August).

What was surprising was how little was known about Effective, other than what had been gleaned from the web.

Anyone
who remembers the Trinity Mirror regionals’ change programme, “From
Biggest to Best”, may recall that Effective was involved in editorial
workflow projects in several publishing centres.

As is now happening in Bath, the reaction to Effective’s arrival then was not dissimilar.

Teeth were gnashed, tongues were clucked, eyebrows were raised and sighs of despair were widely audible.

But what was it that produced such protests then, and still does today, about the arrival of consultants?

Like
many similar consultancies, Effective accepts a brief from large-scale
clients to look at workflow in an area of a business.

One of its methods, the use of “brown paper” to chart who does what, where and when, has gained a certain notoriety.

Others
point to the fact that, in order to study workflow, Effective asks
individuals what they do, how things work, what constitutes normal or
exceptional workloads. In short, take notes, measure things and write
things down.

What an outrage!

The truth is, however, that
if any journalist was required to look at how a group of people worked
in any industry, they would probably ask the same questions as
Effective Consulting is asking.

I mean, how could one expect to
make intelligent decisions without sound intelligence? That’s something
that Tony Blair learned to his cost.

Given that in my personal
experience, the team from Effective are not only sensible, professional
people, but good company as well, one is tempted to wonder what the
problem really is.

I should stress at this point that I am not a
shareholder with Effective Consulting, nor am I being paid by them to
write this article!

However, in my wholly unqualified view, the
real issue for journalists at Bath is not about Effective (it is, after
all, only the messenger, whatever its brief), but what its presence
represents: the threat of change.

I confess I’m a complete hypocrite when it comes to change.

I’ve
worked as part of a head office change team. As an editor I frequently
changed things wherever I went and I now work on client projects where
I am often advocating change.

But, if truth be known, I am not
very different to all other journalists (all human beings, perhaps?)n
who instinctively see personal change as a bad thing.

In writing
this piece, however, I spoke to one journalist who has been on the
“receiving end” of Effective Consulting and whose professional opinion
I respect.

“The trick is to get involved and work with the
consultants and to help them understand what they are asking about.
That way both sides learn a huge amount through the process,” he told
me.

“The very worst thing is to bellyache and bury your head in the sand.”

Wise words indeed, I suspect.

AFTER TWO years of running my own business I have finally placed my first advert… with Yellow Pages.

The
advert is a 30mm semi-display with seven lines of text, and will cost
me less than £100 to reach the whole of Gloucestershire.

Sadly, however, I have missed this year’s print run and the ad won’t appear until next March.

As a hack, the principle of dealing with advertising departments still sticks in my craw a bit, although it shouldn’t.

And,
as a regional newspaper man for more than 20 years, the principle of
placing an ad in the Yellow Pages, and not my local paper, has me close
to tears.

But here’s the funny thing. When I first registered my
business with Companies House, I was soon called by suppliers who
obviously bought lists of start-ups and targeted them for business.

Fair enough.

What’s curious is that in two years I have never once received a call from any form of media asking if I want to advertise.

I
even raised this once with an ad director friend who said he didn’t
know if his department got hold of new company registrations, and would
“look into it”. He never came back to me.

For the record, Yellow Pages was delighted at the prospect of my hundred quid and thanked me for my business.

Which
makes me think that next time one of the big newspaper groups whinges
about “tough advertising conditions”, I’ll know they are not telling
the whole story.

LIKE THE
football manager who wins his first five games at a new club, woe often
betides the new editor who shows the Midas touch too early in their
reign.

Consider the case of Steve Dyson, fresh from campaigning
success in Teesside to take on the challenge of the Birmingham Evening
Mail.

As a seasoned old pro, Steve is rediscovering his feet in
the city he once called home. But one cannot ignore the fact that since
his arrival in Britain’s second city an uncanny chain of events has
been triggered.

On Steve’s first Saturday back in Brum, the city centre was completely evacuated following a terrorist alert.

A
few days later, a terrorist suspect was arrested in the city, and,
later in the week, a tornado arrived to wreck the Mail heartland suburb
of Kings Heath.

Just a week after that and Steve, the man who
famously marched with the Longbridge workers five years ago while
deputy editor, was able to announce jobs being saved at Rover for the
second time in his career.

To round it off, the Mail’s home town cricket ground of Edgbaston was witness to arguably England’s finest Ashes’ Test win.

Mr Dyson is too modest to accept any comparison to Midas and insists it is “early days” for him in Birmingham.

One
thing’s for sure, like the bagless vacuum cleaner that shares his name,
wherever Dyson goes a powerful force seems to follow.

Robin
Fletcher is former editor of the South Wales Echo, Wales on Sunday, the
Blackpool Gazette and the Northampton Chronicle and Echo. He now works
as a freelance journalist… and consultant!

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