- Branding experts
will go to town on the empty nature of the attempted graphic gesture.
- Jargon critics such as the Financial Times’s Lucy Kellaway will tee off on the mish-mashed vacuity of the aspirational messages (for those of strong constitution, see this PwC video sent to Caleb from the inside).
- Charlie Green, expert in
trustworthiness, is invited to unpack the disruptive influence of tinkering
with messages, when all that is on offer is the stability of relationships with
clients and users.
My concern is more profound:
When the accounting
profession’s very survival rests on the ability to sell a basic core product –
assurance on financial information – the essence of that delivery is the
maintenance of confidence among issuers and users in consistent, solid and
predictable quality service.
That has been more than challenge enough, in difficult times for the profession. But its messages can and should be pretty stolid. A slightly boring orthodoxy is not a bad thing, when the profession is the only one that requires two terms to describe itself and its core offerings: accountant and auditor – contrasted with, for example, doctor, lawyer, priest or engineer.
When the uniform
for successful assurance delivery requires the equivalent emotional symbolism
of a necktie and brown shoes, the PwC effort goes the wrong way. Being courant requires context. No chief
financial officer will be comfortable receiving his annual audit report from
the hands of an engagement partner named Pariz or Tiffany and sporting a tattoo
and a nose ring.
Prior history offers instruction on the hazards of tinkering with the image of a commodity product. The fiasco over New Coke in 1985 put that company into a legendary market-share tangle that lasted for years.
Much closer to
home, does nobody recall the kerfuffle in 2000 when Arthur Andersen gave up the
logo of its dependable brown doors – symbol of stability, consistency across
all offices and – yes – the requisite geeky solidarity?
Instead there was launched that goofy orange ball – derided at the time for a lack of substance, but with hindsight, comprehensible to reflect the firm’s hollowed-out loss of strategic integrity and, in effect, the sunset for a venerable institution less than two years later.
We may of course
expect defensive messages from the branding types at PwC, justifying what must
be massive expenditure for this effort, along the lines of “we wanted to shake
things up” and “we have an exciting new set of messages.”
Trouble is, they don’t, and the world of assurance users doesn’t want it. The depth of the issues facing the accounting profession means that the current environment does not require simplistic needs to “fix what ain’t broken.”
Rather, putting fresh cosmetics on a critical patient only paints over the gruesome reality. And if the beauticians are running the hospital ward, the prognosis for recovery is grim indeed.
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