From Enronitis to rebrandingitis

You’ve got to laugh: everyone’s at it these days. Even M&A Group, a select club whose membership comprises some of the world’s most aggressive and renowned chief executives, has decided to join the rebranding game, only three years into its present identity.

Cynics have not been slow to suggest a connection between the timing of the rebrand and the all-too-public disgracing of one of the club’s founding members, Tyco chief executive Dennis Kozlowski. However, this seems wide of the mark. More likely, it is a reflection of radically changed circumstances within the capital markets. Who, after all, wants to be known for their (probably bloated) mergers and acquisitions in a bear market, where they are superfluous? Modestly monikered G100, as the heretofore M&A Group will be known, sounds so much more in keeping with the times – especially now that it is being revamped as a not-for-profit organisation.

If chief executives are uncertain of their identity, the same is even truer of accountants. By legal happenstance, the management consultancy arm of Arthur Andersen was forced to spin itself off under a new identity, Accenture, some time before Enron became a global household name. What a piece of prescient serendipity that proved to be. Unwittingly, it has become the first initiative in a trend towards demerger in the industry.

For we now learn that the consultancy arm of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), advised by Wolff Olins, has embarked upon the same course. Not, it should be added, because of any suspected skeletons in the PwC cupboard; more in recognition of the fact that auditing and consultancy businesses will perforce become increasingly divorced post-Enron. The name may sound silly and the ‘doughnut’ thinking behind it reveals just that – a hole in the middle – but at least Monday is memorable in a grey world. Not only that, Monday reveals a welcome departure from the dog Latin which has obsessed corporate id outfits for the past few years.

Most egregious of these was Consignia, whose brief, bleak lifecycle reveals the fate in store for corporate daydreamers insulated from reality. Never mind that the new name, far from eclipsing the Post Office or Royal Mail as operating division brands, was supposed to give body to a deregulated corporate Euro vision. Quite simply it was as ridiculous and pretentious as the ambition it represented, and soon became a byword for corporate hubris. At least with Royal Mail (plc) we are back to an association with the bit of the business that makes the money – in the good years.

And so to the loftiest rebranding exercise of all: that of giving Britain a makeover. Our recent cover story (MW May 9) provided evidence of a need for change in the way the country is perceived. Now that theory is about to be put to the test, abroad at least, by Corporate Edge, which has landed the first contract of its kind with the British Tourist Authority. The background is a slump in inbound tourism and part of the remedy is to give potential visitors a much harder-edged vision than the present regional blur. Whether the project succeeds, of course, depends very much on how much backbone the various collaborating UK tourist bodies put into it.

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