Mark Ritson: Nothing exonerates PwC for coming up with such a ludicrous name

Accounting powerhouse PricewaterhouseCoopers completed its acquisition of management consulting firm Booz & Co last week. The deal instantly added about $1.5bn (£897m) to PwC’s top line. It also threw up something of a branding issue.

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Because PwC now fully controls Booz & Co it must relinquish the name because of terms set out when the consulting firm split from its parent company, now called Booz Allen Hamilton. And so, in an act of corporate madness typical of accountants faced with branding conundrums, PwC announced last week it has rebranded the firm as ‘Strategy&’.

No, as the Wall Street Journal noted on Thursday, that is not a typo. According to PwC chairman Dennis Nally it’s a name that communicates the “…real desire for companies to not only have outside strategic advice but also help them deal with execution”.

To be fair to PwC, the new name does speak to the global positioning the firm wants to communicate to clients – especially new ones – that it will not only come up with high-level strategy but also help execute it. That’s an advantage when you are pitching to firms that have been bitten before by big strategy firms espousing complex plans that are impossible to action.

Furthermore, PwC was between a branding rock and a corporate hard place with new name options. Denied the ability to use heritage and founders, there is an almost total paucity of corporate names left to claim. Global businesses seeking an international IP with worldwide web rights face a virtually impossible mission these days, hence the plethora of bizarre, invented names, from Accenture to Xfinity.

That said, nothing exonerates PwC for coming up with such a ludicrous name as Strategy&. Nothing. It may strike the right tone with new clients but imagine calling your new dog ‘Knockers’ because it amuses your mates in the pub. In that case, one cheap, sexist laugh comes at the expense of looking like a lunatic for the next decade as you walk the parks and gardens of your local area shouting “Knockers!” at the top of your voice. The lesson here: a small initial upside can result in a spectacularly long period of downsides when it comes to naming.

For starters, switch from Strategy&’s potential clients to its existing ones. Imagine the scene on Eurostar as two former MBA students, now senior executives, bump into each other and catch up personally and professionally on the train. “We’re going through a major review of our logistics systems,” says one. “Who are you using?” asks the second. “Strategy and….” replies the first. His friend waits for the sentence to conclude but the man simply stares back at him unblinking. “Are you OK?” the second enquires after a minute has passed in silence. Call me old-fashioned but it always helps if a brand name actually makes grammatical sense.

Consider the 3,000 unfortunate employees of Strategy& next. Until recently they enjoyed the relative luxury of working for a company with a well-known name that made sense on a conversational level. Those days came to an abrupt end last Thursday thanks to the marketing geniuses at PwC. Employees will now find even the most basic conversation in the pub to be a long drawn-out affair. If asked who they work for, the corporate name itself is now merely a prelude to a laborious explanation that will inevitably end with shrugs, laughter and general bemusement.

Best of all PwC has, as we like to call it in the branding world, form. Twelve years ago you will recall their equally potty idea to rename themselves Monday because it signalled “a fresh start, a positive attitude, part of everyone’s life”. It’s bad enough to name your new dog Knockers but if your previous one was called ‘Knickers’ you have to ask whether there is a more redolent, deep-seated problem at work.

Back in 2002 the Monday brand became rapidly academic after PwC’s consulting group was acquired by IBM only a few weeks after the rebrand, and the madness was soon forgotten. This time there is no acquirer waiting down the corridor, so Strategy& looks set for a long, stupid life.

Repeat after me in as loud a voice as possible – “Knockers!”

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