Thursday, September 07, 2006

Outside Inside 

One cliche in consulting is that advice from outside consultants, although the same as that from inside counselors, gets a better hearing. The reason? CEOs don't trust insiders to tell them the truth, whereas outsiders don't have to worry about keeping jobs.

Of course, this isn't always true, but like most heuristics, it is partially correct. Where the cliche falls down is that CEOs sometimes don't listen to outside counselors either, especially when they are determined to do something.

It doesn't take long working in PR to witness incomprehensible gaffes. The first question to mind is "Where was PR?" Often, we blame lawyers for getting in the way, but sometimes the CEO won't listen to lawyers either, or the CFO or the board of directors. The resulting mess can sometimes end a CEO's career. At the least, it creates a distraction, which the CEO has to spend months cleaning up.

The good part of such mistakes is that a surviving CEO is unlikely to create them again. No intelligent creature touches a hot stove twice. The CEO is likely to listen to PR advice the next time and times after that, whether from an inside or an outside consultant.

Where outside consultants have an advantage is when CEOs are uncertain about advice they are getting from insiders, mostly because insiders have a narrower perspective of an issue. It is true outside consultants over time engage in a more varied practice. They work a greater number of different kinds of events. But at some point, especially in large organizations, insiders can catch up, and there is no great difference.

Even though I have spent a career as an outside PR consultant, I have met extraordinary counselors in company ranks, and I've learned that it is never wise to look down on them.


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