Finance: Change the world: become an accountant

A slick advertising campaign seeks to cast professional services in a new light.
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The Independent Culture
Cynics may smile and say there is nothing surprising about a firm of accountants and management consultants failing to promote its chosen areas of activity. After all, it's hard to see how accounting, in particular, can set the pulses racing.

But PricewaterhouseCoopers, which this week launched its first global advertising campaign, has deliberately avoided spelling out what it does on the grounds that such descriptions do not adequately describe the full range of its operations. "We're trying to demonstrate to the world the breadth, size, complexity - and relevance - of what we do", says Peter Wyman, head of corporate affairs for the UK.

Accordingly, the advertisements for what is the world's largest professional services organisation set out, in the words of UK senior partner Peter Smith, to "convey the important, complex - and exciting - projects that PricewaterhouseCoopers performs for its clients".

The firm will not say how much it is spending on the campaign. However, it is suggested that the first phase, which broke in newspapers in 45 countries yesterday, will alone cost over $30m (pounds 19m). The print campaign will be augmented from next month by TV commercials on CNN International and BBC World TV, while the Internet, airport displays and billboards will also be used.

Mr Wyman accepts that some of the firm's partners would have preferred something more mainstream, mentioning the firm's areas of expertise in particular. But he believes that "it's great because it's different".

Moreover, he claims it is a sign of the new firm's "maturity" that "we've got the courage to move away from traditional professional services firm ads". The firm is deliberately aiming at a younger audience - on the grounds that it needs to compete with businesses of all sorts in order to attract the best recruits.

The first ad features a boy in a developing country being inoculated as an illustration of how PricewaterhouseCoopers helps pharmaceutical companies cost-effectively to develop and launch useful new medicines.

Others in the series, created by the advertising agency Ammirati Puris Lintas, will continue in the grainy documentary style and feature the firm's work in helping an Indian regional power company privatise, work on re-engineering a global supply chain and help for clients in developing new approaches to Internet security and electronic commerce opportunities.

For Mr Wyman, a large part of the appeal of the campaign is the almost limitless supply of case studies that can be featured. He also says the firm recognises the necessity of the campaign running for a significant period - because building brand awareness in this way takes time.

The overall theme of this first three-month phase of what is intended to be a campaign lasting at least 18 months is recruitment. The tag-line throughout is "Join us. Together we can change the world."

Accountancy firms of various sizes have shown an increasing willingness to promote themselves on poster sites and in business publications. But while such efforts tend to focus on the firms' services, PwC's campaign is more like the television advertisements for Andersen Consulting in attempting to present an image of providing challenging careers. According to Mr Smith, the ads "present a picture of the intellectual challenges awaiting those who join our organisation".

This focus continues the preoccupation with recruiting that Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand presented as a key reason for last year's merger. Mr Smith says the commercials are "designed to appeal direct to potential recruits, to make sure that we get more than our fair share at a time when competition for the best people is intense ... they also send compelling, eye-opening messages about the fascinating nature and far-reaching impact of what we do for our clients."

But the firm does also have one eye on impressing existing and would- be clients. "We're giving the global business community a glimpse of the size and diversity of work we do for clients - projects many people ordinarily might not associate with PricewaterhouseCoopers," says Mr Smith.

Finally, it appears that this is a propitious time to launch such an ambitious campaign. Insiders claim that the progress made since the merger was finalised last summer makes this an ideal moment to promote the new firm. They claim that management issues have largely been sorted out and that the much-predicted fall-out of staff and clients has largely hitherto failed to materialise.

"People really seem to have understood what the merger means for them. The place is energised by the merger," says Mr Wyman.