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Consulting websites don’t reflect thought leadership quality

There was a lovely line in the fourth series of Blackadder in which George, being bashful about his artistic abilities, says: “Well, one doesn’t like to blow one’s own trumpet.” To which Blackadder replies: “You might at least have let us know you had a trumpet!”

Having spent some time looking at the way consulting firms present their thought leadership on their websites, I’m tempted to echo Blackadder’s sentiments. When you consider how much the world’s leading consulting firms are investing in thought leadership (as a guide, we find somewhere in the region of 500 new articles every month from about 25 of those firms)  it’s really quite alarming to see just how much their websites are letting them down.

If you want to see what I mean, go to the .com address of a big firm of your choice. Now go looking for what you’d consider to be the ‘home’ of their thought leadership. See what I mean? There are some decent examples out there: generally the biggest strategy firms (McKinsey, BCG, Booz, Bain) are making a pretty good fist of doing justice to their considerable investment, and the new Deloitte University Press website is a major leap forward, whatever you think of the name, but things generally go downhill from there.

So what’s going wrong? The many answers to that question are something we pore over in our report but amongst them is the idea that Google is the best homepage for a firm’s thought leadership – which, put another way, is a recognition that nobody is going to turn up on that firm’s website wondering what’s going on. That seems like a missed opportunity at best. At worst, the withered vines of websites, from which the fruits of consulting firms’ labours now hang, run the risk of seriously damaging clients’ impressions of those firms.   

The fragmented global structure of many firms isn’t doing them any favours either, because it’s imposing internal boundaries on readers who just want one place to find everything (though this is arguably more excusable than the confusion created by a multiplicity of ‘publications’ within the same firm, which might be sensible offline but carve up the user experience online). But more than anything else, many of these sites are just so far off the pace of cutting-edge web design that they make it look as though a firm doesn’t care. And I know from personal experience of talking with many consulting firms that nothing could be further from the truth.

Sorting out some of the problems described here ought to be the first step – and it’s one that many, like Deloitte, have already started to take – but there’s another challenge waiting in the wings: at some point the producers of thought leadership are going to have to embrace the opportunities presented to them by digital media and start creating content that is truly digital (not just analogue content digitised). That might, for instance, mean shaking up the assumption that a piece of thought leadership needs to have a beginning, middle and an end. Of the firms we’ve looked at, only PwC, seems to get this.  

It’s an odd accusation to be levelling at a consulting firm, but where the promotion and dissemination of thought leadership online is concerned, a bit of judicious trumpet blowing might just be in order.