If you find yourself being cajoled into doing something that you know from experience will be a dud initiative, what should you do?

At a recent Insight Panel, I decided to gather the advice of Directors from some of the UK’s leading firms on how to spot doomed plans and how to avoid repeatedly flushing away time and money on things that will not work.

The type of activity that people had witnessed in their own firms included:

  1. A continual ebb and flow between centralising marketing teams and pushing people to sit with individual business units
  2. Time and money being channelled into ineffective client entertainment and sponsorship
  3. Weeks of valuable time being absorbed in internal meetings and list-mania
  4. Money pumped into brochures that simply sat in cabinets
  5. Time and money invested in thought leadership which did not reap any rewards

It appears that a lot of these issues stem from three tribes that are marauding through most professional firms: The Fashionistas, The Decorators and The Squeaky Wheels.

The Fashionistas

As Linda Stevens highlights; “there is sometimes a temptation to be too faddish and knee-jerk, to seize something that is on-trend”. Dominic de Mariveles agrees, having experienced, in both accountancy and law firms, an over-emphasis on change for changes sake. He thinks it is often driven by the desire of a new Director or Partner to make their mark but the result is lost time and distraction without any fundamental improvement.

Lee Grunnell added an interesting angle; he has seen firms doing things simply because competitors are; “to keep up with the Joneses when really we should be following the rule that Terry Leahy celebrates as boosting Tesco’s fortunes; don’t slavishly follow the competition, follow the customer”. Lee recommends that a firm co-develops offerings through dialogue with clients, rather than creating them in isolation.

Too much emphasis on buzz words, a culture of short-termism and flip-flopping is all clear evidence that you have Fashionistas in your midst. Beware!

The Decorators

The danger with decorators is they think that marketing is fine for papering over the cracks, even in the face of major structural faults. As Linda puts it “they try to ice a cake that has not yet been baked.” These are the people who think marketing and sales are solely about appearances, the type of people that describe us as the “fluffies” or “the glamorous ones”. Amy Kingdon who has worked with bankers, accountants and economists has often had to challenge requests for a new van full or brochures, a web-site or a fresh logo when really fundamental issues need to be addressed first. Visual evidence alone will not create more collaboration between divisions or geographies, if there has not been a robust assessment of the market and an effort to build internal rapport and motivation.

The squeaky wheels

Squeaky wheels believe that the more noise they make the more oil they will get. They are sometimes right, but is that in the wider interests of the organisation? Dominic has experienced this, when “ambitious, often beguiling, individuals who understand business development, will tilt a disproportionate amount of the firm’s resource their way. The result is often an over-commitment of time and money to niche areas with no track record.”

Amy agrees and highlights a specific issue in relation to brochures and flyers; “a devotion to printed material is more of a problem with people who are new to the role and they think that the quickest way to make a tangible impact is to produce some marketing collateral. Often though, it has negligible value.”

What can you do about these tribes terrorising the dark corridors of your firm – how can you respond when cornered by a Fashionista, a Decorator or a Squeaky Wheel?

Some people adopt the Grange Hill approach and Just Say No, but this can feed criticism that marketing are the party poopers who stand in the way of growth. A better answer is to provide a professional challenge to what people are planning. As Linda said “if you don’t want to be seen as a no person, you need to put it into the context of overall strategy and make sure this is clearly communicated to people. Often once the parameters are explained then people are happy to adhere to them.”

Lee agrees and says firstly gather the evidence: “Does the firm know what the acceptance rates, attendance and feedback scores for the same, tired events actually are? What are the read rates for emails and direct mail? What did it cost in time and money? Indeed, is this information being captured at all? This can present some punchy evidence.

When things are proposed on pure gut feel, it’s essential that any challenge is with fact, not feeling. In this economic climate, financial answers get people’s attention. Being able to provide this clarity and propose ways of helping people to achieve better results will provide the classic ‘win win’ situation.”

If you would like to find out more, please contact:



Who we work with

Do you want to grow your business?

Let's talk about how we can help.

Get in touch