Despite economic turbulence, the $230 billion consulting industry has boomed in recent years, with over 50% of firms seeing revenue growth over the last three years. This is no flash in the pan trend – over the next few years, the industry is expected to experience double-digit growth assisting clients with some of their greatest challenges during a period of significant global disruption.
However, the likes of KPMG, EY, Deloitte and PwC are facing the aftershocks of multiple scandals and global investigations and clients and talent are taking note. Such recent headlines indicate some headaches for the reputation of the consulting sector, despite positive growth projections. The year ahead could prove disruptive for the entire industry so their positioning and strategic evolution will be key in the war for talent, business and trust. Here we look at macro trends and trigger points to monitor in the coming months.
The war for talent is still raging
Consulting is a people business, so any strain on talent pipelines can have significant impacts on strategy and project delivery. While some firms have announced hiring boosts, others have warned of cost cutting measures when facing the stark reality of economic pressures. Recent figures from Consulting Point detailed that the Big Four only hired about 790 people in August of this year, down from over 1,500 the year prior. That shrinkage certainly hots up the competition for top talent.
Where the flow of talent eventually settles remains to be seen, but moves to rebalance skills in the consulting workforce are likely to extend into next year. The organisations engaging with talent on conversations about the future evolution of the industry, and their place within it, will be front of mind when they their next move. And with ever-evolving technological advancements and demand for tailored advisory practices in emerging sectors like generative AI and ESG, ambitious talent are creating a different playing field, one where high-performing consulting talent can look for roles at competitors, specialist firms, freelancing, or carve out paths in new industries altogether.
Specialist consultancy recruitment firms will likely have their work cut out for them as they look to match professionals with businesses that can deliver on growth and advancement. For consultancies and their HR and recruitment partners alike, creating a strong employer brand narrative, boosted by PR, can help facilitate a healthy talent pipeline.
Enabling growth for mid-tier firms
A more promising, consistent growth trajectory emerges when looking at SME consulting firms. In fact, a 51% majority of all consulting firms saw average revenues grow in the last three years, led by exciting revenue growth from boutique consultancies (at 69%) and medium-sized consultancies (82%), according to Sonovate.
As consulting and advisory services are no longer enjoyed by the C-suite alone, with traditional big-dollar investments making way for nimbler, cost effective projects, the consulting firms which adopt a more agile mindset and invest in spotlighting their competitive differentiators will be better placed to usher in growth. This is where PR can be a useful mechanism to drive understanding of what sets individual firms head and shoulders above the rest and boost awareness of this competitive advantage amongst clients, prospects and industry talent.
Whether a firm excels at delivering strategic outcomes for organisational change management, specialist insights on ESG investments or data-driven solutions to enable digital transformation, these are the foundations of great advisory capabilities – and key components of a holistic PR strategy. As many firms look to scale and diversify, ensuring the corporate story evolves with it could be the difference between capturing market share or getting lost in the crowd.
Auditing firms facing a regulatory squeeze
The Labour Party has now vowed to pass long-awaited legislation on audit and corporate governance reforms if it wins next year’s general election. They will be replacing the FRC with a new beefed-up regulator ARGA, following a chain reaction of scandals involving heavyweight auditing firms. For example, Deloitte, PwC and EY have all hit headlines surrounding investigations they’ve faced this year, covered by Reuters, Financial Times and The Guardian.
Regulators have historically taken the approach of ‘where there is one, there are many’. Although this brings a great challenge for firms who need to ‘tighten up’ under much-needed scrutiny, firms can use this as a considered opportunity to share industry insights on best practice. Now more than ever, it is of utmost importance for firms to be proactive in assessing any potential issues, using internal communications channels to inform and reassure staff about unfolding events. In many cases, it also presents an opening to highlight upskilling opportunities, support programmes and employee benefits – though communicating with sensitivity is key. Taking proactive and preventative action as early as possible is the best safeguard against potential reputational risk, particularly with the possibility of increased regulatory scrutiny on the horizon.
Navigating the changes ahead
Ultimately, the road ahead for consulting firms shows a tale of diverging narratives. What connects them is the need for clear, open and proactive communication strategies that propel them through upheaval into sustained future growth. Effective PR can support professional services firms with realising reputational, brand and commercial objectives – get in touch to see how our PR consultants can help.