Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business
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a brief anatomy of the consultancy market

February 2006

Assurance, training, and communications are all important areas of work for consultants working to embed responsible practices in company operations

A few years ago, consultancies offering professional services in the CSR field could be counted on not much more than the fingers of one hand. Now, the Ethical Performance CSR Professional Services Directory 2006, which was published last month, lists 227 providers serving UK companies alone, ranging from the Big Four accountancy firms through to medium-sized practices with ten to 20 consultants and one-man bands that offer highly specialized services.

Each directory entrant was able to select at least one of 46 categories of professional service, running from report assurance to volunteering. Analysis of the categories chosen gives a useful insight into the state of the consultancy market, and hence of CSR itself. The sheer number of organizations listed was a surprise. So were some of the categories selected. There are more providers of training than of public relations services; one in five work with companies on strategic issues; and about the same number help with stakeholder relations (see box below).

These figures suggest that companies increasingly view CSR as a strategic and operational matter, rather than as a branch of PR. On the other hand, they may reflect the fact that companies are content for their main PR agency to handle this aspect of their public relations, even if the provider has no specific CSR expertise.

Hilary Sutcliffe, executive director of Shared View, says the market has evolved. ‘Companies that originally offered lots of different services are beginning to focus and micro-consultancies are springing up in niche areas,’ she says. ‘I think we will start to see market consolidation.’

Assurance is undergoing big changes, as the scope and breadth of reporting widens. Deborah Evans, business manager, corporate reporting and assurance for Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance, says the growth is driven largely by institutional investors, who now want a clearer understanding of what a company is doing, and also by pressure from within the company to assure the quality of non-financial reports.

‘There’s a much greater appreciation of the different levels of assurance’, says Evans, who first became involved in verification work in the early 1990s. ‘Traditionally, assurers focused on the accuracy of the data presented, but now are equally concerned with whether the information is geared to and understandable by the intended readers.’ This in turn is influencing companies’ choice of assurer, Evans believes. That helps to explain why assurance is such a mixed bag, ranging from statements by global accountancy firms to those by well known individuals.

Building trust goes to the heart of CSR and is a factor shaping the market. ‘In the early days, there wasn’t always a clear distinction between campaigners and CSR consultants,’ says Solitaire Townsend, managing director of Futerra. ‘The value-based element makes for a unique relationship between consultants and clients in CSR. Trust is a critical issue. You have to prove you care, as well as having a business proposition of the highest quality.’

For Futerra, a sustainability communications consultancy, consumer communication, spreading UK and European experience to other markets, and ‘issues management’ – identifying in advance a potentially damaging issue for a company and proposing ways to address it – are all important areas of work.

Dominique Gangneux, senior manager at Deloitte & Touche environment and sustainability services, says ‘the growing demands on CSR managers to generate value and embed responsible working practices within organizations is fuelling demand for a new kind of professional services.’

Training is one of the solutions being taken up, both by CSR managers, who need to speak the language of business, and by general managers, who need a better grasp of the issues.

Companies are investing more in awareness-raising and training for all their staff, Townsend says. ‘In the past, the internal engagement process was often the only element in a proposal that wasn’t taken up. That isn’t so today. Engaging staff is hard to do, but almost impossible to undo – consumers have far shorter memories – so the investment in staff training in this area is very significant.’

Copies of The CSR Professional Services Directory 2006
can be obtained from Molly Miller at the email address shown right

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