Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: PwC's Values Audit

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: PwC's Values Audit

Article excerpt

Scandals involving PricewaterhouseCoopers in India and the US could well harm its global brand.

So you know how corporate branding usually works, right? A company develops a pointlessly generic positioning statement - integrity, innovation, excellence and all the other usual suspects - sticks it above its reception desk and then goes on as usual in complete ignorance of these supposed brand values.

Of course, I am not being fair. Inconsistency is not the worst sin of corporate branding. There is a special place in hell reserved for brand contradiction. In these rarer instances, a company develops a bland positioning statement and still manages to contradict these apparently innocuous values.

Step forward PricewaterhouseCoopers, titan of business consulting. While advising clients on how to run their businesses, PwC has recently been doing an outstanding job of running its own affairs in a hilariously off-brand, off-kilter manner.

So how did PwC manage to contradict its brand values of teamwork, excellence and leadership? For the answer we must first travel to Bangalore, where PwC India audited and certified the accounts of IT firm Satyam, unaware that several of its senior managers were forging invoices and bank statements to the tune of more than dollars 1bn.

It was only in January, when the Satyam scandal was finally uncovered, that the reason for PwC's inability to spot a seven-year, 10-figure superfraud became clear. Under questioning by authorities, the head of PwC's Indian business admitted that his firm had not been auditing Satyam's accounts as it was understaffed. Instead, PwC had outsourced the task to a local firm of accountants that shared its Bangalore office. I guess you could argue this was PwC living its 'teamwork' value.

Despite the undeclared outsourcing of the work, PwC still seemed comfortable signing off the accounts each year. Given that PwC claims that its very special kind of leadership demands 'courage, vision and integrity', it's clear why the Satyam scandal and the subsequent 10-month media outrage in India and across the globe has damaged its brand so badly. Earlier this month, PwC shifted this winning approach to corporate brand management to the US. A day before a critical vote in the Senate committee on healthcare insurance reform, PwC released a report warning of increased family premiums and a rise in healthcare costs if the legislation was passed.

The report, paid for by the industry trade group America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), was attacked by Democrats and healthcare experts as being factually misleading. A day later PwC admitted that AHIP had instructed it to focus on some features of the bill, without taking into account other major provisions such as the effect of subsidies for those buying insurance. …

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