Anyone thinking of
short-listing PR company Gavin Anderson for a job ought to be very, very careful. A column by Age finance writer Malcolm Maiden suggests that it might result
in what appears to be a confidence-breaking bucket of the client designed to
promote the consultancy.

On June 3 Maiden
wrote: “When Gavin Anderson & Company pitched for selection as the
communications adviser for the privatisation share sale of Snowy Hydro earlier
this year it told NSW Treasury the sale would generate complicated political
issues that would need to be managed carefully. And it said its experience in
that area – on privatisation deals including Telstra – made it best equipped for
the job. The firm was told by NSW Treasury that it had over-estimated the
political dimensions of the proposed sale: that Snowy Hydro was going to be a
straightforward sharemarket float. Gavin Anderson didn’t get the job but its
assessment of Snowy Hydro was correct.”

Now it is just
conceivable that Maiden got his information from someone in NSW Treasury, or one
of either the Victorian or Federal Governments, but logic suggests the words may
have had a source not a hundred kilometres from the firm itself. While Maiden would never reveal
his sources, a wild sort of guess suggests someone from the consultancy could
have mentioned it in a social conversation or, more probably, in response to a
telephone call seeking a viewpoint on what went wrong. Which
raises some interesting questions. Did Gavin Anderson reveal to the media
information from a confidential IPO tender process? If they did, why did the firm do
it? Is it
true that NSW Treasury just dismissed the advice? Did none of the other
tenderers – inconceivable as that is – raise the issue? Does Gavin Anderson
really have the hubris to imagine that the outcome would have been different if
it had worked on the project?

It is also
conceivable that NSW Treasury did mention issues management in some form or
other among the things government clients always cobble together to tell the
losing firms when they make the call telling them that they have missed out. As
everyone in consultancy knows – whenever you miss out on a job (even when there
are ten companies tendering) – you always ran a close second for some
plausible-sounding reason. Moreover, the call and the reasons are rapidly
converted within the consultancy into a conviction that the client could only
have refused you as a result of a conspiracy, incompetence or
set-up.