Firm Watch

If the Big Firms Were Alcohol, Here’s What You’d Be Drinking

Ed. note: this is the second submission from Andrew Roberts as we trudge ever onward in the GC freelancer finals. You've met him before. You are already familiar with how this works and I know you'll do your part by chiming in. What does an accountant think about when there is nothing else to think […]

Grant Thornton Gets Emotional in Its Ad Campaign

This morning we took a look the deadly advertising at BDO and while they came up with a good tagline, they were unable to capitalize on the opportunity to personalize their service with actual clients.

In contrast to the utilitarian feeling of the BDO advertising, Grant Thornton is all about emotions. The most important statement that a professional service agency can make is that it is passionate for the client’s business, and Grant Thornton’s attitude is authentic. The firm is well defined by the tag line, “People who love what they do” and by the whimsical rose mnemonic.

The three spots in the campaign are not balanced. This one about customer service misses the mark. It is long and tedious and continues to run needlessly after the point is made.


This commercial extolling the global capabilities of Grant Thornton is better. It is well written and although it is not particularly visually arresting, it makes the point about the firm capabilities crisply.

The commercial about responsiveness is the best. It stands out because it uses humor and the analogy of the unreliable, hapless goalie is relevant and easily understood. All in all, Grant Thornton tackled the challenge of advertising a professional service firm well.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner will GT take the next logical step and extend their passion campaign in to special topical ad?

Avi Dan is President & CEO of Avidan Strategies, a New York based consultancy specialized in advising professional service companies on marketing and business development. Mr. Dan was previously a board member with two leading advertising agencies and managed another.

BDO’s Big Ad Campaign: It’s Deadly

Advertising a professional service company is a challenge for ad agencies. First, the subject is not all that interesting, except maybe to the people who work there, their families, and their clients. And second, the differences from one company to another are minute. What you can say about one CPA or law firm is pretty much the same as another. You can’t advertise a firm as doing something better, the way Tide claims to clean better or Crest to whiten teeth better.

What can marketers do when they can’t make a claim that they are better? Why, write a jingle, like Coke or Pepsi of course. However, professional service companies have to maintain some gravitas. Schmaltz and accountants would be like wearing shorts and flip-flops to a client meeting.

We’re presenting some analysis of two current accounting firm ad campaigns, starting with BDO and tackling Grant Thornton this afternoon.

Analysis and videos, after the jump


The solution is to differentiate yourself not by what you say but through the tone of your advertising. And the tone of the BDO’s advertising is deadly, almost literally. It is dark, and cold, and depressing. And it doesn’t work because it takes itself too seriously. The conversations are artificial, and the situations forced.

In the following commercial, as two executives exit an unidentified intuitional-looking edifice, one person says to the other “Reilly hit the roof” about the need to restate. We never find out who “Reilly” is, but are reassured that “the partners are on it”, suggesting that BDO will not send in the juniors to fix the problem.

This second commercial deals with the switch from GAAP to IFRS. Why is BDO best suited to handling it? According to the commercial because of its global resources and because “it’s complicated.” Oh? Weak, pretty generic, arguments.

The best asset BDO has is it tagline, “People who know, know BDO”. That could have been the idea for a very nice commercial, maybe using real customers, but BDO did not capitalize on it.

Avi Dan is President & CEO of Avidan Strategies, a New York based consultancy specialized in advising professional service companies on marketing and business development. Mr. Dan was previously a board member with two leading advertising agencies and managed another.

Firm Watch Ranking and Wrap-up

winners.jpgSo here’s our little wrap up on the firms we covered this week. Pretty difficult to figure out who’s really got it the worst out there, as every firm seems to have its own skeletons. God knows that we’ll continue to dig through as many closets as we can find in order to keep you all informed, especially as we approach the fiscal year ends for raises and bonuses (or lack thereof) and the incoming new hires get razed.
See the rank/em>


Taking a Beating
1. PwC – On top of everything that PwC is already dealing with, rumor has it that this year’s new hires got their starting pay cut but it’ll be spreading over the next 24 months to ease the pain. PwC is, for the lack of a better comparison, the Goldman Sachs of the accounting firms. They’re always going to take the most heat and be scrutinized the most. So with that in mind, they top our first ranking as the firm that seems to be taking the most serious beating.
2. E&Y – Judging by the comments, sounds like E&Y has had the most significant layoffs. Somehow the firm still finds the cash to throw a monster international rager for interns. The Lehman Brothers lawsuits haven’t really even gotten started. Our suggestion: Sneak down to Orlando and party on the company dime while you can.
Bloody but Somehow, Still Standing
3. BDO – BDO has got to figure what to do about the $520-odd million they owe Banco Espirito. Considering the fact that they won’t be getting help from the International Firm Global Cooperative, this may be a hell of a problem. Other than the TTT comments, BDO-ers aren’t saying much. Get your friends that work there to spill their guts here.
4. KPMG – Rumors of another reduction in force in October, forced PTO, teams are short staffed. We would like more info on those cell phone chairs please. The Radio Station troops are doing a lot of belly aching, which we love, that’s what were here for. Keep it up Blue! Obviously, the big risk here is the New Century lawsuit which includes the “we’re going to piss everyone off” quote. Considering the pace of these lawsuits, we’ll be talking about it well into next decade.
Maintaining
5. Deloitte – Deloitte, while canning plenty of people, partners not sharing the love and losing some big clients, does not have any major litigation pending that we can see so they fall near the bottom of our list at this point in time. Oh sure you could say that Parmalat is out there but does anyone give a damn? They make extra long-shelf-life milk. That’s a fraud in it’s own right.
6. Grant Thornton – Sounds like G to the T is able to keep their layoffs pretty quiet but they possibly have had it the worst. Keep enlightening us with those details. Refco is out there but those guys were cheats, liars, and thieves. A public defender could get you out of that. However, the biggest strike we see against is trying to squeeze into cool kids club with the coining of “Global 6 Accounting Organization”. Nice try GT.
So there you have it. P. Dubs and E&Y take the top two spots in our very first Firm Watch ranking. Radio Station and BDO have got serious issues to work and Big D and GT seem to fall to the bottom of the ranking by having less bad issues than the other firms.
Give us your thoughts. Reshuffle completely? Any more tips? Send them to tips@goingconcern.com. We’ll do the firm watch every so often as big events unfold. In the mean time, keep sending us tips, dirt, and ridiculous emails that inform you about paper clip rationing and the such.

Firm Watch: BDO

BDO-small.jpgAll right, so this is it for our firm watch. We realize loading three firms into one day wasn’t such a good idea but we procrastinated out of habit.
We wrap up with BDO Seidman, who some of you probably consider to be TTT-1 but whatevs.
See BDO’s list, after the jump


Lawsuits – BDO International Global Cooperation hit the lottery when a jury in South Florida bought the wedding planner defense in the Banco Espirito lawsuit. That left the U.S. firm to deal with the $520 million verdict in the original case. The U.S. firm just reported revenue results of $622 million. No word on how that will reconcile.
Madoff Exposure – Listed as a defendant in seven lawsuits.
Overtime Lawsuits – List as a defendant in one lawsuit.
Layoffs, etc. – Same dealio as GT. We’ve only heard of minor layoffs but as high as 200 in the UK. Get us up to speed if you’ve got details.
Miscellaneous – Global CEO Jeremy Newman has a blog that is frequently TLDR. The U.S. CEO has been compared to a special version of Ricardo Montalban and a former partner had to recently give up his boat.
Finally. That catches you up on all the firms that you’ll see regularly around here. They all seem doomed but also have the tenacity of cockroaches. You’ll see our totally unfair, unrealistic ranking tomorrow with some updates that we’ve gotten throughout the week. Before then, continue to send us your tips to tips@goingconcern.com.

Firm Watch: Grant Thornton

grant-thornton-logo-with-rose.jpgNow that we’ve dispensed with the Big 4 on our Firm Watch, we’ll throw in the two major second next non-Big 4 firms to demonstrate our willingness to spread the love hate coverage.
Get acquainted with GTTT, after the jump


Lawsuits – The lawsuits worth mentioning for GT are Parmalat and Refco. While Deloitte was able to get the suit tossed, GT wasn’t so lucky. Investors in the never-go-bad dairy company are allowed to proceed with their lawsuit which will guarantee that this case continues on to the end of time. As far as Refco goes, well, we’ll be damned if we can find anything that is even remotely recent as it relates to GT. Help us out if you can.
Madoff Exposure – G to the T’s UK office is running down assets across the pond. That unenviable task could almost qualify the firm for sainthood.
Overtime Lawsuits – Listed as defendants in two cases.
Layoffs – This is where we need your help, GT-ers. As far as we can tell, not a lot of blood has been spilled at G to the T. If you’ve details on rumors on anything upcoming or layoffs that have gone down recently, let us know.
Miscellaneous – GT’s partners in the UK have interns sign off on audit reports and the Midtown New York office as a diabolical address. Oh, and the lame attempt by their PR team to coin “Global 6 Accounting Organization” as the new tag for accounting firms.
There’s the study on passionate folks at GT. Get us caught up on stuff we’re missing at tips@goingconcern.com. We can’t imagine it’s that boring to work there.

Firm Watch: Deloitte

DTa.jpgThe last of the Big 4 Horsemen of the Bean Counter Apocalypse is Big D-period. Catch up on the rest of the usual suspects: Radio Station, P. Dubya, and E&Y to get the gist of this little exercise.
Deloitte’s got a pretty similar list as the rest of the firms but with a couple twists so let’s get down to brass tacks:
Get the details, after the jump


Losing Clients – We’ve heard that firms are low-balling their RFP’s so it’s no surprise that some clients are switching but Deloitte seems to have had worse luck than others. UAL, Heelys (for the kids), Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Washington Mutual have all disappeared from D-period.
Lawsuits – Believe it or not, the Parmalat debacle is not a done deal, as some lawsuits against the US and Internationalfirms are still out there as a judge ruled in January that the agent/agency issue was worth a closer look.
Madoff Exposure – All week we’ve been referring you to the list of Feeder Fund Lawsuits over at D&O Diary. In a small water into wine moment, Deloitte does not appear on the list once. Nice bullet dodge Big D.
Overtime Lawsuits in California – Deloitte is listed as the defendant in three of the cases.
Layoffs, performance reviews, etc. – So, as we saw yesterday, this is where Deloitte’s sitch gets, pret-tay, pret-tay, pret-tay ugly. Layoffs were reported in both December and March nationwide. The performance stealth cuts are common here too and more may occur. All this is going on while an out-going CEO is talking to the press about how bad things have been in the last five years and the UK CEO is having Scrooge McDuck pool parties.
Miscellaneous – The worst drug dealers in the world used to work for Big D.
So that does it for Deloitte, God bless ’em. And that does it for the Final Big 4. We’ll throw in GT and BDO in for good measure but if you want to throw some more jabs at the big boys, email us at tips@goingconcern.com. You’ve got until around high noon tomorrow before we’ll start coming up with our completely unfair and unscientific ranking.

Firm Watch: KPMG

KPMG_chair.jpgSo after dissecting opining on sliming P. Dubs and E&Y, we’re moving on to KPMG in round three. We’ll dispense with the pleasantries and get right to the list:
New Century Lawsuit – This is the ball buster for KPMG. A $1 billion lawsuit filed back in April that alleges “grossly negligent audits”. This tale also includes a smoking gun quote from an email sent from New Century engagement partner to a specialist, “As far as I am concerned, we are done. The client thinks we are done. All we are going to do is piss everybody off.” We’re not sure if it’s possible to take that out of context.
Check out the rest of the Radio Station’s list, after the jump


Madoff Exposure – Per D&O Diary, the Radio Station is named as a defendant in at least ten lawsuits as a result of auditing the Madoff feeder funds.
Overtime Lawsuits – Listed as a defendant in five lawuits.
Layoffs, Pay Freezes, etc. – Allegedly, the word that pay was being frozen was slowly leaked from the top on down. Layoffs have been pretty steady for the last twelve months including rounds in November and March in the audit and advisory practices. In addition, the ubiquitous trend of performance rating cuts is in full effect, and we just learned that by the this time last year, audit interns had heard yay or nay on receiving a full time offer. That probably makes for some nervous intoxicated co-eds.
Miscellaneous – Phil Mickelson, the Radio Station’s walking billboard, was a bridesmaid at the U.S. Open for a third fourth fifth time.
Done-zo. Anything else you want to see tacked on? Drop us the dirt at tips@goingconcern.com and we’ll get it in for the final tab.

Firm Watch: Ernst & Young

ernst_young.jpgRound two of our Firm Watch this week covers everybody’s favorite resident of Times Square, Ernst & Young. We’ll get started on E&Y’s trubs with the Schein lawsuit where the firm was recently found to be marginally negligent and were ordered to pay a smidge over $10 mil as a result. NBD really, as E&Y probably spends that much money screwing up the spelling of their name on cheesy coffee cups.
The more serious stuff on E&Y, after the jump


Here’s some major stuff that probably keeps some E&Y partners awake at night:
Lehman Brothers – E&Y’s role in the collapse of Lehman Brothers has got little attention in the press, however, suits have already been filed by San Mateo County in California, the City of Long Beach, California and the Southern District of Texas. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to speculate that more suits are likely to be filed.
Madoff Exposure – E&Y also has significant Madoff exposure, as the auditor of several feeder funds. D&O Diary has them listed as defendants in at least ten different lawsuits.
Layoffs – There have lots of reports of layoffs at E&Y in the last month or so, many of which occurred in the tax practices in the Northeast, and many of those getting the axe were supposedly on visas. Real classy. This was a follow-up to layoffs that also went down in February. As if that’s not enough, there were also rumors of layoffs occurring monthly since September ’08 in the Detroit office. Plus, with lots comments about stealth layoffs at all levels, it sounds like it has been a bloodbath at E&Y.
So that seems to be the major stuff, from our view, for E&Y. Again, we want to know what we’re missing. We’re looking for tips and dirt on any of the things we discussed above and everything we didn’t mention. Email us at tips@goingconcern.com and we’ll get all your additional gripes on here.

Firm Watch: PwC

pwclogo.thumbnail.jpgThis week we’re putting together a series of posts on the six largest accounting firms to give you an idea what their latest image seems to be based on the latest news and rumors we’ve read or heard about them. At the end of the week we’ll wrap up with a completely unscientific and probably unfair ranking which you will be allowed expected to take exception with.
We’ll start with P. Dubs because they seem to have had the uncanny ability to attract bad news lately:
Get the gory details, after the jump


Satyam Fraud in India – $1b fraud, two auditors rotting in jail, Satyam throwing the Firm under the bus every chance it gets. This is the story that will definitely not go away.
Discrimination Suit in London – GBP 40 million lawsuit, including alleged sexual harassment. P. Dubs is saying the lawsuit is “without merit” but at the very least there are a number of bigots working there.
• Rumors of PwC interns working 60 hour weeks in the New York office. Might as well give them an idea of what they’re in for, right?
• Chosen to take a suicide mission contract in Somalia to monitor the incoming aid
Wage and hour lawsuits in California – Listed as defendant in three cases
Huron Consulting Restatement – P. Dubs isn’t mentioned in this debacle. YET.
Madoff exposure – listed as a defendant in over a dozen lawsuits.
As for layoffs, we haven’t heard much lately. There was a rumor that the PwC Denver office had let some associates go in the past few weeks but we don’t have any more details than that. Layoffs that have occurred in the past year at PwC we’re rumored to be of the stealth variety and not related to the recession which nobody really believes.
So, that does it for P. Dubya for now. What are we missing? Whatever office you work out of, send us the latest scoop on layoffs, performance reviews, promotions, pay raises, bonuses, juicy gossip, scandalous stories, etc. to tips@goingconcern.com and we’ll update the posts appropriately throughout the week.