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‘Beware imitations!’ – coping with a phantom competitor

Imagine being a fifteen-year established specialist body with a reasonably good reputation and waking up one day to find that an anonymous competitor has emerged.

So, it copies your logo – changing one of our three-letter initialism (not acronym, note) but then cuts and paste our entire service portfolio – developed and perfected over years of painstaking work with hundreds of clients. A training course which is universally held to be a world ‘unique’ and derives from well over 1,000 hours of research (yes, really!) suddenly becomes deliverable by this new organisation. And it tweets its existence to hundreds of our members and contacts offering its services!

Well the saying is that Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… but we would be less than human if we were not curious about the source of the flattery. Especially when they start posting our published articles on its website – deleting the name of the author. It seems their modus operandi is to wait for the Institute’s Friday newsletter, copy one or two of our (typically 10-15) articles and present them on its own website. Ah, well, that’s the web, I suppose!

Then we noticed that there was no indication of who this person or persons might be. They must be terribly well-versed in public consultation, and outrageously clever to have assembled such a range of services from scratch. In fact, every effort seems to have been made to conceal the identity of these experts. Which is strange since the rest of the world believes that the way to sell professional services is to describe the skills and know-how of your consultants and demonstrate what they know. Still, maybe they have a new idea. Send to an anonymous email and see who responds to you? Hmm. Might you get malware in return?

Then suddenly, the service portfolio disappears from the lookalike website. Good heavens, are they so busy that they can’t cope with the demand? Or have they been spooked by a friend who apparently emailed them enquiring who they are? Or has the prankster lost interest and decided to flatter someone else? Has the Institute of Fiscal Studies suddenly attracted an anonymous competitor?

Anyway, who can this be? Someone who thinks our training is so wonderful, it has equipped him or her to set up a rival operation? Someone suffering from a mid-life career crisis? Is this Boris Johnson looking for a new role? Or Russell Brand re-igniting his career as a public affairs expert?  We know that they are totally lacking in imagination – there are so many potentially brilliant logos or images that would have worked better. We also suspect they have not quite realised that a key ingredient of consultation is the need for transparency. That might include letting the world know who you are. And the first principle of the Consultation Charter is something called Integrity. Not sure if our competitor knows much about that. If it appears to be serious – and shares our goal to make public consultation better and more meaningful, we would be happy to co-operate….

So, as it’s the season of goodwill, we wish our flatterer a Happy Christmas and we invite all readers of this article to let us know if the phantom of this particular opera reveals itself to them in the coming weeks.

About the Author

Rhion Jones is considered a leading authority on Public Engagement and Consultation. A founding Director of the Consultation Institute, he is co-author of “The Art of Consultation” (2009) and “The Politics of Consultation” (2018). He has delivered over 500 training courses and Masterclasses and is a prolific writer on the subject, having written over 350 different Topic papers and over 50 full Briefing Papers for the Institute. Since 2003 over 15,000 person-days of training based on courses he invented have been delivered. Rhion is in demand as an entertaining Keynote Speaker and Special Adviser, particularly on the Law of Consultation, and its implications for Government and other Public Bodies. In 2017, he was awarded the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’.

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