Market leaders beware - a new generation of consultancies is snapping at your heels

While the big names slug it out for the best reputation in their sector, many smaller battles are taking place further down the table - and it is these which are more likely to create the surprises that will upset the status quo.

The top consultancies have carved out their niche and their well-established reputations will bring the business to them.

But in the dog-eat-dog world of the smaller consultant, things can change pretty fast and what looked like a safe foundation last year can have turned into quicksand twelve months down the line.

Companies whose appearance in the 2005 survey was more a blip on the radar than a flashing neon sign might also have had a reversal of fortunes, as hard graft and lucky breaks and seen their profile rise rapidly up the rankings, putting them in the position to be the most reputable firms of tomorrow.

By and large, activity outside of the much talked-about top ten is as could be expected - companies steadily building on their reputation as they complete more contracts and word gets around that they can do the job, or at the very least managing to hold onto what they have got from past successes.

But there are some notable exceptions to this rule, with a few shooting stars racing up the tables and some who appear to have slipped a few slots in the face of competition or board room decisions to concentrate in new areas.

IPPC throws up some interesting results, with the majority of companies seeing their reputation among customers evaporate while a handful of consultants at the top of the pile enjoying a significant surge, widening the gap between the trusted big names and the less familiar outfits.

WSP exemplifies this trend, with dwindling reputation among the customers who responded to the survey compared with a strong position last year, while Mouchel Parkman has seen a fall-off in reputation in this sector from the other consultants' point of view.

Safety & Ecology Corp has bucked the trend, managing to impress consultants enough to see a rapid rise in reputation, though quite why this might be is a mystery to the company - a spokesman told edie that while IPPC consultancy was a service the firm offered it had not carried out any projects in this area over the past year.

There are several possible interpretations for the trends on this table - it is certainly conceivable that the majors are making a push to consolidate their already-strong position or it is equally possible that since IPPC is seen by respondents as the least likely area in which they will require advice, few have looked closely at the current market in detail and have instead opted for the companies with the strongest brand recognition when completing the survey.

In the area of Environmental Impact Assessments the big mover was Faber Maunsell, which managed to hold onto the very respectable reputation it had among its peers last year while making huge gains in terms of customer recognition and respect.

Another quirk of the EIA data was the performance of ADAS, which enjoyed a sizeable surge in customer reputation while ironically slightly slipping in terms of reputation among the other consultants in this particular field.

In the waste and recycling arena Mott MacDonald saw a massive rise in its reputational stake among fellow consultants. The RSK ENSR also perform well compared with last year - while still sitting more or less in the middle of the table for both client and consultant reputation, this shows a huge gain in recognition in both categories compared with last year, so perhaps the company could be one to watch in this fast-growing sector.

When it comes to CSR, the rapid riser is international outfit Carl Bro which was not seen as a major player by either consultants or their clients last year but in 2006 that has all changed, with the company enjoying a position comfortably within the top half of the table from both peers and those likely to hire them.

WRc is also worth a mention here, having improved considerably after last year's lacklustre performance in the CSR section of the survey - while it might be a few years yet before the company is topping the table it now has a respectable reputation among potential clients in this area.

When it comes to water it seems Haswell Consulting Engineers made waves among the client base this year, with a huge gain in customer confidence. Ironically, the improved reputation is unlikely to result in more work for the consultants who are winding up operations and being absorbed by sister company Severn Trent.

There is also a lot of movement in the contaminated land sector, with fast-growing respect from customers for Bureau Veritas, Mott MacDonald and Black & Veatch which, being better known for its water work, only managed a blip on the radar in terms of customer reputation last year but now makes an appearance in the top ten.

With public awareness and concern about climate change on the increase, it comes as no surprise that renewable energy and advice on cutting carbon emissions is one of the major growth areas for consultancies.

Reputation can mean the difference between winning a contract and losing out, particularly in such a competitive field, and there were a trio of companies which whilst not in the pack that led the respondents' list had made huge gains in the eyes of the customers since last year.

These were Babtie, Parsons Brinckerhoff and RPS.

"We've increased our presence in the energy sector quite massively in the last two or three years," Dougie Lamont of RPS.

He said that in the past where the company might have been asked to consider the landscaping and visual impact of wind turbines, now it would be advising on technologies and geotechnical aspects of a broad spectrum of renewable energy projects.

"Our energy division used to not exist as recently as two or three years ago, now it accounts for 25% or our turnover. It's nothing new for RPS but we've gone from employing ten people to employing rather a lot of people," he said.

Mr Lamont said the company's reputation was also helped through its involvement in high-profile projects such as the planned Thames Estuary wind farm (see related story) which would be the largest source of renewable energy in the world once built.

Sam Bond

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