UK: BACKBITE - FESTIVITIES FRANCHISE FACES CRISIS. - Big Red is in big trouble and management consultants Marley and Scrooge have been called in to re-engineer a spirit of goodwill. David Morton tells of failure on a global scale.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Big Red is in big trouble and management consultants Marley and Scrooge have been called in to re-engineer a spirit of goodwill. David Morton tells of failure on a global scale.

It was the night before Christmas. Snow had fallen - unfortunately most of it had been melted into brown slush by the exhausts and the tyres of company cars. Even more unfortunately most of that had then refreezed into deadly black ice.

'They don't seem to mention deadly black ice too much in Christmas carols,' reflected Bob Crachitt as he slipped and slid his way across the tundra of the executive car park towards the bright and shiny HQ of Father Christmas International - or 'Big Red' as it had recently become known in the financial press.

Everyone knew about Big Red; how it had started as little more than a 'mom and pop' operation in what was no more than a garage; how it had been bank-rolled by three far-sighted and wealthy Arabs; and how today its turnover included more than £x billion of toys, £y billion of perfume and £z billion of booze. But Bob Crachitt also knew that Big Red was in big trouble. In his briefcase were some of the worst marketing statistics he had ever seen. In survey after survey the majority of consumers had complained that 'Christmas isn't what it used to be'. Even more ironic, considering the almost bankrupt economics of the whole enterprise, an increasing number were complaining that 'Christmas had become too commercial'. 'The long and short of it is that CHRISTMAS IS IN CRISIS,' Bob reflected as he made his way to Big Red's boardroom.

At this point it may help readers of Backbite to understand that Bob Crachitt works for management consultants Marley and Scrooge and, along with all the other management consultants at Marley and Scrooge, he occasionally thinks in CAPITAL LETTERS. It may also help to know that, just like all management consultancies, Marley and Scrooge are into CHANGE in a big way, and this year their particular slant is PROCESS RE-ENGINEERING.

Now Marley and Scrooge have a particularly strong reputation in the business of change, especially rapid change, having once turned their own business philosophy around in the course of one night. But even Bob Crachitt wondered whether Christmas Eve wasn't a bit late in the day. For a start there were the problems with Big Red that everybody knew about: the eccentric choice of the North Pole, surely one of the most inaccessible regions of the globe, for production facilities; a bizarre just-in-time distribution strategy that required an entire year's production to be delivered in one night; and an even more bizarre delivery mechanism, reputedly based on just one florid-faced old man (with indications of drink dependency) driving a sled pulled by a red-nosed reindeer (with indications of drug-dependency).

Worse still, Bob was aware of problems that would hardly have been believed by the City's tribe of sub-teenage scribblers. For example, the fact that, owing to logistics problems, distribution had been outsourced to a random collection of husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, friends and business acquaintances. You name them - just about everyone had been franchised by Big Red. As a result, Big Red had almost no control over the selection and delivery of gifts and the wrong presents were consistently being given to the wrong people at the wrong time-black lace bras, light blue socks, signed copies of Thatcher, The Downing Street Years. Indeed, it was said that on some days in December, M and S was having to take more gifts back than it was managing to sell.

Now Bob was further aware that not only were these problems insuperable but that for the consultancy fee the board of Big Red was going to have to pay Marley and Scrooge they could have commissioned a private performance of Madonna singing Silent Night with her clothes on - and meaning it. This led Bob to wonder whether management consultants really could justify their existence.

But Bob knew how to give value for money. So he told the managers of Big Red what they already knew: that the way they could have a better Christmas was if they could start all over again - and design their Christmas from the very beginning - with a blank sheet of paper 'as white as the snow outside'.Warming to his theme, Bob told the board that they would quickly see how they would need to spend a little less money on hastily-purchased flashy gifts and how soon they would realise the need to spend more time with their families.

'And God Bless Us Every One,' as Tiny Tim Crachitt would have said had he been there to see his father in action. Unfortunately Bob Crachitt knew that his son, whom he hardly ever saw, was at home hoping for a particularly expensive video game which Bob would have to try and buy in a bout of last-minute shopping.

'HAPPY CHRISTMAS,' Bob thought to himself later as he pushed his way through the shoppers and avoided yet another beggar. 'HAPPY CHRISTMAS. BAH, HUMBUG.'

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