Simon Francis, chief executive of Flock Associates, suggests three key questions advertisers should ask before opting to work with management consultants over marketing specialists.
Management and strategy consultancies are now offering marketing services. They are also buying up agencies at a rate that some agency holding companies may be envious of. Are these consultancies viable alternative to agencies for clients?
Deloitte, Accenture, IBM, KPMG, PWC and others have acquired agencies.
Accenture acquired the UK agency Karmarama, and the 250-person firm became part of the management consultancy’s Accenture Interactive Unit. Deloitte purchased San Francisco-based full-service creative agency Heat as part of its Deloitte Digital Offering. IBM too is acquisitive, and recently bought Resource/Ammirati.
It appears on face value that these companies are alternatives to “traditional” agencies, and could be attractive to advertisers. But there are some questions that some advertisers are asking of these new offerings.
1 – Are they any good?
As with any acquired resource, the agency needs to be assimilated into the mothership. Will the talent leave? Will the patient reject the transplant? Only a rigorous independent assessment of their skills, sustainability and delivery can answer the question.
Just because an agency is now part of a strategy consultancy does not ‘improve it’ and only time will tell if it doesn’t ‘damage it’.
Agencies are only as good as the people in them, their motivation, and the culture. Let’s see how these three critical aspects evolve before judging the consultant agencies. Pitching whilst flawed still has its merits in ascertaining these aspects. Let’s see whether the new offerings can pitch, win and hold assignments.
2 – Can you trust the consultants?
Clients used to go to McKinsey, Bain, Accenture and others for independent consulting advice and IT implementation. But can you trust their advice? Is it independent, if they are proposing their own solution as the answer? We know of a ‘strategy’ consultant that has proposed their own digital, creative, media, tech, and data analytics solutions as the “best” solution for a client. Hardly impartial.
Agencies used to hand over data – notably media and other data for media auditing and modelling – but will they do so, now they are competitors? We know of an agency that has refused to hand over data for an assignment citing the “strategy” consultant’s conflict of interest.
We also know that some consultants have a ‘bad rep’ for sucking up the Intellectual Property of others and presenting it as their own. For example, one ‘leading’ consultancy visited our own website 35 times in 12 weeks and viewed all our blogs on agency management, and then wrote one remarkably similar. The blog was authored by a team who have never worked in an agency, or a marketing organisation.
3 – Are they good value?
Agency rates (in real terms) have fallen dramatically over the past 10 years. A chronic oversupply of agencies, a largely static demand, globalisation, the failure of agencies to show ROI, and the rise of procurement have all played a part. Consultancy rates have not shown the same decline. Will the consultants charge out model be applied to agencies and price them out of the game? Or, will they show value in way agencies have failed?
For your interest, Flock’s team have over 250 years’ worth of practical advice. I’ve worked in marketing for 27 years. I’ve run creative and media networks. I was told my personal day rate was under 50% of that of a leading strategy consultants lead consultant, even though she had never worked in marketing, and had eight years consulting experience. And, our blended day rate was 50% of the “strategy” consultancy. Go figure!
So, in summary there is still a lot for the consulting agencies to prove, and some interesting questions for clients to noodle on before committing. What is for sure it’s a buyers’ market, and the advertisers should benefit from the choice and competition.