Are consultants a threat to agencies?

For agencies already operating in a super-supplied market, the arrival of Accenture's tanks on the advertising lawn doesn't look particularly welcome.

Earlier this month, BMW hired the consultancy to help manage some of its digital marketing efforts.

As well as rolling out a customer-facing website across 100 markets (which will involve sourcing agencies and scoping requirements), Accenture will manage the global implementation of BMW’s centrally created campaigns. It looks very much like the management consultancy, which launched its digital marketing practice in 2009, not only threatens to steal agencies’ lunches, but has also become the senior partner in managing client relationships.

This appears to be a creeping trend and a direct result of clients outsourcing large parts of their marketing to those they see as their most trusted business partner. The Ministry of Defence has outsourced all its recruitment to Capita, which manages the relationship with JWT London. This might be efficient for clients but, for ad agencies – the custodians of the "magic" in a relationship – is it a whole lot of bad news?

Jillian Moore, director of client services, SapientNitro

"The proliferation of channels and growing maturity of the audience have made digital marketing increasingly complex. In turn, it has become more important to start with the business problem and the return on investment in order to create a solution to the challenge from which maximum value is derived. This approach, which maximises stakeholder buy-in and makes it possible to highlight achievements, has been embraced by management consultancies for decades. If they can transfer this thinking and discipline to the digital marketing world and build up a pedigree behind it, then they could become a credible threat in the space."

Russ Lidstone, chief executive, Havas Worldwide London

"Communicating through digital channels isn’t just about technology or process, and production isn’t solved by outsourcing to a cheaper off-shore hub. ‘Digital’ means that a brand is closer and more exposed to its audience, and while consultants have breadth of service, they lack agencies’ understanding of brands and the ability to think creatively.
"Consultancies are structured to help businesses with strategic, operational problems, systems integration and processes. Agencies immerse themselves in a brand, audience and, ultimately, the success of campaigns – alongside the technology and production. The two roles are very different."

Paul Lawson, chief executive, Leo Burnett

"They’ve been in the background for quite a while, building marketing consultancies to give them upstream access to the chief marketing officer and beyond. However, I suspect their involvement will be mainly in the ‘heavy lifting’ areas of digital implementation, where their experience of massive IT projects will stand them in good stead. But they’re not a threat to the truly creative element of what agencies do. It’s unlikely that the talented people at communications agencies will be particularly attracted to the working environment on offer at the Accentures of this world. No disrespect to the management consultants, but aren’t they a bit dull?"

Tom Bazeley, managing partner, Lean Mean Fighting Machine

"Digital marketing can be used to achieve a lot of things, so it’s not surprising that it encompasses many different forms and formats. Some of these forms are very functional and require pragmatism and logistics and process skills. Others are very creative and require people who can articulate the human condition through technology in new and interesting ways. If management consultancies are winning contracts to do the former, then good on them – I imagine they are probably very well placed to do that. However, if they are winning contracts to do the latter, then will the last person to leave the industry please turn out the lights."

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