ANALYSIS: COMMENT - Complacency not consultancy is the real agency threat

By DOMINIC MILLS, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 04 December 1998 12:00AM

It’s funny how subtle shifts in collective thinking can take place. One minute, spooked by the likes of Martin Sorrell and Graham Hinton, everybody’s wondering how ad agencies can stop management consultancies from eating their lunch. The next minute, charged up by spirited attempts to slay the dragon by luminaries such as Andrew Robertson and Winston Fletcher, everyone’s saying ’maybe they’re not such a threat after all ...’

It’s funny how subtle shifts in collective thinking can take place.

One minute, spooked by the likes of Martin Sorrell and Graham Hinton,

everybody’s wondering how ad agencies can stop management consultancies

from eating their lunch. The next minute, charged up by spirited

attempts to slay the dragon by luminaries such as Andrew Robertson and

Winston Fletcher, everyone’s saying ’maybe they’re not such a threat

after all ...’



Fletcher’s tack is that marketing-related work is an insignificant line

of business for management consultancies. Robertson’s argument is that

agencies provide creativity - of which strategic thinking is a by-

product - of the kind that cannot be replicated by a management

consultancy. His view, shared by many on the consultancy side, is that

there is enough lunch to go round for agencies and consultants to co-

exist peacefully.



There is much to be said for these positions. After all, despite the

talk, can anyone name a case where a management consultancy has stolen

an agency’s lunch? Better still, name a campaign where the strategic

insight came from a management consultant? Can’t? Thought so. One

reason, of course, is that the classic management consultancies, or at

least the ones everybody refers to as the bogeymen (Andersen, Coopers

PriceWaterhouse, McKinsey and so on), tend to be more focused on the

client’s internal activities and business processes than they do on its

outward-looking (and therefore marketing-related) activities.



What they do, therefore, is often invisible to the outside eye.



However, it is one thing to say that agencies aren’t threatened by

management consultancies, quite another to say that they aren’t at risk

from their own inadequacies. It goes without saying, for example, that

like all service businesses, agencies stand or fall by the talent they

recruit. One of the obvious failings, therefore, is in the way agencies

no longer have first pick of the brightest graduates, many of whom are

opting instead for careers in, you guessed it, consultancy (hats off to

WPP for trying to tackle this problem).



The second is in the way agencies sometimes fail to see the wider

business context in which their clients operate. This leads to a culture

in which the solution to all client problems is advertising. Is it a

surprise, therefore, that clients are nervous about asking agencies for

advice and therefore turn elsewhere?



As always with these arguments, the truth, one suspects, lies somewhere

in between. Perhaps, as one agency head put it to me last week, it’s

about as meaningful as arguing whether a brain surgeon is more important

than a heart surgeon. ’It all depends,’ he said, ’on what your problem

is.’



Have your say in CampaignLive’s Forum on channel 4 at

www.campaignlive.com



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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