A view from Claire Beale

Accenture and Karmarama face a cultural challenge

Accenture's acquisition of Karmarama is the first real bite from management consultants eyeing up adland's lunch.

Campaign first started writing about management consultants eyeing up adland’s lunch about ten years ago. It’s taken them a long time to tuck in (too long, perhaps, to get the tastiest morsels) but Accenture’s acquisition of Karmarama is the first real bite.

To torture the analogy even more: there’s not much to feast on these days. If you’re looking for brilliant advertising buys, your pickings are pretty slim. Looking down the list of top-performing ad agencies compiled by Kingston Smith, Karmarama is probably the first name that could be a target. Perhaps that’s how Accenture chose its prey – snare the biggest you can.

Good luck to all those other management consultants looking for a creative agency – it’s a shallow pool. And good luck to all those independents whose value just went up.

But does an Accenture/Karmarama offer make sense? Hell, yes. As technology and IT and marketing communications blur together, yada yada, being able to work with chief executives, (not just the brand managers) on everything from core business principles and enterprise-wide digital solutions through to customer activation is a holy grail of long-term partnerships.

So almost every management consultancy – with huge headcount, impressive geographical spread and strong balance sheet  – now wants to add the sliver that is marketing communications to its offer. And most ad agencies now kid themselves that they can take on the consultancies in the client boardroom. (Some can, sometimes. Most never will.) So Accenture’s move makes complete sense. On paper.

But the cultural challenge is undoubtedly bigger than either side can yet imagine. When Karmarama was founded back in 2000, its mission was "to have fun, do some good stuff and work with some interesting people". The agency felt a little dangerous, subversive, exciting. It’s changed a lot since then, maturing under new ownership and broadening its offer, becoming – in truth – less interesting, less surprising, less creative but still driven by personalities. As an ad agency, it remains a relatively small player, isolated in London and with 250 staff against Accenture’s 384,000 army of mostly faceless strategists and consultants and accountants.

The best parallel I can think of that already exists in the market is Sapient.Razorfish, which also aspires to blend consultancy, digitally delivered customer experience and high-end creativity. Culturally, it creaks sometimes; creativity doesn’t always feel like a natural addition. But at least Sapient started with that blended vision baked into its approach.

But Karmarama’s Jon Wilkins is one of the best operators in our market; the agency team have pulled a blinder in extracting an estimated £50m for the business; and they’ve begun the next chapter in adland’s story. I hope it ends well.

Claire Beale is global editor-in-chief of Campaign.
claire.beale@haymarket.com      
@clairebeale