It was only a couple of years ago that a familiar warning went out
to the advertising industry: beware of the consultants muscling in on
the business of brand-building.
The warning came from Graham Hinton, the then president of the IPA, but
it was a warning that had been heard many times before in the
The argument was simple. Agencies were being sidelined and paid less as
consultants took the bigger fees and formed relationships with senior
Compare this with last week’s news that CDP/Dentsu and
PricewaterhouseCoopers had formed an alliance - called Determinet - to
work together to provide a one-stop shop for UK companies wanting to
build businesses on the internet.
It is the first venture of its kind in the UK and, a day later, it was
followed by a similar deal out of Publicis in Paris. The French
advertising group said it had forged a partnership with the technology
services company Cap Gemini and the management consultancy firm Ernst &
Both concentrated on the internet and both were pitched as a response to
clients’ needs. The two deals were about bringing the agency brand
communication and management skills together with the corporate strategy
skills of management consultants.
So what happened to the threat? What about, as one industry source put
it, the concern that ’what management consultants want is access to
agency clients and they have no intention of giving any business in
Chris MacLeod, the chief executive of CDP, thinks this was always
’I thought the threat was overstated. I see the deal with PWC as being
about complementary skills, not about losing something,’ he says.
Always willing to go a step further, Nick Brien, the chief executive of
Leo Burnett, puts it down to paranoia. ’I never subscribed to the idea
that management consultants are out to eat agency lunches. It’s paranoia
on behalf of some organisations which reflects their lack of strategic
competencies. I think the industry has to be more concerned about
new-media agencies,’ Brien says.
What is true about the deals is that the consultants are taking the lead
in putting together these virtual networks on behalf of clients. This
seems to reflect the fact that consultants are the ones who hold the
trust of senior company executives, of boards of directors, chairmen and
One industry source put it a little more bluntly. ’Agencies are often
lucky if they have a relationship with the marketing director. Sometimes
it does not even go that high and, in that sense, agencies are at the
bottom of the food chain.’
However, this is not a view shared by many in the industry, particularly
at a time when the issues of brands has come to the top of so many
agendas with the arrival of e-commerce.
William Eccleshare, the former Ammirati Puritas Lintas chief executive
who is soon to join McKinsey to set up a branding unit, says that it’s
about time. ’The recognition that brand strategy has frequently been
disconnected from the overall business plan is becoming increasingly
prevalent. The internet has speeded that up.’
Agencies are currently enjoying a bonanza of new business as dotcom
companies look to organisations to help them build brands from scratch
and at break-neck speeds.
Brien says that people should remember what business ad agencies are in.
It is, he says, the business of brand communications, not brand
management. Like a number of agencies, including Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper
and Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Leo Burnett has a dedicated brand consultancy
unit, the Lab, which now has a staff of 18.
These kinds of units consider the brand as a whole. They look at
everything from the uniform and attitude of staff to the look and feel
of the retail environment.
’Leo Burnett is focused on brand communications. What we don’t do is
look to fulfil the brand promise on every level. That is what companies
like the Lab do,’ Brien says.
Consider also what a lot of management consultancies are geared
It is technical work - implementing computer networks and business
For this reason, MacLeod believes that new dotcom companies in
particular are more at home working with advertising companies than
Hinton agrees: ’My contention always was that agencies were in a better
position. What they tend to bring are judgments based on intuition and
market knowledge. They make creative leaps rather than going through a
rigorous reduction process.’
From the management consultancy side, the issue seems even more clear
cut. For the clients it makes sense if they can go to one place and have
all their requirements met - the kinds of deals commonly made by
management consultants when, for example, overhauling a client’s IT
The deal with PWC, for example, is about global issues and global
PWC and Dentsu launched their partnership in Australia, covering the
Asia-Pacific region. The UK is the second stage of the deal. In Europe,
plans are being made to develop the Determinet alliance in Switzerland,
Belgium and the Netherlands before rolling it out across Western Europe
and the US.
What this underlines, says Robin Tye, the UK e-business consulting
leader at PWC, is that the internet space is one where things happen
very quickly and the right partners have to be brought in.
’This is an era where a lot happens very quickly,’ Tye says. ’We have to
bring in partners and work together. We are not advertising
We do not advise on brands and campaigns. Clients do not have the time
to source everything. They want teams that are already working together.
This is a network issue. It is a powerful combination.’