Media Spotlight: One year on, Ingram enjoys consultancy challenge

Chris Ingram says time has shown a need for a new line in advice. When Chris Ingram sold Tempus to WPP in 2001, many expected him to take his cut (£64 million) and head off into the sunset.

Instead, he decided to set about trying to revolutionise the marketing communications business for the second time in his long career. Because, of course, it was Ingram who invented media independents back in the 70s, first at The Media Department (now part of Carat) and then at Chris Ingram & Associates (one of the companies absorbed in the Tempus-WPP deal).

The vehicle for revolution number two, The Ingram Partnership, was launched almost exactly a year ago. It's a consultancy - in other words, it takes on only strategic tasks and doesn't offer implementation of any sort - and right from the start it brought together some heavy hitters.

In an early spending spree, TIP acquired Unity, the communications planning agency run by Andy Tilley and Ivan Pollard, Butterfield 8, the consultancy owned by Leslie Butterfield, and another brand and design shop, The Gathering.

Its founding partners also included Ditlev Schwanenflugel, a former McKinsey high flyer, and Carol Fisher, a former chief executive of COI Communications.

With that sort of line-up hitched to one of the most ambitious mission statements the industry has seen in living memory, there's really no hiding place. So how has it been? We asked Mr Ingram some leading questions.

Are you happy with the way it has gone over the first year?

We have shown that the demand is there. We have won 43 projects, some big, some small. Clients include Twentieth Century Fox, London 2012, BT, Diageo, Guardian Media Group, COI Communications, Bosch and Carphone Warehouse. Interestingly, 40 per cent of the business has an international dimension.

What sort of tasks has TIP picked up?

I can't comment on specific clients but the sorts of things we do include: defining the ideal brand experience and if there is a gap between perception and reality; advising on how best to go about closing that gap; advising on the best communications mix; advising on how marketing communications should be structured to meet customer needs. That's by no means comprehensive but it gives you an idea.

People in media and advertising agencies will be curious to find out if the process of winning new business is any different as a consultancy.

It is. For instance, on 80 per cent of business we won we weren't in a competitive-pitch situation. Our level of connection is such that we are able to talk directly to senior people and invite them in for a chat.

When they come in to see us, we spend as little time as possible with credentials. We ask them to tell us about their issues and then discuss how we might help them. Half of our contact has been through marketing directors, 25 per cent at chairman or chief executive level. And - people always seem to be fascinated about this - only once have we met procurement people.

Do you now expect to expand?

Just being a UK operation restricts us somewhat as to the size of projects that we can take on. We will open other offices - for instance, we expect to be in New York next year. But where expansion is concerned, we always said when we started that we didn't want to have more than ten offices globally. Actually, we probably won't need as many as ten - because, remember, we don't do implementation. The problem that many agency networks have is having lots of talent tied up in issues that don't benefit the client.

You launched with trailblazing intentions. Have things been working out as you expected?

We have been proved right in that there is clearly a demand for advice on communications strategy issues. Clients are reassured that we are able to offer strategic business consultancy expertise too, but what they have been less happy to do is to pay for that as a separate offering from us.

So that has worked out less well than we hoped.

You also parted company with Duncan Bruce, whose company, The Gathering, had been one of your acquisitions.

Some consultancies come with creative studios attached. That hasn't worked for us.

Were there other difficult issues in bringing together your team of high-powered managers - many of whom have been used to running their own show?

It's true we have been putting together a team of people from different cultures with different work styles. It has been a challenge. If we are being honest, it's only been in the past three or four months that we've truly functioned to our greatest potential as a team.

Are you still confident there is a big market for your sort of offering?

We will clearly not be regarded as much of a threat by the big agency groups and it's true that we won't get the scaling you can get as an advertising agency. You can't expect to leap from £5 million accounts to £50 million and then £500 million account wins in the same sort of time scale as, for example, happened with CIA. But we are able to sit at the top table and be treated as trusted partners instead of mere suppliers - and we have got there very quickly.

Is the business profitable yet?

We have lost a fair bit of money but that was to be expected given our investment in talent right from the start. We are now running at break even and expect a small profit in the next calendar year.

What have been the biggest lessons you've learned over the first year?

Coming from a media agency background, winning business as a consultancy is a far slower process. Clients have hugely complex issues we can help with but they don't have to be solved today. We're not whingeing about that - it comes with the territory.

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