There has been considerable comment recently on the threat posed to
agencies by the larger management consultants. According to some of the
views expressed, adland might as well call it a day.
Having a foot in both camps through my company’s consultancy work with
agencies, I feel in a position to suggest how this challenge can be
The good news is that meeting the challenge is possible. The bad news is
that, given the change in thinking and strategy required, many agencies
will be reluctant to take it on, although those that do will undoubtedly
First, agencies must decide whether or not they want to compete with the
consultancies. If they prefer to continue executing the part of clients’
marketing programmes where their experience and expertise lie, then they
should make sure their operating methods focus on perfect delivery and
stop reading now.
However, if they want to develop long-term relationships with large -
even multinational - clients, and to supply them with more than TV and
press advertising, they should be involved where the real policy
decisions are made and they will need to take on the consultants.
Some of the brightest, most innovative people work in advertising, so
this is a battle that can be won. Behind the buzz words and theories,
consultants are no more clever than adfolk: advertising people have the
power to transform brands - just look at British Airways or BMW.
Companies such as Procter & Gamble are not charitable organisations.
They spend money on advertising because it works. Agencies can sprinkle
gold dust on brands like no-one else.
In my view, there are four major requirements for meeting the challenge
The first is leadership from the top.
If the chairman, chief executive and managing director spend most of
their time pitching and fire-fighting ad-related client problems, the
staff will conclude that this type of behaviour will gain them
If ensuring there are no fires to fight doesn’t win brownie points, who
wants to spend time planning, developing people, leading and sharing
successful methods when you can be enjoying the cut-and-thrust of
arguing with creatives and wooing clients?
The second is changing people’s roles. Most account management staff are
doing the job immediately below their own position. When group directors
are involved in high-level (and very expensive) traffic work, it’s
little wonder consultants have taken their place at the client’s
Third, clarify who is responsible for the ads and leave them to get on
with it. This will free up the senior people’s time for value-added
Fourth, overhaul your recruitment, appraisal and staff development
methods, so that they all reinforce the emphasis on high-level counsel.
Once these steps have been accomplished, you will be in a position to
concentrate on marketing strategy. Day-to-day pressures and
fire-fighting often result in the knowledge gained from training not
being used effectively.
Role-changing - complete with objectives, review dates etc - that is
effective from the first day back in the office, can help, along with
identifying which clients or prospects will benefit from the knowledge
gained and with what result.
I suspect many agencies will either decide against or be unable to carry
out such a multi-faceted programme. The few that do decide to take on
the consultants will see them off, because they have the skill, insight,
creativity, organisational ability - gold dust, even - that their
opposition lacks. Good luck.