As I write, they are all over the chief executives of the
top-spending advertisers in the world. As you read, they may be
whispering sweet nothings about distribution, IT or - God forbid -
advertising to the chairman of your biggest spending client. And yet
while agencies seem very good at banging on about the threat of
management consultants and the halcyon days when they were viewed as
clients’ marketing partners, have they really tried to change how
clients perceive them?
It’s not as easy as it sounds, of course. Hard as it is to generate much
sympathy for its highly paid and slightly misunderstood executives, it
continues to be one of the fundamental truths about the advertising
business that if an agency’s champions in a company lose out or move on,
the agency looks distinctly vulnerable. Review after review happens for
that reason alone.
Consultancies, meanwhile, have been much better at developing a strategy
to take advantage of their own uniqueness. At their best they manage to
act as leaders in guiding clients’ strategic planning - and charge
So how can agencies convince clients that they are professionals who can
effectively combine business analysis with creativity fostered by
intuition and inspiration? How can agencies - the traditional ones, that
is - stop themselves sounding distinctly self-serving (e.g ’the only way
we can make your brand famous is via a pounds 20 million national TV and
poster campaign’) next to the MBA-toting sophisticates of the management
consultancies or the nimble Added Value Companies of the world?
The subject is very timely. As many companies have reduced their
marketing and strategic development capabilities, there has never been a
better time for agencies to rediscover their status as advisers to the
top management of these businesses. But how? It’s a sad truth that
clients simply won’t trust agencies to offer impartial advice unless it
comes from a part of the agency that sees itself as much more than just
a producer of ads.
Hence agencies must either hire experienced consultants; launch a
consultancy of their own such as @JWT or HHCL’s Lury Price Associates;
or, like WPP, Y&R and Interpublic, they may even buy outside
consultancies (and, you might suggest, risk further denigrating the
contribution of their ad agencies).
If transforming agencies back into clients’ marketing partners seems
overly ambitious, consider how the accountancy firms have reinvented
themselves in the last decade. One minute they were the grey-suited
bores of Monty Python fame, the next they were making more revenue from
consulting than from offering auditing services or tax advice. Will the
advertising industry ever manage to effect such change?