OPINION: Why adland should take up the consultancy challenge - There’s no need to feel disabled by the management consultancy threat Agencies must adopt new attitudes towards client services to compete, John Gage believes.

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.

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

of consultants.

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

boardroom table.

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

management activities.

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.


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