The immediate threat to ad agencies from consulting companies like Accenture Interactive and Deloitte Digital will prove to be overblown in 2020.
Agencies will remain where the biggest advertisers go to for help. When Nivea had to pick between Publicis, Omnicom Group and Accenture Interactive to run its advertising last month, it went with Publicis. It was a similar story earlier this year when Accenture Interactive lost the VodafoneZiggo account to WPP. While the consulting firms are a serious alternative to agencies for some advertisers like Kimberly Clark and Radisson Hotels, many more remain unconvinced.
Concerns among advertisers vary from the quality of advice they get from consulting firms to feeling as though they’re dictated from above to work with consultancies. 2020 will see the creeping realization that consulting firms are often conflicted, whether it’s by auditing work or advising advertisers to buy tech that they’re paid to sell.
“It’s never a pleasant experience working with the consulting firms because they’re not subject matter experts when it comes to media, whereas agencies are,” said a former senior marketing who worked with a consulting firm when they worked at a global communications advertiser.
Consulting firms have notched some high-profile wins. For instance, Deloitte Digital poached McCann New York Rich Whalen as managing director of its creative and studio offering in the U.S. Meanwhile, Accenture Interactive swooped for creative agency Droga5 in what is its biggest acquisition to date.
Turnabout is fair play. Agencies are increasingly talent from the consulting world and adding in consulting practices. WPP’s media buying arm GroupM is building a new division that will help advertisers bring more media planning and buying work in-house, which would bring the holding group into direct conflict with Accenture Interactive. Each discipline is trying to steal share off the other in a tug of war that has turned quite nasty. Earlier this year, WPP declined to participate in media audits that were overseen by Accenture due to fears the consulting firm could pass that data on to its media division.
Tensions between agencies and consulting firms will rumble on into 2020 as they have done for several years. But until the likes of Accenture Interactive and Deloitte Digital can demonstrate why they’re a step up from agencies, advertisers will continue to stick with what they know despite their reservations about those businesses also.