‘The threat is overblown’: Agency executives weigh in on competition from consultancies

Consulting companies like Accenture and PwC have aggressively acquired agencies. But ask an agency if consultancies are a threat, and you will likely get two different answers: Creative and design agencies believe the threat is real, while media shops say they haven’t run into consulting firms much in ad pitches.

At the Digiday Agency Summit in Charleston, South Carolina, on Oct. 23, we asked ad executives if the threat of consulting companies is overblown. Their answers are below, edited for clarity and length.

Susan Credle, global chief creative officer, FCB
Anyone who is not part of the creative culture doesn’t understand how to create an environment that enforces creativity. Consulting companies usually have specific timelines and steps to do things, but creative is messy. Some days you may have a good creative idea in five seconds, while other days you may need a month. But consultancies don’t understand the messiness of the process, and the differences will create issues.

Sean Shelby, vp, Isobar U.S.
The threat is overblown for three main reasons. Things are getting more competitive, but there is enough work to go around for both the consultancies and agencies. The competition from consultancies will also make agencies better competitors. Secondly, it will take a while for the consultancies to integrate their creative and marketing capabilities and execute with consistency, while clients will not wait for them to figure it out. Thirdly, other forces like marketing software vendors and platforms are disrupting the industry just as much. Agencies that are smart about building capabilities and partnerships with these firms will be in a good position to compete. Another reason boils down to talent. Becoming the kind of company that attracts the top creative talent is no easy task, which can’t be done overnight.

Adam Cossman, chief digital officer, W2O Group
I don’t feel the threat by consultancies because we operate like a consultancy. In digital, you need to be a consultant because half of your time is spent educating clients on your capabilities and how things work. Many people don’t realize that digital is essentially a consulting business because agencies like talking about themselves, while consultancies are good at two-way dialogues. For instance, we’ve consulted clients on the best mobile practices and on the diversification of their media spend.

Tierney Wilson, director of digital strategy, January Digital
Big consulting firms have money and resources, which is appealing, but they typically miss the approach. Everything consultancies do is very high-level, but they don’t get into the weeds. For instance, we recently helped a retailer implement its data and consumer relationship management tools. Before that, the retailer worked with a large consultancy to do customer analysis work. What the client found is that the consultancy’s analysis was not actionable in real time.


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