Advertisers aren’t convinced consulting firms are the answer to their problems

For all the buzz around big brands preferring management consultancies over agencies, it’s not what senior marketers are actually planning — not yet, at least. In fact, marketers at Pernod Ricard, Nissan and Visa aren’t sure how or why they would work with the likes of Accenture or Deloitte so early into their own searches for a new marketing model.

It’s a somewhat surprising stance from the brands given how much has been made of the likes of Accenture and Deloitte buying up agencies. Yet at a time of so much tension between clients and agencies, it’s telling that the few management consultancies have been involved in well-known global accounts this year. Among the more noteworthy moves was McDonald’s hiring of Capgemini for its digital shopper marketing last month, but that deal only occurred with the help of the Publicis Groupe-owned Publicis.Sapient.

Brands like McDonald’s have yet to understand management consultancies in the same way they do agencies, so partnering with consultancies is risky. The apprehension, and, in some cases, confusion, from marketers as to what those businesses offer was seen at Dmexco earlier this month.

Chris Curtin, Visa’s chief brand and innovation officer, seemed surprised when Digiday asked about his thoughts on consultancies’ presence at the conference. “I noticed them [the consultancies], but I don’t have a perspective on them,” he said. “As we walked along the floor, someone who was with us mentioned that a lot of those businesses are getting into the media and advertising practice, but that’s news to me.”

There’s a “question about the role consulting firms will play in the industry” that Deloitte has yet to answer, said Deloitte Digital CMO Alicia Hatch, admitting the business has found it difficult to break into pitches for advertising accounts despite ongoing efforts to buy that expertise. Instead, it is banking on existing Deloitte clients to give agencies like Acne and Market Gravity skin in the advertising game, similarly to how rival Accenture Interactive is cozying up to CMOs through its creative shop Karmarama.

Deloitte sees the lack of breakthrough to advertisers as a marketing issue as much as an operational one. Its big booth in the main hall at Dmexco is a testament to the money being directed to shifting its perception among marketers, as is its presence at this month’s Advertising Week event in New York, where its executives will sit on panels and meet with brands in order to boost awareness. It has also expanded its Deloitte University training program to include a CMO Academy to help clients better understand what its agencies can do.

How Deloitte Digital, Accenture Interactive and their peers want to be judged is on their ability to spot capability gaps in marketing teams, challenge existing strategies and bring creatives, strategists, technologists together as one team with one objective. Consulting firms insist they can work alongside agencies to achieve those goals, though they would likely argue they are better placed to offer marketers value for money with their broader set of skills.

“The consultancies aren’t here to compete with the advertising agencies or media agencies,” said Hussein Dajani, Nissan’s gm for digital marketing for Africa, the Middle East and India. “They’re here to [if not] compete with, then to complement the likes of Google and Facebook. They’re not interested in TV communications. They want the back-end side of accounts, not the front end.”

Even as that proposition becomes clearer, there is likely to be some resistance from marketers who have yet to understand how their own jobs are changing, as is the case with those at Pernod Ricard.

Thibaut Portal, who heads up Pernod Ricard’s global media hub, has met with management consultancies over the “past few months” but doesn’t believe the business, which is three years into a push to internalize as much of its digital marketing as it can, is ready for those deals. Aside from needing different procurement and remuneration processes than agencies, consultancies also require a “business intelligence” from CMOs, explained Hatch, in order to give them the custom holding-group solution many seem to crave but can’t yet manage.

“Working with management consultancies is not a priority for us at the moment,” said Portal. “The [Pernod Ricard] organization really wants to accelerate digital, which means there’s a lot of work internally for us to do to educate people. We need to achieve that first.”

One way consultancies could fuel their ambitions for marketing budgets is targeting emerging markets. Accenture Interactive signaled its intent for brands in Latin America with the hiring of Eduardo Bicudo, the former president of Wunderman Brazil, earlier this month to mastermind its push into the region. Yet more investment in those markets is needed, said Dajani, adding that he wishes he could see greater involvement from consultancies in the Middle East region “rather than see that everything they do is happening elsewhere.”

Dajani joined Nissan in the summer and has since worked to identify companies outside of the traditional marketing model that it might partner with in the future. “The management consultancies have people here [Africa, the Middle East and Asia], but the people with the real skills that we need are not based in this part of the world,” he said. “For me, jumping on one conversation with the Accenture team in the U.S., for example, is more beneficial than meeting with the team here. It’s weird how [consultancies are] still not looking at the Middle East as a crucial region.”

Image courtesy of Accenture Interactive

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