The ongoing battle between agency and consultancy

Juan Luis Polo

17 January 2019

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“The death of the traditional agency model is inevitable, although it is taking longer than expected.” – Jason Goodman

Maybe that seems like an exaggeration, or perhaps just a bit too forceful, but the author of that quote – Jason Goodman, founder of both the agency Albion and Tribal DDB, has over 15 years of experience in the sector. He knows what he’s talking about.

Goodman believes that the marketing sector faces the same issue that challenges so many other sectors – an inability to adapt to a new reality that requires a deeper understanding of technology, data analysis, multichannel experiences and personalisation, in order to satisfy an increasingly demanding consumer.

This inertia and lack of flexibility limiting the potential of traditional organisations comes naturally to start-ups, notes Goodman. These startups were built from the ground up by digital natives – the consumer experience is at the centre of the model they developed.

A beginner’s guide to succeeding in the new marketplace

There are several areas brands need to focus on in order to have an impact on the modern market:

  • Understanding and ‘getting to know’ potential customers
  • Personalisation based on consumer preference
  • Studying the competition
  • Maintaining communication with customers and building brand loyalty
  • Gauging brand perception

If you’re a professional with years of marketing experience behind you, then this is nothing new. However, the marketing sector is currently experiencing such strong disruption that, while these same ‘areas to focus on’ remain the same, what has changed is the tools at our disposal, the specialists best equipped to interpret the results of our analysis, and the analytical knowledge required in order to build effective solutions.

We can no longer rely on award-winning campaigns – we have to focus our efforts on new technologies and strengthening our overall strategy. This is something that already comes easily to consulting firms with high technological capacity. Our secondary focus, that of experience and emotion-led marketing – is one that most agencies feel they already have a handle on and continue to ‘boast’ about.

Who wins?

Based on everything we’ve discussed so far, we can identify the two different models most likely to succeed in the future:

  • Consultancies: they have more resources at their disposal and are more advanced when it comes to digital adoption, however emotional creativity is not their strong suit. Typically, they’ll try and remedy this by absorbing agencies in an attempt to offer their clients a more complete service: technological integration, business strategy and creative.
  • ‘Traditional’ communications and marketing agencies: these organisations are typically more focused on campaigns and media sales – they’re built by experts in the creation of thrilling campaigns and winning awards at festivals, but they’re largely unfamiliar with the worlds of technology and data. To compensate, they’ll emulate consultants and talk about ‘strategy’ a lot. They’re working against the clock to arm themselves with a better understanding of digital – beyond the use of tools.

In 2016 Accenture Interactive, one of the world’s leading consultancy firms specialising in technology infrastructure and analysis, acquired Karmarama, a very well positioned digital marketing agency. They had previously acquired Fjord, a design and innovation company – in addition to several other local agencies across different countries. Their goal was to reposition themselves as ‘architects of experience’.

In order to secure an account with McDonald’s, working on both media and creative development, The Omnicom Group went about things a different way. They were a traditional media and creativity agency who incorporated consultancy and digital knowledge services into their offering.

Did you see it coming?

In 2009, we made some changes to the Good Rebels (then Territorio Creativo) raison d’être. It was clear to us then that combining agency and consultancy was necessary in order to remain successful in the future and, in fact, at present. Eight years later and it’s goal we’ve not quite yet achieved, but we’re still light years ahead of many other agencies within our sector.

Brands are looking for integrated strategies that address their customers’ needs, help them to maintain consistent communication, and align their offering with the challenge presented to them. But what can we really offer these brands? Can we really offer brands full integration?

Mark Ritson, an expert from Marketing Week, sums up this process of digital rationalisation in one question:

“Do the communication needs of a brand require a single integrated agency or should the client choose between different companies dedicated to manage each specific medium or channel?”

The right answer might not exist, but we’ll keep looking for it nevertheless.