Why consultancies will be clients’ new creative partners

Kim DouglasA panel of ad and media agency executives claimed at All That Matters a fortnight ago that consultancies don’t have the stomach to execute marketing campaigns and cannot resource creative departments. In this guest post, Kim Douglas argues that actually consultancies have more of what clients want.

‘Creatives don’t want to work there’ was the headline I read. Which I find somewhat amusing because consultancies such as ours have thousands of creatives working away across the globe.

Yes, they’re working because creatives are now also makers, designers, content producers and coders who spend time working and playing with prototypes, proofs of concept or simply first edition products and experiences, everyday. Today, ‘creatives’ are not stuck in the proverbial ‘creative department’ flicking through pantone wheels, as some folks would define the collective noun.

I suppose that’s the basis of the argument: Today’s creatives are mad for innovation, they are no longer merely Mad Men.

Innovation is the new creativity

Agency vs consultancy. Is a pointless and introspective argument. A more interesting dialogue is about the evolution of creativity, this is where businesses will win.

In 2016, creativity isn’t about a ‘big idea’, it’s about innovation. You can’t win customers with campaigns alone, you win them by innovating the experience your client’s business offers. The internet did not open up another media channel. It opened up a way to rethink business all together.

How do you do that? Human insight. Identify services for needs that aren’t currently being met and create a new experience for your customers. Fulfilling that need creates real value for customers and an unfair advantage over your competitors. This new thinking, and these new capabilities, are often tech-enabled. Successful companies are applying technologies to create a better, or even completely unique, experience for their customers.

This is modern creativity. This is service and design-led thinking. The creativity is in rethinking how the company might re-organise, reinvest, restructure, and realign to jump forward out of the parity world. That’s interesting. That’s creative thinking I suspect clients would happily engage with regardless of how the company it comes from describes itself.

The rise of design-led creatives

For many, it’s hard to imagine a traditional ECD driving this type of business conversation. However, these complex design challenges and conversations about curating experiences are the hot seat for creatives with an experience design background.

At SapientNitro in Asia, our senior creative leadership is driven by the likes of Claire Waring, regional ECD. Claire is passionate about digital, fluent in advertising and firmly focused on taking brands beyond the traditional interruption model. Claire sees experience as the new narrative and consistently enables global brands to re-connect with their customers and stay ahead of competitors. Partnering with Symon Hammacott, experience ECD, she is driving a range of initiatives from electronic device UIs for major telcos and pain management utility for pharmaceuticals to digital street art campaigns that enable Singaporeans self expression with technology [see Sapient Nitro’s recent campaign for Desperados, where buildings were ‘sprayed’ with light].

These innovation-oriented creatives form part of a unique mix of experts at consultancies. Engineers and business consultants join them, each collaborating in equal parts. These teams offer a balanced mix of linear engineering logic and lateral, big idea-based thinking. One does not serve the other, both are inspired by what could be, simultaneously. This delivers both conceptual thinking and structured, scalable, repeatable thinking.

To innovate at scale is the single most powerful force for change inside modern companies – any company that can do that will win.

Why consultancies are winning in the C-suite

Any service provider can talk a big game. But clients don’t care what type of company they hire, they just want results. The top five consultancies are all delivering results and winning in the C-suite, even when CMOs (rightfully) take a leadership role in the huge change that is business transformation. Why is that?

C-suite connections: Consultancies have more CEO connections and influence than any other agency sector combined globally. The entire C-suite is comfortable working with consultancies. We are familiar, trusted business partners. The changes required for businesses to win today involve boardroom level organisational change.

Substantial capital: There is more capital available at consultancies to buy executional craft capabilities in advance of the industry more than at any agency network.

Wider sector expertise: The sector expertise of consultancies far outweighs that of than any other partner or outside alliance anywhere – they already know what works in financial services.

Resourced to scale: More depth and scale of resource is needed to enable client success. Clients need c-suite stewardship, business model support, change management, stakeholder alignment, research, data and analytics, market localisation and resource capacity to manage global scope procurement to drive business-altering efficiencies. Changing the strategy of a fortune 500 company faster than the sector evolves takes serious capability, which very few agencies have.

For those who are curious about how a consultancy’s unique offering of service and design-led thinking can help their business survive the future, now is the time to start that conversation. It’s time to decide what your business should look like and start building from the inside.

For those creatives who are mad for innovation and ready to leave the Mad Men, we’re always open to meeting interesting and talented professionals.

Kim Douglas is vice president and managing director of SapientNitro and Razorfish Southeast Asia


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