‘Creatives don’t want to work there’: Agency bosses debate the threat of consultancies

A panel of advertising and media agency bosses argued this afternoon that consultancies such as Deloitte, McKinsey and Accenture don’t have the stomach for the “dirty, gritty” business of executing marketing campaigns, and can’t attract the creative talent to resource their foray into the creative sector.

L-r: Joe Nguyen of ComScore interviews Starcom's Ken Mandel, David Mayo, Carat's Sean O'Brien and Josh Black of GroupM

L-r: Joe Nguyen of ComScore interviews Starcom’s Ken Mandel, Ogilvy’s David Mayo, Susana Tsui of PHD, Carat’s Sean O’Brien and Josh Black of GroupM

In an at times awkward session at the All That Matters event in Singapore, Susana Tsui, APAC CEO of PHD, said that when she comes across consultancies in pitches, they “run for the hills” when it comes to execution because they “can’t manage” that side of the business.

Tsui’s former Ogilvy colleague Ken Mandel, now regional head of innovation at media agency Starcom, presented the same argument, pointing to the acquisition of digital agency AKQA by Accenture 15 years ago as an example of how the agency and consultancy worlds make an uncomfortable fit.

“In 2001, Accenture announced a $71m investment into AKQA. So this is nothing new [consultancies moving into the creative sector]. That [deal] didn’t go anywhere by the way. It is a very different world,” Mandel said.

“Culturally, if you’ve worked with Accenture, you know why they’re very strong. And when you work with agencies, there’s a reason why we do what we do.”


Mandel: “Once consultancies get out of their helicopters they may not like what they see”

“These two worlds coming together? Maybe. I think once Accenture or McKinsey get out of their 50,000 feet [high] helicopter down to our level they may not like what they see,” said the former Ogilvy, Yahoo, Salesforce and XM executive.

David Mayo, APAC CMO of ad agency Ogilvy and also CEO of Bates CHI & Partners, noted that while consultancies compete with agencies at a strategy level, they won’t be able to attract the talent to pose a threat on the creative front.

“If you’re a client and you want structured business thinking, you can go to McKinsey or one of the consultants – or you can go to an agency,” he said, referring to Ogilvy’s consultancy business OgilvyRED that launched in Asia at the beginning of the year.

“As creativity and the value of the brand has made its way into the boardroom, you need more of that style of delivery and thinking and structured thought,” he said.

“But I think it’s going to be very difficult for an Accenture or a Deloitte or any of those guys to put a creative department together. Because creative people won’t want to work with them. So if they want to outsource to us on the deliver, we’re happy to do that. But we definitely compete on the strategy level,” he said.

The more frank among the panel about the competitive threat posed by consultancies was Josh Black, the APAC head of content for GroupM.

“They’re absolutely a competitor,” he told panel moderator Joe Nguyen, the APAC boss of research firm ComScore. “And frankly in a number of respects they have deeper and better relationships at the c-suite level that perhaps we do.”

However, he later added: “At the ground level, we would all agree that it’s a dirty, gritty business on the base level. I’m not sure they’re up for that. They certainly like talking at the top level.”

Sean O’Brien, the APAC CEO of media agency Carat, said that where consultancies pose the biggest competitive threat is by buying their way into the sector.

“That’s where I’ve seen the most competition over the last couple of years. From a client perspective, I haven’t really seen any of that yet,” he said.

“But the companies they’re acquiring… But again, when you acquire a company, it’s going to be very interesting to see how they integrate those companies into their offerings,” said O’Brien.

Among the recent acquisitions of a creative firm by a consultancy in recent times was PwC’s deal with Hong Kong agency Fluid in February this year.


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