Vincent Digonnet: Ad agencies and consultancies are ‘like oil and water’, they just don’t mix well

Creative agencies risk facing “confrontation” and “disappointment” after being acquired by management consultancies, the chief executive officer of digital agency MullenLowe Profero Asia Pacific has said.

Following the high-profile acquisition of Australian independent The Monkeys – Mumbrella Asia’s APAC Creative Agency of the Year – by Accenture earlier this month, Vincent Digonnet has issued a cautionary note to agencies who may be tempted by lucrative offers from international consultancy firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte.

Speaking to Mumbrella Asia, Digonnet said the clash between a consultancy’s “process-driven” environment and an agency’s culture often resulted in the original creative talent departing shortly after the acquisition.

“It’s like oil and water: management consultancies are built on process. Advertising and creative agencies are built on culture. And when you merge a process-driven company and a culture-driven one, sometimes there is disappointment,” he explained.

“There is no culture in consultancies; there is incredible intelligence and analytics. So there is confrontation and the risk is that your culture is hitting a brick wall and people decide to leave.

“The agencies cannot stand being just a dot in a process, while the consultancy may not understand why it takes so long to create a video for example.

“You can have tension: and if you start losing the key people who made the culture, the whole benefit of buying a creative agency disappears. I have witnessed this: I would be interested to see how many of the original people are left in a company three years after a merger.”

Speaking at the time of The Monkey’s acquisition, Brian Whipple, head of Accenture Interactive, said the acquisition will enable the company to “integrate creative excellence with digital customer experience delivery”.

Elaborating on why consultancy’s take an interest in creative agencies, Digonnet explained: “The biggest transformations to hit businesses in the future is not transforming operations with technology, but by transforming the experiences of consumers. Marketing-linked and creative companies always start from the consumer rather than the technology. So for [consultancies] to be successful in that, you have to have human insight as the core.”

On the other hand, for the agencies in question, money is a key motivator, he added. “If you’re selling a company, you want to make as much money possible. If you are suddenly desirable to the consulting industry – which has more money than the advertising industry – then you’re going to sell better. You will be crucial to that company and not just another advertising agency in a huge holding company.”

However, despite some high-profile acquisitions in this sphere, for example when Accenture acquired London creative shop Karmarama in November, Digonnet said he did not foresee a rise in the number of such mergers due to the culture clash. Instead, he predicted, marketers will look to using consultancies as part of their overall strategy, alongside creative and media agencies.

“Let’s not forget that you can never change a company just because the market has changed. You have a lot of companies whose marketing is still grounded in the 20th century. Even though digital transformation has broken down the channel silos, it is still going to take some time for the CMOs to be able to leverage each partner. A lot of organisations do not have the talent to really harness this, so for now much of it is trial-and-error.”

“But as the new generation of marketers emerge, who have grown up with digital technology, they will be more capable of bringing together management consultancies and agencies, and using them for their own benefit.”


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