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Separated by a common language? How different are agencies and consultancies when they both speak fluent digital?

Jun 19, 2019 1:02:34 PM

This is a guest blog written by Phil Lynch, Managing Director of social media research agency Newton Insight & visiting lecturer in media analytics at the University of Westminster. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

The spectre of consultancies moving further into the marketing space has generated a lot of discussion and the odd grimace in ad land.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised. Both consultancies and agencies rely on a layer of experienced, smart people who can find meaning in large volumes of information. They both specialise in deep thinking to make sense of the world in ways their clients can act upon.

Consolidation is the next step in a journey that has been underway within both sectors for some time now. At the risk of stretching a generalisation, consultancies have managed transformation and how their clients adapt to digital on the inside. Responsibility for communicating with the external world has been the remit of agencies. These two approaches have now reached a level of maturity beyond which integration seems inevitable.

More than that, the time and money invested by both sides in technology and sharpening their digital skills makes integration achievable. Until very recently, the union of consultancy and agency was dismissed as a marriage doomed by irreconcilable differences in strategy, values and culture.

Is this a revolution or evolution?

These days the potential partners have more in common. Whisper it quietly, there may even be synergies. Full-service agencies offer research, strategy, creative, planning and interactive. The consultancies play a mean game in four of those disciplines. Talking to each other shouldn’t be a problem as both sectors have made it their business to become fluent in data and digital.

Audiense blog - Guest blog Agencies & Consultancies - Phil Lynch

Is this a revolution or evolution? The reality is most agencies stopped being pure-play creative organisations a long time ago. The agency owners know this. Publicis has been restructuring for the past three years and WPP has sought to future-proof its flagship creative assets by first merging Y&R with digital agency VML and then combining JWT and Wunderman. It’s a lighter version of what the consultancies are looking to achieve, based on the same desire to use technology and creativity to reinforce each other.

Marketing services also needs to become more streamlined. Agency structures and their matrix offers are now horribly confusing. There is an opportunity for the consultancies to build capability in a more rational and transparent way, which meets the needs of their clients and connects marketing with a wider suite of business research and analytics.

Better innovative thinking

The consequences of a merger won’t be one-way traffic. Data is a key asset of consultancy firms. How data is interpreted and brought to life is a key skill of agencies. Imagine the impact a great creative team could have on the outputs of a consultancy. As the millennial generation moves up through the ranks of client organisations, a more concise, story-based style of reporting will move with them. Saying more with less is central to the art of advertising.

The coming together of consultancies and agencies can challenge legacy approaches on both sides and arguably leads to better innovative thinking. The proviso is that both sides must be prepared to change.

So far most of the finger-pointing and accusations of inflexibility have been directed at the consultancies, but the agency mindset needs to change too. One of the troublesome narratives within advertising is ‘data kills creativity’. If used correctly data does the opposite. I’ve been amazed by some of the ideas sparked by our research for agency pitches and campaigns.

I think the real concern is that creativity cannot be quantified. Dead right. The best advertising takes everything we know and transforms it into something surprising. Creativity is unpredictable and ethereal, but for the consultancies it’s the final piece in the puzzle. I hope sensible buyers will respect Einstein’s observation that not everything that counts can be counted.

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