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October 10, 2018
Handicapping the Competition Between Agencies and Consultants
Agencies and consultants are racing to overcome their competitive shortcomings and develop comprehensive integrated marketing offerings in the quest to land big, profitable global clients. Both are faced with the need to integrate formerly independent units, efficiently recruit and task talent and mesh dissonant cultures.

Consultants, on a buying spree, are challenged to integrate, coordinate and orchestrate the value of new creative and data assets. They need to teach consultants how to talk and sell creative services. In the same vein, agencies are desperately trying to catch up on data science, technology and marketing automation. They face the challenge of developing internal pathways to leverage the talent and skill sets embedded in their networks. This is generally behavior at odds with years of holding company tradition.

The shared challenges fall into 4 buckets.


Both players need to focus on command, control, communication and intelligence to assemble the right teams with the right skills for any global client pitch or assignment. Everyone has a brand name for this process, but it’s difficult to get it right. Consultants are top heavy with data geeks and tech people usually focused on systems integration and/or top-level strategy. Agencies are filled with creative and production types focused on creating and producing finite campaigns. 

Both have strategy people, though the academic credentials and operational experience of these workers are not the same. Marquee clients are searching for the combination of these skills sets and assets in a cost efficient and operationally effective package.  

Mobilizing Talent.

Consultants are generally more practiced and nimbler in inventorying and deploying talent. Agencies are feeling their way, with occasional successes and failures. Consultants need to add new services, new nomenclature and new target customers to their operating plan. Agencies need to holistically assess and monitor their networks, socialize a one-world POV and get a better handle on who they have, where they are, how they are currently deployed and what they can do.

Learning New Tricks.

Agencies need to get up to speed on data science and complex technology solutions for next generation websites, mobile apps, marketing automation, AI/Machine Learning and ecommerce. Most of their current offerings in these areas are provided by partners, many specified by clients. Agencies have difficulty attracting, motivating or retaining digital, tech and data talent partly because personality types opt for different working environments and partially because agencies tend not to be doing cutting edge work in tech or data science. The recent merger of VML and Y&R is the typical ham-handed response of agency networks. They slam together specialized units and hope for the best.
Consultants, long used to analyzing business and operational factors and cranking out colorful PowerPoint decks, are used to giving advice but not implementing creative solutions. They must learn how to give advice that syncs with creative solutions and then produce timely creative assets that are convincing and measurable. Not fully skilled at storytelling, consultants have hired plenty of former agency types to fill this void. The recent defection of an Executive Creative director from R/GA to Accenture’s MXM unit is a great example.  Though, in many cases, connecting the dots to develop a holistic strategy and effective omnichannel campaigns are not yet smooth sailing.

Addressing Different Clients.

Consultants have better, longer access to the C suite and often have extensive relationships within client organizations. They are able to make a case for extending the systems or strategy work into the creative realm as a natural and efficient course of action. They are used to being measured against a net contribution to business results and frequently structure deals with fees at risk; skin in the game.  Agencies, on the other hand, are attached at the CMO level and rarely get visibility from CFOs, COOs or CEOs. They are often seen as implementers of strategies and tactics devised by consultants and can even be separate from internal marketing organizations or automation platforms. Agencies generally charge fees for service resisting measurement against business results.
The whales – multinational companies – are looking for long-term partnerships with dedicated resources able to anticipate future needs while efficiently executing marketing plans. Agencies and consultants are actively competing for these assignments while they integrate and innovate their offerings. The race is on to see who can get their act together and win.   

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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