I enjoyed Roger Parry’s article ‘The consultants cometh’ (Campaign 3/10/17) and it’s hard to disagree with a man of his experience. In the short term, he’s probably right. In the long term I think he’s wrong.
Roger points out that “The Fitzrovia pub chats often spiral down to “consultants will never understand our unique creative culture. They will mess it all up when they integrate us.” But suggests this won’t happen because Accenture et al will never want to fully integrate agencies.
So, in this vision of the future, there won’t be much difference between the new consulting firms circling overhead and the dying holding companies that tried and failed to run the joint before. The only difference being that the consultants will charge more. Not withstanding the fact that holding companies did a terrible job and the last 10 years have hardly been a golden age of marketing, when the consultancies take over, it’ll be worse.
Why? Firstly because consultants can’t resist telling people what to do, which will manifest not so much in direct orders as a subtle shift into a culture where the spreadsheet is mightier than the sharpie.
Secondly because, as Parry says, ‘consultants are taught they are problem solvers’. This is the wrong approach. A good marcomms agencies should see itself as a solution creator. There’s a subtle but major difference between the two. Great brands don't fix something, they make things better. It's easy to fix stuff that's broken. You just look at the evidence of what's not working. It takes a totally different set of skills to make things better. It takes imagination and creativity.
Now you might say that consultants are out to fix management problems by deploying the creative agencies they acquire, but in a thousand subtle ways, the two will eventually merge. The consultants will ultimately infect and undermine the creativity within the culture of those agencies.
Thirdly, because the marketing landscape is changing so fast, whatever McKinsey and Accenture does today will be redundant in 5 years. The current rationalisation of agencies within the holding companies is evidence of that. If the consultants were so smart, they’d see this. They might also see that the world is moving away from centralised control and the pure pursuit of money. And what sort of people want to work for Accenture anyway? Try explaining that to their clients.
But they aren’t as smart as they think. Consumers are much, much smarter. No one talks about the grass-root political movement Momentum in marketing circles but I’ll throw that in as an example of what I’m talking about. Who are the Conservative Party’s consultants BTW?
Knowledge is (and always will be) power… But big data isn’t knowledge - a mistake made by, amongst others, the consultants. Great marketing comes from great creativity, which comes from adding 2 + 2 and getting 5, which is not something a spreadsheet, no matter how many tabs it's got, or how many robots it uses to write the algorithms can handle very well.
The future won't be the same for agencies, but I'm pretty sure consultants running those agencies are not the future. And, for the agencies who aren’t gobbled up? Well, fill your boots.