For consultancies and ad agencies, never the twain shall meet – but does this still apply for digital?

For consultancies and ad agencies, never the twain shall meet – but does this still apply for digital?
Christine Alemany is the CEO at TBGA. She has a passion for helping emerging companies grow and scale. Christine has more than 20 years of experience reinvigorating brands, building demand generation programmes, and launching products for startups and Fortune 500 companies. In addition to her work at TBGA, she advises startups through Columbia Business School's Entrepreneurial Sounding Board and is a teaching fellow at the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center.

There’s a longstanding belief that consultancies cannot provide the same level of creativity as advertising agencies, but MDC Partners (paywalled link) has found a workaround for this theory. Its new agency collective, Constellation, combines creative, data, strategy, design, user experience, storytelling, and media capabilities.

Constellation’s five-team bundle includes 72andSunny, the company behind the NFL’s “Next 100” Super Bowl ad, and Crispin Porter Bogusky, the firm behind Hotel.com’s “Hate-Like” campaign. They will be joined by production company Hecho Studios, digital agency Instrument, and strategy and design consultancy Redscout.

The goal is to have the varied agencies collaborate, signalling the increased importance placed on data and technology as opposed to creative expertise in marketing strategy and tactics. Smaller agencies and consultancies, however, will face some pros and cons in tackling this shift in marketing.

Such a merger could pose problems for personnel, in particular. It meshes two entrenched cultures, and each does not necessarily appreciate the strengths of the other. This leads to a lot of jockeying for position, which will likely spill into client relationships. Consultancies see marketing agencies as a new revenue stream for continued growth. Because consultancies often have strong relationships with boards and executives, they can land and expand.

When agencies merge with consultancies, the motives are often based on injecting science into their art. A recent poll classified data science and analytics as the most in-demand technical skill at agencies. Agencies are way behind on this front, and they want to harness data science as well as a variety of martech and business intelligence solutions. Consider how many marketing technology tools are available today: The number surpasses 7,000 — quite a jump from the 150 available in 2011.

The culture clash

The impact of a consultancy-agency merger on personnel will vary. Performing due diligence to map out potential challenges, business synergies, and talent alignment will help ensure that the process will go as smoothly as possible.

Even with the proper examination, however, problems will likely arise — chief among them being how the sausage gets made. Consultancies follow different processes than agencies, and neither team quite understands how the other side functions.

When these disconnects arise, quality suffers. For example, consultants may approach creatives with a one-week turnaround time request — when, in reality, the work will take a few months. If someone from the consultancy side doesn’t like what he or she sees, that person may opt to rewrite the copy instead of talking to the copywriter. Another individual may use a little rudimentary knowledge of Adobe Photoshop to adjust a logo, colouring, or other creative elements of a campaign. This isn’t to say creatives won’t make a strategy request, expecting to see it by tomorrow.

A smoother transition

When creating a hybrid agency-consultancy business, accountability and responsibility can get confusing. Remember, creatives use more divergent thinking to generate multiple solutions to meet a client’s needs, while consultants take a more convergent approach, using rigid processes in problem-solving.

It’s important to integrate the cultures and methodologies to ensure they are viewed as being equally important yet having clear delineations. Through integration, creatives and consultants can coexist — and do so quite successfully. Creating swim lanes helps staff understand connections, handoffs, and potential bottlenecks.

However, establishing formal processes not only allows for better working practices, but also helps integrate the inputs of each group. It is essential for staff to check in with one another consistently.

Bringing together creatives and consultants can sometimes lead to miscommunication — not because the teams are on different pages, but because they’re saying the same things in different ways. Weekly meetings allow teams to talk through projects, work through deliverables, and set the next steps. The goal is twofold: Provide greater transparency and ensure team members feel heard.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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