Agencies Shift Into Consulting Role -- and Gain New Business
As consultancies like Accenture and Deloitte muscle onto agency turf, shops are turning the tables with new-practice groups that offer everything from product-portfolio-management advice to recommendations on corporate reorganizations.
Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group last week launched marketing consulting brand Zero Dot at the same time sibling Zenith soft-launched a media-focused consultancy called Apex. They join months-old experiments at Interpublic Group digital shop R/GA and WPP media-agency network GroupM to tap into broad-based consulting services that can offer higher compensation rates than advertising while also reeling in new ad business.
Business is good
"Business has been very good this past year, which tells me there's an appetite," said Carla Hendra, global chairman of Ogilvy Red, a 3-year-old consulting group within WPP's Ogilvy & Mather agency network. "Clients are looking for strategic help."
Red, which has a dedicated team of 25 executives and its own P&L, has increased revenue 40% with assignments in New York, China, Brazil and the U.K. The team recently helped a global client execute an 18-month portfolio revamp, and a number of client requests have come from private-equity firms looking for insight into which brands to remake or invest, she said. The practice is also viewed as an advertising-business-builder at Ogilvy. "If we sell $1 of consulting work, down the road it can lead to $3 to $4 dollars of communications work," said Ms. Hendra.
"It has a halo effect. Everything we're doing is driven off that consulting," said Rosetta CEO Tom Adamski, who noted that about 50% of the shop's total revenue comes from clients that do business with both the consulting arm and the larger agency.
Data and analytics
Ernie Simon chalks up the growing demand for this kind of work to marketing companies getting more sophisticated in data and analytics, which are increasingly being used to help shape larger business strategies. Mr. Simon left his chief strategy officer post at Omnicom Media shop OMD to launch a consulting practice within WPP's GroupM in May. At the time, he noticed chief strategy officers fielding more questions about business processes and structure beyond traditional brand strategy, such as "focusing on how to make analytics or data work or turn media into a competitive advantage."
RG/A's "business transformation" group has a dedicated staff of 12 serving about 10 clients globally and represents millions of dollars in revenue "we wouldn't have had otherwise," said CEO Bob Greenberg. He wouldn't disclose names of clients, but said the group recently helped one decide which businesses are worth expanding to diversify revenue. For others, the team is working on IT, brand and product-innovation strategy. "We saw competition from Accenture, from McKinsey and from some of the branding agencies [like Ideo]," he said.
Rise above it
SMG's Zero Dot is more marketing-centric than those comparing themselves to business consultants, but the shop is still labeling itself as a consultancy as it looks to attract clients facing atypical brand challenges. "We want to able to work with our top 10 to 20 clients within the next two years," said SMG CEO Laura Desmond. SMG clients including Kevin George, Jim Beam CMO, and Sundar Raman, marketing director for Procter & Gamble North America Fabric Care, are already onboard.
"We wanted [someone] to serve a purpose that's more consulting than typical agencies but not in the [traditional] sense of consulting," said Mr. Raman of an integrated marketing campaign the group conceived for its Gain brand to communicate the benefits of social media to his distributor sales force.
"Sometimes you need someone who can rise above it a little bit to figure out how to bring all together," said Mr. George.
When a chief strategic officer advises in a consulting capacity within an agency, that executive is often billed as overhead, according to Ernie Simon, president of GroupM Consulting Services. But in a dedicated agency consulting group, compensation takes the form of fixed project fees and higher rates compared with the hourly fees charged by full-time employees at agencies. Consulting can offer significantly wider margins -- some agency execs claim more than 10 percentage points higher -- compared to standard agency work. R/GA's year-old "business transformation" group runs on a compensation model that looks more like that of a consultancy and is budgeted as a non-marketing expense by clients, said CEO Bob Greenberg.