TBWA Turns 'Disruption' Mind-Set Into Consultancy

Former P&G CMO Jim Stengel Working With Omnicom Shop's New Business Unit

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TBWA Worldwide has touted its platform of "disruption" in adland for more than a decade, but now it's turning that methodology into a bona fide business.

The Omnicom Group agency is launching Disruption Works, a consulting business that will apply its philosophy of disruptive ideas and thinking to broader, more complex business issues across a range of areas, from research and development to corporate social responsibility. The business, which will operate as an independent unit, has a dedicated staff of 10 people and will be run by Laurie Coots, TBWA's global CMO.

Laurie Coots
Laurie Coots

Ms. Coots told Ad Age that the unit has been in soft-launch mode for about six months and in that time has attracted existing TBWA clients including Pernod Ricard, Kraft Foods, Johnson & Johnson and the YMCA.

"In the world of traditional consulting, a team of 1,000 interns and two partners crunch a lot of data and put together a lot of models and hand you a booklet of what you should be doing," Ms. Coots said. "What I'm offering is a chance for these companies to make very quick, very bold, distinctive decisions with actionable strategies."

Plenty of agencies are embracing consulting models as a means of diversifying revenue streams and establishing relationships with advertising not only via the marketing department, but throughout the entire C-suite. WPP's Ogilvy, for example, has over the past couple of years set up a number of consulting units with various specialities, such as youth marketing (Ogilvy Youth) and sustainability and green marketing (Ogilvy Earth).

Ms. Coots insists Disruption Works fits an "unmet need" in the marketplace and has a different approach. Other agencies, she said, are adopting consulting models as a means of solving problems that are simply advertising solutions. In contrast, Disruption Works won't create ads, though it could dissect problems related to advertising.

The new business unit will tap outside talent, as well as talent within the TBWA network for the intensive research process that goes into developing one- to two-day interactive workshops. Already, Disruption Works has contracted with author and former Proctor & Gamble CMO Jim Stengel, as well as William Taylor, an author and founding editor of Fast Company magazine.

Mr. Stengel said he's long been a fan and practitioner of the "disruption" methodology, using it during his time at P&G and to get his book off the ground. Working with Ms. Coots, as well as his publisher and agent, among others, Mr. Stengel said a Disruption Works style workshop helped him to "figure out the norms we had to respect and the norms we could disrupt," when it came to business books.

In addition to partnering with TBWA's Disruption Works, Mr. Stengel has collaborated with GSD&M's Roy Spence, whose purpose-driven approach aligns with Mr. Stengel's beliefs. "My life now is partnering with lots of different people with lots of different opportunities," Mr. Stengel said.

"I've been having discussions about how to make the ideas in my book really come to life for companies. I thought applying disruption … could be really powerful," Mr. Stengel said of his reason for signing on with Disruption Works. "It's a great way to help a company get started on its purpose and activating across the business. …This is not haphazard consulting, and it's not coaching. It's a methodology, a philosophy, a discipline."

Instead of giving companies a "general diagnosis," the goal of the program is to "make decisions and become aligned behind those decisions and strategies," Ms. Coots added. "So when you leave the room, you can move at 100 miles per hour on the answer."

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