These days, when you hear about consultancies in the marketing and advertising space, it’s in the context of them luring talent away from agencies or making full-blown acquisitions. But when MediaCom was looking to recruit a new chief client officer last year, it went right into the lion’s den. In hiring Bhavana Smith, a six-and-a-half year Accenture vet, the WPP media network was seeking to burnish its digital transformation capabilities—and take a page from the consultancy playbook.
“This was my opportunity to capitalize on everything I’ve learned, not just on the media agency side but also Accenture and consulting,” says Smith, who had gained agency experience prior to going to the consultancy side. She sees her mandate, broadly speaking, as building trust and transparency, and mending “the broken link between client and agency relationships.”
Indeed, trust has been hobbled across the board, and as Ad Age reported just last week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s far-reaching inquiry into U.S. media buying practices has moved into broader territory and across sectors of the industry.
“This is an opportunity for me to be part of the solution,” she says. “It’s trust and transparency and all of those client pain points, which I learned first-hand sitting with clients—and being the referee between clients and agencies.”
Those pain points, she says, tend to center around growth. “We have more clients today than I can remember from my past agency experience saying that ‘our business is not growing’,” says Smith, noting a client-side shift toward thinking about marketing as an investment, as opposed to a cost to cut.
Core to making that case is data, and combatting what she calls “analysis paralysis.”
“There is so much data,” she says. “How do you really identify the three things that you really need versus have to figure out what’s going to get you that growth? … Anything you can do to enhance a customer’s experience is part of better marketing.”
Although she left Accenture before it was announced the consultancy would be acquiring Droga5 in April, she had done work with the creative shop while still at Accenture. “They’ve been acquiring so far small creative shops outside of the U.S.,” she says. “It makes sense that they did that here … It starts to bring creative chops to Accenture in the U.S., which is the biggest market.”
Smith also explains what she advises clients when it comes to bringing media capabilities in-house. “I would first ask them what’s the business reason for doing so. Are you doing it because you feel you can do a better job compared to your agency partners?’” she says. “If it’s a business reason, we’ll help you … How do we make sure we stay integrated and don’t create more silos?”