As consulting firms enter the marketing and communications industry, agencies are forced to evaluate their value proposition to remain relevant in the future.
Companies have traditionally had an agency for everything. They had the Mad Men lookalikes in the ad industry, the PR people to manage media and crisis, and the consultants to help them with their business needs. When the time came, the digital agencies came aboard to aid businesses to understand the new landscapes brought by the internet and social media.
However, agencies started to expand their offerings, creating “full-service” packs that covered nearly all the communication needs of a company. But in parallel, consulting groups started to create specialized units for firms’ communication needs, and subsequently bought out some of the biggest names in the industry.
This begs the question: are agencies still relevant, or are consultants the new leaders of the comms industry?
To say that the marketing landscape is changing is an understatement—it’s more like a revolution. And the thing about revolutions is, no one knows what will happen once it’s over.
The rise of digital
The massification of the internet—especially social media—came as a disruptor to the traditional agency model. In just a few years, the budget a company dedicated to traditional advertising mediums like television or newspaper, got replaced by online advertising targeted through e-mail or social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.
The rapid expansion and rate of change brought on by this massification caught many agencies off guard. Suddenly, digital native agencies started to proliferate and provide services to companies that media agencies or advertising agencies did not consider to be their field.
With time, the line between analog and digital became non-existent, pushing the traditional agencies to reinvent themselves in order to catch up with these digital agencies.
Agencies vs. consulting firms
The new players in the game are the consulting groups. Big names like Accenture and Deloitte have acquired marketing agencies and developed units to provide their clients with services in the marketing and communications industry. While this has created a view that consulting groups are pushing marketing agencies out of business, for some this is caused more by changes in the way information is consumed.
In an interview for AdExchange, Andy Mein, head of Deloitte Digital, said:
“The media business has essentially already been taken over by Facebook and Google, and they’re the ones eating the agencies’ lunch, not us. Agencies with a media-heavy bias to their business model are struggling to shed that as a main source of revenue, but they can’t change quickly enough.”
Traditionally, marketing agencies spoke to the Chief Marketing Officer and implemented the communication strategy, while consultants spoke with the CEO and devised the general strategy—with marketing communications being the tail of it. In an effort to compete, agencies have started to develop consulting skills, creating “consulgencies.”
One Spanish agency that has adopted this combination is Good Rebels. According to founder Juan Luis Polo:
“We can no longer rely on award-winning campaigns—we have to focus our efforts on new technologies and strengthening our overall strategy. This is something that already comes easily to consulting firms with high technological capacity. Our secondary focus, that of experience and emotion-led marketing, is one that most agencies feel they already have a handle on and continue to boast about.”
During one of their Rebel Meetups, they hosted a panel debating the future of the relationship between agencies and consulting firms. Among the main touchpoints was the need for marketing agencies to get more involved with the business aspect and not rely just on their creative strengths in order to talk more effectively with their clients. One key aspect in this is using data to measure the impact of the strategies implemented, as well as supporting clients in their need to understand the day-to-day of the industry.
The future of marketing
Those going into the marketing industry today must understand the need to be highly adaptable, as technological development will continue to disrupt the industry exponentially. According to Salesforce’s 2018 “State of Marketing,” the average business uses 15 data sources to run their marketing program, and by 2025, this could go up to 45 data sources. This opens up the possibilities for artificial intelligence to be implemented as a way to sort and interpret this data.
Despite their muscle, artificial intelligence could prove a risk to consultancies. According to AgencyAgile CEO Jack Skeels:
“The future looks like flexible workforces, a talent-driven economy, and a decline in mundane and repetitive knowledge-work roles that can be automated away by AI and other technologies. The consultancies, which have prospered from their excellent knowledge management technologies, will see those technologies be the platform from which Watson-like AIs replace the legions of consultants.”
Another incoming change is the shift from the Chief Marketing Officer role to Chief Experience Officer. According to Skeels, this function will focus on “how best to spend money across the enterprise in order to create higher Customer ROI.”
Indeed, the future seems to be shaped by customer centricity, with brands focusing on delivering the best experience possible to their customers. This requires the use of technology to connect with them across their whole journey with the brand.
The disruption across the marketing industry can create chaos for all the players involved, such as brands, agencies, consulting firms, and customers. However, it is this chaos that represents opportunity. Those who are able to better merge creativity with intelligence to deliver measurable results are going to win the heart and wallet of their clients.
One thing, however, remains a constant through the history of marketing: it’s all about relationships. Through this process of change, certainly we are moving into an improved and healthier relationship based on shared values and understanding.
Needless to say, it’s an exciting time to be part of the marketing and communications industry.
Carlos Wong was born and raised in Costa Rica and is currently studying in the Master in Corporate & Marketing Communication. He has previously worked in PR and for NGOs. You can usually find him at a football match or a rock concert.