How consultancies buying creative agencies will change the life of CMOs

As consultancies start to acquire adland, Uberbrand's Dan Ratner considers what it means for the CMOs of the future.

Consultancies are buying ad agencies (or in the case of Deloitte, nabbing their staffers) in a trend that seems to be gaining momentum. Some argue it could be due to an increasing hunger for creativity in consultancies that are tasked with helping business leaders take their organisations forward. However, when all the focus is on the creative, what happens to the strategy?

Accenture’s acquisition of The Monkeys was the mark of things to come

To a large extent, much of this change is being driven by the enterprise’s chief marketing officer (CMO). These executives are being squeezed at both ends: while they hold a more strategic position in the organisation than they have in the past, they’re also still tasked with tactical campaigns.

The CMO now looks after organisational strategy, internal alignment, advertising, social media, lead generation, sales and more. There is enormous pressure on CMOs to directly affect the bottom line and the tenure can be short for a CMO who’s seen to be too slow in delivering results.

This shifting dynamic is also changing the relationships between the CMO, their partner agencies, and their staff. The CMO needs to simultaneously manage internal alignment strategies with long-term goals alongside tactical campaigns to hit quarterly sales targets. Add to this external pressure like new competitors entering the market, and the CMO role now acts as a lynchpin for the entire company’s performance.

It’s a lot of pressure for one person and their team (if they have one), so CMOs are increasingly relying on agencies to provide strategic thinking as well as creative input. In the case of advertising agencies, this goes beyond their original remit, which is to create a message, select a channel, reach a buyer and convince them to buy.

Now, CMOs are asking their ad agencies to deliver that tactical campaign on one hand, and an internal change strategy on the other. And, while you can measure the success and return on investment of an advertising campaign, measuring organisational change is much harder.

The blurring of the lines between strategy and creative falls to the agency to clarify. But most agencies aren’t equipped to deal with this dichotomy.

Plenty of advertising agencies say they’re transforming brands but, in many cases, this isn’t backed up by real strategic strengths. It’s more of an identity crisis with no clear resolution in sight.

In the past, branding was a part of the marketing remit. Now, marketing is seen as part of branding and companies are looking to branding agencies to help them achieve their strategic and tactical objectives. But when it comes to developing the creative, the process needs to be led by strategy rather than creating ideas for their own sake.

When CMOs can’t compartmentalise the various demands the business is making of them, they look to consolidate with a single agency. That can be a mistake, since it encourages agencies to lay claim to skills and strengths they don’t necessarily possess. These CMOs might be better served using a group of agencies, each with a specialisation in a relevant area.

The key to making that approach work is to have a strong strategy in place, from which all creative tactics can be developed. It’s important for agencies to remember that simply saying they’re strategic doesn’t make them strategic. It’s not useful to ask a branding agency to produce a creative idea and a creative agency to provide a strategy. That lack of precision in who does what often means the resulting campaigns fail to deliver strongly on any of the metrics.

This is what’s driving the rash of agency acquisitions we’re seeing at the moment; agencies are aware they can’t deliver everything while consultancies can see an opportunity to bring their strategic capabilities to bear. But, it could be argued, the competing imperatives of these two types of organisations could make it difficult for them to mesh successfully. Ad agencies work on volume, while consultancies must deliver quality.

Branding agencies can help straddle the divide if they’re authentically strategy-led with strong creative competencies.

These agencies can help CMOs manage the right mix of specialist agencies to achieve all of their goals, from running ads to help hit the monthly sales target to managing an internal communications campaign to boost employee engagement.

Agencies need to understand their own strengths and core competencies, and avoid killing their own culture in favour of a hybrid approach. This means communicating with potential partners and setting clear parameters for working together.

By cementing strategic partnerships, these agencies can present a united front to the CMOs who are, ultimately, looking for simplicity and strong results.

Dan Ratner is MD at Uberbrand


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