It’s not a given big consultancies will succeed in their marketing push

KPMG’s recent acquisition of market research firm Acuity is the latest move in a major push by the big management consultancies to extend their services into the marketing and advertising industries. Mumbrella's Paul Wallbank looks at what's happened so far and what history tells us about their chances of success.

How successful the consultancies’ ongoing push into marketing and advertising will be isn’t clear. While the big consulting firms have broad expertise and deep pockets, it’s not a given their efforts to incorporate advertising and marketing functions into their management service offerings will be successful or embraced by the market.

Paul Bennett, the former MD for Sapient Nitro’s Australian operations who recently joined CapGemini as their head of digital strategy told a Mumbrella360 panel earlier this month that understanding business imperatives gives the consulting firms a huge advantage over traditional providers – “Agencies have to understand they have to adapt. Sitting now as a consultant, this is something consultants have an advantage with, because they can get their heads around the business”.

Bennett’s view is certainly shared by KPMG’s Paul Howes who flagged further growth of the consultancy’s Customer, Brand & Marketing advisory division after the Acuity purchase saying, “We’re already eyeing off some further acquisitions, and I’m in the process of recruiting more top talent.”

The consultancies’ push for talent in recent months has also been noticeable. Late last month Deloitte appointed Ten’s chief brand officer Matt McGrath to be its chief marketing officer.

In taking on the role, McGrath said the fast-changing face of marketing and communications made the decision to move to Deloitte an easy one.

“This is a very interesting situation with all of the changes that are happening and people are looking for more robust thinking,” he said.

The consultancy, he said, also had noticeable strength in digital, with significant growth opportunities in this area.


In the past year Deloitte has also expanded its presence in the marketing and advertising space, buying marketing platform specialists Cinder and digital communication studio The Explainers.

One of the most prominent moves though has been independent creative agency The Monkeys and design business Maud being acquired by Accenture, a company more recognised for its IT consulting practice than creative work.

Brian Whipple, head of Accenture Interactive, again raised the advantages of consultancies at the time of The Monkeys’ deal saying the acquisition will enable the company to “integrate creative excellence with digital customer experience delivery”.

Accenture’s acquisition of The Monkeys is the 12th for the company since 2013, including creative agencies Karmarama and Melbourne-based Reactive.

PwC bringing advertising veteran Russell Howcroft on board was one of the most significant warnings to the advertising industry that major consulting firms were moving into the creative sector, however KPMG’s move shows the shifts are more nuanced than just a wholesale invasion of the suits into the creative meetings.

Ernst and Young, the last of the major firms hasn’t been active with advertising acquisitions with its focus being on buying into analytics companies. How long the company’s partners can resist the Fear Of Missing Out in the creative sector though remains to be seen.

The move by consulting firms does have a certain logic to it. As adtech and martech take a more important place in the industry, the consulting  firms are using their strength in analytics and IT to carve individual niches in the sector.

However the consulting firms’ ambitions aren’t necessarily assured. Beyond the cultural clash between management consultants and advertising industry creatives there’s also the business models where the Big Five are accustomed to ‘rivers of gold’ flowing from lucrative government consulting and enterprise IT implementations. The marketing and advertising industries are nowhere near as profitable or hands-off.

In some ways though the current wave of acquisitions is reminiscent of the rush 15 years ago where conglomerates like Photon, Blue Freeway and Totem acquired PR and communications agencies to create umbrella organisations that offered all things to all clients.

That wave of acquisitions didn’t end well and the investors in those integrated comms companies took a drastic haircut. While it’s unlikely any of the major consultancies will go the way of Photon or Blue Freeway, agency owners shouldn’t be too hesitant in accepting the money should the big end of town start waving big cheques at them.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.