Opinion

The hidden value in The Monkey’s $63m purchase price

The $63m sale of The Monkeys to Accenture was widely acknowledged with shock and confusion, with many considering the two companies’ cultures as fundamentally incompatible. In actual fact, the rare combination of creative and analytic minds might actually shoot the two businesses into the stratosphere, writes Antony Giorgione.

The Monkeys: Michael Buckley, Mark Green, Scott Nowell and Justin Drape

In his book ‘The Power of Habit’, Charles Duhigg told the story of the Aluminum Company of America’s CEO Paul O’Neill.

The Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) was an industrial behemoth, and in 1987 it was bleeding customers and profits due to poor management decisions. The internal culture was riven with frustration – at one point 15,000 employees went on strike.

The board of Alcoa appointed Paul O’Neill in the CEO role. At his first investor presentation, O’Neill outlined his strategy.

Safety.

As Duhigg relates, O’Neill’s presentation was bereft of the typical new management buzz-concepts such as boosting profits, lowering costs, increasing synergies and enabling co-opetition. The investors were aghast, with one describing O’Neill a crazy hippie who was going to kill the company.

A year later, Alcoa’s profits had hit a record high, and by the end of O’Neill’s tenure in 2000 the stock’s value had risen five-fold.

As O’Neill related to the investors in that first meeting: “If you want to understand how Alcoa is doing, you need to look at our workplace safety figures. If we bring our injury rates down, it won’t be because of cheerleading or the nonsense you sometimes hear from other CEOs. It will be because the individuals at this company have agreed to become part of something important: They’ve devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence. Safety will be an indicator that we’re making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution. That’s how we should be judged.”

This deft piece of lateral thinking transformed the company.

I find it most telling that the AFR reported The Monkeys as courting PwC before taking the Accenture offer. No giant marketing conglomerate seems to have been in the running.

Fewer beards, more creative solutions

It appears the principals had deliberately targeted a parent company with deep penetration into the full breadth of the C-suite, and not just the marketing and IT silos.

I believe this sale to be reflective of The Monkeys’ desire to expand their creative remit.

For too long, the creative director title has become a glass ceiling for the creative. The recent addition of ECD, CCO and creative chairman positions have mitigated this somewhat, however for the most part these positions demand administrative and glad-handling responsibilities, as opposed to a greater creative challenge.

I suspect the principals at The Monkeys still crave the creative challenge and are now looking outside the familiar channels to address that need.

For Accenture and the other number-crunching majors, I think there is something else at play.

At the top of their elite sit the management consultants. This has traditionally been where you can charge a super-premium and where best of the best graduates are placed – cherry-picked fresh from law, economics and MBA courses to be thrust directly into a whole-of-business problem-solving role.

But as time has gone on, this extra special skillset has become normalised. Every tertiary institution now seems to have a law course. The MBA is just another box to tick if you want to enter upper management.

When business process can be broken down into parts per million, with each successive year this process becomes easier to synthesise and digest.

I believe the management consulting field has hit its own glass ceiling by becoming too commodified in its offering.

And that these large accounting entities that also offer a business transformation capability may have inadvertently stumbled onto the next possible phase.

Creativity.

By this I don’t mean crazy beards and post-ironic t-shirts. I mean the ability to apply the laterally-derived solution to a brief. The advertising creative is quite literally the best in the world at this.

No other class of employee is tasked with this responsibility hour after hour, day after day. The culture that pervades the creative departments at the top agencies is an absolute insistence in producing tangentially-derived solutions.

The accounting firms became aware of this dark art as a result of their initial exposure to the creative side – purchasing relatively ‘low-grade creative’ annual report design companies that milked fat profits from glossy-paper high-volume print runs in days of yore.

From there, they have moved into creative businesses with deeper, higher-grade capabilities. The AFR quotes professional services consultant Eric Chin as identifying the first purchase of a brand specialist firm by an accounting major occurring in 2001.

That was sixteen years ago, and by now there will be some at the top of these accounting majors who would have surmised about the fuller potential of the creative mindset.

As any creative will tell you, there is no way of defining this mindset. What one creative director might love, another will ignore.

The AWARD school program – probably the best applied-creative learning space – is not a regimented methodology. It is an end-product-focussed system whereby accomplished creatives with individual methodologies teach prospective creatives, and the results judged for themselves.

Some people have this intuitive capability and others don’t. It may take a school to draw this latent capability out, or it may already be apparent – in which case a prospective creative needs only a great folio of concepts to get a job. Not any specific qualification.

As my uncle used to tell me; you can teach someone to draw, but you can’t teach them to be artist.

Paul O’Neill was not a creative.

He was a number-cruncher from the hands-on school of Robert S. McNamara. A whiz-kid’s whiz kid. McNamara was famed for having every single relevant statistic sitting in his head, and woe betide anyone who fudged the numbers when reporting to him.

When it came time for O’Neill to justify his strategy to the Alcoa investors, he didn’t cite statistics. He came to a latent creative response based on years and years of immersion in the bureaucratic side of business and government.

He relied on his intuition.

In contrast to O’Neill whose ‘trust me’ was backed up by years of validation, the advertising creative will need to earn the spotlight on the C-suite floor.

This is where The Monkeys might have the advantage over any small creative group or individual joining the likes of Accenture. You can’t just wheel a creative into the C-suite with a raft of possible ideas, you need to have identified one and rationalised it out as much as possible.

Thanks to their own business demonstrating an ongoing success, The Monkeys have very crucially bought time.

The immediate tasks at hand will be to sustain revenue and their benchmark quality of work, as well as client and employee retention. Beyond that, they will have an optimum opportunity to harness the increasing power of data in their creative solutions.

Most of the purchase price valuation can be accounted for by these two facets.

Over the longer term, however, the key thinkers at The Monkeys will have themselves been immersed in the realpolitick of big business.

The relatively narrow parameters of a communications brief are dwarfed by the millions of touchpoints needed to be satisfied for a whole-of-business solution. And The Monkeys will have a top-down, continued exposure to this.

You can’t rush this business-focused application of creativity, or even bottle it.

It will require the very rare combination of a disciplined lateral capability tempered by a pragmatic awareness. The potential profits and kudos back into a firm that can demonstrate this type of transformational change will be stratospheric.

Neither Accenture nor The Monkeys seems to have elucidated upon what I have just written – probably for fear of ridicule in the face of an unproven theory.

But I believe that is where the premium in this incredible valuation resides.

Antony Giorgione is a freelance creative strategist.

 

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