Consultancies Are Coming For Your Lunch -- Their Secret Weapon? The CIO And CFO

"No accountant ever filled a restaurant" is the putdown line that a famous chef and restauranteur once used to sum up how the creative often feel about the bean counters. The line has always stayed with me. I suspect it sums up how a lot of marketers and advertisers feel about the large consultancies that have been knocking on the door of the industry for quite some time now. 

The news yesterday that Accenture is buying Karmarama will send shockwaves through the industry, however. The guys in suits mean business. It reminds me a little of when the former Top Gear presenters were looking for a deal and those in the digital know flagged up that it could just as easily be a Netflix -- or as it turned out, an Amazon -- just as much as any traditional broadcaster.

The same thing now applies to agencies looking for a buyer or going about their business and being approached with a generous offer. It's not just agencies buying each other -- the consultants are out there now lining up acquisitions. The game has changed.

When you think about it, consultancies were always going to enter this industry. It's become far more techy than it was just a handful of years ago. Programmatic is due to dominate display from next year at the same time that digital will supersede conventional marketing and advertising. In every aspect of the industry, data is key in understanding customer behaviour and influencing it across multiple channels on different devices. The gut feel and the clever knowhow may belong to the digital marketing team, but it is increasingly becoming a data-driven game, and that game is being driven itself by technology. Enter the consultants.

Right now they are relative minnows who have dipped their toes into this industry, typically by advising on what technology a brand may want to deploy, and how the tech can fit in with their strategy. It's not surprising that consultants should be used here. They are massive in tech, and they are not part of holding companies where the advice is to generally use sister agencies utilizing tech that is used across, even possibly owned, by a parent. This mission creep within the big agencies had led, in alignment with Newtonian physics, to an opposite reaction among brands to allow consultancies to creep from tech and finance into marketing. If the advice is to always buy more stuff from our group, it's not surprising that brands would be open to another option.

Interestingly, this represents a new route in to a brand and it's not necessarily through the CMO. Consultancies have traditionally had far stronger links to the finance team, to the CFO, and to the tech guys, the CIO. They can talk the language of business -- it's what they do every day. They're all about ROI and the simple maths of comparing what you put in to what you should expect to get out. Not a serious mention of a "like" or a "share" in sight. 

So, as digital marketing becomes increasingly data-driven and all about tech and platforms, then we can only expect to see consultants taking a bite out of the industry. The one area where they may be weak is, of course, creative. Hence it's no surprise to see the Karmarama purchase. We should expect to see more. Sir Martin Sorrell predicted at this year's Festival of Marketing in London that there would be considerable consolidation in the industry. I wonder if he was secretly fearing much of it could come from the consultants that are out there working with the CFO and CIO to eat the industry's lunch?

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