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How agencies can deal with the rise of consultancies

Opinion, 10 July 2017

This commentary appears in WARC’s new ‘Future of Strategy’ report, based on a global survey of senior agency planners. The report covers the current state of the strategic discipline, future opportunities and challenges, and guidance on building the planning team of the future.

While advertising agencies all around the world have been suffering from falling profits, consultancy companies such as Accenture, PwC and Deloitte have been climbing up the largest global agency rankings. It's clear. Consultancies are on the rise, and this rise is putting pressure on advertising agencies.

As planners in agencies, we can interpret this trend in many different ways. But, unarguably, the rise of consultancies gives us several hints about what it is our clients are really looking for.

Firstly, it is that the agency's ability to find creative ideas is no longer enough to justify its raison d’être, and its releationships with its clients. Instead, clients are expecting their agencies to come up with creative solutions to their business problems. For the agencies that want to fulfill this core demand, the strategic planning department plays a pivotal role in this new service offering.

During the Mad Men era, agency executives used to have a say in their clients’ major business decisions, often during a fancy dinner in a nice restaurant. But today, having previously put together some cool ads for the client doesn’t automatically give you the right to take part in these decisions: especially when they are data-driven, based on analytics rather than gut instinct.

Therefore, you need to have designated staff – in advertising agencies’ case, strategic planners – who can dive into the precious data already at clients’ disposal, and distil the data into actionable insights. These insights will not only catalyse creativity, but will also help clients improve the journeys they offer to their consumers. And CMOs will increasingly wish to involve their agency's strategic planners with their decision processes.

At my agency, we have more and more clients asking for the strategic planning department’s views about various business issues varying from product portfolio management to pricing. Going beyond communications.

We strategic planners have earned this credibility thanks to our thorough data-driven understanding of the client’s business and consumer truths. Clients especially value how we interpret the data according to the big picture and come up with creative solutions.

Of course, understanding a client’s business through data is a service offered by consultancies as well. But strategic planners gain the high ground by bringing creativity into play. Moving beyond the data, planners provide a blend of creative mindset and business perspective. Hence, the outcome of the strategic planner’s quest for untapped consumer truths is crucial for both the creative output and designing a unique journey around products and services. In both cases, brands have to come up with engaging experiences in order to win the hearts and minds of the consumers.

Therefore, a strategic planner’s advocacy of consumer truths will be appreciated not only by ECDs – but also by CMOs.

If the agencies want to break their vicious financial cycles and build a collaborative relationship with consultancies, instead of competing with them, they will have to put their strategic planners on the frontline. The strategic planning department’s unique perspective on creativity and data will help agencies gain access to business strategy development, as well as communications projects.

This will not only justify agencies’ value, but will increase the influence of strategic planners.

More on the future role of agency strategists Find out what senior agency  strategists told WARC on what's changing, what challengies lie ahead, and  building the planning team of the future. Get an excerpt of the report

About the author

Bediz Eker is Chief Strategy Officer at Young & Rubicam Istanbul