Accenture Interactive has been at the forefront of consultancies’ shift into marketing services. Anatoly Roytman is its Managing Director for Europe, Africa and Latin America. He spoke to WARC’s Head of Content, David Tiltman, about building an ‘experience agency’ and where it’s going next.
You’ve described your ambition for Accenture Interactive to be an ‘experience agency record’. What, in practice, do you see that meaning?
Everything [about a business] is now exposed. ‘Digital’ has broken the barriers. Consumers can compare a bank to a grocery store, to other types of services they receive. They can compare, they can choose. It's about the service you provide. Yes, of course, the branding, positioning, all of those things still matter. But consumers don't look at advertising, or marketing, or service separately; that's what the brand is. So what we are saying is that you need to start from the experience, from outside in.
Is that offline experience, or is that principally online?
It's everything. Brands need to look at the whole picture, and they're not designed to do that. The CMO job was something different to the CIO job, which was different to the CFO, and so on. We believe, by creating a strategic partner who can fill the gaps between all these different entities, and different people who are looking at the different pieces, we can help them to survive and actually thrive.
How do you structure your business to offer that service?
We have specialized people, [organized in] five big buckets - for example, technology (we call it ‘platforms’). But the most important role is to make it all come together for the client. And for that we have a unique role, we call it ‘experience architect’. It's not just traditional account services. It is a unique individual who has both sides of the brain functioning. And this is the hardest part; it’s a real challenge to find people like that.
Let’s say we are brainstorming something for a client, we have six people in the room – the five capabilities plus the experience architect. We might have a technologist with 30 years’ experience. We have a marketer, and a person who knows media. But they need to look at the entire picture, regardless of the brief. The hardest piece is to create a balance between those very different individuals, where not one capability dominates. That is the problem I learned at the agency side, which is driven by big ego and only one point of view. We need depth.
So we need people who want to do bigger, more impactful things. They need to relate to creatives who are behaving like children, and they need to tolerate that and try to pull them in. And they need to make consultants, who need proper structure, understand that being fluid and sometimes not knowing the answer is OK.
Are there particular places you look for these people?
The best ones come from creative agencies, plus a McKinsey [mindset]. Nobody is 100% ready for it. Some of them come from one side or the other, but when we expose them to this opportunity, they grow into it.
Possibly a strategist within a creative agency?
That’s the type – exactly.
Can you give me some examples of actual engagements with clients, where you're putting some of this into place?
We have already made [some appointments] public – Maserati, for example, Radisson Hotel Group and Sanofi in Italy.
For Sanofi we created a platform for them to give consumers information and manage their health. This is something that pharmaceutical companies are struggling with – creating something that is focused on the patient is very difficult because they're a product company. We created the brand. We created the infrastructure. We created everything for this new platform to exist.
Are you selling this kind of work into the CEO, or into the CMO?
We've seen both. The ideal route, if the CMO wants to be relevant in the future, is to go through the CMO to the CEO, and that's what we're trying to do. Sometimes we go direct to CEO because there are many traditional CMOs who are not ready. But the CMO is always necessary because if we come in and say, "We want do the whole thing," there may be a subjective view, for example, that Accenture is not creative enough. So we need to convince the CMO, and everybody underneath, that we are good in all of these areas.
Presumably that’s where Karmarama [a creative agency in London purchased by Accenture in 2017] fits in?
In communications, yes.
And is that going to remain as a standalone brand?
We're still debating it. Accenture Interactive is the brand platform. There are a few agencies that may potentially retain their brands, if it's helpful, in specific markets, or if they stand for very specific capability. One example is [visual effects and CGI company] Mackevision – they do something unique, and it is global. Fjord is a service design capability that is known. Karmarama is a creative agency that is regional. Monkeys is a creative agency that is regional but is very well known. But our joint challenge is to elevate Accenture Interactive as an overall experience agency brand. We're not a holding company – there is a big difference. So even if we have a few brands, it doesn't mean that they have separate businesses.
And where might you push this next? Are there any capabilities you feel you need to add?
Contact marketing is becoming more important than just pure advertising, so we are thinking about doing things there. If you look at media, we believe that there is more room for artificial intelligence. In many of the marketing processes, there are lots of repetitive, no-value-added processes that could be handled by machine. There are so many exciting things we could do, but I want to make sure that we don't sell too much ahead of our capabilities.
So who would you typically see as your competitors now?
Everyone. Because people realise that this is the future. PWC Digital, Deloitte Digital, and the traditional holding companies are still out there – Publicis, out of all of them, is closer to that future model because they're trying to force this unification, but they're not there yet.
When you're looking at competition from advertising agencies, do you see big, strong competitors, or do you see low-margin businesses where there's room for you to come in and do a much better job?
Well, we are not after low-margin business. That is for sure.
When we have bought agencies, we are most likely not buying them for the business that they're doing. We're buying talent that we want to apply in a different way. I think people are stuck in this model where if you do a job, you should continue to do the same job forever. Those times are gone. People need to evolve. Businesses need to evolve. We need talent that want to extend their horizons, want to do bigger things.
If you ask me what the future looks like, there will be few big entities like Accenture. Few would be able to deliver global, joined-up, end-to-end experience. They may call it something else but there will be many more independents actually, and freelancers, because people who have a speciality, who are good at something, don't need big infrastructure to prosper. I know it's unsettling for people who sit in the big holding companies. But if you have talent, it's a fantastic time. People need more creative, not less.
So is your view that world of marketing services is full of talented people that, in a different model, sold in a different way, packaged in a different way, can go from a low-margin business to a high-margin business?
Of course. At the end of the day, it's about value. When your business becomes a commodity, then procurement comes in and they drive the margin down. This is their job, and this is legitimate. So how do you not become a commodity? If you're doing something very, very high-end in a very specific area, then of course, you have better margin. And if you're doing something unique, then even better. That's what we're trying to do.