Adland puts its pea-shooters on the consultants' lawn

06 Aug 2018  |  Dominic Mills 
Adland puts its pea-shooters on the consultants' lawn

The advertising industry is going to need to upgrade its weaponry if it thinks it's going to take the fight back to the likes of Accenture, writes Dominic Mills. Plus: raining on radio’s parade...

I try to follow the Advertising Standard Authority rules on advertising when it comes to headlines - legal, honest, decent and truthful (i.e. no clickbait) - and thus I am unable to write the one many in the business would like to see: ‘Adland lines up its tanks on the consultants’ lawn’.

We all know about the invasion of adland turf by management consultancies. Such is the nature of the commentary about this subject that it feels as though they haven’t just put their tanks on display, but ballistic missiles and mighty warships too.

But what about the other way round?

Last week saw two examples of adland venturing onto consultancy turf. First, Omnicom snapped up a small management and tech consultancy called Credera, which it intends to shove - identity intact - into its Precision Marketing group, itself a new construct.

With just 300 staff, Credera is either (the military metaphors just keep coming) a small commando unit or the equivalent of the school cadet force.

Second, Grey launched Grey Consulting, which it claims will have 150 staff based in London, LA, Singapore and Dusseldorf. It will be run by Leo Rayman, the former Grey London CEO and a planner/strategist by trade.

What will it do? Well, Grey says it will focus on business transformation, innovation and brand design and is a response to client demand for “more upstream thinking”. Its claimed USP - and I’m not sure it really is - is that it will look at client issues through a brand lens.

Which brings me back to my ASA-filtered headline. Pea-shooters pretty much describes both efforts.

In fact, in one way or another, agencies have long offered consultancy services to their clients, sometimes formally, but mostly in an unstructured or uncodified way. Most involve ‘thinking’ rather than ‘doing’ and did not require agencies to step too far, if at all, out of their comfort zones of product, brand and comms.

But the game has clearly changed, and so agencies and holding companies have responded in a number of ways. For them, the good news is that there are many different routes in. The bad news is that the many routes in bring even more competition - not just Accenture, but also IBM, Deloitte, Oracle and Salesforce.

At the (let’s call it full-service) end of the spectrum, Publicis has acquired Sapient, which gives it an entry point via the ‘doing’ bit - specifically in terms of IT and organisational architecture. IPG and Dentsu see data as alternative entry points, via the acquisitions respectively of Acxiom and Merkle.

Further along the spectrum sit the likes of Mediacom’s little-known (and that’s the way they like it) Theobalds Road Consulting. Here’s a podcast where you can hear its head of consulting Alice Fabre. She frames its offer as giving clients strategies for growth.

Again, none of these are exactly blockbuster responses. But short of a holding company acquiring a sizeable consultancy - which I just can’t see happening - that’s the way it’s going to be.

But I don’t think that matters. Wars are fought not just via pitched battles, but through guerilla combat, low-level harassment and propaganda and disinformation. Tanks aren’t always the answer. Pea-shooters may not be either, but it doesn’t take much to upgrade them.

I hesitate to rain on radio’s parade but...

Last week’s release of the Q1 AA/Warc adspend figures suggests an all-round burst of sunshine for the media industry. With the exception of the regional press (an ongoing car crash) and magazines (a slower-motion crash), there was cheer for pretty much everyone.

None more so than radio, up 12.5%, and radio digital up 39%. Wow - its rate of growth was faster than online. Not surprisingly the industry broke out the bubbly celebrating both the revenue figures and decent digital audience growth too.

But if I may sound a note of caution...the digital revenue figures are pitifully low and well below other legacy media channels. Full 2017 digital revenue figures for radio were £34.8m, so with the 40% boost from Q1 that makes the total a few million below £50m. Which is zip really.

Even if you take that as a percentage of total revenue, it is still low at about 5%. Compare that with OOH, where digital revenues are over 50% of the total, newsbrands (just over 25%) and even regionals at just under 25%.

Ah, the industry will say, we’re historically under-valued but it’s changing fast - as the figures show. It may also say that it is yet to fully exploit its growing digital audiences.

There may also be a caveat in that some digital revenues are caught under the mobile banner and thus not reflected in the radio figures. This may be true - I’ve never been clear about exactly what constitutes mobile - although a massive chunk of mobile is search.

Nevertheless, I’d say two things. First, if Google and Facebook continue to take 80-90% of every incremental digital pound, it doesn’t leave much for everyone else to fight over, and radio as the smallest medium may be last in the queue.

Second, I’d ask if digital radio could be easier to buy. If the answer is ‘no’, then its task is even greater.

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