What is the future of management consultancies and agencies?

Management consultancies: the new ad/creative agencies?

Management consultancies are increasingly buying up creative and advertising agencies. What does this trend mean for the future of the industry? 

We hosted our first ever panel discussion at the Capital Club in Dubai, with experts from agencies, consultancies, and in-house creatives, to help us get to the bottom of it. Our esteemed panel featured:

Alice Weightman – CEO Hanson Search (chair)
Abed Bibi – Former CMO Meraas
Paul Banham – Executive Creative Director FP7
Ross Maclean – Chief Digital and Innovation Officer EY
Iris Minnema – MD DDB Dubai
Lucy Miller – MD Hogarth Worldwide


Read on for the highlights and insight about the changing shape of the communications and consultancy sectors.

The best agencies have always worked like consultants

Paul Banham: “The best agencies have always acted like consultants. An agency I worked for in London had one client that it had been working with for 74 years. You simply can’t retain relationships like that without taking a consultative approach.”

But bringing these two worlds together is going to be a challenge

Lucy Miller: “Consultants tend to work in quite a systematic and time-bound way, but agencies don’t work like that. Ideas can come from anywhere. It’s organic and collaborative, but managing this creative talent can be hard, so this will undoubtedly present challenges.”

Abed Bibi: “It will still be about facilitating an entrepreneurial atmosphere where people can fail and not be pigeonholed. It’s about enabling people to fail several times because they will move from this failure to big success.”

Ross Maclean: “We’ve got guys in our lift from Shoreditch wearing the same lanyards as international tax consultants and wondering what they’ve done! But it can work well as long as we can give creative types the leeway they need. It’s incumbent on both sides to make that happen.”

It’s a great opportunity to create better outcomes for clients

Ross Maclean: “Clients need outcomes and fast. And now they want the arts and the sciences in one room in order to create workable solutions. For example, likes, views, shares are all inconsequential if they don’t have an impact on revenue. I think that agency talent can help get the creative juices flowing, and consultants can help ensure a campaign delivers. We just need to find a way to unite these two clans.”

The creative world must hold on to it’s ‘punk rock’ attitude

Lucy Miller: “My worry is that as agencies and consultancies move closer together, the output will become homogenous. Some of the most memorable ideas in the world didn’t come from spreadsheets and data. When tested they failed, but they triggered emotion. I have a great deal of respect for what management consultants do and the compelling insights they can make. But it’s about taking this and translating it into something human. We don’t want our industry to lose its bravery or its punk rock attitude.”

Will the C-suite choose an agency based on their language or creative ideas?

Lucy Miller: “The thing with agencies is that you always have the consumer in mind, whereas consultants think about the business. I think the C-suite tend to be more in tune with consultants; sometimes they won’t understand the agency’s ideas because they’re not so wedded to consumers and audiences and why certain suggestions are being made.

“So it’s about translation and creating a language we can all understand. When the two worlds work together, that’s when the C-suite nods, the consumer gets it, and we all increase the bottom line.”

Paul Banham: “There’s a difference between presenting and selling. A lot of business nous goes into selling ideas and positioning brands and presenting is something slightly different. But the fastest way to lose your money is to be safe when you’re being creative. It’s not just agencies who will need to change, the C-Suite will too.”

Not necessarily an increase in ‘one-stop shops’

Abed Bibi: “Clients will still want to work with several agencies. The more creative minds around the table the better. The momentum of the same person or team isn’t enough. You need different people and fresh perspectives.”

Iris Minnema: “I don’t think that the world of agencies and consultancies will completely merge. It’s not so much that clients want one-stop shops, it’s more that they don’t want to manage lots of different agencies. That can be a full-time job! What needs to happen is these different agencies and consultants coming together and trying to make life less complicated for clients. There will always be a need for consultancies and agencies. But it won’t work the same as it does now and we certainly need to take away some of the complexity.”

Will the Middle East market shift towards management consultancies acquiring and merging with agencies? How will the C-suite react?

Ross Maclean: “This has been happening for a while. In this region, there needs to be more education for clients about how this will work and the benefits as historically the buyers of agencies have been at board level. Often, these people have been invested in working in certain ways and not particularly wanting to know much about digital. This has changed. Now, when they see kids glued to their devices, they realise that this is the future and they really do need to understand what this means for their business.”

Will the role of the CEO change?

Abed Bibi: “The CEO of tomorrow will be different from today. The world is changing and it is not just agencies and management consultants who are going to change. Who is running the show will need to change too.”

Ross Maclean: “I think the role of the CEO will come down to the portfolio and 60% will always be on defending and extending core business. So when pitching to clients you need to understand where this sits. 52% of the Fortune 500 from 2000 no longer exist. For CEOs it’s not just about moonshoots, it’s about driving incremental results. Agencies need to remember that.”

Is there a conflict of interest given that management consultants have previously been used to audit agencies?

Ross: “This will really depend on the region. Certainly, regulators will need to catch up on this shifting landscape.”

Find out more

Read more about management consultancy trends on our blog and get in touch if you would like to keep up to date about our future events in Dubai. 


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