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Are management consultancies the creative and ad agencies of the future?

Once upon a time, management consultancies and marketing agencies were distinct. The former, grey-suited and sensible, provided detailed insight and intelligence to inform business’ strategy, while the latter provided creative campaigns to take their offering to the mass market.

Not anymore. The Accentures, Deloittes and EYs of this world now have the major players of the likes of Madison Avenue in their sights; buying up talent, buying up firms and – most important of all – tempting away their clients.

This evolution in the industry should not come as a huge surprise. Management consultancies already offer a broad suite of services and – given the fact that data-led analytical rigour is now the cornerstone of so many campaigns – it makes sense that they have begun to add campaign creation to their list of skills.

The result is a landgrab, as the big consultancies acquire everything from individual stars such as Andy Bateman, the former Telstra marketing director recently snapped up by Deloitte, to buying whole agencies, as Accenture recently did with creative agency The Monkeys.

At Hanson Search, we have been observing this trend emerge for some time. For years, management consultancies have built a fearsome reputation based on their ability to analyse huge swathes of data. And in recent years, data has become the central tenet of any good consumer campaign, informing everything from understanding target demographics and audience segmentation to creating the solutions that will attract new customers.

Our clients began turning to consultancies for guidance on strategy a few years back, although at that time, they still sought support from creative agencies in developing creative. Now, however, consultancies can increasingly offer a one-stop-shop. Could this be the end of the big-name global networks – the WPPs and Publicis of this world –who currently dominate the scene?

Probably not. First, the fightback has already begun. As consultancies encroach on their space, the likes of WPP and Publicis are launching their own consultancy arms and many more are scaling up their digital armoury, ready for this data-driven revolution It is unlikely that this traffic is going to be all one way.

Second is, as trite as it might sound, while these big firms can buy in talent, keeping it performing in such a corporate atmosphere – very different to that experienced in a typical agency – can be quite another thing. There will always be a need for the reliable behemoths and the edgy upstarts and the solutions they can each produce.

The traditional agency need not be afraid of what this means for them. The best and brightest – both firms and talent – have always thrived by rolling with the punches that our changing world is throwing at it. There is no reason that by staying on top of their clients' needs, and ensuring they have the skills to supply it, they cannot nimbly navigate their way through this supposed crisis too.

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