A while ago I sat through a credentials presentation by the MD of one of the leading international data management consultancies.  At one point in the process a slide came up and the presenter went into a series of claims saying that they had shown so-and-so organisation how to save twenty million pounds and another client how to save thirty million etc.  Now, I’ve been in these situations before and even if I hadn’t, I would have been sensitive to the weasel, so I asked the obvious question.  “So, you showed them how to save all this money, what did they actually save?”  – Stunned silence.

It quickly became clear that the consultancy didn’t know how much some of the organisations in question had saved, or even if they had saved anything at all, because their proposals often weren’t acted upon.  In other cases the saving was minimal or nothing.  This isn’t unusual of course.  The ideas that the consultancy had offered were probably quite sound, but the problem that all these people have is that their clients are rarely capable of introducing the changes to processes or programmes that the data identifies as necessary and they themselves are not equipped to help beyond the point, at best, of identifying the kind of action required.

Its a few years ago that Jim Taylor in his book Space Race was lamenting the failure of advertising agencies to respond to their clients’ demands  for integrated solutions, but, sadly, things haven’t improved much.  The management consultancies as Jim prophesied, have taken the lead and the ad-agencies have just watched them disappear in a cloud of dust over the marketing horizon.  This is perhaps understandable when you consider that advertising agencies have for decades sat at the head of their clients’ marketing support roster, but things move on and today the traditional advertising role is revealed for what it is – just a very small corner of the bigger picture.  Sure, its a tough pill to swallow when you are used to being king of the hill, but I find it disappointing that even today the majority of advertising people I come across continue to describe what they do as “integrated marketing” which only illustrates how far they are away from understanding the wider landscape or the role they could play in it.  In fact, there are significant new opportunities for advertising agencies in the world of new model marketing that, if they just gave up trying to persuade us that they are still running the show, they could adjust to and solve the problem of their dwindling revenues.  I know, I’ve introduced a few agencies to these new opportunities and helped them add tens of millions of dollars in incremental billings as a result.

What clients need is an end-to-end seamless process for delivering truly integrated strategies and if the marketing services sector doesn’t come up with a model that works clients have no other option, but to take control, assemble narrowly focused marketing services specialists into project teams and make them work to eye-wateringly constrictive briefs.  I’ve helped a few clients of mine put teams like these together.  They are not for everybody, but they work well once you have all the resources.

The biggest impediment to achieving the single-source, end-to-end solution is culture.  At one end of the process sit the data nerds whose lives are written in binary code.  At the other are the creative advertising folks.  They don’t make good neighbours at the best of times, but trying to get them to agree on a single business model is a little like introducing George Dubya to a MENSA convention.  The reason that the management consultancies, as Jim Taylor predicted, are doing so well out of this, is that they sit with their structures and practices perspective, somewhere in the middle.  They aren’t great at data or creative, but manage a sort of average attempt at a solution that’s acceptable, in a businesslike sort of way, to a lot of half-arsed client organisations.

It seems to me that the people to watch right now, even though they probably have further to travel than any of the other players, are the aformentioned data folks.  Sapient and Experian appear to be leading the field, but are taking different routes to the same conclusion.  Experian, or rather those very smart folks at Clarity Blue, who they acquired a couple of years back, seem to be building out from their established base in the direction of the objective, adding new skills and resources that understandably, because of their parentage, appear rather more functional that creative as yet.  Meanwhile Sapient dropped an advance party by helicopter, right at the objective, by acquiring one of my current favourite advertising agency networks, Nitro last year and are now have the task of working backwards to set up a supply line.  They probab;ly stand an equal chance of creating the necessary end-to-end process, but I’ve always seen the “big idea” as a vital component in any marketing strategy so my money is on Sapient’s Nito approach being first to deliver the goods.  Watch this space!

Michael Weaver
February 1, 2010

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