The consultancy culture question

M&C Saatchi chief strategy officer Justin Graham
By M&C Saatchi chief strategy officer Justin Graham | 10 October 2017
Justin Graham

What’s the obsession with ad agencies from the consultancies? Advertising is an increasingly low margin business. Battling it out with the tech platforms, media buyers, low cost content producers and even the clients themselves to keep hitting the numbers. Talent is becoming harder to find and traditional budgets are shrinking. Business must be diabolical for the consultancies if advertising is seen as the golden goose.

But of course it’s not (always) about the cold hard stuff. Not at the start of the process anyway.

I am fortunate to sit with C-Level executives most weeks and many lay awake at night for the same reason. How do I imagine the next? The next disruptive business idea, the next customer need, the next way to reimagine my brand. The next chapter for my assets, my experiences, my products and how do I deliver something that customers will desire tomorrow. Where do business leaders go for this type of thinking and importantly who can they trust to actually deliver it to market.

Business leaders have a genuine desire to partner with creative thinkers who can imagine what hasn't been done before. People that can take a magical leap and create a world that they haven't seen before. In a world where every business is being disrupted everywhere, creativity is the only way forward.

M&C Saatchi has been successfully offering consultancy services for years. It is part of our overall ambition - 'To become the most influential creative company in Australia by 2020'. To realise this ambition, we have been privileged to work with a number of boards and the C-suite to take on the meaty challenges that Australian businesses face.

Creativity as a means of driving business transformation is profound, and our clients need it more now than ever. To bring the voice of the customer to the table and break organisations out of their analysis paralysis that has so often crippled the notion of change. 

This brings us back to the so-called threat of management consultancies on the advertising industry. Consultancies need new capabilities to break the inherent risk aversion that made them successful in an old world. They know the future is not created by benchmarks, international case studies and 'ideas' that never make their way out of a PowerPoint deck. The future is created by those with a bias towards action, by being customer-obsessed and valuing the intangible that is creativity.

Advertising agencies are obsessed with building creative cultures that allow for such business changing ideas. The good ones at least have been running for years at creating solutions not simply through the lens of advertising, but applying creativity to the meaty challenges the businesses of today (and the disruptors of tomorrow) face. Having sat in both industries at different times in my career, the one thing advertising agencies have in spades is an obsession for creative cultures. They know how hard they are to build and they know their power when they have it. It is a key differentiator and one incredibly difficult to replicate.

The challenge will be in integration. How do you break years of legacy of 'doing what has been done before' to taking that germ of an idea on the scrap room floor and blindly running at it? How does a culture of efficiency and revenue generation pivot on itself to become one obsessed with a creative culture of dreaming the impossible for customers every day?

One thing is for sure, it will be an interesting 12 months in our world.

Justin Graham is chief strategy officer at M&C Saatchi

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