March 06, 2018

By Santiago Olivera - President of Young & Rubicam Buenos Aires

I was reading with huge interest Gonzalo López Martí’s last couple articles on the pros & cons of the different kinds of advertising providers a marketer can choose from and I think he missed one elephant in the room: consulting firms. You know: Accenture, Deloitte, PwC et al.  Allow me to share with you what I recently wrote about that the phenomenon. Here it goes.

Everyone is worried about classic consultancies getting into the advertising business. Why are we worried? We should be glad.
Not once since I started working in this industry have I seen a single businessperson who was not in the field open an advertising agency: all the owners and/or CEOs of agencies have been career ad men or women. The industry’s appeal to outside investment is nil. Nil. Even today. This is the first time in history, then, that people not rooted in advertising have suddenly gotten involved in the industry. Why is that? Why, if our industry has always been run by ad men and women, are consultancies suddenly getting involved? Do they know something we don’t? Do they see something in advertising that we aren’t seeing? Very likely, because, as Jorge Martínez says, we spend our days navel gazing, oblivious to what’s happening around us.
We could try to find the answers to these questions but, knowing ourselves, it would take quite a while and by the time we figure it out our business environment will have changed yet again.

In any case, the consultancies are here. And their advent shows us what we really are: when we stopped being agencies (the day we gave up purchasing media) we became consultancies. Otherwise, what are we? Alex Hesz (Chief Strategy Officer at Adam&Eve/DDB) describes it well: “But let’s be clear—an agency’s output is ideas. […] An agency’s value to a client is derived from objectivity, connectedness to a changing world, specificity of capabilities and gaining an unfair share of talent. […] The means by which an agency wins against competitors is down to the creativity of ideas, an ability to actually make those ideas happen in the world, and then to prove the effectiveness of doing so.” And that is the exact definition of a consultancy as well. (If you don’t believe me, replace the word “agency” with the word “consultancy” and you’ll see.)

For a very long time, we convinced ourselves that we were part of the creative industry. Accepting that consultancies compete with us (and that they can be more successful than we are) means accepting that we are not part of the creative industry but of the consultancy sector. Is that a problem? By no means. The problem was our belief that we are something we are not. And if we recognize that we are consultancies we can exploit the advantage edge we have over the others to once again be relevant. That edge lies in an approach to consulting based on a creative rather than a mechanical (or engineering) process. In fact, many consultancies buy agencies to learn how their conceptual format works and try to apply it to their own business model. But buying companies and learning the ropes of a business is one thing; being in it, knowing all of its ins and outs, is something else entirely.

It’s great news that consultancies want a piece of the ad business’ action. It shows that we are an attractive sector with a future while it also solves the identity crisis that has afflicted us for a few decades now. So, let’s do what we know how to do better than anyone—which is not making advertisements but changing attitudes.

Author: Santiago Olivera - President of Young & Rubicam Buenos Aires, has worked for all the big ones: DDB, BBDO, TBWA, FCB. From 2010 through 2012 he was the youngest-ever president of the AAP (Asociación Argentina de Publicidad) in its 80 year-long history. Follow him on Twitter @santiagolivera

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