The Real Question of Consultancy vs. Agency

How’s your relationship?

This is the question I would ask any agency worried, or wondering if they should start worrying, about the rise of consultancies as advertising partners. Regardless of the deluge of press around consultancies, with headlines like, The Race Is On, who will “win” isn’t a question of consultancy vs. agency. It’s a question of who has the better relationship.

We all know consultancies boast the capital “S” Strategy and data acumen that marketing clients need. But transformational or divestiture strategy doesn’t necessarily translate into communication and creative strategy. And building a roadmap for marketing data platforms takes time. Consultancies are acclimating, but there is a learning curve.

Likewise, consultancies know they are deficient in a must-have advertising skillset—creative. They’ve begun to acquire strong creative agencies to round out their offering. But here again, there is a learning curve. The culture of a consultancy could not be more wildly different from that of an agency. The synergies between these two groups will be key to serving clients. And as any organization that has ever endured an acquisition knows, establishing the new normal and integrating is no small task. But rest assured, consultancies will get there.

So, if consultancies have growing pains in the areas of communication strategy and creative, why is everyone crying that the sky is falling—suggesting that traditional agencies may be in jeopardy of losing their place in the industry? I think the answer lies in why and how consultancies entered the advertising space in the first place—relationships.

Consultancies have relationships at the highest levels of organizations. They have a bird’s eye view to the challenges and opportunities across an entire company, including marketing. And because of their strong ties to the C-suite, they proactively identify issues and offer services to solve them. This isn’t to say an ad partner needs relationships at the highest levels, but you do need trust, respect and a track record of forward thinking with your client.

In managing agency reviews for 20+ years, every client wants the following questions asked and answered—Are our strategic and creative resources integrated seamlessly? Is their duplication on our business? What is our next step in the marketplace? Are we still relevant? How does our brand win? Clients want a partner who is attuned to their goals and the movements in the industry. They want a partner that identifies problems and solves them.

If you’re trying to win or retain business, delivering leading-edge strategy, creative, and data should be a given. If a partner, any partner—consultancy or agency—fails to deliver on what a client needs to stay competitive, they will become obsolete—regardless of who they are. Any assertion that it’s a “race” of capabilities, will result in a race to the middle.

With all capabilities being equal, the relationship breaks the tie. Change in your leadership? Connect with your senior client before they find out in the press. Know your client should be doing more in digital? Establish a relationship where your ideas are heard. Rather than ask, “Should we be worried about consultancies?” ask, “How are our client relationships?” Because the ones with the best relationships win.