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Three Ways Marketers Win when Creative and Consulting Combine

In the last couple of years, we’ve witnessed a shift in our industry as business consulting and creative have merged. While it might be natural to see this shift as a threat to the brilliance and inspiration that have characterized advertising over the last 50 years, this fusion of creative and consulting is actually a winning combination for marketing executives and innovation leaders.

A New Wave

Consider a few key data points:

In 2016, IBM iX acquired three agencies –, Resource Ammirati, and Aperto – so to compete “shoulder to shoulder with traditional creative agencies, in certain areas,” according to Alison Clark, an iX associate partner. A year later, IBM iX is the largest digital agency in the world, Gartner named them a leader in global digital marketing, and their clients include General Motors and Nestle.

Taking a similar route, leading consulting firms Deloitte and Accenture have been acquiring creative agencies over the last couple of years. Among the dozen agencies that Deloitte has acquired are Heat, Market Gravity, and Acne. Accenture acquired XYZ, and Ad Age named then the largest and fastest growing digital agency in 2016.

This trend of combining creative with consulting flows in reverse, too. Mike Geiger, Seema Miller, and Colin Jeffrey – award winning executives at David & Goliath – launched a new firm with the aim of capturing that sweet spot where creative and consulting meet. It is hard, they argue, for a consulting firm to successfully buy a creative shop because “they have completely different cultures and DNA.” Instead, they are building a new agency from the ground up.

Three Ways Marketers Win

Creative genius will never be replaced, but the industry has evolved in a way where marketing executives need fresh, targeted, and agile campaigns against the backdrop of a dynamic, hyper-competitive market. We no longer live in an era of direct mail to huge databases of contacts and 30-second TV spots and magazine placements that change seasonally. Instead, we have to achieve more in shorter periods of time, with smaller budgets, across different mediums and devices, to customized audiences, and then analyze, adapt, and optimize based upon the results!

Whether we are talking about Fortune 100s or start-ups, combining the strategic capability of business consulting with the creative services of a boutique design firm is a win for these three reasons:

  • First, data and technology are critical to today’s digitally centered marketing toolkit including creative development and placement dollars. Creative must be rooted in data-driven insight, not just for market preferences but to track a campaign’s appeal and sales. The successful incorporation of data and technology manifests itself in strategically sound creative executions that drive to the heart of the customer or consumer need. IBM iX’s success, in part, has lied with bringing to bear the force of their IT divisions to gather data for their creative output and to track the outcomes of their work.

  • Second, cost and speed are integral factors in today’s markets. Clients need partners who create strategies that are implemented and adapted rapidly in a marketplace where winners are nimble and maximize working dollars. Marketing departments today are responsible for strategy, payment and loss management, and execution. Merging consulting with creative leads to a seamless workflow and an efficiency of costs the reduce the fragmentation that requires clients to navigate complex agency structures and pay excessive overhead expenses. As P&G Chief Brands Officer Mark Pritchard, said returning to the “one-stop shop” will lead to streamlined operations and lower costs.

  • Third, thought partnership from agencies is a crucial need for most clients, and can lead to transformational strategy and execution. When I worked as the General Manager of a large business that was championing a transformation initiative for pediatric nutrition, I saw the power of such an integrated approach. The business had been facing headwinds from the recession, and our consulting agency team, led by Jane Wagner of Publicis Kaplan Thaler at that time, enabled us to launch, in less than 60 days, the incredibly successful “Sisterhood of Motherhood” campaign. We went from last in our category, with no digital marketing, to a clear, integrated digital strategy that was instrumental in driving growth for every part of the business and sparking a much-needed industry-wide conversation.

A Brave New World

We are witnessing a seismic shift in the landscape of the $6B global advertising agency. As the mediums have shifted dramatically over the last decade, so are the means for who and how we create and then adapt our work. In this case, the convergence of creative and consulting is a solid win for marketing and innovation leaders. For our team of professionals, though, this new dynamic is also an incredible opportunity and the guiding philosophy for why we founded Vrios Agency and the approach we bring to our clients.

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