Accenture is making us all take our eye off the ball

There is no silver bullet and acquisitions are rarely about anything unique apart from a company's people, Iris' global chief executive argues.

Like a Las Vegas street magician, Anatoly Roytman of Accenture Interactive is trying to reframe the disruption in the industry in a way that presents the best possible opportunities for himself while skilfully trying to get us all to come out fighting and playing the same game…a game we are likely to lose.

He talks about a world where everyone will either be in the management consultancy business or the "consultancy-lite" business. Or face becoming a niche specialist.

In his over-simplification, he is not totally wrong – agencies will (and are) improving their strategy capability to help win more fundamental influence within client organisations.

But Accenture et al have deliberately and specifically followed more or less the same model as the super agency networks. It’s linear, logical – and if you have plenty of cash to spend – scalable. It’ll work for a while.

The only difference instead of lots of legacy media businesses: it is loaded with more digitally-orientated businesses.

I can tell you as someone that has been investing in both management consultancy and digital experience business for around 19 years now that there is no silver bullet, and that seldom is any acquisition about anything unique apart from its people. And once the earnout is done and dusted… it gets very tricky to retain the value.

So just as Accenture are telling us all to come fighting using their rules… it’s worth pointing at the all the other elephants in the room:

  1. Clients want and need specialists and specialism. Scale and reach isn’t the same thing.

  2. Agencies spring up, change and challenge fast. The bigger you are the harder you fall. It will be interesting to see how WPP transform over the next few years.

  3. Most clients are going nuts for platforms and tech. Soon, all the clients will be armed to the teeth with tech and CRM platforms. Then what? Surely we will see some kind of law of diminishing returns.

  4. AI will level the playing field. If the big players enjoy benefits associated with their scale, sooner or later artificial intelligence will literally kill volume work.

  5. Clients are trying to do more for themselves. And guess what, this includes ‘consulting’.

Agencies have always been good at moving fast, predicting, creating and responding to changes. Agencies have always been good at emotion and distinctivity. Agencies have always been good at investing in clients businesses and building relationships. They have also generally been very good places to work that invest, develop, mentor and mature many of the leaders of tomorrow.

There is a really good quote I came across the other day.

"The Spartans do not ask how many are the enemy, but where are they."

Let’s not give up hope just yet.

Ian Millner is co-founder and global chief executive of Iris

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