The first was its move into cool offices in Clerkenwell – all exposed brickwork and glass walls – at the same time that many of the creative companies it might rub up against moved into nondescript corporate campuses. Paradoxically these appear more suited to management consultancies than creative shops.
The second was the hiring in August of Andy Sandoz, the former joint executive creative director of Havas London, as chief creative officer, and the acquisition of a brace of smaller-scale specialist agencies including Acne, which Sandoz will lead in this new role.
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, stripped brick walls do not an agency make. Equally, compared with Accenture's acquisition of Karmarama last year, Deloitte’s move is rather less eye-grabbing. Nonetheless, does Sandoz’s imminent arrival mean that Deloitte Digital intends to pursue "creative" business beyond the business strategy and web-build projects that were formerly its domain? This is difficult to decipher.
Sandoz doesn’t take up his new role until mid-September, some five months after leaving Havas ostensibly to pursue "personal projects", thereby leaving his former partner and fellow Work Club co-founder Ben Mooge as sole executive creative director. This possibly explains why Deloitte has insisted Olivier Binse, head of digital advisory, creative and UX, sit in on the interview to babysit and help guide his answers.
Binse is keen to position Deloitte as having always been a key player in digital transformation (whether that be of product experience or store experiences). That transformation by nature is iterative and this requires craft, which is where Sandoz comes in. The idea is that clients now want Deloitte to transform the UX of their services and that these new services require imagination and therefore creative skills. In short, he is there to give the tech products that Deloitte comes up with an emotional dimension.
For his part, Sandoz says that he decided to take the job at Deloitte as it is a business that will allow him to deliver on both technical and business expertise, but also provide access to the c-suite at brand companies (although he is careful to caveat that "didn’t necessarily" mean that his previous employers did not).
He evangelises about the potential the company has to offer – being more upstream with clients – and what he can offer back: "I’m good at digital stuff – using tech on behalf of brands to innovate how they communicate with their customers or how they change their business or operate. My whole career has been around that skillset – that’s what I enjoy – and I get the best out when I’m playing in innovative environments.
"Business strategy is moving from a theoretical proposition to a much more iterative proposition. You need the creative services right through the heart of that."
This is all the jargon you’d expect to hear from any of the many agencies that have positioned itself around the concept of digital transformation – SapientRazorfish and Wunderman to name but two. It’s also perhaps forgivable that he manages to talk a lot ("roadmaps", "tech layers" and so forth) without saying much at all given that he hasn’t yet got his feet under the table. That said, one former colleague is a little less sympathetic and says he "talks a good game".
But how Deloitte’s offer manifests itself is slightly difficult to deduce. Talk of user experience – whether that be mobile, in-store or online – influencing the brand’s "big idea" all sounds slightly nebulous when there isn’t much output (or little that they can talk about) to judge Deloitte on. Maybe that’s where Sandoz will really make his impact. But,again, it's too early to say.
Certainly, there’s no doubting his passion around his subject and his ability to sell concepts, and he has many fans in the industry. Martin Brooks, another founder of Work Club who is now a director of clothing brand The Shackleton Company, adds: "I first met him 15 years ago when I hired him at Agency Republic. Even then he had the look of someone who should be on a bigger stage. The higher he goes, the better he'll get. He's spent the last 20 years pacing up and down the perimeter fence of marketing. The Deloitte role promises the freedom he's always wanted – to be creative everywhere and anywhere."
Other former colleagues confirm his energy. "He is a very personable, energetic, ebullient guy. He’s great at the front of the room to show passion, interest and digital enthusiasm for clients and their challenges. Andy is likeable as a person and high impact for new business," one former manager says. He also proved to be a popular if slightly left-field choice as president for D&AD, where he placed a particular emphasis on education and helping young talent.
"He deeply cares about the business. He’s a really passionate advocate and knowledgeable and talks very eloquently," another former colleague says. "Quite how this fits in with the Deloitte culture is a very different matter." Some have said that there is the danger of "cultural dissonance" between Deloitte and Sandoz despite the fact its laid back Clerkenwell office is the opposite of what one might expect of a consultancy business.
To the original question, does Sandoz’s appointment mean that Deloitte is now going to compete head-to-head against advertising agencies? Well, not necessarily – and certainly not yet. Binse does not rule in or out on further acquisitions but they will probably need to be bigger names than Acne and Market Gravity – which it bought in June – to get its rivals really worried that it is after their big-brand accounts. For now, Deloitte’s sights seem fixed firmly on using tech to improve UX and then seeing how this can bleed through to the rest of a client’s business. Sandoz is a good choice to start these conversations.
One agency group chief executive says that in truth consultancies and agencies rarely pitch against each other (although they are careful to add that in the more technical data-driven space this may change). Ultimately, though, Deloitte’s move has at least has got the industry talking about the company.