Consulting or IT giant to buy big six ad group 'within next five years'

Accenture Interactive: has made 12 global acquisitions since 2013
Accenture Interactive: has made 12 global acquisitions since 2013

One or more of the "big six" advertising groups will be bought by a consulting or IT giant "within the next five years", a leading M&A adviser has forecast.

Ben Tolley, a partner at Clarity, which advised independent Australian creative agency The Monkeys and sister design shop Maud on their sale to Accenture Interactive this week, said he expects consulting and IT firms to make bigger acquisitions in marketing services.

"It’s a case of when, not if," Tolley, a Briton who is now based in Australia, said. "Look at the scale of the global systems integrators and IT firms compared to the relative size of the ‘big six’ minnows."

Accenture has double the staff of WPP, the world’s biggest ad group, and a stock market capitalisation that is more than twice the size.

The other "big six" firms are Omnicom, Publicis Groupe, Interpublic, Dentsu and Havas.

"One or more of the 'big six' firms will be owned by one of those systems integrators or IT firms within five years," Tolley said.

Tolley declined to comment on the sale of The Monkeys and Maud.

But he said: "There’s a certain amount of wishful thinking on the part of the marketing services firms about there being a culture clash between the consultancies and system integrators and software companies on the one hand and creative businesses on the other.

"The reality is what those firms [in consulting and IT] are doing in marketing services is [already] very similar," he said, pointing to areas such as service design which is "inherently creative".

Consultants including Accenture, Deloitte and EY and IT companies including IBM and Salesforce have made a growing number of relatively small acquisitions of marketing agencies around the world in the last couple of years.

"The marketing services groups are waking up to the fact that these deals are going on apace – and it’s not just in America and Europe and Australia," Tolley said, explaining why a bigger deal could be on the cards.

"There aren’t just tanks parked on the lawn of the marketing services groups. The tanks are poking through the letterbox."

Everything that marketing services groups do is "up for grabs", he added, noting that media-buying was the only significant area where new entrants have not yet made acquisitions.

Tolley suggested even media could change because of the growing dominance of Google and Facebook, which could "lessen the arbitrage role" that agencies have traditionally had in areas such as TV, outdoor and press.

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