Consultancies are 'in the room, but not winning,' says WPP digital leader

Threats to the industry loom as brands take work in-house.

Photo credit: Lauren De Vlaming; (L-R) Campaign's Lindsay Stein; WPP's Sanja Partalo, 360i's Abbey Klaassen, and Doner's Eric Weisberg
Photo credit: Lauren De Vlaming; (L-R) Campaign's Lindsay Stein; WPP's Sanja Partalo, 360i's Abbey Klaassen, and Doner's Eric Weisberg

Consultancies, such as Accenture and Deloitte, are "in the room, but they're not winning," according to WPP’s SVP of corporate strategy and digital development.

However, WPP's Sanja Partalo said big brands taking work in-house is a threat to agencies because "they’re poaching our best and brightest," during a panel at Social Media Week in New York City on Tuesday.

"This idea that somehow the competition is fierce is just not true," she said, adding that Accenture and Deloitte are the only two players in the consulting-advertising space.

Partalo explained that agencies beat consultancies in 97% of pitches last year in which they went head-to-head. The type of contracts consultancies picked up were for systems integration work with price tags that are "peanuts" for a WPP-sized agency.

"It’s the kind of work that’s not the heart of our industry," she added.

The digital leader was joined by Abbey Klaassen, president of 360i New York, and Eric Weisberg, global chief creative officer at Doner, for a discussion hosted by Campaign U.S. editor Lindsay Stein.

The panel touched on topics including agency models of the future as brands such as Procter & Gamble push to dismantle silos and drive consolidation.

Partalo said taking capabilities in-house is a "mixed bag." Some aspects could be transferred, while others -- like programmatic -- are more difficult "because scale matters."

When it comes to pressure from brands to produce more at a lower cost, she pointed to the startups that advertise in prime locations like the New York City subway. "If they see the potential in buying such space, why don’t big brands?" she asked.

"The narrative is always really important," Partalo said. "We’re merchants of desire; that’s what we do for a living… We don’t get out of this place by cost-cutting and cutting out our partners-in-crime."

Weisberg stressed the importance of implementing technology as a pillar in agency strategy.

"The more freaks and geeks we can bring to the table, the better," he said.

This story first appeared on campaignlive.com.

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