David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life
David’s ResourcesAbout David
NEW! Browse my materials by topic of interest:StrategyManagingClient RelationsCareersGeneral

Passion, People and Principles

The Battle for Marketing

post # 105 — June 13, 2006 — a Client Relations, Strategy post

Advertising Age has just run a survey of readers asking them if they were concerned at the moves of major consulting firms (IBM, Accenture, McKinsey) into the kinds of marketing work that could influence both choice and control of agencies. Most readers concluded that the ad agencies had every reason to be nervous.

For decades, ad agencies have defended their territory as special. In the latest survey, Rick Pike, senior VP-media director of Inter/Media Advertising said: “Consultants who are not experienced advertising professionals cannot remotely understand the nuances and intricacies of an art form such as marketing and advertising-which ultimately is all about human behavior.” (It is, however, unclear, what it is the backgrounds of advertising agency people that make them peculiarly qualified to understand the nuances and intricacies of human behavior.)

Everyone knows advertising is becoming a shrinking percentage of marketing, and was never ALL of it to begin with. As the holding conglomerate movement showed (WPP, Ominom, IPG, Paribas) the game for years has been to try and convince clients that a full, cross-disciplinary approach to marketing communications could be achieved.

There has been only one problem with this: the promise has never has been delivered. From as long ago as Y&R’s infamous “Whole Egg” approach through many other slogans, all the marketing conglomerates have proved is that they are incapable of designing and executing fully integrated marketing plans to their clients.

Apart from the problems of cross-boundary co-ordinations (each of these agencies within the comglomerates tend to be separate firms and profit centers) the larger problem has been that while the mega-agencies or agency networks have occasionally (VERY occasionally) been able to deliver a sensible, comprehensive package of marketing communications tools and approaches, they still lack a critical missing ingredient – an ability to understand the full picture of what is involved in marketing a product or a service. Marketing communications is not all of marketing.

The networks have tried to rectify this over the past decade with experiments in hiring MBAs from prestigious schools, and giving them fast-track positions to take on managerial and client relationship roles. Most of these experiments have failed, not least because the MBAs culture, attitudes and salary expectations have been hard to integrate into an agency culture.

For decades, there has been a huge hole in the advisory market. No major consulting firm built its reputation and the bulk of its practice on giving marketing advice. The likes of McKinsey, BCG and Bain did Strategy; the accounting-based firms did IT, the actuarially-based firms did Human Resources, and many Wall-Street firms built major institutions out of giving financial advice. Even the lowly topic of Operations was used to build major institutions like AT Kearney and other firms that focused on productivity, quality and supply chain management.

But where were the marketers? Who was giving corporations, anywhere in the world, their top marketing advice? Basically, no-one – except for a few small if respected firms.

The move of IBM, McKinsey and Accenture is dangerous not because they are going to know more about advertising than the advertisers. What they represent (in very different ways) is the theory that having tired of paying for unexecuted strategy and 30-second ads that accomplish little, corporations might be ready for a totally new approach to service – a group of people who hold themselves out as knowing something about how you actually market and sell products and services.

It’s not clear where the people who know those things are housed today, and whether or not the big-3 consulting firms can hire them.

But battle has been joined, and I don’t think things are ever going to be the same.


Bruce Lewin said:

Should be an interesting market dynamic, I can see some firms taking this up, but perhaps it will depend on the outlooks of the marketing directors involved and their CEOs?

posted on June 14, 2006

DUST!N said:


Good thoughts. It is very intriguing to watch the Ad Agencies try to bend toward marketing consultancy, while the consultants bend toward marketing. It seems as though it is a new frontier for contractors.

It reminded me of another post I read recently: http://ana.blogs.com/maestros/2006/06/growththe_only_.html


“ANA’s recent marketing organization study (phase 3 by the way of this ongoing effort) definitively demonstrates that when marketers are driving company strategic priorities and leading development of brands, products and new businesses, revenue and profits are likely to be 20% greater. This is a significant finding.

The issue is, that in only about 9% of the time are marketers in a position to actually do the driving. They often lack the “street cred” to gain the respect of the CEO and CFO to be put in the driver’s seat.”


So, you ask, “Where were the marketers?” Looks like they may have been within the corporations themselves.

posted on June 14, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Dustin, I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head. The real repository of (comprehensive) marketing skill, knowledge and insight may not be in the agencies, the consulting firms, the business schools or anywhere else but in the marketing departments of the firms themselves!

If an agency or consulting firm wanted to build a business, they should begin by raiding their future clients for the talent – and then sell it back to them as advice!

posted on June 14, 2006

DUST!N said:

Would that be a case of the consultant buying your watch and then selling you the time?

posted on June 14, 2006

John Kottcamp said:

I don’t think the issue is whether advertising firms should be afraid of big consulting firms, I think the issue is whether either type of company is able to understand clients’ business problems and see how they can be overcome through the alignment of marketing (not advertising) as a key player in driving business strategy. On top of this, there is the need for professional services firms who can blend business and marketing accumen plus, and this is incredibly important, also be able to harness the technology expertise and resources to execute the strategies, programs, campaigns, infrastructure needed in today’s business world.

posted on June 22, 2006

DUST!N said:

John, very true. Problem is, most individuals with an accumen for business, marketing, and execution are within the corporations. I would also argue that most of these individuals are swamped in bureaucracy, politics, and workloads that spread them wide and thin.

Quick aside: I hope the “buying your watch” comment is not misconstrued. I do consulting as well and meant it tongue-in-cheek, not as a slam to the profession.

posted on June 22, 2006