TBWA\Asia builds a ‘bigger moat’ against industry shifts by launching Disruption Consulting

TBWA\Asia launches Disruption Consulting

TBWA\Asia has launched Disruption Consulting, a new business unit that will use the TBWA\ disruption methodology to look at business problems for brands.

The agency decided to launch the business in order to strengthen the sustainability of its business model, as accelerating change across businesses has created a need for more consultative roles from agencies.

With a greater need for consulting, particularly around digital transformation, much has been said about the threat from traditional consulting practices stepping into the fray, seen most recently with Accenture launching its programmatic buying business.

Speaking to The Drum about the new launch, TBWA\Asia president Ian Pearman, said it was a decision that came from wanting to be ahead of industry change, rather than reacting to it.

“I have heard some agency leaders saying that they haven’t seen the consultancies turn up on pitches yet but I think that is entirely missing the point. Consultancies are getting embedded in brands way before the brands even get to issuing an advertising services RFI. And by changing the system that drives a client's marketing, they are reducing the very need for classic mass consideration advertising. They don't need to compete in our market, they are too busy shrinking it,” he explained.

He referenced Accenture’s latest news as a sign that there was an imperative for agencies to be creating different offerings for clients now, rather than later.

“Consultancies will be talking to all of our industry's clients. They may get a handhold through the CTO or the CIO and their access point might be technology focused on supply chains and demand fulfillment, but they will quickly move into managing consumer facing interfaces such as apps and websites and eventually push to move into addressable advertising via search, programmatic and content origination. You can track their ambitions by the press releases that we’ve seen from Accenture, Deloitte and EY, each announcement representing another step towards our natural territory. Warren Buffett used the metaphor of sustainable businesses having strong castles and unbreachable moats, and versus the consultancies, agencies need to dig bigger moats. Quickly,” he added.

The new consulting arm will fuse some of the agency’s existing expertise in strategy, data and cultural analytics, while the business has also made a string of hires and personnel changes to build the capability.

New strategy hires across the year include Lar Bjorge as head of customer acquisition, Oli Kunze, chief data officer and Steve Walls, regional disruption master. Disruption Consulting will be led by Andrew Harrison, who joins the agency from Brand Union, where he was chief operating officer. He also held roles at P&G, Coca-Cola and Nestlé and was a principal consultant at Ogilvy RED. Also leading the charge is Robin Nayak will run Disruption Consulting alongside his existing responsibilities as chief strategy officer, TBWA\Southeast Asia.

Pearman said that advertising agencies were in a good position to hold a consulting role within an ecosystem that’s seeing greater competition, but he warned that any agency that did not understand performance would lose out.

“There seems to be a false separation in our industry between marketing and performance marketing - a hangover perhaps from the old dividing lines of above and below-the-line. But we are in a world where all marketing becomes performance marketing when all media is addressable. The distinction is a false one and is allowing parts of the industry to fool themselves that they don't need to change. Consultancies will hollow out our industry using performance and digital marketing efficiency as their tools, and unless agencies face into that threat they resign themselves to being small creative boutiques in an ever diminishing category, increasingly dependent on project briefs issued by whichever big integrator controls the rest of the marketing stack,” he said.

The first offices to officially have the Disruption Consulting service live will be Singapore and Japan, with a wider roll out to TBWA\Asia’s 12 offices expected later.

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