Accenture's Nikki Mendonca: 'There is a lot of incompetence within the current marketing services industry'

Nikki Mendonca, Accenture Interactive Operations president

Nikki Mendonca's move to Accenture after 16 years within OMD was a major surprise to the industry, as she became the latest to jump ship from an agency to join a management consultancy.

Mendonca left her role as OMD EMEA’s president to join Accenture Interactive Operations, also as president, last October and now intends to grow the marketing services offering for its blue chip clients.

Meeting at The Drum Arms [The Drum’s pop-up bar in Cannes], Mendonca is full of energy and is highly motivated by the scale of the project she undertook when accepting the role last year. She admits that it was a big decision, but her belief that the era of the agency is now over meant the time was right to leave OMD; “I’ve done that, loved it, and then the call came at the right time.”

Offering an insight into the process of landing the role at Accenture, Mendonca revealed that despite being approached to take on the role she still went through eight interview stages, culminating in a meeting with the chairman and chief executive, Pierre Nanterme, which she describes as “the highlight of the whole process.”

It was here she described her vision of rebranding the original name of the division from ‘intelligent marketing operations’, to Accenture Interactive Operations to reflect clients' desire for more "frictionless strategy and execution" and combine the business’ global units, which employs over 25,000 people.

“All the strategy and execution teams came together because that is going to give us a competitive advantage over the holding companies where everything is still structured and silod within P&Ls,” she states, though stresses it will stay true to the consultancy model when offering advertisers something ‘new’.

Agencies continue to feel under threat at the emergence of Deloitte, Accenture, IBM, PriceWaterhouse Coopers and McKinsey into the marketing services space, and Mendonca believes that the industry is at “an inflection point”.

Her move to Accenture was “a once in a lifetime opportunity” to disrupt the entire marketing services and media supply chain.

“That’s why I feel so passionately about the opportunity to create a new service-model and to go into clients who are itching to do something new. We don’t want to feel like the holding companies and not bring them something new, we are accepting Requests for Proposals (RFPs) now on behalf of clients. We are still in the early stages but now we have the opportunity to say 'right, we will put a new service model together for you; as well as strategy and execution, which really rivals what the holding companies are doing. Only time will tell if we’re good enough.”

She has been tasked with the growth of what she described as “a global marketing activation network” which will be fuelled by artificial intelligence and machine-learning. However Mendonca caveats that there is no rush and that the company must move at a pace clients are comfortable with.

“Some of them are comfortable with a data-directed process in terms of marketing-activation, so we’re doing that first. Before we then put a cognitive layer in term of building for clients bespoke marketing technology to help power the activation. Let’s face it, marketing technology has developed at such a rate that you can do a lot with automation, a lot of clients are already 20% there – we can put that on steroids and then we can add a human layer, and help them with their organisation model around the marketing technology to create a new human/machine model which works in a very different way to the legacy structures and processes that they are wedded to.”

She claims that by looking for people, process, partners and platforms, Accenture can build something different and bespoke that will give clients “a step-change” in efficiency and effectiveness.

“That is the disruption because they are so used to going to an agency or a holding company and being part of their creative network and media network and just doing things the way they have always done them. I also feel quite passionate that now, with the global platforms like Google, Facebook, and Amazon you can almost start with the global layer and then fill in with the local activation plans – so an inverted model versus a lot of what advertisers are used to. A lot of advertisers are used to going bottom-up because they have loads of marketing teams and agencies in each country that they almost satisfy that layer first and then layer on global platforms. We can invert that model because now Google and Facebook are over 70% of digital advertising and Amazon is very close behind. And also because a lot of clients are asking for activation and conversion in one go, they don’t want the awareness. They are not satisfied with just the proxy media and marketing metrics any more, they want business outcome metrics. Now we can deliver that and deliver it through the triple plays; Google, Amazon and Facebook.”

Of her ambition, she believes that three years is a likely time expectation as she seeks the people who can aid that, and who have an understanding of multi-touchpoint activation, while she reveals that five pillars have been set out to guide that journey.

“We know that paid and earned have all merged – all clients want an integrated marketing activation effort. I do need many more people who understand that to come into my operation because we have burgeoning demand for clients with lots of CMOs and CEOs calling me and we need to ramp up to be able to convert that demand.

"I also need to, in terms of marketing technology, to make sure that we are building tech that absolutely can deliver a delta of performance for clients. So that’s better data sets, better APIs with the likes of Google and Facebook, et al. That’s the ability to customise content, on the fly, very quickly, so that the right cohort is getting the right message and experience that the right time and in the right format. That as well needs better technology to work. And also better attribution so we have better feedback loops.”

Mendonca claims clients are far from satisfied which is why they are turning to Accenture for something new; “You have got a burgeoning buyer community who is completely dissatisfied with the status quo, you’ve got a trust and transparency deficit with all of the holding companies, therefor it’s almost like the landscape is right for us to step in there with a new way of doing things…clients are fed up.”

She acknowledges that networks are attempting to remove the silos of their agency brands, with Publicis Groupe’s focus on The Power of One strategy and WPP recently claiming to have forgone its previous plan of ‘horizontality’ following the exit of Sir Martin Sorrell.

“Some of them are too late,” without technology as their backbone, she states. “If technology is not the backbone of the company, I think you have missed the memo. At Accenture tech is in our DNA so we have got that sorted. So we have people who are layered on top of the technology. To try and take a job in that world is very hard.”

Finally, Mendonca responds to the criticism of Accenture’s recent announcement over its entry in the media buying and programmatic space, comparing it to “when you prick an elephant’s arse, the elephant screeches.”

“It shows a certain myopia as to the depth and breadth of Accenture which is a $100bn company,” she continues. “It’s 440,000 employees and we have our tentacles everywhere within 175 diamond clients. By fixating on one specific area of the business; say the auditing aspect of the media management aspect and blowing that out of proportion shows a certain myopia.”

The demand from clients has led the business to enter the media buying fray, with Accenture potentially creating ‘a hybrid model’ that it can aim to offer the transparency they claim to not receive elsewhere in their programmatic buying.

“If all the questions are coming thick and fast then we have to do something about it because what sort of business is there in the need. We didn’t just wake up one day and think we were going to go into programmatic – the clients literally came to us and there are more now than we know how to deal with, so the demand is definitely greater than the supply.”

Finally, when asked if Accenture can truly be the answer to the problems faced within the marketing sector, Mendonca is emphatic in her response; Absolutely,” she affirms. “Yes, because I do believe that there is still a lot of incompetence within the current marketing services industry and it needs to be called out.”

Mendonca’s belief in her new role and company is strong, and at the current point in time, there is little to suggest she is wrong in that belief, with the ball firmly in the agency network’s court to prove otherwise.

The Drum DADI Awards are now open for entry, rewarding Europe's most successful digital marketing agencies for another year.

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